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Practical Judging
Posted on 04/24/2006 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
Judging dogs is simply expressing knowledge. Although it is easier for some individuals to do so than it is for others, there is really nothing mysterious about the ability to perform this function. Practically everyone involved with purebred dogs has need to judge them at one time or another.

The novice fancier must at some point decide on the dog that will be his or her first show dog or breeding foundation. Breeders employ judgment with every litter they are responsible for producing. Even the person who is interested only in showing dogs must use good judgment. (What value would there be in campaigning a dog that has no merit?) Needless to say, licensed judges rely upon their ability to express knowledge every time they enter the ring.

We seriously doubt there are many who will take exception to the fact that, more often than not, experience enhances knowledge. But it is interesting to find that, although we find many individuals whose experience is equal, the individual ability to express judgment varies dramatically. In other words, there are exhibitors, breeders and judges who, despite their length of involvement in purebred dogs, never seem to develop the ability to make the choices that lead them to improvement and success. They never seem to quite capture the essence of what their breed is really all about.

A breed’s “essence” is simply what the experienced dog person refers to as breed type. A dog’s type is made up of those characteristics that distinguish it from all other breeds. It is the sum total of all these characteristics that make the breed unique.

If you were to take away the Labrador Retriever’s head, its correct coat and its otter tail, you would be left with not a whole lot more than a generic dog. The stalwart frame, powerful jaws and distinctive tail of the American Pit Bull Terrier are essential to its quality.

Each breed has its own set of characteristics. In some breeds, distinctive movement is a part of their breed type - the Pekingese roll, the Old English Sheep Dog amble, the Miniature Pincher’s hackney.

The closer one breed resembles another, the more important the differences become. This is particularly so in the Terriers Group, where there are very few superficial differences in some of the breeds. Where ears set a trifle high or low in one breed (for example, the Afghan Hound) would not constitute a major fault, the set and where the ear breaks (folds) in Terriers is of paramount importance in determining quality.

Those familiar with the Shih Tzu, the Lhasa Apso and the Tibetan Terrier are aware of just how important size and height-length proportions are in those breeds. All breeds have ideal proportions, but if a Pointer were a trifle longer or more exaggerated than the ideal it would not constitute the major concern that we would have in the case of the aforementioned trio.

On the other hand, if the Lhasa, which stands between the two other breeds, drifts too far toward smaller size and increased exaggeration, it enters the realm of the Shih Tzu. Should it move toward too much leg in both proportion and size, it infringes on the domain of the Tibetan.

Understanding a breed’s essence is of unquestionable importance if one is to make accurate judgments. A person must be able to determine when a dog simply lacks type or when it is untypical.

An American Eskimo that is constructed like a Lhasa Apso is untypical. An American Eskimo of correct make and shape with proper coat, but that has a big coarse head, round yellow eyes and is oversize, lacks type.

Recently we were watching a highly respected judge pass upon an entry of English Setters. This is a breed where the differences that exist between it and its cousins the Irish and Gordon Setters are extremely important. The class of two males we were watching that day was not one a judge relishes having. From ringside we could see that one of the dogs was quite was sound but large, poorly handled, and in only fair condition. His unattractively colored coat was ill kept and the dog was badly trimmed. Movement was sound.

The other dog was very attractive, extremely well conditioned and beautifully marked and trimmed. He was every bit a show dog and of beautifully sound construction. He too was also a good moving dog.

The large, poorly presented dog was placed first and the other dog second. The judge was absolutely right in her decision. The second place dog was extremely attractive, but too short bodied, too heavy headed and had far more coat than is proper for an English Setter. Actually he would have done better had he been painted black and tan and competed in the Gordon Setter ring.

The first place dog, while not a great representative of his breed, had the important characteristics of breed type that helps distinguish the breed from his two Setter cousins. Though large, his bone and substance were keeping with his size, as was his head. His very dark color did not have eye appeal, but was acceptable by the dictates of the standard.

The problem we face today in far too many breeds is neither breeder nor judge places enough emphasis on those characteristics truly essential to a breed. The generic dog has taken precedence because in many cases it lacks faults of movement and is flashy and charismatic. There is certainly no crime in a dog excelling in those characteristics but they are qualities any dog of any breed or for that matter a mixture of breeds can possess.

Breed Character
Breed character is definitely another facet of breed type that is vastly underrated. We all too often dismiss it in favor of charisma and exuberance. The Bulldog was not meant to be an extroverted grandstander. The breed’s standard calls for a dour countenance and dignified attitude. The Bulldog that tears around the ring and performs like a circus pony does not have Bulldog character.

On the other hand, a good part of a Poodle’s essence is in its glamorous demeanour. A Poodle moving sluggishly around the ring with its tail down does not exhibit true character for that breed.

Are we saying attitude should take priority? Not at all. What we are attempting to establish is that a breed should act like its breed. To begin with, in selecting our puppy to keep from a litter or the dog to place first in the class, we start with those that come closest to our ideal in type. From those we select the ones who possess proper soundness and character - again, for that specific breed.

In expressing our knowledge (judging), we are attempting to produce the perfect dog. This differs from what takes place in decisions made in the selection of livestock. In cattle, for instance, the goal is to produce a line in which all animals resemble each other and provide the same amount of meat or milk or whatever else is the purpose of the strain.

In purebred dogs we want the animal that stands out above the rest in quality. We have never quite been able to understand the breeder who strives for a litter that is “absolutely uniform,” one in which the puppies “all look alike.” Is this all alike outstanding or all alike ordinary? There is no merit in selecting dogs from a litter or in the ring in order to maintain consistency if that consistency is at the expense of the superior dogs.

A mistake all too often made by breeders is breeding for improvement in a particular area, but ending up with what they are accustomed to seeing. The look of what they have always had has greater appeal than what the new line has produced for them.

We have often discussed the merit of breeding within a given frame work - that is, determining our correct silhouette and not straying out of reasonable perimeters. This advice, however, is not directed at producing peas in a pod. On the contrary, the approach is to hold the framework constant so that step-by-step, generation after generation, we can enhance every desired characteristic until that illusive perfect one is achieved. Although realistically absolute perfection may not be achievable, there is no harm in shooting for the moon.

Quite frankly, if your choice is peas in a pod - fine. I’ll take the great one!

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.