Crufts: an insider's guide to the breed judging
Last year, 9.3 million viewers watched Crufts on Channel 4 over the four days of this unique event. No wonder Channel 4 has extended its coverage this year on both Channel 4 and More 4! The Group Finals are televised every night, with coverage concluding on Sunday with the the illustrious Crufts ‘Best in Show’. But what have those Group Finalists been through at Crufts to make it onto our TV screens?
Christine first went to Crufts in 2009 and in 2011 stepped into the ring for the first time with Anna Bananna, a.k.a. Ir. Ch. Sumobi Love Me Tender Artmeis. We've been back every year since!
Here’s our insider's guide to the breed judging so you’ve got pro knowledge of what’s been going on when you settle down to watch those fabulous dogs on your TV at home each evening!
Which breeds compete on which days?
19,026 dogs from over 200 breeds are entered at Crufts this year and they will be whittled down to just one Best In Show winner.
Crufts is organised with seven 'Groups' of dogs competing on different days: Gundog (including the American Cocker Spaniel above), Hound, Pastoral, Toy, Terrier, Utility and Working.
In 2023 the schedule for Crufts is:
- Thursday, Day 1: Gundogs
- Friday, Day 2: Working & Pastoral
- Saturday, Day 3: Hounds & Terriers
- Sunday, Day 4: Toy & Utility
Each day, the breeds in the relevant Groups are judged in breed rings across five halls at the NEC, with exhibits in every breed aiming to win the top award of ‘Best of Breed’ to get through to the Group Finals and appear on your television each night!
If the world of dog showing is completly new to you, take a look at the Kennel Club video above for an insight into what exhibitors are doing when they "stack" their dogs on tables or walk them around the ring in triangles!
Breed judging is split into male dogs and bitches, with the exhibits in each sex judged separately. Most breeds are judged by one judge in one ring, and the male dogs are judged first to select Best Dog before the bitches are judged to select the Best Bitch.
Where a breed has a huge entry, judging will be split by two judges - one judge for the male dogs, one judge for the bitches - and the two sexes judged concurrently in separate rings. This is simply down to logistics. There are 537 Labrador Retrievers entered this year - even if a judge "only" took 90 seconds to go over each of the dogs without stopping, they would be in the ring for more than 13 hours!
Let the judging begin – the classes
The classes offered at Crufts varies from breed to breed but all classes have entry criteria that must be met so not all exhibits can enter all classes. Some classes are determined by age only, e.g. ‘Puppy’ for 6-12 month old exhibits, whereas other classes may not be age limited but are restricted by the win history of the exhibit, e.g. ‘Limit’ classes are not open to existing Champions.
When the steward calls each class, the adrenaline is pumping for most exhibitors already – what happens in a matter of minutes could be the end of their competition or a big step towards greater glory.
Christine and Brutus in the Junior Dog Class at LKA Championship Show in December 2022 - in the classes, dogs are assessed by the judge stood still as well as on the move. The judge is assessing conformation to the Breed Standard, and breed type - the desired charactersitics that are unqiue to each breed. Brutus has qualified for entry into Crufts for life having gained his UK Champion title at just 12 months old, but he will be competing at Crufts in 2023 for the first time!
Showing dogs is not an exact science. Many stars need to align for a dog to win – the dog should be a good example of the breed, and they need to be in the mood (dogs, like humans, can be up for it or not!), the handler needs to be skilled and perfectly in tune with their dog, the judge needs to see the virtues of the dog, plus a whole heap of other variables. Even top-winning dogs can have a bad day in the show ring.
There are five places to be won in each class: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Reserve and Very Highly Commended (VHC) and unless you win 1st place, your competition is almost certainly over. In breeds with very large entry numbers, just being placed in a class at Crufts can be a dream come true.
If there is only one judge for both sexes, once the class judging for male dogs is completed, the Dog Challenge is held before the bitches are called for the bitch classes and the Bitch Challenge.
Our very own Mabel strutting her stuff on the green carpet at Crufts. Only the unbeaten, 1st place class winners are called back into the ring for the Challenge to compete for the best of sex award - Best Dog or Best Bitch. Best Puppy and Best Veteran in sex are also awarded in the Challenge.
The judge has one final look at their chosen 1st place winners from the classes - exhibitors are keenly focused and nerves are jangling - before making the award for Best Dog or Best Bitch. This is a once in a lifetime achievement for most exhibitors and one heck of a win. Reserve Best Dog and Reserve Best Bitch are also awarded, along with Best Puppy and Best Veteran in sex. Any of these awards, at any championship show let alone Crufts, are fantastic achievements.
Once both the Dog Challenge and the Bitch Challenge are completed, and Best Dog and Best Bitch have been selected, it’s time for ‘Best of Breed’ and the other top breed for Best Puppy In Breed and Best Veteran In Breed.
‘Best of Breed’ judging
Best Dog and Best Bitch go head to head for the top prize in the breed competition. Just two dogs now in the ring, after beating all the other exhibits.
A lovely video from Crufts 2013 about the Best of Breed judging for Labradors where the two judges could not agree on whether Best Dog or Best Bitch should be awarded Best of Breed.
The handers present the dog and bitch, concentrating on showing their dog off to their absolute best – the floor stack has to be perfect with feet in exactly the right place to create the right angles and proportions, the dog relaxed but confident, stood to create the perfect silhouette, head carried perfectly, shoulders set back correctly, ears, tail, … everything must be perfect …
The judge (or two judges) will move the dog and the bitch again – together and individually. The tension around the ring is palatable. Everyone is watching, making their own assessments, trying to second guess where the judge is going to go. The exhibitors stand their dogs again for one last time.
The judge takes a long, hard, last look before calling for the rosettes and Best of Breed card and awards to their chosen Crufts Best of Breed winner! This really is a dream come true for almost any exhibitor and very few exhibitors will scale the same dizzy heights ever again!
With Best of Breed awarded the judge makes the final top awards for Best Puppy in Breed and Best Veteran in Breed and the three top winners do a final lap of honour around the ring with Best of Breed leading the way … before the 'BoB' winner heads to the Group Final and onto your television screen!
We hope our guide to breed judging gives you an insight into what of those beautiful Group Finalists have achieved before making into the Group Finals which will be televised every evening for the duration of Crufts!
Live stream from the Main Arena on YouTube @Crufts
The Kennel Club is live-streaming footage form the Main Arena all day, every day throughout the show via the Crufts YouTube channel >
On TV (UK) Channel 4 & More 4
Channel 4 & More 4 have extended their Crufts coverage this year - watch it live or on catch up.