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Inside the Judge’s Mind
Posted on 03/02/2006 in Ringside Conversations.

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By Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
There stands the judge looking distinguished and profound. He walks back and forth, looks at a particular dog, walks away, then comes back to look again. Just what is going on his mind?

When I first started showing dogs, I truly believed every single judge I showed under came equipped with a complete encyclopedia of all things dog firmly ensconced in his brain. I didn’t doubt for a second that the judge knew it all and every decision was without doubt the perfect answer.

When I won, I assumed my dog was simply lucky enough to fit into the unerring picture the judge had in mind. When I lost, there was never a shard of doubt it was because my dog was wrong in some way. I showed for a bit of time firmly believing all that.

After a year or two, I arrived at the point where the novice decides there is nothing (and I do mean nothing) he has yet to learn. There’s nothing whatsoever that remains unknown. At that stage when I didn’t win, it wasn’t my dog’s fault. It was that the judge had not learned as much as I had. How long the judge had been involved in purebred dogs or how successful a breeding program he had accomplished made little difference to me.

After living with that misguided and arrogant notion for a while, my head came out of clouds and my feet touched the ground. I began to realize I knew far less than I thought. It became continually clearer that while no one is perfect and there is no one who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, there were some pretty smart people in dogs, and some of them were judges!

I also began to understand that although the encyclopedia I had imagined was an integral part of every judge’s brain structure, there was a whole lot going on in a judge’s head while he stood there looking at his dogs.

I know there are some judges who maintain absolutely nothing other than the breed standard itself enters their minds while judging. Perhaps an admirable characteristic – I wouldn’t know. Most judges, including myself, have a whole lot going on because knowing the standard is only the very beginning of the judging process and coming to the end result is a long and complicated process that has to be completed in an incredibly short period of time.

The judge has to take origin and purpose into consideration when he applies the demands of the standard. Standards tell us many things, but it is a judge’s responsibility to learn which among the myriad of characteristics called for are the most consequential in determining a breed’s uniqueness.

The exhibitor who wins cares little about how the judge arrives at that decision. He only cares that he won. The exhibitor who doesn’t win, on the other hand, can have one or more of a wide array of reactions. When push comes to shove, the question that will most likely arise and be asked of the judge is, “What didn’t you like about my dog?”

Unfortunately, the exhibitor is asking the judge to limit his response to a discussion of the dog’s shortcomings--i.e. what is wrong, rather than talking about how much quality is there. I assure you there can always be a negative response to that question which can be called upon. There are few (maybe no) dogs born who don’t have something that might be changed in order to improve them. As has always been said, “all dogs have faults, the great ones just carry them well.”

I cannot speak for all judges, but I know for many of us making those final decisions, it is what we like rather than what we don’t like that give us our final answers. Let me give you an example.

Take a hypothetical class of 15 Grand Champions. Obviously these are all dogs who have been put to the test on many occasions and have had enough quality to earn their titles. In all my years of judging UKC shows, I can honestly say I have never had a truly inferior dog shown to me in the Grand Champions class. There might be some somewhere, but thus far, they have not appeared in my ring. Therefore, we can readily assume all 15 dogs present are quality animals. However, that is not the problem.

From these 15, the judge must select only one from the class as the winner. While all are outstanding specimens of the breed, there is still a scale of quality within the group, a scale of one through ten (ten being best) that can be applied to each dog within the group. It must be understood that while quality earns a category of its own, a gradation can be applied within the group as well. Something I read once long ago applies here – true beauty does, in fact, have a hierarchy of its own.

At the first moment the dogs enter the ring, every one stands as good a chance as the next of winning the class. The judge’s job is to find the dogs who merit that opportunity the most and award the prize to one of those.

After thoroughly examining each dog in the class, the judge will undoubtedly have realized that in his educated opinion, of the dogs present on that day, perhaps half of the dogs will still be in the running.

An important thing to note here is the emphasis of “on that day.” On another day in other competition and under another judge, the half not being considered might be in the top half of considerations. Or even with exactly the same dogs, the dogs preferred by the judge of the day might be totally off the following day – refusing to move properly or out of condition.

All of us who judge have experienced great disappointments. A dog we have particularly liked in the past and may have put up many times before may decide it is too hot, too cold or it may simply have gotten up on the wrong side of its doggie bed and will not do about itself as it normally does. Illness, a bitch in heat – there are a myriad of reasons why a particular dog in the ring may look like a winner on one day and not live up to expectations the next.

Nevertheless, let us look at the seven or eight dogs remaining in the judge’s consideration. The individual who judges on a positive basis is most apt to say to himself, “Of these eight, there are four I find particularly outstanding today. Let’s take a closer look at these.”

Of the four, Dog A has the best overall silhouette in regard to balance and proportion, but its head has a bit less strength than we might like. Dog B is a bit longer cast than what we think is totally correct, but still of beautiful type and has a lovely head. Dog C has the right make and shape, a very correct head, but lacks the front and rear angulation of the other two dogs in consideration. Dog D resembles Dog C so closely he could easily be a litter brother, but he doesn’t quite live up to Dog C’s way of moving.

Theoretically speaking, the three dogs are on an equal par, but excel or fall short in different areas. The important thing to remember here is the judge finds all four ranking very high in his or her interpretation of the standard. The judge has considered the elements of breed type: breed character, silhouette, head, movement and coat. As much as the judge may like all three dogs, he or she can select only one as winner.

Here, the purpose of the breed, the judge’s personal idiosyncrasies, showmanship and presentation all come into play. Sometimes the quality of the finalists is so outstanding, the judge may begin to consider things that, heretofore, were not given primary consideration. Examples of these are eye color, maturity, muscularity and so forth. Sometimes the decision is so close, it all rests upon that last pass around the ring – the dog who makes the most of it when the chips are down.

In summary, can you see what an unfair question, “What didn’t you like about my dog” can be? If you owned one of the four last dogs to be considered, even one of the last seven, and didn’t win the class, asking the judge what he or she “didn’t like” is negating all of your dog’s qualities.

I would far prefer an exhibitor ask me to “evaluate” a dog or tell him where his dog stood in comparison to the class. I think even a rank novice can tell what is wrong with a dog. It takes time and a lot of study to know how much good is there.

Just recently, a highly respected breeder/exhibitor with a great reputation for breeding outstanding quality mentioned one of her dogs I had judged several times and not given a win to. Her comment was, “I don’t think you like my young male. You’ve had him several times and not put him up.”

The truth of the matter is the dog is actually of far better than average quality but needs more leg under him. Under me, he has always been “in the running,” but was defeated by dogs who come closer to my interpretation of the standard in regard to proportion. At another time, with different competition, the dog in question could emerge an easy winner because of the many things I do like about him.