A Judging Format for Novice Judges

By Bobby Duff.

Many years ago when I first became involved in the Breed, Judge Training Classes were a regular feature on the itinerary of the Breed Clubs. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, this important educational aspect has become defunct. I am regularly asked by novices, who are about to undertake their first judging appointment, what is the correct format, or indeed what format do I use when judging the Breed.

The format I use is the one I learned at the GSA Judge Training Seminars 25+ ago. The classes were usually conducted by an SV judge after judging a Breed show, or at least by a very experienced Breed Judge. Over the years I have modified the format only slightly.

The format is very simple and, I believe, has stood the test of time. I break the individual exhibit into 5 sections. (1) General Impression. (2) Forequarter. (3) Middle piece. (4) Hindquarter. (5) Soundness & Movement. I will now deal with each section in more detail. It should be remembered that this format, and indeed the article, is meant only as a guide for the novice. More experienced judges will have their own particular format, which they will have streamlined over the course of their judging experience.

The first thing I would suggest to the novice is to get a copy of the Breed Standard and study it carefully many times before the Show. This is the blueprint for the German Shepherd Breed and will give you a good indication of what you should be looking for. I believe Ringcraft Training Classes are an ideal opportunity for the novice judge to gain experience. Listen to what the experienced breeders and enthusiasts have to say. Ask them to run through the dentition of the breed with you repeatedly, until you are confident in this aspect. Ask can you assist in the running of the class, or even if you may take the class under supervision. Acting as Ring Steward for experienced judges is also another way to gain valuable experience. Watch the method the judge uses to conduct the class, and do not be afraid to ask questions; most judges are only too glad to offer assistance. Study how the judge places his exhibits and listen to his critiques in relation to his placings. The most important thing to remember is; we never stop learning. Knowledge is an ongoing process. I would suggest that the novice judge uses pre-printed critique forms. I still use them to this day. These should contain all the relevant information regarding the faults and attributes of the Breed in a concise and orderly form. Each item will only need to be underlined, and thus save you valuable time. Such documentation  will appear on the web-site as a download in the near future. The most important thing is enjoy your big day.


(1) General Impression.

As soon as the dogs are called into the ring by the steward, you should let all the exhibits walk before you begin any detailed examination of the individuals. This is where you will get the general impression of size, strength, substance, proportions, weight, firmness and colour. If the class is reasonably sized 5 animals or more, let them walk for 5 or 6 laps before beginning your detailed individual examination. This also gives the dogs an opportunity to calm down, which will also help you when you begin the individuals. Now you can begin your individual assessment. The first thing we look at is size. One of the most difficult things for the novice judge to assess is size, and indeed this ability only comes with experience, unless you are prepared to use a measuring stick on each exhibit. I would advise against this. The Breed Ring is not the place for measuring dogs, usually because the proper equipment will not be there. You can only give an approximate size. You may base this on your own dogs and the critiques they have received from judges regarding size. Remember it is your first or second show not a Breed Survey.

The first things we check are the dentition and the testicles. We are looking for a correct scissors bite and the correct number of teeth (42). There should not be large gaps between the teeth and extra teeth, usually premolars, should be noted and mentioned in your ringside verbal critique. Some judges make a big play with double premolars. I agree it is a fault, but only a small one, and should only be a deciding factor between dogs of equal quality. If the best dog has a double premolar, but is otherwise superior to the other exhibits, then to my mind he should win the class. You should also pay attention to the strength of the jaws, particularly the under-jaw. The testicles should be firm and should be in proportion to the age of the animal. If an adult male has under-developed or small testicles, he must be heavily penalised, irrespective of his other qualities. 

Now we look at the head. A male should be clearly masculine and a female feminine, although some latitude can be given to a female with a strong head. If however she is clearly too strong you must note this. If she is obviously the clear winner of the class she should not be penalised. The head in both sexes should have a clearly defined stop and the eyes should in all cases be dark. The ears should be in proportion to the head; not too large, wide-set, tipping in or back. Faults in ears have become a huge problem in recent years, and too many judges are failing to identify it and indeed to penalise it.

After the size factor we should look at the strength and substance of the exhibit. By "strength" we mean strength of bone, and by "substance" we mean the muscular development of the exhibit. The definitions I use in regard to bone strength are; (a) strong, (b) medium strong and (c) fine. Some novices falsely believe that if a dog is big in size, then de facto he must be strongly boned. This is not correct. Large dogs may have any of the 3 categories above regarding bone strength. Weak, fine or lightly boned animals should be heavily penalised. Again I break “substance (muscle)” into 3 distinct categories; (a) strong muscled, (b) sufficiently strong muscles and (c) weakly muscled.  This category may also be defined as “constitution”. What we are looking for here is the strength and condition of the muscles. A really fit, well-exercised German Shepherd will exhibit a strong, rubbery-like muscle constitution. Some judges, especially all-round judges, like to run their hands continually over an exhibit. This is not required, and indeed only exemplifies the ignorance of the judge. The dog will exhibit these qualities quite naturally. Weakly muscled dogs will normally display softness in their backlines in stance, usually a dip or a break, and this will be further emphasised when the dog is asked to walk or gait. The weight factor is also judged here. Is the dogs weight correct for his size and build. The Breed Standard gives us only approximate weight values; 30-40 kg for males and 22-32 kg for females. This is really of no value to you unless you have a weighing scales handy at the side of the ring, which you won’t. Here you must trust your eyes and judgment. Does the dog’s ribs stick out like a barrel, and is he loose in his back ligaments when he walks or trots. On the other hand are his ribs clearly visible when the dog stands. If they are then the animal is clearly under weight. You should penalise him and mention it in your critique. It is acceptable and normal for the last 2 or 3 ribs to show when the dog is walking or gaiting.

The next category we look at is the proportions. The German Shepherd is a somewhat stretched breed; basically this means that the dog should be slightly longer in his body than in relationship to his height, and the length of foreleg should slightly exceed the depth of chest. For the novice, and indeed the more experienced judge, this is not always easy to interpret or to fully understand. For the sake of the novice I think it would be easier to explain this point with some photographs than with several paragraphs of text and ratios, which will only serve to confuse us all.

I would like to make it clear to everyone that we are not discussing the merits or demerits of these individual dogs, or their progeny. I use them only because they are well known to everyone and I believe will help the novice with regard to understanding “proportions”. What we should be looking for in our breed is balance; nothing over or underdone. A picture of complete harmony in all parts. I will describe the dogs in relation to proportions as I see them.



The first example I use is Jack vom Trienzbachtal. Here I see a dog of good chest proportions, with good foreleg to chest depth proportions. In my opinion the dog is slightly stretched in his middle piece (as per Breed Standard). Therefore I would say the dog has good structural proportions and is balanced. Do you agree!



The next dog we look at is Zamb von der Wienerau. Do we see the same balance as we see in Jack vom Trienzbachtal. I would suggest not. I would suggest that he displays equal chest depth and foreleg length and is what I would regard as 50/50 in chest/leg proportions. I would also suggest that he is obviously stretched (long) in his middle piece. In terms of proportions I would suggest that Zamb is incorrect. Do you agree!  Look at the picture of Jack above and try to make a comparison. I might help more if you print the pages out.  





The next dog I feature is Rikkor von Bad-Boll. Here I would suggest that we have a totally different dog in terms of structural proportions. I would suggest that he is too deep in his chest proportions in relation to his length of foreleg. I would further suggest that he is too short in his middle piece (back and loin), when compared to the Breed Standard and indeed to the dogs above. I regard this dog as being stuffy, too compact  and lacking balance. Now we must ask ourselves what is the greater degree of the problem; a dog that is too long; or a dog that is too short. I would suggest that a short dog should be penalised more so than a long dog. Even though I have criticised Zamb, I still believe that he exhibits a certain degree of balance which Rikkor does not. Do you agree!

Now we must look at pigmentation and coat condition. For many years in Germany under previous SV President’s pigment was never taken too seriously when evaluating the top dogs. That situation changed considerably under the tenure of former President Peter Messler, and I believe this is one area, of many, where his influence is to be seen today. With almost no exceptions the Select Groups have shown a marked improvement. In pigmentation, and it was obvious that Erich Orschler continued that trend this year (2003). Some people will still argue that lack of pigment does not alter the construction or performance of the dog and should only be mentioned in passing.

I would not fully agree with this argument. Poor pigment and/or a tight coat can spoil the general impression of an otherwise excellent specimen. It was obvious this year that all our visiting judges paid attention to pigment and I believe that trend will continue. Pigment must be mentioned in your critiques and used as PART of your assessment of the class.

Summary: We are now at the stage where we have assessed the dog in regard to his general impression (size, strength, substance, head, condition, structural proportions), teeth, entirety and pigmentation. At this stage you will begin to get an idea of the qualities or failings that the dog exhibits.


(2) Forequarters.

When you come to assess the forequarters your assessment must be made from two positions; the side and the front. When we make our assessment form the side we are looking at the withers, the position and length of the shoulder-blade, the length and position of the upper-arm and their relationship to each other, the forelegs and the pasterns.  The withers are made up of 7 dorsal vertebrae. They should be pronounced when the dog is in stance and in motion. The upper-arm and the shoulder blade should be of the same length, strongly muscled and placed flat and tightly knit to the body. The ideal angle of the upper-arm and shoulder-blade should be 90 degrees, but some deviation, either above or below, is acceptable. The shoulder-blade must be well laid back and not forward placed to any degree. This is a serious fault. A simple rule of thumb method for the novice to assess the position of the shoulder blade is to see if the top of the shoulder blades is directly below the withers. If the shoulder is placed further forward than this position we regard the shoulders as being “forward-placed. As I have already said the upper-arm must have the same length and angle of the shoulder-blade. A slightly steep upper-arm is permissible, but a short, steep upper-arm should be penalised as this will impair the movement and endurance of the dog. The forelegs must be strongly boned and absolutely straight.. The pasterns should be moderately angled and should be 1/3 of the length of the foreleg. The pasterns should neither be too steep or too straight as this will interfere with the soundness of the dog and impair endurance. The feet should be round, well closed and arched. Flat or widely spread feet should be noted.

The next step is to assess the dog in regard to the “Stand in Front”. Many experienced judges use the term “straight front” when assessing the “stand in front”, and I believe this is very misleading to the novice. The novice believes they are giving an assessment of the forehand angulation. This is not correct. The correct term to use is "stands correct in front". When we view the dog from the front we are looking for absolutely straight lines in regard to the shoulder-blades, the upper-arms, the elbows, the pasterns and the feet. Nothing should be turned in or out. Any deviation from this should be regarded as a serious fault. Recently there has been much discussion on the Internet in regard to dogs with turned out feet. This has become an increasing problem in recent years, but many judges including SV judges are not penalising it. It should be regarded as a problem, but you must look at it relatively. If the dog is turned out to the extent that it hinders his performance then you must penalise him. If it is only slightly apparent you must take all the other elements of the class into consideration. When we talked about proportions I used photographs to attempt to make it easier for the novice to understand. I will now do the same for the front angulations. I would like to stress again that in this section we are only dealing here with front angulations and not any other constructional elements of the 3 dogs.



The first example I would like to use is Uran vom Wildsteiger Land. Remember what I have already said in regard to length and angle of the shoulder-blades and the upper-arms and their position relative to the withers. Here I would suggest that the bones (shoulder and upper-arms are of equal length and their angle to each other is correct. The top of the shoulder-blade is directly below the withers and the forelegs are directly below the withers if we were to drop a vertical line. I would suggest that this forehand angulation is correct in its entirety. Would you agree!




The next dog I use as an example is Dux della Valcuvia. Look at picture of Uran and see if you can see a difference. Are the shoulders and upper-arms of equal length? Are the angle of the shoulders and upper-arms the same. Is the top of the shoulders directly below the withers. If we drop a horizontal line are the forelegs directly below the withers. In all cases I would suggest not. The upper-arm is clearly shorter that the shoulder. The upper-arm is also clearly steeper in relation to the shoulder. The top of the shoulder is not below the withers, and if we were to drop a vertical line from the withers the forelegs are clearly not directly below the withers. Here I would suggest to you that we have a classic example of a “short, steep upper-arm and a “forward-placed shoulder”.  Would you agree!



The next example I will use is Tatja vom Monchberg. If we look at the three pictures together do we see any discernible differences. Of the three dogs who are most similar in regard to their front angles. Let us discuss Tatja. Are the shoulders and upper-arms of equal length? Are the angles of the shoulders and upper-arms the same? Is the top of the shoulders directly below the withers and are the forelegs directly below the withers? I would suggest here that the shoulders and upper-arms are of the same length, but I think it is obvious that the angle of the bones is different. I would suggest that the shoulders are correctly angled but the upper-arms are steep in their relationship to the shoulders. The withers are directly above the shoulders and the forelegs are directly below the withers. If I were judging this forehand I would say; “well laid shoulder, good length of upper-arm which should be better angled”. I think it is fair to say that Uran and Tatja are more similar and correct in their forehands than Dux. I believe the length of the upper-arm is vitally important and should be less harshly judged than a short upper-arm. Do you agree?


(3) Middlepiece.

  In my format the middle piece contains 3 elements; the back, the loin and the underchest. The back should be short, firm, strong and well muscled, with no indication of a dip or a roach (raise). The loin should be broad, strong and well muscled. The underchest should be well developed and straight  with no indication of being "tucked-up. Again I will use photographs to give the novice an indication of what we should regard as being correct and incorrect.




 The first dog I will use as an example is Connie vom Farbenspiel. I would suggest that the back is straight and strong with absolutely no deviation. The loin is short and continues the line from the back faultlessly. The underchest is straight, with no hint of being tucked-up.





 The next example I use is Neptun von Bad-Boll. If we look just behind the wither we can a see an obviuos break. His loin is too short and the underchest is also too short which gives the appearance of being tucked up. Compare Neptun to Connie and see if you appreciate the differences.



 The next example I use is Pascha von der Jahnhoe. Again compare the 3 dogs. If we assume that Connie has a straight back; Neptun has a dip behind the wither; What can we say about Pascha? I would suggest that there is a distinct raise in the middle of his back. Some judges also call this a "peak". I would suggest that he has a correct underline. Would you agree? The short underchest is caused by the small ribs at the back of the ribcage being too short. This problem means that the internal organs (heart, lungs etc) do have not enough room to function properly and therefore impair the endurance of the dog.


 (4) The hindquarters.

 The hinquarter comprises the croup, the tail and the hind angulations. The croup should be long and gently sloping, roughly at 23 degrees from the horizontal. The tail should be without curl or bend and must reach at least to the hock joint. The croup should join the tail without noticeable deviation. The upper and lower thigh bones should be almost the same length and should be at an appoximate angle of 120 degrees to each other. Again some variation above or below this figure is permissable. The thighs should be broad, strong and well muscled. The hocks should be short and strong and on a vertical line to the feet. I believe that there are 3 degrees of hindquarter angulation; (a) normal hind angles, (b) insufficient hind angles and (c) over angulated hindquarters. I will use photographs to attempt to explain the hindquarters of the German Shepherd.


The first dog I will use as an example is Erasmus van Noort. A correct croup should be long, gently sloping and joining the tail without interruption. I would suggest these qualitities are clearly visible in this dog. If we look at the upper and lower thigh bones I would suggest that they are almost of equal length and that the angle is correct to the standard. The thighs are broad and strong and the hocks are short and straight. Generally I would say this is an excellent hindquarter. Would you agree?




The next dog we look at is Lasso von Neuen Berg. If we look at the picture of Erasmus distinct differences are clearly evident. The slope of the croup is much more obvious. I feel there is a distinct difference in the length of the upper and lower thigh; the upper thigh being appreciably longer. The hocks are a little long and the thighs are not as strong or well muscled. In my opinion this is an under-angulated hindquarter, and indeed a poor hindquarter. Would you agree?




  The next dog we look at is Nero vom Nobachtal. Again I would suggest that the croup is excessively steep when compared to Erasmus, although the length is very good. Again I think it is obvious that the upper and lower thighs are of different length. In this instance the lower thigh is considerably longer than the upper thigh. The thighs are broad and strong, bit I think the hocks are a little long. I would suggest that this is an over-angulated hindquarter. Would you agree?

Now you have finished your physical examination of the dog in stance we will move on to the last and most important aspect of our Breed.


(5) Soundness and Movement.

You now ask the handler to walk away from you with his dog in a straight line, preferably with the dog not pulling excessively into the lead. What we are trying to assess here is the soundness of the hocks. The hocks should be straight and parallel to each other. The dog should not appear cow-hocked, toeing in, wide set or crossing over. There should not undue side movement of the hock bones; this suggests loose hocks. The dog should be well set up on his feet, and not give the impression of walking on his hocks; this can usually be seen in a dog with hocks that are too long. It is important not to allow yourself to be rushed here. If you feel you have not got a clear indication make the handler do it again. Experienced handlers who will be aware of unsoundness in the hindquarters will allow the dog to pull over to the side to spoil your view. When you are satisfied ask the handler to walk the dog towards you, again without the dog pulling excessively on the lead. Here we are looking at the soundness of the dog in his forequarter. Are the shoulders, upper-arms and elbows laid flat to the body. If the dog turns his elbows out from this position we should assume that his elbows are loose. Does he throw his feet out to the side. This would suggest loose or incorrectly angled pasterns.

Now we ask the handler to move his dog. Different judges use dfferent procedures in this phase. Some will ask the handler to walk to the first corner and gait from there. Some will ask the handler to complete one lap of walking followed immediately by one lap of gaiting. I would suggest that the novice judge uses the last option. This will give you a good chance to evaluate the dog on the walk and on the trot. What are we looking for here? What I look for here is three distictly different telements. (1) When the dog walks/trots does he retain a high wither, a straight back and a well-moulded croup. (2) When the dog walks/trots are the musscles of the back and loin firm, without any appreciable looseness or wobble. (3) Does the dog generate strong, powerful thrust from the hindquarter and free reach from the forequarter. Strong thrust can only be achieved by a dog who has the broad, well muscled thighs and correctly angled hindquarter. The footfalls from the hindquarter should easily reach the footfalls of the forelegs in their backward movement. Correct front reach should see the dogs forelegs easily pass in front of his head. Now we must let the class walkin catologue order for a while before you make your initial call-out. I have learned over the years that this is best method. You will know from your judging sheets what your line-up will be, but it is better to let all the dogs walk for a time before you make your final decisions. This gives you the opportunity to see if any particular dog is starting to improve or disimprove. Is he starting to tire, are his back ligaments starting to loosen, is he starting to fall on the forehand somewhat? It will also prevent you from chopping and changing the order constantly. When you are happy that they have sorted themselves out you should place them in the order of your choice. Let them walk for a couple of more laps, fine tune them if you need to, and then finish the class. 

Let your Ring Steward call out the positions and the number of each exhibit. By now your nerves will really be on edge. The first occasion that you have to give verbal critiquues to an audience. "Why did I accept this bloody appointment? I could be at home or better still outside the ring watching some other guy make a fool of himself". All these emotions will run through your head. There is very little that I can say that will make this any easier for you, and I am not going to. I have been there and it only gets slightly easier with experience. Just remember one thing. In Ireland we demand verbal critiques from all our breed judges; novice or experienced, and you will be no exception, When it is all over, everyone will go for a pint and you will be pulled asunder, to your face. All in the best possible taste of course. Even those who win will have a pop off you. That is the nature of us Irish.

Before I finish I will tell you a good lesson I learned many years from SV judge John Leysen. I quote; "You must have something good to say about all the exhibits, even those at the end of the class, because their owners will still love them irrespective of how they have done at the show". We all should bear this in mind when we judge.

Be a positive judge. By all means define the problems, but remember that all dogs have certain qualities, and you should be prepared to make the owners aware of them. You should also remember that not too many years before this you would have been a "starry-eyed" newcomer to the Breed, standing outside the ring listening to someone discuss your dog, and hoping to take something positive home with you. Remember that.

If, after all this you still have the desire to judge our great Breed, we all welcome you. You are badly needed. You will make mistakes, count on it. We all have. Learn by them.

Just before I finish I would like to leave you with a funny incident that happened to me when I judged an Open Breed Show in Limerick many years ago. I think it was my third or fourth appointment. The classes were big, with a great turnout from the local German Shephed Club. The fifth or sixth dog in one of the Junior classes was obviously not what I regarded as being a "good" specimen. I gave the dog a rather savage critique and told the owner that in my opinion the dog was only "mediocre". For some reason the owner was delighted with the grading and proceeded to tell the President of the club, a close friend of  mine, "that judge is great, my dog has never been graded before". That was before I met John Leysen

 I get stick about that incident to this day.


Reproduced with permission from author Bob Duff
Steinenberg German Shepherds

e-mail: bobbyduff@iol.ie