How Dog Shows Work

Criteria Used for Judging Show Dogs

dog show judging
Dog show judge examining Dachshund's teeth
Sean Murphy/Getty Images

In a dog conformation show, judges aren't merely comparing the dogs to each other. Rather, they judge each dog against the parameters of the idealized version of its breed. In other words, when the judge looks at your poodle, Fluffy, he is comparing Fluffy to the written standards of the ideal poodle. The standards address various body parts and attributes, including:

  • Balance: overall appropriate proportions in size
  • Weight
  • Size
  • Eyes: color, size, shape
  • Ears: shape, length, position
  • Head: shape
  • Muzzle: shape, length
  • Whiskers: thickness
  • Teeth: kind of bite (e.g. level or scissors bites)
  • Tail: how it arches and sets (e.g. how high or low)
  • Shoulders: bone, muscle
  • Legs: muscles, stance, proportionality
  • Coat: texture, length
  • Color: accepted breed colors

A judge will use his hands to inspect the dog's body, including its bones and muscles. In addition to assessing physical characteristics like these, judges assess the dog's walk (gait) and attitude. For instance, criteria might require that the dog's attitude be cheerful, as for the beagle, or proud, as for the poodle. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has assembled these criteria for each of their recognized breeds. It gathers this information from the clubs and organizations that specialize in those breeds. The dog that the judges think matches its breed's criteria the best wins the competition.


Now that we know what judges look for, let's take a peek behind the scenes of these shows and find out what the road to Westminster is like.