Judging The Judges What is the first thing you look at when you open a premium list? It is the judges’ names. They are what determine where we show and whether we will drive 80 miles or 1,200 miles to show to them. In order to make those decisions, we study the judges. By Patricia Gail Burnham While a judge is busy judging dogs, knowledgeable exhibitors are judging the judge’s performance. In general the exhibitors know more about the strengths and weaknesses of their competition than a judge who has less than two minutes to evaluate a dog. This has nothing to do with whether judges are good judges or bad judges. It has to do with what their priorities are and what they are looking for in a good dog. This is why the AKC is never going to be able to come up with a judges’ approval plan that rewards “good” judges and does not advance “bad” judges. Put simply, judges are neither “good” nor “bad.” They just have differing priorities. So my good judge may be your bad judge. For me, a good judge is one who is looking for the same qualities in a dog that I value and breed for. And the bad judges aren’t really bad. They are just looking for qualities in a dog that I don’t value. The late Afghan Hound judge Connie Miller told me a story about one of her friends who was a very frequent judge. She said that if he, and she, and I judged a large specialty entry, she and I would make our first cut by selecting all the good moving, sound, dogs. Then we would look in that group for a pretty dog. But her friend would make his first cut to choose all the pretty dogs. Then he would look in that group to try to find a sound one. We had different priorities. I am an unabashed sound movement judge even though the standard for my original breed doesn’t 30 Dog News
mention movement. That isn’t because the standard writers didn’t care about movement. They assumed that any judge back in the 1920’s would automatically look for good movement. Many of them were horsemen and good movement in my breed is very much like good movement in a Thoroughbred horse: an effortless trot and sound movement coming and going. They were looking for what would be good movement on a good hunter-not a hackney pony or a 5 Gaited Saddle horse. But sound movement judges appear to be in a decreasing minority. And there are lots of dog shows so exhibitors get to pick and choose which judges they will show to. In order to do that we judge the judges. When someone calls to report a win or a loss, the first question is, “Who was the judge?” If he put up a sound, medium sized dog then folks with similar dogs will show to him when he shows up in their section of the country. First hand observation is even better than second hand information. If a judge shows an obvious preference for Tremendous Reach and Drive (TRAD) and is willing to forgive the dubious down and back movement that often goes with it, then they go onto my “Rather not show to them” list. If they are really extreme, they go onto the “Wouldn’t show to them if they were judging the last dog show on the Planet” list. Interestingly enough, a lot of very active judges are on that list for me. The Perfect Test. A few years ago we had a special shown in this area a lot who was very helpful in sorting out judges. She had a ton of side gait. But her elbows were loose and she waddled going away like she had a full diaper. She also hated to show. Her handler
would have to keep a thumb pressed into her belly to keep her from sinking to the ground. She was the perfect test for judges. Judges who put her up were TRAD judges who didn’t care about down and back soundness. She did quite a lot of winning since there are more TRAD judges out there than soundness judges. Just putting a good special up over her would get a judge into the “good” list. But when a good sound puppy went BOB over the special that judge got a gold star for being brave enough to reward movement regardless of age. But different exhibitors have different lists. The judges on my “bad” list will be the judges on the “good” list for exhibitors who value TRAD and devalue soundness. This is why the AKC will never be able to make all judges judge the same. If fact, if they did all judge the same way dog shows would be much smaller. Now if a judge doesn’t like your type, you can look for one that does. If all judges were TRAD judges, or head judges, or soundness judges, the pool of show dogs would shrink as the breeders who value and breed for the minority type of dog would drop out. Disagreement among judges is actually good for dog shows. But it makes it hard for the AKC to second-guess their judges. There is no absolute right and wrong in judging. That gives us hope for the next show. If a judge writes about how judges who judge on soundness often fail to put up the best dog, that is a red flag. It makes me suspicious that they are TRAD judges, or worse yet, head or hair judges. When I see a non-toy breed described as a “head breed” it makes me cringe. All dogs need functional bodies a lot more than they need pretty heads. Not that I would turn down a pretty head with a functional body behind it. So while the judges are judging dogs, the exhibitors are busy judging the judges. All I ask of a judge is that their priorities can be identified by watching them judge, so that I can sort them into the “Show to them whenever possible” list or the “rather not’ and the ”not ever” list. And we always show to provisional judges to see where they fit on our lists. They are also likely to have read our standard more recently than long established judges. Since nobody can memorize 50 standards, old timers are more likely to be judging by the generic show dog standard. I don’t want to leave the impression that I object to lots of old time judges. The sun rose and set on Langdon Skarda and Bill Brainard. We need more like them.
Dog News The Digest of American Dogs Volume 30, Issue 44 October 31, 2014