Active dog show judge advises readers how to learn from and talk to judges, understand the judging process and become a successful exhibitor.
THOSE DARNED JUDGES
People always have a reason why their dog didn’t win, and usually it implicates a judge. Whether in AKC, UKC, ARBA, etc. dissatisfaction ranges from judges selecting handlers to outright incompetence.
Good judges “look” with their hands. Everyone knows that a decent pair of shears, some chalk, and a marker pen can make nearly any dog look perfect. But place your hands on on the dog and you may well encounter a deeper truth.
As a dog show judge I can vouch for the fact that most judges work very hard to identify and place the most deserving dogs. So before criticizing, remember that your entry fee is a ticket into the great forum of learned “opinion” and someone else’s interpretation of your breed standard. It is the judge's seasoned opinion so accept that there are always points that you may consider more valuable than the all-rounder can see or appreciate.
I once returned from a judging weekend to find my reputation being shoveled into a heap of steaming judgment on the internet. Obviously I didn’t meet a person’s lofty expectations and when it was all said and done, they not only slandered me, but also dug a pit for their own demise. Conversely, at another show I queried a handler who had bred two Whippets I was considering. I made my selection and went on with the day. Afterward, the exhibitor found me and we discussed those finer points that excite Whippet breeders. I learned a lot and it made for a wonderful judging experience.
The point is that judges are not messengers from God. By approaching politely, you have the opportunity to discuss their evaluations. When that happens, not only may you help a judge but you also might learn from their insight.
It’s also a good idea to try and view the evaluation process from the judge’s perspective. The UKC follows the concept of “positive judging”, looking for exceptional quality instead of simply counting faults. The dog with the fewest faults is usually the most mediocre, whereas the dog with something spectacular, regardless of faults, might make the greatest contribution to their breed. Unless the standard says “disqualification”, all faults should be evaluated in relation with the whole.
Movement betrays what’s beneath the coat. The bones may be in their right places but if the muscles aren’t, that statuesque show dog may turn into Frankenstein’s monster during the down-n-back. Dogs must be able to perform the function of their breed and all things being equal, a movement or structural fault should be weighted to a much greater degree than mere cosmetics.
We are all slave to the breed standards. Take a dog with a bad backline, oversized head, and that moves like a traffic accident and you probably have a very nice Neapolitan Mastiff. An Epagneul Breton with a beautifully soft brushed coat or a Shiz Tsu with a scissors bite should be one of the first eliminated. You can’t generalize on what’s right or not because each breed has its own distinctions according to their breed standard. Again, unless the evaluator is a tenured breeder, the whole process still boils down to that person’s interpretation of your breed standard. What may seem rather rangy to you, to the judge’s eye is only “slightly longer”. “Medium size” to one person is monstrously huge to the next, and exactly how deep, round, or domed is “moderate”?
A good caution for judges; choose your mentors well, lest you be led down the track of fads and misconceptions. Not all successful breeders are breeding in-line with their standard. More than enough consternation oozes ringside when the discussion turns to which dogs are little more than well-campaigned pets.
Any judge who does little more than peruse Showsite magazine between assignments is one who should reconsider their vocation. Admittedly there is safety in numbers but bravery and verification of the standard will go a long way toward making you respected by the exhibitors.
And as for the “throwaway breeds”, unfamiliarity is no excuse for passing over them in Group. Granted, you may not have the greatest degree of experience with new or rare breeds but that’s no excuse for not giving the same level of consideration and study as you would to the more popular breeds.
Oh, and since I do love a good controversy, who really does have the best judges? While AKC has the more rigorous qualification process, the UKC allows for far more experience. Judges either have the eye, or they don’t, and in both registries, those judges who are truly conscientious can usually fish-up the cream from the common.
Lastly, let’s not forget about that dreaded disease... kennel blindness! Before dragging some poor judge through the mud, please be honest about your stock in relation to what you’re facing in the ring. It’s always a blessing to hear an honest exhibitor walk away with the phrase, “I don’t mind losing to something that good.” You will further your reputation and the direction of your breeding program if you honestly applaud the judges when they make the right selections... even if it’s not your dog.
So please give "that darned judge" the benefit of the doubt. The ones I show to regularly have spent years in study, and they really do know which end of the lead has the loop and which has the clip. And most of all, remember...You only paid for an opinion!
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