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Is it Just the Judging?
Posted on 08/15/2008 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
(This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of BLOODLINES Magazine.)

If one were to believe ringside conversation, it is poor judging and poor judging alone, that has led to the decline in quality of purebred dogs here in America.

I might have to agree with some of the criticism. Some of the judging I’ve watched has left more than a little something to be desired. This in the sense that the individual presiding was ill-prepared or that the person entrusted with the welfare of the breed chose to make awards that would benefit his or her self rather than the breed.

But then, when wasn’t some of the judging less than stellar? I have dog publications dating back to the turn of the century (the last century!). One editorial after the other decries “the poor state of judging.”

As I’ve said many times over the years, there are all kinds of judges on what I refer to as the “pyramid” of judging quality - the greatest majority of them at the base of the pyramid - and as we move toward the apex, the number reduces significantly. As in most artistic endeavors, the “greats” are rare. We are not alone in this respect. Certainly you will have to agree not every athlete who competes has Olympic Gold Medal potential nor will everyone capable of stringing a few sentences together become a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Even if we were able to educate our judges to gold medal level, would this entirely stem what many see as the generic landslide? Quite frankly, I think not.

Contrary to what the ringside tongue-waggers might have us believe, there is more than one character involved in this dog-judging scenario. The other lead character is the exhibitor or, to be even more specific, the breeder-exhibitor.

Something that people who show dogs fail to (or choose not to?) recognize is the fact that there is no way to make a bad or even mediocre class of dogs come out right. Even the gods can’t unscramble eggs! All the education in the world is not going to enable a judge to put up a dog of correct type in a class in which there are no dogs of correct type. Nor will the sincere judge be able to easily justify putting up the dog who may be of correct type but completely unsound - particularly in the breeds where history and origin dictate soundness as a part of that breed’s essence.

It should also be remembered that even the best of judges live under the shadow of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” That is, when he puts up the best dog in a class that has an obvious flaw, he is criticized - “You like that (insert fault here)? If he should not put up that same dog, he is “fault judging”.

The purist would have us believe good judging not only refuses to reward mediocrity but also dismiss it from the ring. But, and here is the big BUT - judges can send dogs out of the ring next week, next month and next year, but until something of merit is sent into the ring, a judge’s hands are tied.

Ultimately, what enters the ring is the result of a breeder’s interpretation of the standard. Just as all judges do not sit at the top of the pyramid, neither do all breeders have the same sense and understanding of what constitutes excellence in their own breed.

Ringside Approval
There is a national specialty that I attend with some regularity that draws very large entries and a significant ringside made up almost exclusively of breeders and exhibitors of that breed. In respect to the impressive size of the entry, the show’s judges are prone to give each dog as much of their moment in the spotlight as possible with perhaps an extra lap or two around the ring.

I sit in amazement each year at the ringside’s reaction to the movement observed. The more exaggerated the movement, the more untypical of what is correct in the breed, the more the legs churn and flail the faster (not better) the dog goes, the more hysterical is the cheering. The dogs that some of us would fully expect to fly apart at any moment evoke thunderous applause from most of the spectators.

I guess it takes a brave judge not to succumb to the pressure of the masses. (Perhaps they’ll rise up in riot?)

What are we to think about the breed in which there are a dozen or two Specials (no two remotely resembling each other outside of color and even that being questionable) regularly winning and amassing great records?

Breeders can breed as many litters as they care to and show as many of the resulting offspring as they wish with no more knowledge or experience than what is required to count up the money for a stud fee. Once the results of these not-so-planned breeding programs arrive, the individual is off to the shows fully expecting to come home with laurels that will compensate this great investment of time and effort.

Breeder Education
While keeping an eye on what judges should know, perhaps it is time we turn our attention to bottom line basics for breeders. It can’t happen everywhere at once, but certainly the National Specialty and major multi-breed shows are a good place to start. These are the shows that we normally have truly representative gatherings of the breed. It is there we are most apt to find the dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast. Someone who has lived with a breed and watched it pass through all of its many stages from birth to old age. It is they who have learned what is temporary and will disappear with age. It is they who will be aware that some problems arise that are early warning signs of what will worsen as time passes.

Granted, a dog can only be judged at its particular stage of life on the day, but a breed-experienced mentor is most apt to know the difference between a fault of a developmental nature and one that is a harbinger of greater difficulties to arise. That same person will be aware of the breed faults that are extremely difficult to eradicate and which faults can be dispensed with in a single breeding. An experienced opinion is absolutely necessary on a frequent basis if a breed is to stay on track.

One of the greatest educational experiences of my life in dogs came sitting at ringside with the late Mrs. Florence Savage who passed along her profound knowledge of Bulldogs as we watched the dogs passing before us. The session couldn’t have taken more than an hour or so, but when we were finished I desperately wanted to walk into that ring to try my hand at my new found knowledge.

It should be realized, however, that knowledge is not automatically the result of longevity alone. There are those individuals who have been around a breed for an entire lifetime and have never been able to fully understand it. There is something they do not quite see in their breed that is essential to the breed’s character and an inability to recognize it keeps them from ever getting the breed quite right. Sitting and listening will quickly reveal who actually does know and who doesn’t.

Unfortunately far too few thoroughly experienced and knowledgeable individuals are called upon to assist in the development and maintenance of breeds. I can name countless veterans, who because they are no longer actively competing in the rings or participating in the whelping rooms, sit idly home month after month, year after year never hearing from anyone in their breed.

These great individuals hold the key to the future of all our breeds. They know what has happened in the breeds. They know what can happen. Yet, there they sit, their breeding genius, their incomparable knowledge of the breed, totally overlooked.

We must take a lesson from those whose breeds have succeeded or, better yet, look to those in our own breeds who once held our banners high. They are the individuals who were responsible for their respective breed’s “golden age”. These individuals will not live forever, and once gone their genius cannot be recalled as if stored on some vast computer.

Why do some breeds continually enjoy progress and improvement? Perhaps the individuals currently involved are not afraid to admit to a higher, more knowledgeable authority. There is no sin in not knowing, however, not caring is the unforgivable sin.

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 Kennel Club Books.