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The Fundamentals of Judging
Posted on 12/18/2013 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard (Rick) Beauchamp

There is nothing more helpful to the new or aspiring judge than having someone with long-time experience and knowledge offer to take on the role of mentor. Although the mentor cannot learn for the beginner, it is extremely beneficial to have someone to turn to when the inevitable questions arise.

It was my good fortune to have had someone offer their assistance when I began judging because just about the time I felt I had everything pretty well nailed down, along came that super big “?” for which I had no answer at all.

I discussed this with my mentor and her response was one I have never forgotten: “Unfortunately, we learn on the customers,” she said, “and you will continue to learn from the first show you judge until the day you decide to retire and turn in your badge,” she went on.

No one, no matter how brilliant they are, starts with as much knowledge of a breed as they will have gained after years of judging that breed. The reason, quite simply, is that judging dogs is an art and like any artistic endeavor it takes time, trial and error to hone one’s expertise.

Anyone who wants to be a good judge must be prepared to spend the time and study the endeavor will require. It can be mind-boggling when one begins to take inventory of what is necessary to extend one’s knowledge beyond the first breed that most people have spent many years becoming familiar with.

In order to clear the way for the information one will need to support his efforts to become a competent judge, there are certain essentials that must be clearly understood and acquired. They are as follows.


1. A clear picture of ideal breed type.

2. Accuracy.

3. The ability to reach logical and just conclusions.

4. Honesty and courage of convictions.

5. The ability to give good reasons.

There is no school a person can attend to acquire these essentials. Some take many years of study and comparison and will involve readjustments as time passes. Some are the result of the individual’s personal standards, and others are simply the reflection of a person’s level of integrity. We will, however, take a look at these essentials one at a time so they are clearly understood by one and all that have any aspirations in the realm of judging.

1. Understanding Breed Type

It is impossible to judge any breed well if the person does not have a crystal clear picture of what the ideal specimen of that breed looks like. A person must fully understand what the elements are that are actually included in the word “type” if he is to recognize a “typey” dog when he sees one. Otherwise, the student wanders aimlessly through their life as a dog person, never really understanding what it is they are looking for or recognizing it when they do see it.

My studies and research through the years resulted in my devoting an entire book to that one copy (Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type). The book has become a basic must for anyone who plans on progressing beyond the novice level.

After long and careful consideration (and more years of readjustment than I care to think about!), I came up with a list of the characteristics with which I evaluate dogs and which the great dogs I have known have scored very heavily. These may not be how others see the essentials of breed type, but they are mine:

1. Breed Character.

2. Silhouette.

3. Head/expression.

4. Movement.

5. Coat.

Breed Character. The most obvious thing about any dog when it enters the ring is whether or not it carries itself and acts as it should for that specific breed. Does it enter the ring with the attitude and deportment that is correct for that breed? A good many judges say breed character is one of the most important things they look for in evaluating a dog. Character is best described as the sum total of all those mental and physical characteristics that define not only what the breed should look like, but how it should act.

Silhouette. As I drive down the street, what catches my eye and makes me look is the overall silhouette of a dog. What my eye tells my brain is whether or not the animal I am looking at is a particular breed. Closer examination will undoubtedly reveal how good a specimen of the breed the dog is, but the closer the dog’s silhouette comes to the ideal, the more quickly I will identify the breed and the more apt that dog is to be a quality individual. Therefore, it is the whole that classifies the breed and the details within that framework that tell me how closely the dog conforms to my interpretation of the ideal.

It is proportions that create the correct silhouette. Thus, all the years involved in study and research to determine the breed’s correct proportions have not as one might say, been to naught! Proportions are something concrete. A neck that is one third the length of the body is something you can see. One third of the dog’s body length is exactly that. One third of anything is exactly that. There is no mystery about it. And so it goes for the entire dog. Once you have taught yourself what the correct proportions are, you will be able to recognize the correct dogs by their silhouettes because the sum of all the correct parts made that silhouette!

In order for the overall silhouette to be accurate, the parts that created it must themselves be pretty close to being correct: the height to length balance must be there; muzzle to skull proportions must be in the right balance; the neck must be of the proper length and set. In most cases, the dog that you observe as correct standing still will also be pretty close to correct when moving about. If that silhouette is also held in movement, the parts are not only there, but they also working correctly.

Head. Without its unmistakable face and its particular expression, even the dog whose character and silhouette tells you it is a member of that breed would be a disappointment. There can be no argument with that. Would it be an Eskie without the breed’s dark-eyed, intense expression? If a Border Collie’s gaze puts you in mind of a Basset Hound, could it truly be a Border Collie? That head is part and parcel of what gives us a breed. Notice I say head is part of what gives us the breed, not all. Do not make the mistake of believing it is all that distinguishes a breed. Breed type extends far beyond a dog’s head.

Movement. Many standards are quite precise in their description of movement. If a dog moves poorly it is usually due to the dog’s construction. I am not talking about attitude here, that is a matter of temperament. I am talking about what the legs do or do not do - whether or not the movement is actually correct for its breed. A dog can only move properly for its breed if it is constructed properly.

Here we must digress a bit. You will note that I have italicized the words “for its breed”. All breeds are not constructed the same and therefore all dogs will not and should not move the same. It is important that the judge clearly understand the correct construction of a given breed so that he will also understand what kind of movement that construction demands.

When you change construction, you are tampering with breed type. It is not perfectly fine for one breed to move like another. A draught dog is not to cover ground like a gun dog. A spaniel does not move as fast as an Afghan Hound, nor should it. Nor on the other hand is a spaniel as slow or does it roll like a Bulldog.

If all breeds were allowed to move in the same way, we would soon have a whole race of dogs differing only in size and color and the amount of hair they carry. They would quite simply be “generic dogs”.

There is too great an inclination to use the same yardstick to measure quality in vastly different breeds. One of those measurements is speed. For whatever the reason, exhibitors seem to think speed is an essential of a top winning show dog.

It makes so little sense, and yet one would think that if you can get a Bulldog to move (as I’ve heard so often), “as well as a German Shepherd”, you have a better Bulldog.

Coat. In the case of most breeds, we should be concerned here with both color and texture. Unfortunately it seems far more attention is given to amount of coat than anything else, and this is not simply a “judge thing”. Interestingly, exhibitors are far more apt to show a dog that is out of condition or lacking soundness long before they would consider showing a dog that is out of coat.

Most standards for the utility breeds describe a coat that assisted the dogs in performing in the capacity for which the breed was created. An Alaskan Malamute with a long silky coat would disqualify it forever insofar as its ability to work in the snow. Would not a fault of this nature be of the most serious kind?

The same applies to the gun dogs. Would not a coat of the texture that absorbs and holds water represent the most grievous fault a Retriever could have? Yet both breeders and judges overlook entirely incorrect coats constantly.

A judge’s picture of ideal type is constantly honed and refined by having that picture compared to many dogs in the course of judging. Seeing a good specimen of the breed once will not do the trick. Comparisons over the years help the eye become aware of deviations of the ideal, no matter how subtle those deviations might be.

Next: “Judging Accuracy” and What It Means

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 November 2013 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.