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You may have heard of “Cinnar,” the Siberian Husky who was already a successful show dog when he lost part of his ear in an accident. Some might thing his career in Conformation might be over after the accident. Could a dog with a huge part of his ear missing be shown, much less win?

Even since the early days of dog shows, people have wondered how to judge dogs with missing body parts. Should judges have to decide if a missing body part is genetic or acquired? And how can you evaluate a feature if it’s missing?

Evaluating Missing Features

Generally speaking, unless the breed standard mentions that a dog must have a particular body part to qualify, the judge can decide how to factor a missing body part into their assessment. For example, they can choose how to judge a dog that’s missing part of their ear or tail and a toe or toes, or has broken or lost teeth or scars. AKC rules give the judge sole authority in determining all awards. In addition, the rules specify that a judge can’t get the show vet’s opinion in assessing the conditions of any dogs they judge. However, it’s clear that a procedure to enhance the dog’s physical (like a dental implant, capped tooth, or eye prosthesis) merits a disqualification.

In Cinnar’s case, the Siberian Husky standard stated nothing that addressed missing parts or ear disqualifications. It did describe how the ears should look, however. The tips should be “slightly rounded,” but of course, the tip of one of Cinnar’s ears was missing. Fortunately, he had another intact ear that probably once matched the opposite ear, and the breed standard did not discriminate against missing parts. So Cinnar could still be shown — but could he still win?

Siberian Husky Cinnar wins Best in Show at Westminster 1980
AKC Family Dog Archives

Cinnar lost multiple shows, but he eventually had a win that made his ear the most famous one in the dog show world. The win that did it? No less than Best in Show at the 1980 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show!

Dogs With Full or Partially-Missing Ears

Cinnar is far from the only dog missing an ear to be shown successfully. Numerous dogs in many breeds have earned championships while lacking pieces of their ears (or even entire ears).

Patti Neale is an AKC Conformation judge who evaluates several different breed groups. She points out that her interpretation of certain Working Group breed standards wouldn’t allow her to judge some dogs with missing ears. “The Akita standard disqualifies for a ‘drop or broken ear,’ she says. “A missing ear, I’d be unable to judge that, which means I would have to excuse the dog from competition. The Anatolian Shepherd standard disqualifies for an erect ear, so again, I’d be unable to judge a dog with a missing ear.”

But not every dog with missing or partially missing ears can finish a championship, depending on their breed standard and on the judge. Some standards will designate missing teeth, cropped ears, docked or missing tails, or the absence of dew claws as disqualifying faults. If a judge believes a dog possesses a disqualifying fault in a breed standard, they are disqualifying that dog from competition at the event in question. If three different judges disqualify a dog, that dog becomes ineligible to enter and compete in future Conformation events. In cases where a judge can’t evaluate a feature that would otherwise be a disqualification, the judge may excuse the dog from the ring because they are unable to judge that feature.

Note that while deaf dogs can’t be shown in Conformation, missing a part or even all of the outer ear doesn’t deafen a dog. In fact, deaf dogs can compete in many other AKC dog sports.

Dogs With Missing Eyes

When Leo the Saluki lost his eye to a fungal infection, it seemed to mean the end of his show career. After all, losing one ear may not entirely handicap a dog, and the dog will likely still have another ear. But a missing eye definitely affects vision. According to AKC rules, blind dogs are not allowed to compete in Conformation. However, the AKC defines blindness as “no usable vision,” and a dog missing one eye isn’t necessarily blind. (And even if they are blind, they can compete in a number of other AKC sports).

The question about missing eyes becomes harder when the breed standard has disqualifications based on eye color, eyelid anomalies, or other features. It’s possible that the removal of an eye could also disguise these faults. For example, how do you handle a one-eyed Anatolian Shepherd Dog? In this breed, either blue eyes or eyes of two different colors merits disqualification, but it’s possible that the dog may have had one of these faults before losing their eye.

After a year of treatments to rid him of his infection, Leo re-entered the show ring. It didn’t always go smoothly. Some judges seemed to be startled when they noticed the missing eye, and Leo didn’t win under them. But eventually, Leo not only finished his championship, but he even became a Specialty Best of Breed winner!

In fact, Neale was one of the judges who awarded Leo points toward his championship. Neale explains that the Saluki standard doesn’t have a disqualification or listed fault for eye color. “So I have the discretion to award a dog based on all its qualities. In the case of a Saluki missing an eye, I would judge the whole dog,” she notes.

Saluki head portrait in a field.
©EmilÅ -

“A Whippet, however, would be different,” she says. “A missing eye in a Whippet eliminates the dog from the ring, since the Whippet standard says ‘both eyes’ must be the same color and not blue, or the dog is disqualified. I would be unable to make the color determination, and the standard uses the word ‘both,’ so eligibility is clear-cut on two counts. I’d be unable to judge.” This isn’t a definitive AKC rule, policy, or regulation. In a situation like this, the judge can decide how to weigh the condition.

“Another example is the Rottweiler standard, which lists four serious eye faults, two which require matching eyes, and two disqualifications involving eyes,” says Neale. “I would absolutely be unable to judge the dog based on the disqualifications, and beyond that, the multiple serious eye faults would reasonably take away the discretion afforded by less detail-driven standards.”

Fortunately, most standards don’t have eye-related disqualifications. Many one-eyed dogs, including Pekingese, Beagles, English Setters, Standard Schnauzers, Smooth Fox Terriers, and English Setters have finished championships and even won groups. A Miniature Pinscher that had an injury that left one eye discolored went on to be the top dog of their breed in the country for three years.

Dogs With Full or Partially-Missing Tails

Some dogs belonging to breeds with long tails may end up with short tails, either as a result of trauma or infection. But not all short tails are created equal, once again depending on the breed standard. Several breed standards have tail-related disqualifications, such as “cropped or stump” tails (Belgian Malinois, Belgian Sheepdog, and Belgian Tervuren), docked tails (Great Dane, German Shepherd Dog, and Beauceron), or “absence of complete tail” (Chinese Shar-Pei).

Some breed standards call for features in a tail. These features might be missing if part of the tail is removed for any reason. For example, the Afghan Hound breed standard calls for “a ring, or a curve on the end” of the tail, while the Briard breed standard calls for “a crook at the extremity” and the Pyrenean Shepherd breed standard calls for “a crook at the end.”

On the other hand, partial removal of a tail could potentially cut off a fault, such as a kink (a stated fault in a Bernese Mountain Dog). In these cases, how should those be judged? What about a missing tail in a Dogue de Bordeaux, which disqualifies for an “atrophied tail or a tail that is knotted and laterally deviated or twisted” but makes no mention of docked tails?

Dogue de Bordeaux standing in a field in the sunshine.
Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images
Dogue de Bordeaux with standard tail.

How does a judge conclusively determine if a missing part is due to injury or genetics? How does or should a judge factor a missing part in their evaluation? These situations call for an expert’s judgment — which is why judges are called judges. Neale approaches each case according to the breed standard. “The Akita standard disqualifies a sickle or uncurled tail,” she says. “Since the various kinds of curl are defined, and a partial tail would fail on all parameters, or resemble a sickle, I would have to disqualify.

“A Great Dane with a partial tail would fall under ‘docked’ tail, a disqualification in the Great Dane standard. Again, I’d disqualify. The Dogue de Bordeaux standard lists several tail deformities as disqualifications. A partial tail might be an ‘atrophied’ tail, a disqualification. One definition of atrophied is ‘rudimentary.’ A ‘knotted, twisted or deviated’ tail is also a disqualification. The tail might have been docked due to accident or disguise, but my call would be to disqualify since it is a rudimentary tail.”

Still, numerous dogs missing portions of their tail have gone on to successful show careers. Irish Wolfhounds, Scottish Deerhounds, Ibizan Hounds, Greyhounds, Whippets, Salukis, and Dalmatians are just the tip of the iceberg of long-tailed breeds that have finished their AKC championships without the tips of their tails (sometimes, with hardly any tails at all). For example, missing the end of her tail didn’t prevent an Afghan Hound from winning multiple groups some years ago. A Dachshund whose tail was misshapen after being broken went on to win in the ring, despite the part of the breed standard that states the tail should be “without kinks, twists, or pronounced curvature.”

Dogs With Missing Toes and Legs

Plenty of dogs are missing toes, and some may be missing multiple toes. Of course, if the dog has long hair, missing toes may well unnoticed outside the ring. But exhibitors report that the presence of missing toes doesn’t usually arouse any attention from judges, as long as the dog’s gait isn’t affected.

If a dog is missing a leg, however, their gait is going to be affected. Lame dogs are not allowed to compete in Conformation shows. For one thing, it’s impossible to evaluate their gait. But they can compete in many other AKC sports, such as agility and Fast CAT.

Dogs With Missing Teeth

Gibbs, a Tibetan Spaniel, got into one too many fights with another dog in his house. As a result, he lost a couple of incisors. Dog teeth can be lost as a result of fighting, chewing at crate wires, or periodontal disease. Toy breeds may have very shallow roots, causing them to lose teeth as they age. Gibbs continued to show, but the results were variable. Being incisors, the missing teeth were quite obvious. But Gibbs still won a specialty and a group!

Once again, how a judge evaluates a dog depends on what the breed standard says concerning teeth. Several standards mention that broken teeth are not to be penalized. Missing teeth, though, are a harder sell, as many standards call for full dentition (how the teeth are arranged in the mouth). And even when they don’t, some judges may still consider a mouth without the full complement of teeth as a basic abnormality and may find any missing teeth a fault.

There’s no need to bring in a veterinary certification stating the tooth was once there or having the show vet evaluate their teeth. The AKC does not allow judges to accept any paperwork to explain a dog’s condition. AKC rules give the judge sole authority when it comes to determining all awards. Further, the rules are specific in stating that a judge may not get the show vet’s opinion of the conditions of any dogs they judge.

That said, many judges may forgive missing teeth in veteran competitors, especially toy breeds. Once again, it depends on the breed standard and the individual judge. “The Doberman Pinscher standard requires me to disqualify for four or more missing teeth,” says Neale. “It doesn’t matter the reason they’re missing. But broken teeth would have no bearing on eligibility. In that case, I would just judge the dog.”

Close-up of a dog's mouth, bottom teeth showing and tongue hanging out.
betyarlaca/Getty Images Plus

Dogs With Missing Testicles

According to the AKC dog show rules, a male dog without two normally descended testicles will be disqualified from Conformation, regardless of the class they’re competing in. They’ll also be disqualified from non-regular events that allow neutered dogs, since a dog without two normally descended testicles isn’t considered neutered. Unfortunately, one or both of a dog’s testicles may remain undescended, which is a disqualification for every breed. The judge checks for two testicles every time they examine a dog. It doesn’t matter that the dog had to have one or both removed. What matters is how the dog appears on the day and in that ring when the judge evaluates them.

There’s an exception for dogs entered in Veterans classes (meaning the dog meets a club’s minimum age requirement) at certain shows. The AKC rules state that neutered and spayed dogs can compete in Veterans and “all other single entry non-regular classes,” but they can only do so at independent specialties and/or “those all-breed shows which do not offer any competitive classes beyond Best of Breed.” The premium list (the club’s official event announcement, sent out to possible participants) must state if neutered dogs or spayed bitches may compete in Veterans or other, non-regular classes.

However, dogs with one testicle can still compete in most other AKC sports, except for Lure Coursing.

Dogs With Scars

More than one show dog has been so scarred that their show careers might seem to be over. But most judges understand that dogs might pick up some nicks over the years, and many breed standards even state that “honorable scars should be ignored.” And while none define what’s meant by “honorable,” one judge suggested it might mean the presence of scars on dog’s front (not the rear, which would indicate they were running away)!

“Generally, I would pay no attention to scars,” says Neale. “Even if I suspected a dog had been surgically altered, I am not a veterinarian and would not use it as a consideration. They would be Immaterial in my judging.”

Bob Stephanos recalls how his Bullmastiff had a “wicked scar” from a venomous snake bite on a hind leg. The dog went on to win groups and even back-to-back national specialties. When a judge once suggested he should try to cover up the scar, Stephanos declined. “That scar was his best win,” Stephanos says.

That’s how many owners and handlers feel. For them, scars and missing parts are nothing to hide. In fact, they’re often living trophies, proof of triumphs over canine illnesses or accidents. More often than not, judges not only understand the scars’ presence, but they may even see these imperfections as badges of honor, when the standards allow.