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

On a cold February day more than two decades ago, Ted Eubank, a dog breeder from Texas, stepped into the ring at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for the first time. It was the first year that Cavalier King Charles spaniels — the silky-eared, saucer-eyed dogs that were Mr. Eubank’s specialty — had been allowed to compete in the prestigious dog show, which was then held at Madison Square Garden. The crowd around the ring was 10 people deep, he recalled recently.

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

In the years since, Mr. Eubank has become a seasoned Westminster competitor; his Cavaliers, including one indomitable champion named Rocky, have been named the best of their breed several times.

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

More than 2,500 dogs — miniature pinschers, mastiffs and more — will compete in this year’s Westminster Dog Show, the second oldest consistently held sporting event in the United States. Westminster is a show for winners; only dogs who have racked up points at other competitions are eligible.

For a dog show judge, receiving an invitation to assess these canine champions is a prize of its own. “I felt like I won the lottery when the letter came,” said Michael Faulkner, of Center Cross, Va., who first judged at Westminster in 2001. “I actually cried.”

When Sharon Redmer, of Whitmore Lake, Mich., received her invitation, she was so excited that she “almost dropped the envelope,” she recalled. And Betty-Anne Stenmark, a judge in California, was not prepared when she was tapped to judge Best in Show in 2018. “I was sorry there was no champagne in the refrigerator,” she said.

Picking the best of the best is both a science and an art, Westminster judges said. The task requires applying exacting, rigorous (sometimes arbitrary-seeming) standards, but it also, in the end, often comes down to personal taste.

“We all see things differently,” said Cindy Vogels, who will be judging at Westminster for the ninth time this year. “That’s the beauty of it. And that’s what keeps people coming back.”

Westminster is what is known as a conformation show, and the job of a conformation judge is to assess how well a purebred dog exemplifies its breed: Is that curl-covered dog the Platonic ideal of a poodle? Does that golden retriever look like it can retrieve?

“You are looking at the dogs and trying to determine which dog gives you the signal that it could have done its original job description,” said Patricia Craige Trotter, who judged Best in Show in 2021. “What we’re doing is trying to achieve a level of near perfection in creating a working animal.”

Conformation judges must have a deep familiarity with the breed standards, which articulate the ideal version of each breed in exquisite detail, specifying everything including the desired pigmentation of the nose and the preferred facial expression.

In the United States, becoming an approved judge typically requires more than a decade of participating in dog shows, breeding and raising multiple litters of dogs, producing several champions, completing courses in canine anatomy, passing at least two tests and an interview and attending a judging institute, among other requirements.

“It’s harder to become a dog judge than a brain surgeon, to tell you the truth,” Mr. Faulkner said.

“How would I prepare to be ready for a big game?” she said. “I eat well. I make sure I get good sleep. I make sure I stick to a routine.”

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

And then, of course, there are the dogs. Although Mr. Eubank remains a Cavalier man, he adores all of the breeds he’ll be judging on Monday.

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

Pomeranians? “They’re the cutest.”

Havanese? “Crazy about them,” he said. “I love them all.”

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