How to Approach a Dog for Hand on Examination While Judging

During Judging a hands-on examination is essential, except on a couple of breeds, such as the Azawakh, where touching is traditionally not required, and the Fila Brasileiro, which is a one-man dog that won’t allow touching. The eye often misinterprets the impression, but the fingers can adjust that illusion. With coated breeds, hands-on examination is imperative, while with smooth-coated breeds it will probably only be necessary to touch certain areas and feel the muscle tone, since everything else is clearly visible. Rough treatment – especially at the mouth – can frighten a dog and cause huge problems for the exhibitor in the future. An excessively light touch sends the signal that you are nervous of touching the dog. Best is a firm, but gentle, touch that exudes confidence and control. Following instructions are included in Dog Show Judges Learning program of Kennel Union of Southern Africa. These can act as a guideline for dog show judges as how to approach a dog for a hand on examination.

  1. Never approach a dog from behind – not on initial evaluation and not later during your decision-making process.
  2. Allow sufficient time for the handler to set up the dog where you want it to be stacked for examination.
  3. Exhibitors hate it when judges do not give them enough time to do this, so be very aware of this courtesy.
  4. Take a few seconds to look at the fully-stacked dog in profile (or diagonal or front-on) to gain an overall impression of the dog’s structure. If the dog is in profile, it is at this point that you will determine the height to length ratio, the lay back of shoulder, the balance of fore- and hindquarters and, of course, the total silhouette.
  5. Most exhibitors prefer an approach from a diagonal front, so, when you have finished looking at the overall presentation, walk purposefully – neither too wimpy nor too forcefully – towards the dog in a curve from your vantage position toward the dog’s diagonal front. Some breeds, such as the Chow Chow and Shar Pei have limited peripheral vision, so you need to approach directly from the front.
  6. Your demeanor should exude confidence and quiet control. Never let a dog sense you are nervous through jerky or hesitant movements and never back off in a state of nervous anxiety – some breeds like Afghan Hounds and Salukis will play up to this and that will be the end of a trouble-free examination.
  7. Avoid rushing over to the dog aggressively or gruffly and don’t grab the dog’s head in a forceful manner.
  8. As you approach the dog, greet the handler (regardless of how many times he/she enters the ring with different dogs), and ask if you may examine the dog. You may also ask the age of the dog. Insist that the handler answers you because the purpose of talking to the handler is not to strike up a conversation, but rather to indicate to the dog that the handler approves of the stranger touching him.
  9. If you are judging some of the traditionally more protective breeds, like some of those in the Working Group, you may ask first if it is okay to touch the dog. You don’t have to place yourself in a dangerous position, and if a dog does try to go for you or does actually make contact, you may excuse him from the ring, where-after you need to report it to the Show Manager and sign the Judge’s sheets accordingly. This rarely happens, however, since most are well socialized and accustomed to being handled.
  10. Avoid eye contact initially, especially males – look at the dog just south of his eyes and set him at ease first before you examine eye shape and colour.
  11. It is really not necessary to stick your hand out like a wet fish in order for the dog to smell you. The dog smelt you when it came into the ring and, in any case, it has already identified all the dogs and other items you have touched up to now. A wet-fish, slack hand indicates to the dog that you are nervous, which may even be true! If you really want to put your hand out to them, pretend you have a treat in your hand, then extend your fingers palm upwards.
  12. With your right hand, touch and warmly massage the dog’s cheek or neck, as you talk to him and give a few encouraging words. Your touch must be firm, without being harsh, and it should exude control and confidence. Too soft a touch is wishy-washy and could send a message that you are nervous.
  13. Speak pleasantly to the dog in a reassuring manner until he settles, then proceed to examine the dog in silence.

How Not to Examine a Puppy – From a Puppy’s Perspective

  1. I’m very sensitive to body language, especially if I’m trying to figure out a whole new world and learn quickly.  Quick movements look like threats. Speak to me before reaching for my head and use a light, confident touch.
  2. Do not cross your arms and make strong eye contact. That looks like a challenge to me so depending on my age and breed I’ll respond accordingly.
  3. Keep your arms down at your sides. SMILE AT ME! I recognize that.
  4. Strong perfume, jewelry, cigarette smoke, gum, or onions may offend me.
  5. I’m not used to big hats, scarves, or long dangly things on your ears.
  6. Do not use clickers or step forward with a buzzer to see my expression.
  7. Do not expect expression when I’m on the table. Judge me on the floor.
  8. Do not follow behind me when I do my gaiting pattern.
  9. Never approach me from the rear. Start at my head to examine me.
  10. Place yourself in my line of vision and move slowly. Keep one hand against the side of my head and use the other to examine me in a continuous motion.
  11. Don’t search for tonsils. Allow the exhibitor to show the bite if possible.
  12. Examine me according to MY breed standard.
  13. Don’t bend down and peer intently into my face to evaluate my expression. Your expression looks like a threat.
  14. Don’t pick up my feet to look at the pads. I only trust my owner with my feet.

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