The Exhibitor's Responsiblity, by Rick Beauchamp
Posted on 12/16/2009 in Ringside Conversations.
One of the many great perks of judging is being able to pass upon the quality dogs of many countries. But an added bonus is occasionally having the time and opportunity to visit with those who have bred the respective country's outstanding dogs. Such was the case only recently when I had judged the Norwegian Kennel Club's first all breed show of the summer season.
My assignment at the show was highlighted by excellent quality in several breeds, Boston Terriers, American Cockers and Great Danes, among them. My Companion Dog Group winner was the brown Miniature Poodle of many titles - Norwegian, Danish Champion, Nordic Junior Winner '07, World Winner '08 and Norwegian Winner '08, Bazaar's Easy Does It. She was bred and is owned and handled by Anne H. Myhrbraaten. This is a truly stunning bitch that pleases in type, size and the exciting movement that is distinctly Poodle! Pressing her closely was a Lhasa Apso of great quality, and a Bichon Frise of world class competitiveness.
After the weekend's show I was delighted to be able to visit Espen Eng and Age Gjetnes and their internationally famous Jet Greyhounds and Afghan Hounds. Their lovely home and kennel is nestled in the beautiful green hillside region outside Oslo and, although I say home and kennel, there is really no hard and fast line drawn between where humans and dogs reside. It is all one very large and one very happy residence for both.
The danger in bringing longtime dog men together to talk is that once started it is difficult, if not impossible, to stop them! The subjects ran the gamut - dogs, and breed, shows, and judging. As always we found that while going on in different parts of the world it is at once different and the same. We talked on and on into the night and only stopped at all due to the fact that Espen's duties as CEO at the the Norwegian Kennel Club required his presence the following morning.
I was struck that evening by the great depth of knowledge Espen and Age have - as breeders, as judges and as dog connoisseurs. There I was in Oslo, Norway, some 7,000+ miles from my home in California and I felt as if I were talking to a fellow breeder and judge who had grown up right along side of me at home, having the same experiences in purebred dogs that my American contemporaries and I had had.
But there was something else there - something about the two unique even among individuals who had accomplished as much as they had. I had met many learned dog fanciers in my travels across the world who had a great understanding of purebred dogs and the sport of purebred dogs in general - men and women whose accomplishments were legendary. Certainly Espen and Age were not alone in their knowledge.
The more I thought about it though, the more I realized the quality that the two had that so set them apart in my mind was that unique combination of great knowledge and humility that is possessed by very few in our field of endeavor - a rare combination afforded very few but that which provides the key to an education that never ceases.
My two greatest mentors, the American, Beatrice Godsol, and British expatriate, Derek Rayne, possessed this unique combination and because of it I stood in awe of their openness and ability to add to what seemed to me an already unmatched storehouse of experience and scholarship. As far as I was concerned they knew it all. In their minds they were simply students. And that is exactly why they were such brilliant judges.
Judging Is Easy
The less you know, the easier it is. There are no self doubts, no wondering what lies beyond what you already know. The first question that the Godsols, Raynes, Engs and Gjetnes of the world ask themselves is, "What more is there to this than I already know?" What people of their caliber know continually represents only the beginning. It is a never ending process - the journey, not the destination.
There is little doubt that the average exhibitor sees judges and judging as black and white: judging is good when the judge likes my dog, bad when he doesn't. I doubt Joe Average thinks twice about how much of his life a judge has invested in what he does in the ring. Nor does the exhibitor think of the complex psychological factors that come into play in the day's decision making.
A person who is basically indecisive in his reactions to life will also be an indecisive judge. He may know his breed but will have a terrible time making up his mind, and thus can be swayed by factors extraneous to the dogs presented to him. Others may be forceful and dominant and brook no nonsense. They also may be unwilling to learn. There is the judge who is so poorly organized that he has no control of his ring, and the resulting chaos allows for a poor presentation by the handler and the dog.
Opposite of the marked characteristic of humility I've described above is the judge whose own life has been unrewarding and who feels he has been shabbily treated by those in authority. This is the kind of person who relishes playing "God" in the ring. He enjoys knocking off the current big winner and being able to boast about it to the hometown folks later.
"An Eye for a Dog"
Those who have followed what I have written for this publication through the years are very much aware that I firmly believe a judge adjudicating in the ring has only one real duty, and that is to find the best dogs in the ring at the moment, and reward them on the basis of their merit. A breeder's job is not different. The breeder must be able to look at a litter or at potential breeding stock in the same manner. The question must always be, "How much good is there here?" and not, "What is wrong with this dog?"
If the answer to the first question is that there is little or no good in the dog being observed, there is no need to be concerned with faults. This allows the observer to concentrate on the dogs of merit. Which of these has the most quality?
The question isn't, "Which dog has cowhocks?" but rather, "Which of these good dogs has the best rear quarters?" Actually, it should go beyond that to, "Which dog has the most of the best?" Looking for the faults in dogs is an exercise in futility. I can save the observer a great deal of time by quoting one of my mentors, Mrs. Godsol, who stated quite simply, "All dogs have faults, the great ones just carry them well."
The very best judges have what the veterans of the sport have always called "an eye for a dog." Unfortunately we went through what fortunately was a brief but nonetheless disastrous period in the 90s when certain individuals among the all breed powers that be tried to discredit this belief. Their theory apparently was that proper ring procedure and a working knowledge of canine anatomy led one up the path to success as a judge. It didn't take long to prove the misbegotten theory was more wishful thinking than reality. Ring procedure and a course in anatomy can enable an individual to recognize a good, sound, generic dog, but breeding generic dogs is not what we as breeders are all about.
An eye for a dog is quite simply an inherent ability to appreciate line, balance and symmetry. The person that has this ability finds it relatively easy to apply it to the various breeds of dogs. His eye is inherently drawn to the superior animals. With education and experience this ability is honed to appreciate and include the nuances of and intricacies of type. His eye does not waste time on the faulty dog but is drawn to the dog of quality.
Even as beauty has its own hierarchy, so does the cadre of those who are blessed with this gift of an eye for a dog. Having the eye does not absolve those who have it from continuing their education any more than having a sense of rhythm is all that is required for achieving success at the Bolshoi. And this is from whence our greats emerge.
Their humility, their constant study and comparison, their appreciation of the good ones that come before them and their objectivity constantly hone that eye, making it all the more sensitive and reliable. They are willing to stand corrected to accept new found knowledge but are not swayed by fad and fancy. We depend upon those gifted few to preserve the integrity of our breeds.
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.