Posted on 11/05/2013 in Ringside Conversations.
Richard (Rick) Beauchamp
More than half of a dog show judge’s weekend is spent almost everywhere but in the ring. A Saturday and Sunday assignment nowadays means the full day before traveling to one’s destination and another day afterwards returning. A good part of what appears on the surface to be a pleasant weekend judging and seeing friends actually entails just as many, if not more, hours flying or driving, and if the former often just as many hours sitting around an airport waiting on connections or for that flight “delayed due to weather.”
If nothing else, those traveling hours give those of us who judge plenty of thinking time. There’s always a mental review of the good, the bad and the ugly that appeared in the ring over the weekend and of course the dogs we judged.
More often than not, however, the thoughts are more apt to be about all those questions and comments made by friends and exhibitors that come to mind as one relaxes - some thought-provoking, some exasperating.
In purebred dogs, it seems there are certain questions that absolutely refuse to be answered and problems to which there seem to be no resolutions. The truly vexing thing is that if I’ve read one intelligently and definitively written paper on the questions asked, I’ve probably read a hundred. It seems no answer is quite good enough because without failure the old saw that raises its head time and time again is, “Which is more important, type or movement?” No matter how many times it’s explained that breed specific movement is an integral part of type the question just keeps being asked.
Today, with the proliferation of what I call the “internuts” (writers whose primary qualification on such subjects is having access to a computer), we are beleaguered with explanations taking one side or another of the question separating type and soundness that are actually integral parts of the whole. Some of what is projected through cyberspace begins to make the reader wonder if it is possible to even have a dog that has both.
The breed standard assists us in understanding what type actually is in a breed. A specific breed of purebred dog moves in a manner described in the breed’s standard. It is a part of the dog that assists us in determining just how typey the dog is.
Specialist or All-Rounder?
The question of which, breed specialist or all-rounder, is more important to breed progress actually has no universal answer. One country may be absolutely devoted to the opinion of the former, while another part of the dog world maintains that the all-rounder gives a breed the most objective evaluation.
Great Britain is respected far and wide for its devotion to breed type, and it may well be the reason that the British are also responsible for the creation of the greatest number of breeds of any country. British breeders seem able to create in living flesh what a standard describes in words. It should also be noted that Great Britain particularly excels in creating and/or perfecting the more complex and nuanced breeds such as Bulldogs, Pekingese, Bull Terriers, English Toy Spaniels and a vast majority of our terrier breeds.
North America, on the other hand, makes the all-rounder judge king and it goes without saying that the “great American show dog” was conceived and brought to international acclaim by the skills of the talented breeders and owners. The Great American Show Dog is possessed of great character and charisma, loves the roar of the crowd, is trained to a fare-thee-well, and groomed to a level of expertise that makes it almost impossible to compete without mastering this ability.
The really good all-rounder is well trained in conformation and what constitutes soundness, but further he is almost unique among judges in being able to put faults in context and not eliminate the best dogs in a lineup because of some fault or flaw.
Despite the merits of any good judge, whether specialist or all-rounder, he should be able to find the top class dog easily and recognize the flat-catcher. The difference between the two will most often be seen in all those dogs that lie between the very best at the top and the rejects that are found at the bottom.
The middle range of dogs is where it can become extremely difficult to find the dog that has sufficient breed type and passable movement to find a place for in the ribbons. Here the specialist may be more apt to overlook flaws in movement in favor of what he knows is the breeder’s constant challenge - maintaining type.
The all-rounder, on the other hand, can help a breed to avoid falling off the deep end of exaggeration to where a breed can only be successfully shown under certain specialists. Some all-rounders may be criticized for being too lenient in forgiving flaws of type, but in so long as they do not tend to lean toward dogs whose only merit is soundness, they remain on safe ground.
It should be remembered that all judges begin as breed specialists and move on from there. It is impossible to be a specialist in all breeds, just as it is not possible for someone to understand the nuances of a breed as well as the person who has bred and raised a breed over many years.
The use of talented judges of both kinds, specialist and all-rounder, is what keeps a breed moving forward rather than veering off to the far left or far right.
More New Breeds
The UKC has been working industriously over the past two decades to stay in line with, if not surpass, international standards for recognition of purebred dog breeds. We have had more new breeds added to North American rosters in the past decade or two than we have probably had in the last century.
Because the breeds are new, or at least new to North America, they risk being seen by some as unimportant, or in fact an intrusion on what has worked quite well without them. It takes a certain degree of arrogance to believe that the only truly legitimate breeds are those we are accustomed to seeing. It must not be forgotten that breeds like Bichon Frise and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel were almost complete foreigners here not all that long ago and now stand as two of the most formidable breeds in their respective Group.
How long and how tall? Certainly nothing complicated about someone wanting to know that about a dog or a breed, but here in the U.S. we still remain at the point at which you might get several different answers to the same question asked about the same dog.
The reason for that is there are no standardized rules for determining something as simple as body length. Some standards make the measurement withers to tail, other make it breastbone to buttocks, still others have odd statements like “back as long as the foreleg.” The confusion is compounded by words like “slightly” and “moderate”. These vague and confusing descriptions leave us entirely on our own to determine some very critical points.
Body length and height are not alone in their arbitrary determination. Where to access depth of body, length of leg and countless other portions of the anatomy differ from breed to breed and country to country.
Each time the major breed and kennel clubs of the dog world have summit meetings the discussions seem to confine themselves to two subjects: international standardization of breed standards (highly unlikely to occur in the next century, if ever), and how to help judges of the world obtain wider recognition of their home country judging licenses. The latter holds little priority in the minds of the average breeder and exhibitor around the world.
Perhaps something international summit meetings might tackle that has the possibility of resolution is a standardized method of measuring dogs. It would not have to change the meaning of any standard, only define how and where to calculate any breed’s measurements and proportions.
“The same person won everything!”
Everyone shows to win and it is always disappointing to lose, especially so when it seems a judge may be catering to one exhibitor or even one style of dog. Quite frankly, when a judge is judging on what he believes to be correct, according to the manner in which he has interpreted the standard, it is no different than a breeder developing a line of dogs that he believes is correct according to his interpretation of the standard.
It is no more unusual for a judge to have distinct similarities in the style of the dogs he chooses than it is for a top notch breeder is likely to have distinct similarities in the dogs of his line. There is absolutely nothing untoward on the part of how they see the breed.
What happens when a judge sees the breed in the same manner that a good breeder may? The answer should be more than obvious - it’s a match, and the breeder or exhibitor has a blue ribbon day. The following week, that same exhibitor may show under a different judge who interprets the standard in a different manner, and the exhibitor who did so well the week before comes away empty-handed.
What’s fair is fair, and exhibitors should be objective enough to realize that as long as the standard is governing all, varying decisions constantly occur.
Simple answers and solutions to these timeless questions do exist, but unless I miss my guess years from now someone will turn to you and ask, “Which is more important, type or movement?”
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp has been successfully involved in practically every facet of purebred dogs: breeding, exhibiting, publishing, writing. He is the author of numerous breed and all breed books including the best-selling Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type and Breeding Dogs for Dummies. He has judged all breeds throughout the world and was one of the United Kennel Club’s first all breed judges.