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What We Like Vs. What Is Correct
Posted on 09/23/2008 in Ringside Conversations.

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

It is extremely important in evaluating dogs that the person doing so is making accurate decisions. Now this may sound like a given in the evaluating experience; one would think that everyone involved in their chosen breed will at least attempt to be accurate to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, this is not always as easy as it sounds.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to accuracy is allowing what we like as an individual, to stand in the way of something else that is equally correct and fully acceptable in a breed. For instance, in the case of a standard that allows a wide range of size, as many of our standards do, some will arbitrarily decide they like only the very smallest or the largest.

Some standards make no differentiation between dogs and bitches when it comes to size. A bitch can be at the top of the standard and be correct; a dog can be at the bottom and be completely acceptable. Now the observer may like a small bitch and a large dog. The liking part is all well and good, but it should never stand in the way of appreciating a fine dog that may not fit our personal size preference. As long as the dog in question falls within the guidelines set down by the standard, all sizes must be given equal consideration and decisions made only on overall quality.

In cases like the size issue, a judge is only afforded the luxury of implementing personal preference when it comes to a matter of two dogs of equal quality (which most of us who judge know is a rare instance indeed) and there is no other reason for deciding between one and the other.

A good deal of the success of Norma Hamilton’s Quailmoor Irish Setter breeding program in Australia was the result of her ability to accurately access the quality existent in both the English and American dogs of the breed. She was keenly observant of the differences that existed in dogs of her breed bred in the United States and those bred in the Great Britain. Rather than operating from “preference” (“I only like American dogs,” or “I only like British dogs”), Norma used a discriminating eye to determine where the dogs of each country excelled and she sought to combine the best of each in her own line. Her efforts found approval from judges and breeders from around the world.

The breeder is equally at liberty to have a size preference and set up a breeding program to accommodate this end as long as it falls within the parameters of the breed standard. The problem that all too frequently arises is that preferences of this nature develop into obsessions. Breeders are unable to appreciate good dogs - theirs or others’ - that do not fall within their personal range of preferences.

Operating within this form of restricted vision serves as a real handicap to the breeder’s own breeding program. He can easily fail to use the dog or bitch who is the exact answer to the improvement he is looking for. Further, and often unfortunately, many breeders of this persuasion are apt to try to influence others to abide by their own self-imposed restrictions. This can have detrimental effects upon other breeding programs and the breed itself.

Another example of this nature might be seen in allowable colors. A standard may allow any color and/or any pattern. To give preference to or reject parti-color or solid or brindle dogs simply because of their color is, again, an inaccurate interpretation of a standard.

Later, if the breeder who has been guided only by his prejudices should become a judge, it could be extremely difficult for the individual to get by those biases and prejudices when passing judgment in the ring. Actually, it would be most surprising if a breeder-judge did not walk into the ring with some biases. After all, a breeder knows only too well how many years it took to perfect or get rid of some characteristic in his own line. However, it is important to be sure the standard places no more or no less emphasis on that characteristic than on any other.

I wonder how many realize the educational benefit good ring procedure has for the exhibitor and ringside observer. The latter are in a good many cases our breeders who have come to learn and perhaps “shop” for breeding stock. Every dog entered should be examined in the same way and in a manner that is appropriate for that particular breed. This is not only for the sake of fairness but to make sure something is not overlooked in the process.

Although some judges examine each dog in the class with great care, they wait far too long to begin making cuts that will assist them in arriving at dogs that in the end will constitute their final placements. In a very large class, this can end in total confusion for the judge, and someone interested in the judge’s opinion would have no idea how final conclusions were reached. Attending to a large entry in a systematic fashion not only eliminates such confusion and assists accuracy, it helps those interested in the judge’s opinion see what the statement being made actually is.

As each dog is given its thorough examination and has been moved individually, the judge begins to see that each successive dog is either better than or of lesser quality than the one that came before it. Many judges believe it helps considerably to start creating some order of preference as they go, rather than waiting until after all the dogs have been examined.

In a large class, it is very easy to forget a fault on one of the early dogs. On the other hand, the dog that does not appeal at all on the set-up may be suffering from bad handling rather than a lack of quality.

Eliminating the dogs not in consideration after the initial examination begins to sketch out the judge’s general picture of the ideal. It’s a “good ones up front, poor ones at the end” approach. The first cut a more general picture, and as each dog moves forward in consideration, a more detailed portrait emerges of what the judge considers quality.

Does the Ringside Count?
Some judges do not feel they owe spectators anything at all. They give no clue as to where they are heading until there is a sudden, “One-two-three-four” and the ribbons are handed out. Neither spectator nor exhibitor is given any idea of how, out of a large class, the judge arrived at the four finalists. The correctness of the judge’s choices is certainly not being questioned here, only the procedure used to arrive at them.

Like a good number of other judges, I feel what we do can be an educational experience for all present, both in and out of the ring. Following initial examination, judges who see what they do as an educational process may reduce a class of twenty to a much handier and more observable ten. (It does not seem reasonable that, after the initial examination, the judge would still be considering all twenty.) This gives the observer the opportunity to see which ten of the twenty the judge feels come closer to his or her interpretation of the standard.

As additional observation of the ten remaining dogs is then made, moving those forward that stand foremost in consideration draws yet an even clearer picture of what the judge is after. Final arrangement of the top four in descending order before the last pass around the ring gives observers an opportunity to see exactly what the judge has interpreted as closest to the standard. It should be obvious this system would paint a much more vivid and less mistake-prone picture of the judges’ interpretation of the standard than four placements suddenly emerging out of a class of twenty.

Parts Instead of the Whole
Spending too much time staring at a class of dogs can cause as many problems as not spending enough time. I have seen judges’ eyes drawn to the best dog in the class immediately as it entered the ring, but belabored decision making made them see the dog’s parts instead of the whole (and it must be remembered that no dog has been born that is perfect in all its parts!), they lost what in fact should have been an easy winner.

It will undoubtedly take the beginner longer to judge a breed the first time than it will many assignments later. This is understandable. This applies to all beginning judges regardless of how many champions that person has bred or owned in their lifetime. New judges are normally unsure of themselves and have not learned to rely upon an efficient system of handling the ring, so part of their concentration is on procedure rather than on decision making. Implementing the same system over and over will considerably shorten time spent.

The new judge has not had time to decide or to research where concessions can and cannot be made. This prolongs decision making as well, but in the case of judging dogs, practice, in fact, does make perfect. (Well, if not “perfect,” at least “improved.”)

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.