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How to Judge a Dog Competition

Updated on July 11, 2014
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Mona writes a column for Enrich Magazine which is distributed in five countries. She is interested in learning as she writes.

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By Mona Sabalones Gonzalez

Note: This article came out in the January issue of Animal Scene, the Phiippine's most famous animal magazine. Below is my unedited version.

I am related, by marriage, to Joya Gonzalez, owner of Domino Haus (a dog show firm) and Songs From The Heart (an events firm for concerts). If you have ever happened to be in a mall while a dog show was going on, it is probably Joya’s.

Domino Haus conducts dog show competitions for SM, Starmall and Robinson’s, to name a few. Joya has so many bookings that she keeps a list of judges that she can count on, including my husband Ed and me.


In the United States, dog show competitions are usually All Breed shows, Specialty shows limited to one specific breed, or agility competitions. But Filipinos love to have a bash, so Joy conducts dog fashion shows, or shows related to holidays like Halloween, Philippine Independence Day, and the like.

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Through the years, I have seen her dog shows grow in popularity and Filipinos have tremendous imaginations. They go all out in creating costumes for their dogs, using a wide range of materials. This year, for the first time, an aspin won a fashion competition. The costume was made of rubber, and the dog seemed to look like an anime robot – as did the aspin’s handler.

Uber Confusion

When you are judging an average of 50 dogs (sometimes more) you can expect disaster, especially if you are a first-time judge. The categories include best in costume (for male and female dogs), best handler and dog costume team, most adorable dog, best dog pair, smallest dog, and largest dog, among others.

What’s more, the categories change every now and then, as do the dogs and the creativity in their dog costumes. Sometimes one category is easy because there are only one or two standouts. Then comes another category and you have 15 really good costumes and you get extremely confused (near-headache quality confusion).

This is usually the case with dogs wearing fabulous women’s wear. You will find dogs with very long trains that drag on the floor and have ruffles and matching hats, bows on the waist, beads in all the right places, and the most amazing turquoise-colored, expensive-looking fabric.

Sometimes a dog will be wearing a beautiful, sequined dress in pina fabric with sinamay wings, and little bracelets on all four feet that glitter under the spotlight. It is also not uncommon for dogs to have a prop, like a parasol made of matching pina with delicate sequins and beads, or a wagon that you pull the dog on and which is perfect for the dog’s size.

Now, if things like these happen only once or twice in a competition, then that isn’t too bad. But when it happens so many times in a single competition you really feel like you’re in a rut. You score one dog very high, then four dogs later you feel like erasing previous scores.

Also, it’s easy to forget which dog is No. 22 as opposed to No. 41. I used to write little notes on the side column to distinguish one dog from another. Later, I tried photographing the dogs that stood out for me.

And I’m ashamed to say this, but on my first judging foray, by the time I reached dog No. 45, I took the easy way out – copying the scores of the judge next to me. Otherwise, I might ask so many dogs to come back so I can look them over, and it can take 45 minutes (which it once did) before the judges could reach a consensus.

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How Other Judges Do It

Every judge has a different standard of what they consider to be a good dog. Even if it’s a fashion show, there are usually three columns that you must score, (for example, originality of costume and dog personality). The categories per column sometimes change. The point is, you score each of the three categories, and then the total is the dog’s score.

Every judge has his or her own standards of what makes a costume good, and/or what is a good dog personality. For example, one dog judge, Marilen Kahn, likes dogs that stand perfectly still. More than once I would hear her mumble, “That’s a good dog.” And notice that the dog was obedient, disciplined and did not move to the point that it didn’t even seem to breathe once it took its position on the judging table.

I happen to like dogs that are more energetic. I don’t like dogs that are as still as statues. I wanna see them breathe, let their tongue hang out, wag their tail and sometimes get dragged on the runway just before they reach the table. We all have our own personal yardsticks of what is cute.

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My husband, on the other hand, is extremely uncomplicated. He simply knows what he likes and what he doesn’t. He has this tremendous ability to turn himself off until something external makes a light go on inside of him and tells him, “That’s it”.

He explains his style of judging to me in this way, “I judge according to what attracts my attention.” And knowing my husband as he is, I totally believe it. His memory is extremely good, and he has this gift of simplifying complicated situations.

One other thing about him – once he believes in a dog, he will fight tooth and nail to make sure that dog wins. This usually happens during the conference between the judges. Even if he’s the only one who likes that dog, somehow, that dog ends up getting a prize.

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How I Improved My Dog Judging Skills

Because I am by nature complicated and quite forgetful and easily confused, I devised a way to improve my dog judging skills. Here are my pointers. If ever you judge a dog show, you may want to consider them:

  1. Come early. Usually my husband and I arrive early. I used to waste that time talking to people I know who are involved in the event. Now, I realize you can use that early time to guide your final decisions in the dog show.
  2. Get the list of categories. As soon as you arrive, get the list of categories, and then walk around and observe the dogs that will be joining the competition. Observe the dogs with and without their costumes. Remember that you will be judging the dog’s personality as well as the originality of their clothes, so talk to the owners and ask questions about the dog. Observe the dog’s behavior when it doesn’t realize you’re looking.
  3. Take photos of the ones that stand out. I find this to be very helpful because I get lost by my 10th dog. With photos I have a general idea of what will be my standard per category.

These preparations don’t mean that you have already chosen a winner. It just means that you have a general idea of what’s in the contest and what you like, and this will help enormously when you score the dogs.

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Scoring:

  1. Have a bottom score for dogs that I am sure won’t make it. For example, anything 50 or below, for me, won’t win.
  2. Have an upper range score for dogs you think have a good chance, for example, 85 – 100. This is because although you have seen most of the dogs, out of the blue a new dog will come out and be totally fascinating. Having a range will cut your work to 1/3rd of the job.
  3. When you think you have chosen your winners, let the dogs parade for one last time in batches of 10. This will give you a last opportunity to reconsider your choices and will help you decide which dogs are your non negotiables when you are discussing the winners that you’ve chosen with the other judges.

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The Enjoyment of Dog Competitions

One thing I have noticed about dog competitions – I have yet to see a sore loser. Every dog owner is happy just because, I think, dogs have that effect on people. They generate the love of their masters and they multiply that love many times over.

I am often surprised at some dog owners, especially, owners of dogs that will obviously win because their costumes are so outstanding. As a judge, it seems to me to be a no-brainer, but the handler of the dog always runs forward, face gleaming with pride, great joy, thrill and surprise. This happens many, many times.

Dog shows are about things that Filipinos love. First, Filipinos love their dogs. Second, Filipinos love the chance to innovate in designing the dog’s costume and the handler’s makeup. Third, Filipinos often like to add an X-factor – a prop like a parasol, a dog wagon, or special choreography. Fourth, Filipinos love bling. Dog shows are a bacchanalia of bling.

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Example of a dog show from a different organizer

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    • grand old lady profile image
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      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you Pamela Kinnaird for you kind words. Actually most of the dogs are trained and they feel like when they are dressed for a fashion show, they are doing their job. The venues are also usually either air conditioned or built to capture the natural winds. But, you're right, the comfort of the dog has to always be a priority:).

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 2 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      Well, I learn something every day. I never heard of these types of dog shows. You are a very busy lady, it sounds like, and as you've explained, it can be quite a challenge to be a judge in one of these dog shows. Sounds fun, but I do hope the dogs are not overheating in these fun types of costumes.

      Voting up, awesome and sharing.

    • grand old lady profile image
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      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Peggy W, sounds like your cousin's dogs are the real deal, and that they enter the contests with very strict rules. Here in the Philippines it's more about fun and families become so close together because our categories are like, "most adorable dog,", "best in costume." "smallest dog" and so forth. So, it's really about fun in the Philippines, but not discipline like walking correctly and stuff. The larger market in the Philippines probably still has to evolve to that quality of competition. For now, we are at the point of introducing the market to the idea of competing. Thank you for stopping by and do send my congratulations to your cousin's wife for her highly accomplished shih tzus:).

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      It sounds like it would really be difficult to choose the best dogs out of so many. Nice to know that everyone has fun regardless of the outcomes of the judging. Cute photos! My cousin's wife has entered many different dog shows and has loads of ribbons and prizes from her award winning Shih Tzu dogs.

    • grand old lady profile image
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      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you Anita Saran. In the Philippines each judge has to determine her own style and standards for judging. But definitely, every dog show is fun and it's a moment when strangers all get together and you are drowned in the good feeling and love and fun that is naturally generated in the presence of much loved pets.

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 2 years ago from Bangalore, India

      What fun! Must be a great spectacle and you've given really helpful tips on judging a dog show.

    • grand old lady profile image
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      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      DDE, yes, fashion shows for dogs are challenging, but it seems that in the Philippines people are willing to go for new ideas and become more flamboyant every year. I agree, too, that dogs deserve respect. Thank you for reading.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      How to Judge a Dog Show is an interesting and well approached hub. Dogs are intelligent and deserve to be taken care of with lots of love. The fashion show sounds challenging.

    • grand old lady profile image
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      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks Nell, I would love to see a dog fashion show in England. Hope England decides to have one someday. If ever it happens, it would be a great bucket list item to see the show.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

      Oh wow! lol! how did I miss this one? what fun! I would love to judge a dog show like this! we have Crufts over here in England but its just about the dogs and there isn't any dressing up! I would love to see this over here! what a great hub! voted up and shared! nell

    • grand old lady profile image
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      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you Suzanne Day. Guinea pigs are truly lovable!

    • Suzanne Day profile image

      Suzanne Day 3 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      You won't catch me judging a dog show, as I'm more of a guinea pig person, but it sounds like some organisation and learning is needed in order to be a proficient dog judge. I wouldn't mind attending a dog show one day to admire the interesting costumes. Voted useful!

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