by Gerry Yeager
I love puppies and I love judging them in the ring. To me this is the most important aspect in the approach to judging puppies… you have to really have a good feel for them and have patience, understanding, and an intuition for handling different types of behavior in the pups that you meet so briefly in the ring.
A judge who is rough with his or her hands can make a puppy sour on being handled by a stranger in the show ring. As the saying goes, “less is more.” I don’t think one has to overdo the examination of a squirming puppy, as if you needed to feel every bone in their body. A judge can quickly feel the shoulders, topline, headpiece, and get the information your hands and eyes tell you. Gently and quickly going over the dog without subduing them is the best way to get the information you need.
When I first bring the class of pups in the ring, I immediately assess who has had some training and who will be a problem, such as shyness, aggression, etc. I also assess the handlers. The really novice handler with a nervous manner and a novice puppy are not the best combination. If a puppy is just silly that’s okay. I’d rather silly than mean. I have the class go around the ring in a big circle once or maybe more, depending on the size of the class, the behavior of the puppies, and the weather. This helps the handlers, as well as the dogs, settle down and get ready for exam.
As I approach a puppy, I wait until all four feet are reasonably steady and on the ground, and they are looking at me. I make a noise or use a squeaker, whatever, to make the puppy look and give me expression. Once they see me coming, I reach out, but not straight down at their head, rather behind their ears to scratch or rub their head so as not to intimidate them. I try to bend down or squat to their level so I am not hovering over them. While I am doing this, I am speaking to them calmly, touching them firmly, but not cootchy-cooing them too much because that can make a jumpy dog act sillier. When I examine the head, I go down the head, sweep the cheeks, check the ear set, look at the teeth or have the handler show the bite. NEVER PULL ON THE BEARD OR HEAD TO KEEP A PUPPY STILL!! This can really bother a puppy emotionally, especially if they are in one of the fear periods in their development. It can create a problem for the next time a stranger or judge goes to touch the dog on the head. (It happened to one of my puppies, and it took a long time to correct.) Better yet, avoid the judges that are rough on puppies. Believe me, they have a reputation and the experienced people in the breed will know who they are.
Going over the rest of the puppy may involve resetting their front and back legs or whatever needs fixing, as you get to that part. All this time you are talking gently to the pup and the handler. It eases the tension for all concerned. You can also help the performance of the dog by correcting the handler if the mistakes they are making hinder the dog, standing and moving. If a puppy tries to bite or is too aggressive, I don’t make a big issue of it, rather talk to the handler later and get the puppy out of the way. It’s not a good idea for the pup to bite the judge.
Above all, showing should be fun for all involved. Whether you have a small number of exhibits in the ring or are judging a huge entry, all exhibitors should be treated courteously and fairly. After all is said and done, you are there for them. No entries…no judge is needed. As the judge, one sets the tone for the ring. A judge in a foul mood would be best to stay home that day. Body language is important since the dogs, as well as the people, pick up on negativity. A good judge can make an important impression on a puppy that is just starting out. Realize this and you can make a difference by the way you judge.