I had the pleasure of judging the sporting dogs at the Lehigh Valley Kennel Club match today. It was the first time I have judged anything other than Labradors (or much earlier in my life, horses). And, yes, on Super Bowl Sunday, dog lovers take their dogs to a competition or simply pack up the family to go watch.

The purpose of a match show is to give dogs and/or people that are new to showing a place to practice without a great deal of pressure. Puppies may enter as early as three months of age. It also gives judges in training like me a chance to evaluate dogs and practice ring procedure.

I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous judging breeds that were not in my background. I had to prepare by reading the breed standards. Each individual breed has a standard that was developed to describe the ideal dog of that breed, developed for a particular purpose and making it stand out from other breeds. In my breed, the Labrador Retriever, the dogs were developed to be a working gun dog with the head, coat and tail being hallmarks of what is special ( known as “type”).

Of course, there is more than type in play. The structure of the dog is of utmost importance. Correct structure, examples include shoulder angles, knee angles, and neck placement are important to evaluate for long term health. A dog is much more likely to suffer an injury if the structure is poor. Degenerative joint disease risk is decreased when the structure is good.

So, as a judge, I looked for the best example of each breed I could find in front of me today. After I judged all the sporting breeds, the breed winners came back in the ring for me to choose the top four placements of the day. It was not a difficult choice for me to make today. I chose an American Cocker Spaniel for Best in Group. The minute I put my hands on that little dog, I could feel that she was put together like a dream. When her handler put her on the ground to move, she did not disappoint. It was honestly a thrill.

The experience with the cocker is why I started down the path of judging. To find that one dog that stood out among the others. I have more judging assignments coming up in the spring. After today’s experience, I am really looking forward to them!