How many times have we heard judges say - "When I'm in the middle of the ring, I do my own thing?" As an exhibitor and a judge of Bearded Collies, I have been guilty of using that expression in the past. Not any more.

Such a comment is an insult to exhibitors. What does it mean? I would say that for most of those who use it, it is an excuse for doing what they want, irrespective of the breed/breeds they are judging. What do I mean by that? Many judges disregard, or are blatantly ignorant of, the standards of the breeds they judge. They place greater emphasis on who is on the end of the lead, or home in on one or two breed characteristics without having an in depth knowledge of the particular breed they are judging. How is this possible? Well, quite frankly when I see the number of judges who are qualified to judge two, three or more groups in my own country, Canada, and I look at their limited canine experience, it is not surprising that when they judge some gross errors occur. How can a person know all these breed standards? In reality, they cannot. However, as an exhibitor we want our judges to be as well informed, educated and knowledgeable about the breeds they take on. I believe judges have a moral and ethical duty to exhibitors to acquire that knowledge before taking on judging assignments.

I was stewarding, some years ago now, for a judge on permit; i.e. he was seeking his license to judge a particular group and had to judge a number of assignments being observed. Unbeknown to this judge, I was one of the people asked to make a report. (In Canada one never knows who is asked to do the reporting on a particular permit judge) This judge calmly told me he had never read the standard for the particular breed that was entering the ring! I did make reference to this comment when filling in my report, only to find this judge now has several groups under his belt. Obviously, the Canadian Kennel Club places little or no emphasis on knowing the breed standards, which is one reason why I refuse to be a part of their judging system.

Here is a question worth considering: Is it the judges who are failing, or is it the system? In Canada for instance, judges normally go for half a group when they first apply to judge. They now have to attend seminars put in place by the Canadian Kennel Club. They have to have had years of experience in both showing and breeding and also need to have judged and stewarded at several sanction matches. In addition, they have to sit a written exam, in an effort to ensure only the most committed canine enthusiasts take on the exceptional responsibility of judging. Is it possible that individuals can learn all there is to know about that number of breeds at one time? I think there are individuals who have photographic memories and can recite breed standard after breed standard, but does this mean they have the necessary, in-depth knowledge of the breed required, to make value judgments of the dogs entered under them? I think not. However, all breed dog shows in Canada average only between 400-500 dogs in total. Thus, it is not economically viable for any more than two or three judges to be employed. It seems to me a Catch 22 situation. As exhibitors we demand knowledgeable, well-informed judges, but the very system does not always allow this to happen.

Dog show judges usually emerge from the ranks of exhibitors, breeders and in Canada, professional handlers. All judges will have their personal preferences; this is only natural. As long as they keep in mind the standard for which they are judging, all should be fair to exhibitors. It is an expensive hobby for exhibitors and it is essential for all judges to familiarize themselves with, and become knowledgeable about the breeds they judge. Judges must be prepared to spend many years studying the breed/breeds in which they are interested, learning canine construction, anatomy and movement. Discussion must take place with reputable and knowledgeable breeders, who consistently have produced good specimens of the respective breed/breeds. Visiting kennels and attending breed seminars will further assist in increasing the knowledge of any judge.

I have just returned from attending our National Specialty, where I was asked to present a breed seminar for judges. It was a delight for me to have All Breed Judges, as well as judges who were just starting out in their judging career in attendance. The discussion during and after the presentation was lively and productive, with many varying viewpoints being aired. No single judge is right; otherwise, all judges would put the same dogs up all the time. However, such forums are essential, for they enable judges to express their beliefs and concerns about a breed, and provide the opportunity to gain knowledge of the unique details of each breed. There can be no excuse for judges who do not try to gain knowledge from breed specialists. It is essential for judges to attempt to learn everything they can about the breeds they judge. Many exhibitors in Canada feel that all-rounders do not know the details of the standards, and have no intention of furthering their knowledge as they consider they have nothing more to learn. To be respected judges, it is essential that they endeavour to inform themselves of the breed standards and judge fairly and without prejudice. They should not "do their own thing," when judging.

Exhibitors are quick to jump on poor judging, or what they perceive as bad judging. However, unless one has evidence it is difficult to prove. There are always lots of complaints amongst exhibitors at dog shows, often referred to as the "Sore Loser Syndrome". Exhibitors must not confuse the judge who has placed his dogs in preference of type or some individual breed standard point he may be fanatical about, with the judge who is blatantly picking out faces of handlers or people he knows. The first is bad luck. You have entered under the judge who does not like your type, or your dog does not possess his particular fad. The second is bad judging. Several years ago, I had entered a top-winning female at a show and the dog was totally ignored. The judge stated later he considered the dog to have too much coat, perfectly justifiable in my opinion. Much better than a judge who said he would have put the dog up, but he did not know whom the handler was! I have a quote I like to use on such occasions: "One way to save face is to keep the lower half shut."

The judging of dogs is a responsible position, requiring a considerable degree of canine knowledge, decisiveness, integrity and for large entries, physical stamina.
Add to this the essential "eye for a dog", and respect for the exhibitors who have paid large sums of money for that judge's opinion, and you have all the qualities a good judge should possess: the perfect judge. Judges are in the middle of the ring, not "to do their own thing", but to find the best dogs, nothing more and nothing less. A judge must always remember that while he is judging the dogs, the ringside is judging him!

Tom Horner, the famous English all breed judge, who is sadly no longer with us, wrote: "When judging dogs you must not be swayed by any consideration, except by the relative merit of the dogs in front of you. You have but one duty: to judge the dogs. Forget the handlers, and forget what the dogs have won previously. Place the dogs as you think they should stand, never mind if the winner belongs to your best friend or your worst enemy. Disregard the fact that you won under one of the exhibitors last week, and that another is judging at the next show. Be completely selfish - please yourself and simply judge the dogs and safeguard your reputation. That is the only way to gain respect from your peers".

Ian Copus (Rallentando Bearded Collies)
Written for Lowchens of Australia and permission granted for use on 3rd September, 2001.

Click to read another article written by Ian ... "WHO'D BE A JUDGE?"


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