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Do Dog-Show Judges Really Fondle Contestants’ Balls?

Yes, lightly.

Show dog getting genitals checked.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

The production company behind Show Dogs, a family comedy about a talking police dog who goes undercover in a breed show, has removed two scenes from the film and issued an apology. The deleted material, which shows the hero undergoing an inspection of his genitalia while following advice to go to his “happy place,” brought to mind the grooming of children for sexual abuse. Do judges at a dog show really fondle the animals’ private parts?

With male dogs, yes; with females, no. Judges in a breed or “conformation” show evaluate the dogs in several ways. In addition to assessing each animal’s gait, they perform an up-close physical inspection that lasts two or three minutes. This almost always begins at the animal’s head and moves rearward. For male dogs, the inspection ends with the judges lightly touching the testicles, to make sure they are present and of equal size. According to American Kennel Club rules, any dog who lacks “two normally descended testicles” will be disqualified.

In general, a male dog would not be allowed into conformation shows until it’s 6 months of age. That’s enough time for its testicles to have descended fully, though problems still turn up, from time to time, in fully developed animals. In some cases, a dog will have had one testicle descend, then shoot back up later on. A dog’s testicle might also retract during an exam, and the handler could try to intervene to help it come back down. The presence of a tumor could also lead a judge to disqualify a dog for having one testicle that’s bigger than the other.

Any dog who has been disqualified three times for having faulty testicles is barred from any future conformation shows.

Female dogs in competition must also be reproductively intact. As a practical matter, though, judges can’t really make this determination in a brief exam. A female dog might have scar tissue that’s suggestive of a spaying, but the same sort of scarring could be the result of other types of surgery as well. Aside from the lack of genital manipulation, the exam for female dogs is similar to the one for male dogs.

Does a judge’s groping bother show dogs? In other contexts, the same sort of exam can be very stressful. For a 2009 study, researchers observed 135 dogs at a veterinary practice on the outskirts of Würzberg, Germany, and found that 61.5 percent of them began to tremble when placed on the examination table, while three-quarters lowered their tails or tucked their tails between their legs. Other research confirms this finding.

Show dogs are trained to take inspections in stride, however. Handlers practice “stacking,” or placing their dogs in the proper position to be judged. (Dogs who wriggle around too much to be measured are disqualified.) While an average pet dog may be unsettled by its brief, infrequent trips to the vet’s office, competition animals are likely to have undergone many such inspections, and they often spend hours at the dog-show venue getting acclimated to the new environment before they’re ever judged.

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Explainer thanks Jerry Klein of the American Kennel Club.