Who’s a Good Boy? Ask These Westminster Judges.

More than 20 years ago on a cold February day, Ted Eubank, a dog breeder from Texas, stepped into the ring at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show for the first time. It was only in It was my first time that year. The crowd around the ring he had ten, he recalled recently.

“Talk about adrenaline, oh my god,” he said.

Since then, Mr Eubank has become a veteran player for Westminster. His Cavaliers, including an indomitable champion named Rocky, have been voted the best of their breed several times.

But Mr Eubank will be new again when he makes his debut as a Westminster judge on Monday. He expects to feel his familiar flutter when he steps into the ring. “I’m going to have butterflies,” he said.

More than 2,500 dogs (miniature pinschers, mastiffs, etc.) take part in this year’s Westminster Dog Show. This is his second oldest consistently held sporting event in the United States. Westminster is a show for winners. Only dogs that have earned points in other competitions are eligible.

For dog show judges, receiving an invitation to evaluate these dog champions is an award in itself. “I felt like I won the lottery when the letter came.” Michael Faulkner of Center Cross, Virginia, who served as a juror for the first time at Westminster in 2001, said:

When Sharon Redmar of Lake Whitmore, Michigan, received the invitation, she was so excited, she recalled, “I almost dropped the envelope.” Also, California state judge Betty-Anne Stenmark said she wasn’t ready when she was named a Best in Show judge in 2018.

Choosing the best of the best is as much an art as it is a science, Westminster judges said. This work requires the application of strict and rigid (sometimes seemingly arbitrary) standards, but in the end it often comes down to personal preference.

“We all see things differently,” said Cindy Vogels, who will be jurying at this year’s ninth edition of Westminster. “That’s the beauty of it, and that’s why people keep coming back.”

Westminster is known as a conformation show and the job of a conformation judge is to assess how well a purebred dog embodies its breed. Is that dog covered in curls the platonic ideal of a poodle? Does that golden retriever look retrievable?

“You look at the dogs and try to determine which ones are giving you signals that they may have done the original job description. Patricia Craig Trotter, judging Best in Show 2021.

Conformation judges must elaborately detail the ideal version of each breed and be deeply familiar with the breed criteria, which specify everything from desired nose pigmentation to preferred facial expressions.

In the United States, it usually takes 10 years or more to participate in dog shows, breed and raise multiple litters, produce champions, complete a course in canine anatomy, and have completed at least 2 Passing two exams and interviews, among other requirements, the reviewing body.

“The truth is, being a dog judge is harder than being a brain surgeon,” Faulkner said.

Some judges only do a few shows a year. Some work past the age of 40 and are posted to Europe, Asia and Australia. Donald Sturtz, who will judge Best in Show in 2022 and is now president of the Westminster Kennel Club, said two years ago, to win a spot at Westminster sending out invitations, the judging The best in show assignment, in particular, is “the pinnacle of dog show judges,” he said.

Judges may spend months preparing for Westminster. Eubank, who will be judging eight toy dogs this year, reviewed the official breed standards and watched videos of judging at past shows. I am reconnecting with some of the mentors who initially helped me master the art of dog evaluation. .

Being a good judge also requires quick and clear analytical thinking, says Brit Jung of Houston, who will be judging at Westminster for the first time this year. The former football player feels responsible for being in the best possible condition for the dog owners and handlers who have put in so much effort to come to Westminster, preparing for the event like an athlete. doing.

“How do I prepare for the big game?” she said. “I eat well. I try to sleep well. I make sure I stick to the routine.”

When Judgment Day finally arrives, the occasion can feel momentous. Westminster crowds overwhelm many dog ​​show crowds. Mrs. Vogels, who judged her Best in Show in 2012, said:

Television viewers raise the stakes. Mrs. Stenmark said she hopes she doesn’t “scratch her head or hook her heels on something and become famous for the wrong reasons,” she said.

But the judges said that as soon as they started the training of sizing the dogs, their nerves calmed down and the noise of the crowd died down.

Westminster’s dogs are already seasoned champions, so the Westminster title is down to the smallest details, such as the condition of the court, the accuracy of the haircut, or the synchronicity between the dog and its handler as it moves around the ring. There is a possibility. “Was it just pure poetry in motion?” Mr. Faulkner said.

Often times, it’s the indescribable qualities that win the day. “It’s a little extra sparkle,” said Mrs. Stenmark. When she judged her Best in Show of 2018, she chose a true dog cloud, Bichon Frizeffrin, as the winner. “This dog wanted it,” she said. “Every time I saw him, he would come out of the end of the lead, wag his tail at me, tilt his head and say, ‘That’s me, isn’t it?'”

When Dr. Sturz judged Best in Show, he knew he had found a winner when a bloodhound named Trumpet spotlighted “in his own way, in a way a bloodhound deserves.” I was. He said.

Another night, another dog might have come out on top. “Did you know that great athletes can have their nights off? Well, so do great animals,” said Mrs. Trotter.

Breed standards provide a blueprint, but judges have their own tastes and priorities. For some judges, judging a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is mostly about finding a pretty face, Eubank said. Breed standard “Sweet, gentle, melting expression” is required. ) But for Eubank, who grew up with hyper-athletic sports dogs, the winning Cavalier has to move beautifully in the ring.

Audiences that can go wild at Westminster often have their own tastes. Audiences “get into something and they like it,” said Mrs. Vogels. “They don’t have the expertise to judge if it’s great,” she said.

Dog show judging has its drawbacks. Travel can be tough. Dog bites are an occupational hazard. And where there are winners, there can be bitter losers. “If the dog wins you are good, but if the dog does not win you are a fool,” said Mrs. Stenmark.

Still, the judge said he couldn’t imagine abandoning the pursuit to which they were drawn for a variety of reasons. He said he had a “thrill”.

For Faulkner, who is also an artist, judging dogs engages the creative part of his brain. “I love the part-to-whole Gestalt approach to assessing breeding stock,” he said. “And I love balance and symmetry.”

And, of course, there are dogs. Mr. Eubank is still a cavalier man, but he loves all the breeds he judges on Monday.

“I love pugs. I love minpins,” he said, referring to miniature pinschers. “I love Pekingese.”

Pomeranian? “They are the cutest.”

Havana? “I’m crazy about them,” he said. “I like them all.”

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