How the Judge Sees You Showing Your Dog, Part I
Posted on 09/06/2012 in Ringside Conversations.
How the Judge Sees You Showing Your Dog, Part I
Richard (Rick) Beauchamp
There have been hundreds of books, articles and videos directed at learning to show dogs well, but as far as my research has revealed none of these instructive and informative tools have been presented from the perspective of the judge. The judge? Well, surprise - ask yourself, who is it that exhibitors are tirelessly learning to hone their handling skills for? You got it, the judge.
Your mom may think you are without a doubt one of the brightest handling stars in the firmament, and you having won three of the last four shows you’ve entered, you are more than ready to agree with her estimation.
But, and that’s one of the biggest buts in the free world you’ll come across in your life (pun not really intended), neither you nor your doting mom count here. It’s how good your dog looks to the individual standing in the center of the ring that counts.
Learning what it takes to create the winning picture as seen from the other side of your dog is what is important. Granted, an important part of a judge’s responsibility is to be able to look beyond the handling to what is actually there. Do understand, a judge only has a couple of minutes to devote to each dog that is in the ring. The judge can’t examine, move, give handling lessons, and offer advice to every exhibitor of every dog that walks through those ring ropes. If he did, the smallest of our shows would run to at least midnight and that would be on the good days!
Before we go on, however, please understand I am not going to attempt to tell you where to put your dog’s feet or how to position his tail in the following. There is a proper way to present each and every breed, and understanding what is correct for the breed and knowing how to make that happen can only gain that knowledge.
Showing, watching and asking questions of the successful individuals in your breed will reveal the technique and “mechanics” of the breed you have selected, and if you pay attention you will soon learn where to put your hands and your dog’s feet.
But back to what I/we as judges see. When I observe a dog go around with a restricted gait, even when it’s obvious that the handler of the dog is unable to really step out himself or herself, do I make the arbitrary decisions that the dog is actually able to reach and drive correctly for its breed, or would the dog move the same way even if shown by the most fit athlete in the world? These are decisions no judge likes to have to make and actually become unnecessary especially when the good dog right behind the one in question is moving like a charm.
Where To Begin
I’m assuming that many of you reading this article are reading it so that you will be able to become more able to do your dog greater justice as time progresses. What follows is advice from those of us who will have enormous appreciation for your being able to do so.
Keep this in mind at all times as you work on improving your handling skills - you are doing everything you can to make the person standing in the middle of the ring see everything that is good about your dog, and hopefully not be reminded that your dog, like all dogs, has flaws.
Choosing The Right Dog
This is a sticky wicket. Most of us start off wanting to show the dog we already have - the one we chose because we like the breed. That only stands to reason. What you have you have, but hopefully you have not only chosen to show a quality dog of the breed you are physically and temperamentally capable of showing the breed you do have.
It is not only bothersome, it could be downright dangerous for a judge to have to put up with uncontrollable 150-pound Mastiff lunging all over the place and being shown by a five-foot, 90-pound exhibitor. If this is your breed of choice to handle, not only your ability to handle will have to be dealt with, you will definitely have to plan on some very productive hours at the gym for yourself. No one wants to, or should have to, fear for their lives while they’re in the ring. That stands for the judge as well - or perhaps I should say, above all!
Along these same lines, I am constantly amazed at the number of exhibitors who come into my rings totally unable to gait their dog that is of a breed that by every merit of the job it was bred to do, must move protractedly. This is very much a part of the breed’s type.
It doesn’t take 40 laps around the ring to figure out if a Chow Chow or a Pekingese is moving properly. On the other hand, when we talk about Siberian Huskies, Dalmatians or German Shepherd Dogs - once around is never going to work. There is an old saying among judges that when judging German Shepherds, a judge tells the class to go around and keep going until told to stop. The judge then goes off to lunch and when he or she returns, the dog still going around is the winner. (Joking of course!)
The temperament of the handler is extremely important as well. There are some breeds of dogs that require a handler who is calm, cool, and collected at all times. The flighty dog is not going to do well with a handler who freaks the first time his or her dog flies off the handle.
There are other breeds that need a handler who is not embarrassed to get down on the ground and do a lot of what I call “kitchy-cooing” to keep the dog interested and happy. Back when I was breeding and showing, I was particularly blessed with a line of Bichon Frises of unusually fine type. However, among them (particularly the bitches), there were those that when forced to stand too long in the ring, became totally bored.
If the handler wasn’t of the nature to get down and make all but a fool of his or herself convincing the little vixen she was the cutest, most wonderful thing in the universe - well, forget any kind of an enthusiastic performance.
Just these few examples should prove not only how important it is to be totally aware of what you have at the end of the lead, but also to be aware of what kind of a person should be holding that lead. Let’s face it, just about anyone with time and a lot of effort can learn to take a dog into the show ring and keep it under proper control, but not everyone is able to take it into the ring and show it to advantage.
In addition to showing a suitable dog, the handler has to adjust his expectations to the quality of the individual dog. Wanting to win the National Specialty, PREMIER, or Crufts with a dog that is barely of championship quality, and nothing more, is going to result in a lot of heartache and frustration.
There are some exhibitors I know who simply enjoy showing their dog. Win, lose or draw they love the competition. Granted, the event is extra enjoyable when they win, but, first or last, they just love doing it, so the dog they have suits their goals well.
The showing bug can bite very early on. I find many Juniors are of this variety - just give them a dog and they will learn to do a bang-up job of showing it. The Junior competitions have developed some truly outstanding exhibitors.
The only thing that I find to criticize of the Junior Handling competitions is that it seems to develop a lot of what I call “affectations” - gestures and styles that are all show and no substance. In other words, placing hands here and there, pointing out what are believed to be the dog’s qualities, grinning at the judge like a Cheshire cat. Personally speaking, I find this both distracting and demeaning to the judge.
Please, please, please don’t expect great success from a dog that is only average in quality. There are times, of course, that dogs of this level may have an outstanding win. A judge can only put up the best of what is there on the day. Occasions arise when the dog that is usually lucky to be fourth in its class can, on another day, be the best that is there. But remember, this is the same dog it always was.
Remember, not all judges know your breed as well as others, but by and large it takes the outstanding dog to garner an outstanding record. Really knowing their breed is where I feel that far too many owner-handlers fall short.
They lack the objectivity and knowledge of their breed to be able to really access their own dog. Loving your dog is one thing, wanting it to be of superior quality when it’s not is quite another.
How does an exhibitor get to the point where they really know their breed well? This is a whole book in itself (I’ve written several on just that subject). Suffice to say, it takes years of study and experience. The more of both you have, the more you are apt to see what you really have at the end of your lead.
Even when you get to the point where you can truly evaluate a dog of the breed you are interested in, do understand you are not the sole talented breeder exhibitor and handler in the world (perhaps not even in your breed).
It seemed that when I was showing and my breeding program blessed me with a top-notch bitch, everyone else in the country came out with a bitch of exceptional quality. When I came up with an outstanding male, so did everyone else. There seemed to be no justice, and the sledding was never easy. It did keep us all on our toes though and made us all aware that “just as good as” was seldom the winning ticket, especially when it came to those big shows where everyone showed up for the laurels.
Next - Formula for Success
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.
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.