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Why Did the Judge Do That?, Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
Posted on 04/13/2011 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
Among the dog world’s many publications that find their way to my door each month, there are several published in foreign countries that I find particularly good and I try to read them every month. One of them posed an interesting question to its readership a few months ago, “What in your mind would improve dog shows most?”

Responses were varied and sundry: lower entry fees, availability of better food, more convenient parking, more shows, fewer shows. The submissions went on and on, but by an overwhelming majority, the response that brought in the greatest number of votes was “better judging”.

Interestingly, if one were to use ringside conversations (those that actually occur at ringside, not this column) here in the U.S., the concerns would be much the same, and better judging would again head the list. It’s the same all over it appears.

Judges, judging, how to train them, what they should know, and the ranks they should come from are topics that are dealt with over and over, and have been dealt with over and over since dog shows began. I have a copy of the no-longer-published Kennel Review magazine that carries a thoughtfully written piece on the dire consequences the dog world faced unless the quality of judging improved significantly and immediately. The article was published in 1901! Thus, we can forget about those “good old days” when judging was gifted and no one ever made a decision other than one that was universally agreed upon.

Has judging never achieved the pinnacle of excellence we expect of it, or is this a case of never being able to satisfy “all of the people all of the time?” Perhaps it might be a combination of the two.

It has long been understood among judges that one makes far fewer people happy than he does disappointed in the course of a day’s judging. Multiply that by a ten or twenty judging assignments in a year’s time and it becomes obvious that a judge finds himself with an entire horde of disappointed people as time marches along.
One takes the bitter with the sweet as a judge, and a good judge understands he is responsible for making decisions that serve to benefit the breeds he judges. He is not in the ring to win friends and/or fish for more assignments. That means not being able to put up a dear friend’s dog because it is not the best one there on the day or, on the other hand, giving a spectacular win to the fellow who has always had an uncanny ability to get under your skin simply by his presence alone.

Exhibitor Complaints
Exhibitor complaints against judges seem to fall primarily under two headings: incompetence and integrity. Most cases of judges lacking in knowledge arise from individuals who get ahead of themselves in their ability to access breeds.

Just because someone has become renowned as a judge of Salukis, it does not necessarily imply that he will do as well in the Bulldog ring. Progressing slowly and taking time to learn the important type characteristics of a breed are critical to a judge’s ability. That doesn’t come overnight. It comes from experience with many, many dogs of a breed over a long period of time.

In my opinion the accusations of dishonesty on the parts of judges is highly exaggerated. Most judges I know enter the ring sincerely hoping to do the best job possible. Some accomplish this better than others. The few I have heard of through the years who were unable to make just decisions have quickly been found out and have been relegated to obscurity.

Who Shouldn’t Judge?
I will say that there are many people who decide to become judges but, despite their knowledge of dogs or success as breeders, are really not emotionally suited to the task. Most people realize this themselves and, after an attempt or two, they decide against pursuing a career as a judge. I applaud them for their decision because there is nothing that shows more in the ring than the judge who really does not want to be there. It is a disservice to the judge and it can’t help but affect the decisions he makes.

There are many psychological factors that stand in the way of becoming a competent judge. For instance, a person who is totally disorganized in life is not going to magically become a genius of organization the moment he walks through the ring ropes of a dog show. You are who you are.

Ring procedure is essential. It allows the judge to concentrate on the job at hand - evaluating the dogs. It is not something that a disorganized individual should be trying to work out while judging. Then it becomes a distraction.

Someone who has a difficult time making up his mind rarely succeeds at judging. As knowledgeable of dogs as he may be, he does not trust his own decisions and is easy prey to outside influences. Advertising, friendships, prominence of the individual showing the dog - these are all things that might easily sway the indecisive person from doing what he might even believe is right.

On the other hand, a person who feels that life has dealt him a bad hand might be overcome with his own importance once he steps into the ring as a judge and believes he knows more than anyone could possibly teach him and stubbornly refuses to add to his knowledge of the breed. Everything he does is absolutely right no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary.

This individual is the same personality who takes great joy in knocking off the current big winning dog in the breed. This of course stands to reason in that he would know more than all the other judges that have found quality in the animal.

The stress of having to make decisions at an important event can make others so erratic in their choices and behavior, it becomes absolutely impossible to follow what they are getting to. At smaller shows and with smaller entries, this individual might perform acceptably but when stress factors increase, his grasp on reality becomes tenuous.

Other Dangers
Then too there is the judge who becomes so overwhelmed by his study of canine anatomy that the parts of a dog take on greater significance than the whole. There has been more than one situation in which I have observed a judge whose eye is immediately drawn to the best dog as the entry files in but who soon loses sight of the dog as he begins to compare one part of one dog’s anatomy to a different part of another dog. It becomes a situation of “What is worse, the sickle hock or the bowed pastern,” rather than, “Which of these two dogs has the most good?”

Another trap that the studious judge can fall into is to become to become too deeply involved in the working of the canine skeleton. Having good knowledge of what make a dog move as he does is essential, but it must be remembered that as we judge, our eye does not see the same thing that an X-ray machine does. Muscle, ligaments and flesh cover those bones, and that is what must be evaluated. If a judge has knowledge (or assumes he has knowledge) of what is causing a problem, that is all well and good, but the judge is not doing a diagnostic of skeletal deficiencies; he is comparing what his eye tells him to the standard of the breed.

Another danger area that an individual who judges must be aware of is the long-standing and erroneous needs to separate soundness from type. The very purpose in a well-written standard is to call for physical characteristics that will permit the dog to perform in the manner for which the breed was created. If a dog is made properly, he will move in the manner that his conformation dictates. There are of course exceptions to the latter. Lack of conditioning, bad foot timing, attitude, the surface on which the dog is moved, etc., can affect movement.

If soundness is separated from type, the judge puts himself in the position of having to decide between the well made dog that moves poorly or the poorly made dog that moves well. Some thought must be given to the fact that most top breeders give away dogs whose only virtue is soundness.

More than once I have seen a mongrel parading down the street, head held high, reaching and driving, steady topline - everything working in unison. He passes every test of soundness but fails entirely when it comes to the question of whether or not he is sound for his breed. Is his way of going suitable for retrieving, galloping or for draft purposes? He has no criteria to meet in that respect.

In conclusion, there are many answers to “Why Did The Judge Do That?” This is food for thought for both the exhibitor and the judge.

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 April 2011 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News, along with the Final 2010 Top Ten/All-Star/Total Junior Lists and the 2011 PREMIER Premium List.