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Consistent Judging
Posted on 07/23/2005 in Ringside Conversations.

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Consistency is the goal of every judge and every breeder. Is it possible to maintain it in today’s skyrocketing and far-flung dog show world? (Shown are Champions WyEast Wildfire and WyEast Wild Rose, bred and owned by James and Kathy Corbett.

As we who judge are busily trying to cram a two week’s fashion statement into one carry-on, our efforts are duplicated on a somewhat larger scale by those who are packing crates and vans. These are the folks who will make their ring appearances on the other side of the dog - the exhibitors.

Same destination, different purpose? Not really, or at least not for those who still believe this whole thing is about the dogs, not the people. They’re the folks who believe the goal is basically the same regardless of which side of the dog you stand on.

Like Goals

The goal, simply stated, is to make it all better, or at least to use whatever talents one may have toward improving the dogs and the dog game. Granted, over the years the dog game has experienced changes. And yet in some respects, it hasn’t changed much at all.

Certainly, back in those good-old-bad-old days, everyone had a bit more respect for each other. But society itself seems to have diminished the importance of respect. We can hardly blame the dog game for having an exclusive on that.

But respect for most of the men and women we showed under was something we held in great abundance. Perhaps not for everyone but certainly for those who earned it through their knowledge and ability to articulate it.

We were always anxious to have a bit of extra time prior to our appearance in the ring to observe the unknown judge we were scheduled to show under. The reason was to see just what the judge seemed to be looking for. It gave us a good clue as to how we might fare with what we would be showing under the judge later in the day.

This was not necessary under the respected veteran judges. We already knew what they looked for in a given breed, and whenever possible, we brought it to them. We also knew what they didn’t like, and we left it home. We saved ourselves the embarrassment of having to tell those judges why we chose to show them something any knowledgeable exhibitor would know they didn’t like.

We would often hold off a particularly outstanding youngster’s ring debut until we were able to enter under one of those highly esteemed judges because we felt we had a pretty good chance of doing something spectacular. If we were accurate in our own evaluation of the hopeful, we were seldom disappointed.

Those were also the judges who often awarded littermates the points, and one kennel or family of dogs could sweep the entire breed entry. More importantly, decisions of this kind were looked upon as a sign of knowledge rather than one of “politics.” Breeds thrived under this method and continuity was maintained.

I occasionally see an exhibitor appear at ringside early enough to see what the judge is after. By and large, unfortunately, the practice seems to have been abandoned. Does this mean today’s exhibitor does not expect or, for that matter, want continuity in judging?

If on the other hand, consistency in judging is still held in high regard among current exhibitors, would those same revered judges of the past be able to render it if they were with us today? I wonder.

In Search of a Win

To address the first question, I must say, with all candor, a large percentage of today’s exhibitors enter shows exclusively in search of a win, not an opinion. If this is in fact an exhibitor’s primary goal, why then should he or she be concerned with consistent judging? Consistency might well exclude the exhibitor’s dog from consideration. As one wag put it, “Today’s exhibitor does want good judging; in so long as ‘good judging’ translates into putting up their dog.”

This does not apply to all exhibitors, of course. Many dedicated fanciers mourn the loss of predictable type judging. (Be clear here, I use the word predictable to indicate the kind of dog the judge is partial to, not predictable in the sense of who the person will be that will have the winning dog.) At any rate, those who do pine for predictable judging have no idea what kind of dog to take to many of our contemporary judges.

This problem is not confined to the exhibitor alone. Consistency is just as difficult a problem for today’s judge, as well. Exercising one’s ability to judge to type is not always possible. This is due to a number of modern day situations.

A good part of the problem lies in the increase in the number of shows offered. This gives exhibitors many options of where to go on a given weekend, thus reducing the size of entries. There is less of any one kind for a judge to draw from in a breed entry.

The dominating influence of the large, influential kennels of the past is gone too. Last but not least, there is far less regard for the opinion of authority today. A win under a completely unknown judge or even a judge whose knowledge is questionable appears to hold far more attraction for most exhibitors than a strong placement in a quality entry under a known breed authority.

Influential Kennels

The large kennels of the major breeders of the past no longer exist. Those kennels housed a significant number of top brood bitches, which, over a year’s time, produced any number of quality puppies. The puppies, more often than not, resembled each other because they were similarly bred and reflected the breeder’s expression of the standard. That bloodline would heavily influence the immediate area. Dogs from only one or two kennels could often dominate an entire breed.

Today, most show dogs are produced by the small hobby breeder. Due to lack of experience, a good many of the newer hobby breeders see whatever they produce as “just as good” as what else might be appearing in the rings. Unfortunately, many of these same individuals fall into what I refer to as the “breed-what-you-have, keepwhat- you-get, show-what-you-keep fellowship.”

These same breeders are in many cases highly influenced by bloated show records. This is not to question the quality or the producing ability of the current winners, but it would take an extremely dominant sire to overcome the pedigrees of all the bitches bred to him with any degree of consistency. Seldom are we blessed with dogs of this dominance. Nor is any one sire, as great as it might be, suitable for all bitches, as good as they might be.

The end result of these varied approaches to breeding is a myriad of styles appearing in the ring at the same time. Some are good representatives of a breed, some not-sogood. And if yours is one that falls into the not-so-good category, there is always Poodunk Kennel Club to enter - where you are sure the really good ones won’t be present.

While a judge’s goal might well be consistency, it should be obvious how difficult this can be under today’s conditions. A judge’s chief responsibility is to put up the best dog in each class. On many occasions, the best is not what the judge might consider ideal, but again - it is the best there.

Consistent Breeding

All too often, I will hear an exhibitor rush to judgment regarding a judge’s decisions and accuse the judge of making decisions based upon personalities rather than on dogs. This criticism is most often rendered when a judge has given one particular breeder, exhibitor or kennel all the wins in a breed. Further examination might well reveal that all those suspect wins went to dogs of very similar type. Observation might also find this is the kind of a dog the judge in question regularly looks for and rewards and it is also the kind of dog that the day’s winning breeder/exhibitor is known to consistently produce.

A good number of years back, I judged American Pit Bull Terriers at a show in the Midwest. I felt very fortunate to find three lovely bitches to put up for Best of Winners and the Champions and Grand Champion classes. The unruly class winner was shown by a very novice young man. The Champion class winner was shown with greater authority by a young woman, and the take-your-breathaway Grand Champion was shown to perfection by a gentlemen who was obviously accustomed to showing and winning. It turned out the three bitches were litter sisters!

A week later, I judged the same breed in California and again found a bitch I liked very much to carry to the top of my entry. The bitch was the fourth sister to the littermates I had put up in the Midwest!

Seldom are we as judges afforded the opportunity to render that kind of consistency in our judging. The scenario is usually much less clear cut.

Best “On the Day”

An example of how absolute consistency is not always possible happened recently at an all breed show. My adult bitch winner was lovely type. She was perhaps less enthusiastic about being there than I would have liked to see her, but nevertheless her lovely type made her my undisputed choice for best bitch.

When the Best of Breed class entered the ring, the same handler brought me another lovely bitch, strikingly similar to the bitch he had just won with - if anything, even a better example of the breed. I was more than impressed by her quality on the stack, but terribly disappointed in her profile movement. In this case, it was not attitude but carriage that all but destroyed her topline.

Although I certainly admired the Champion bitch, and she would have been an excellent compliment to my Winners Bitch, the Best of Breed award went to male of somewhat different style - a quality specimen who looked very much the part when he moved, but at a much different point within the correct Irish Setter spectrum.

I was later to find the Champion bitch disliked indoor shows. She was capable of doing terrible things to herself when forced to compete in what she evidently felt were rings that were much too small for her.

Inconsistent judging on my part? Some might call it that. I, however, found it a dilemma with only one real solution - put up the best dog on the day, at the moment.

It should be understood that a judge can only select from what is there and what it looks like at the moment. For the sake of the breed and the judge, the best we can do is hope he or she will not only be able to put up the best of what is present, but that the best is also a credit to the breed.

The information contained in Mr. Beauchamp’s “Solving the Mystery of Breed Type” series that appeared in BLOODLINES, can be found in his book, Solving the Mystery of Breed Type, published by Doral Publishing, Inc.