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Who Judges Your Dog Best?
Posted on 01/23/2008 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
We have many judges who pass over our show dogs in the course of a year. Some, the all-rounders, judge many breeds while others, the specialists, judge only one or two - the breed or breeds in which they actually bred and raised.

There is much that can be learned from a good judge of either variety. In their perfect form, the contributions of both the specialist and the all-rounder are what allow a breed to maintain excellence in both form and function. There is little real difference in the quality of judging rendered by either.

Any judge with a decent eye, whether an all-rounder or specialist, will be able to recognize and reward the outstanding dog in a line-up just as easily as he or she will be able to dismiss those that warrant no further consideration. However, it is between the great ones and the losers that we most often will find the differences in how the specialists are apt to make their decisions.

The Specialist
One great advantage the specialist has is the experience of living through the developmental stages of often many generations of a given breed. There is an enormous amount to be gained through observing the day-to-day changes a breed passes through as it progresses from puppyhood to maturity.

The breeder as judge knows there are some shortcomings that are age-related and warrant little concern. There are others, however, that the experienced breeder realizes are problems that will only continue to worsen and become serious departures as the dog matures. He or she can thus act accordingly when making close decisions.

A good judge of one’s own breed is allowed to officiate within a realm of expertise. It is an area in which the individual has experienced the trials and tribulations of attempting to achieve perfection. They realize and appreciate the degree of difficulty involved in not only establishing but maintaining elusive characteristics, like the distinguishing carriage of the ear or the nuance and capricious character of things like expression or color. The specialist judge may come to judging as a novice in the very learnable elements of ring procedure and rapid decision-making, but not in what represents the essence of his or her breed.

Consider the fact that the successful breeder has not only been forced to recognize faults, but also to understand what causes them, and how to go about their correction. The specialist knows all too well that there are some problems that are easily corrected, sometimes as quickly as in a single breeding. They also know there are some qualities, breed-defining characteristics among them, that once lost may take many generations to be fully regained. There can be no denying that correct determination of problems and experience in bringing about their resolution presents a marvelous learning experience - especially for someone who wishes to become a judge.

The specialist appreciates the charismatic show dog as much as anyone, but also knows that charisma pales by comparison to the priorities of the whelping box.

Then, too, the experienced breeder as judge is able to provide all who judge words of wisdom, such as those of the late James Clark of Rimskittle Poodle fame. In an interview, Mr. Clark once said, “The one concession I can’t make is to forgive what I call the ‘drag’ of the breed. That Ýs the element you keep trying to breed away from.”

In summary, the ideal specialist keeps us ever in mind of what constitutes the essence of a breed with respect to origin and purpose. Their decisions draw our attention to the elements of breed type - both present and absent.

The All-Rounder
I do believe all-rounders shoulder a greater portion of the responsibility for forward movement in a breed; simply because in North America most dogs are shown under all-rounders far more often than they are under specialists.

Many of our all-rounders have experience with and knowledge of the functional characteristics required of whole families of dogs. This not only helps them to maintain the familial essentials of the group but also to curb the tendency of some breeders to fall over the precipice of breed type and into breed caricature. (The old problem of, “if a little bit is good, a whole lot is better.”)

A broad perspective also allows the all-rounder to know just how much strength should be given to terms of canine anatomy in a breed standard. For instance, in the area of angulation alone, the terms moderate and slightly are used by nearly all breeds, and it is only by having an overview of the entire spectrum that one can really understand how the terms should be applied.

Some standards do not actually mean what we would commonly interpret them to say. American Cocker Spaniels and Akitas are both expected to have “moderate” rear quarter angulation. Even a casual knowledge of these two breeds would tell you that the word moderate does not mean the same thing in both instances and must be applied with discernment.

It takes a long time for an individual to become an all-rounder and, in the process, he or she undoubtedly mellows. Those blanket statements, “never” and “always”, fall away with time and experience and are replaced with “never say never”.

The all-rounder comes to a breed with fewer preconceived breed-oriented prejudices and affiliations. Last, but far from least, the really good all-rounder, not having had to do battle with any one of a breed's problem areas, is perhaps more able to place specific faults in the overall perspective. It is easier for the all-rounder not to be caught up in one’s own personal challenges as a breeder.

The all-rounder is less apt to have commitments to a level of perfection rarely found in the developing breeds, whereas the specialist can be unwilling to settle for anything less. There are some breeds in which the level of development is such that one cannot dig too deeply or one is left with nothing at all. There are other breeds, for instance the Wire Fox Terrier, where the bar is set at such a level that concessions need not be made in almost any circumstance.

In summary, I feel that is a combination of the best of the two - specialist and all-rounder - that keep our breeds flourishing. If we can depend upon the good all-rounder to guide us toward the ideal framework, and the good specialist to point out the critical details for us, our breeds should continue to flourish and progress toward the goals set for us in our breed standards.

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.