How to Judge Dog Conformation



This is ‘how the dog is put together’ – the way the shoulder is formed, the sweep of the hindquarters, strength of back (topline). Conformation relates to the function that the particular breed is meant to perform: is it a galloping dog (like a greyhound) or a dog that will ‘go to earth’ such as a Border Terrier? Their functions are vastly different, so their structures are equally different. There is a saying in breeding and judging: form follows function. The judge will have this aspect of the dog firmly in mind as she/he assesses the dogs in the ring.


If the dog is made right, as per the Standard and having correct conformation, it should ‘move right’! Clearly though, not all dogs move the same. The Old English Sheepdog has a ‘rolling’ gait, while the German Shepherd exhibits a ‘flying trot’. Their gait (movement) is related to their function and has to be assessed in this context.


Is the dog in good condition? Are his eyes clear, his teeth in the correct alignment, his coat clean and well presented. Are there any structural abnormalities, such as a weak back, an unbalanced movement, a laxity in any joints? Is his breathing clear and unobstructed and are his feet well made for the job he will have to do?

Breed Standards

Each breed within these groups has its own ‘Standard’ – a written description setting out the ideal for that breed. The Standard describes what the dog should look like – its general proportions, its head, its size, coat and other characteristics. The judge assesses each dog in the light of this Standard.


Temperament of course is critical, but again, not all dogs are alike in this respect. Some dogs (such as the Golden Retriever) are ‘kindly, friendly and confident’; others (the Cairn Terrier) are ‘fearless … gay (and) assertive’; others still are ‘dignified and aloof with a certain keen fierceness’ (the Afghan Hound). The judge will observe this aspect of each dog and factor it into any decision as they place the dogs in each class.

Breed Type

This is about how closely the dog under consideration conforms to the breed standard. This can come down to consideration of such items as head quality, coat texture, size or body proportions.

Breed Groups

In Australia, the many breeds of dogs are divided into seven groups:

Group 1: Toys (such as Chihuahuas and Italian Greyhounds)

Group 2: Terriers (such as the Scottish Terrier or the Fox Terrier)

Group 3: Gundogs (such as the Cocker Spaniel or the Irish Setter)

Group 4: Hounds (such as the Afghan Hound or the Dachshund)

Group 5: Working Dogs (such as the Australian Cattle Dog or the German Shepherd)

Group 6: Utility Dogs (such as the Rottweiler or the St Bernard)

Group 7: Non Sporting (such as the French Bulldog or the Great Dane

The above judging criteria and comments have been provided for the purpose of education and do not represent the views, opinions or position of judges, officials or the RA&HS. Any resemblance to actual persons, competitors, or exhibits living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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