The calm before the storm at Lyndhurst as dogs from the sporting, working and terrier groups get ready to be judged. The winners of those groups will move on to face the winners of four other groups for Best in Show.

Westminster Dog Show Live: Photos and Updates

Donald Sturz, this year’s Best in Show judge, has spent the last few days isolated in his hotel room, isolating himself from any news about which dog has won which award in the competition so far.

“No Facebook, no nothing,” Sturz, 60, said by phone. “I stay away from social media. I posted a picture of me and my husband at the judges’ dinner on Sunday night, and then I was silent.”

The idea, he said, is that when he steps into the ring tonight, he will be free of preconceptions.

“Part of the dream of this judging assignment is that you go out on the floor and you have no idea who the seven dogs that come in are,” Sturz said.

Judging the best of a show requires skills that are both particular and peculiar. The dogs are not in competition with each other per se, but are judged according to how closely they adhere to a specific set of breed standards, as established by the American Kennel Club.

“It all comes down to which dog possesses the most virtues described for its breed,” Sturz said. “They also need to convey the essence of their breed in behavior, character and bearing.”

With 209 different types of dogs competing in the show, Sturz has to be intimately familiar with the breed standards for all of them. So he’s been studying, mostly looking at endless pictures of dogs in books and magazines and online, to cement a template of each breed in his head, a kind of platonic ideal.

Regular people who watch dog shows often endorse their favorite dogs (say, flashy golden retrievers, sleek Afghan hounds, or goofy sheepdogs) without realizing that those qualities don’t necessarily count as winning virtues in the eyes of the judge.

“There are some breeds that lend themselves to a show setting,” Sturz said. “They are more active, more striking, more elegant and have more presence. But what we’re looking for is what the breed is supposed to convey. Some breeds are supposed to be more reserved, quiet and regal, and that speaks as much to a judge as the dog standing there wagging his tail and jumping up and down.”

In real life, Sturz is the superintendent of Valley Stream School District 24 on Long Island. But he is also a lifelong dog enthusiast who has attended dog shows for 50 years and judged at 32 of them, including in Westminster. This is the first time that he will award Best in Show.

As he spoke, Sturz was not yet aware that one of the dogs in the final would be a French bulldog and thus possibly his personal favorite, given that he has one, named Emmet, at home. (He also has a bull terrier, Lola.)

But he promised that no matter what he faced, he would judge as a neutral observer, without fear or favour.

“Dogs are works of art,” he said. “I love all races.”

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