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Group Judges’ assessment takes in the hounds

March saw the successful launch of another group Judges’ Development Programme. Although long in planning, it proved well worth the wait for the 20 candidates who gathered near Nottingham for two days of intensive breed training and judging assessments.

The Hound Association is the first group society to adopt individual formal judging assessments for the multi-breed judges signed up for their scheme. Based on the results, they may well have set a new standard in the training of the next generation of group judges.

The course took place at the Canine Academy near Nottingham, an ideal venue which provided an adequate number of rooms of ample size, as well as close cropped grass rings outside. Excellent wholesome food was provided for all participants, and coffee, tea and biscuits were available on demand throughout the two days at no extra cost..

On the first day the breeds covered were Beagles and Whippets. Ten would-be Beagle judges assembled at the Academy at 8.30am. for the first session, which was introduced by Hector Heathcote, the chairman of the organising sub-committee of the Hound Association.

As there was a lot to be covered in a short time, Hector explained the plan for the day and the importance of sticking closely to the very tight timetable. For each breed the format was to be a talk on the breed standard followed by judging a class of dogs, an opportunity to jot down notes on the individual dogs and the reasons for the order of placing, and finally an appearance before the panel of assessors to discuss the judge’s placings as well as the good and bad points of each dog. The panel comprised Terry Thorn and Anne Macdonald for all breeds and they were joined by breed specialists and a moderator.

The educational sessions were especially aimed at experienced judges. Candidates were required to have already awarded CCs in at least three hound breeds. The lecturers, Eleanor Bothwell for Beagles and Mary Lowe in Whippets, had been asked to concentrate on breed-specific points knowing their students came with a good grasp of canine structure and movement, ring control and show regulations.

Eleanor was joined by Stuart Milner and Mary by Shirley Rawlings as the second breed specialists in the panel’s assessment room. Each candidate had just ten minutes in what they came to call the “star chamber”. Just time enough for an experienced judge to discuss and justify their placing of the dogs, verbally critique them and answer a handful of searching questions. Not for the fainthearted but grist to the mill for the aspiring group judge. The moderator ensured that each candidate was fairly treated with an equal opportunity to convince the panel of their ability.

Long day

The first day closed at about 6pm. Having started at 8.30 the candidates had certainly experienced the long day they were promised

On the second day there were 14 candidates for the session on Deerhounds. The breed standard was explained in a joint presentation by Sue Finnett and Sue Piggott, with the help of a deerhound skeleton and a short slide show. They also put on display a selection of books on the breed for the candidates to browse while waiting for their turn to judge the dogs or to appear before the panel. With three groups this morning there was plenty of time for everyone to study the breed in depth.

They were joined by observers from BUBA and National Gundog Association who wanted to learn from the Hound Association’s experience of this first course. Each of them were given an opportunity to sit in on panel assessments as well as to listen to the presentations and to watch the judging.

Our sympathies went out to the dog handlers who had to submit to having their dogs judged by three groups of judges and to having to move their dogs for each group, as well as to the panel who had to conduct the same discussions and interviews 14 times over. Eventually the last candidate was assessed and another excellent lunch was enjoyed by all.

The second afternoon saw a change to the format and a respite for the assessors. The breed under consideration was the Basset Fauve de Bretagne. As CCs are not available in this breed it was not thought appropriate to conduct a full assessment; instead there was just a presentation on the breed standard followed by an opportunity for everyone present to get their hands on the specimen dogs which had been brought along and to discuss them with the handlers. The breed standard was presented, most informatively and helpfully, by Lana Johnson who used one of her own Fauves to illustrate the points. A number of dogs were then tabled for us all to have a hands-on opportunity. Interest in this attractive breed was obviously high, as candidates had to be dragged away from them to bring the session to a close.

The course was unanimously voted a complete success. Most of the candidates, including a number of group judges and a best in show judge, thought it was the best they had attended and all expressed great interest in further courses which the Association will hopefully be arranging later this year.

Thanks were expressed to the sub-committee, as well as the speakers, the assessors and all those public-spirited people in each of the 4 breeds who had given up their time, and who had travelled upto 300 miles to ensure that quality dogs were available to judge. With this standard of education and assessment our judges should have no trouble maintaining their reputation as the best.

Norman Ziman