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Inspiring a ring of confidence
Student judging at Richmond Show by David Cavill

Photo by Alan V Walker
David Cavill making his assessment as a student judge in the
Beardie ring with judge Mrs M J Crowther

There was tremendous interest around the rings in which I sat as a student judge at Richmond and I was delighted at the enthusiasm of the judges, stewards and exhibitors and with the support I received from many others. I believe that ‘student judging’ has been neglected as a learning experience and it has already proved extremely valuable to me in the breeds I covered at the show. Incidentally, I spoke very little to the judges in the ring so their timing was not affected in any way by my presence. I know that some feel that this could be a problem.

I was asked several times what the difference was between sitting at the stewards’ table and just watching and making notes from outside the ring. There is a significant difference.

One is that you have specifically asked for the co-operation of the judge and they have also agreed to comment on your notes after the judging. There is also the question of ‘focus’. If you are in the ring you are less likely to be distracted and you have a role and a status that you do not have as a spectator. As a result you are much more positive and disciplined in your approach.

This ‘status’ certainly encourage all the judges who were involved to be very helpful to me personally. Where possible they stood the dogs where I could see the mouths when they were examined and went over the dogs in a way that pointed out what they had found and what they were looking for. Even in a coated breed, the way in which the judge’s hands rest on the shoulders, forehand, loin, pelvis and hindquarters can be very revealing - if you are looking and the judge is prepared to pause at the right moments.

Of course, watching can never be the same as actually going over the dog but you can still see a great deal and movement is easy to assess if the judges, as in these cases, ran the dogs from just in front of the steward’s table so I could see what they were seeing.

I watched Tibetan Terriers (Val Taylor), Salukis (Brian Pether) and Bearded Collies (Jan Crowther). While each dog was being judged I noted the number, wrote a short report and graded each dog: 1+ for ‘exceptional’, 1 for ‘excellent’, 1- for ‘excellent but with a minor fault’,. 2 for ‘very good’ and 3 for ‘good’.

We were fortunate in that the overall quality of the dogs was excellent. What I was particularly interested in were dogs that I did not consider worthy of prizes being put up and dogs that I considered very good being left out. I am pleased to report this did not happen often but when it did I was able to ask the judge what it was about that particular dog that they did not did not like. The answers were always revealing and taught me a great deal: in some instances I had not noticed or not understood specific fault and in others the same applies to important desirable characteristics.

My eye was caught by a beautiful Tibetan Terrier that I would have expected to be at the top of the line. Val was able to explain the importance of width of skull and muzzle in the breed and that the dog was lacking in this respect.

There were two other columns in my notes: one for the order in which I would have placed the dogs and one for the actual placement by the judge. The objective is not to track the judge’s placing. If you have several good dogs then each judge is likely to give a different ‘weight’ to different ‘desirable’ and ‘not desirable’ characteristics so you would expect two judges to have different views that would result in different placings. It is the general consensus that is the key factor.


What I will now do is to send to each of the judges a copy of what I wrote about each dog. They are all specialists so will probably know most of the dogs already and be able to comment on whether my observations were correct. The important thing is that they know I really want them to tell me what they think. It is possible that I do not have understanding of the breeds and I have made a lot of errors.

It is more likely that there are some aspects of the breed that I do not appreciate or understand and this should come out in my comments. So the comment that I do not yet understand the expression of the breed would be wholly appropriate if I have said ‘good head and expression’ about dogs that the judge does not feel are typical.

I will be asking the judges to return my notes with comments. I hope that they will be positive but I have to accept that they might not be. Even if they are positive I should then also go to other shows and carry out the same exercise with other judges. Over a period of time I should begin to get my eye in for each of these breeds. If I do not, then I should seriously consider whether I ought to accept appointments to judge them.

None of this should imply that attendance at seminars and the actual experience of judging and going over dogs are not essential elements of any training so the question must be asked, ‘What is the point for becoming involved in this process?’ I think the answer is that despite the work of the Judges’ Working Party, the system for the progress of judges both specialist and non-specialist, has become too rigid. It was hoped that the ideas being put forward by the JWP would lead to a more open and flexible system but I am personally of the opinion that in many breeds this has simply just not happened. My response is that valid alternatives should be sought and that student judging is one of them. I have certainly found it an interesting and very valuable experience.

I have drafted a suggested code of conduct for student judges. If anyone would like a copy they can e-mail me at SJcodeofconduct@davidcavill. and I will be happy to send them a copy although I must emphasise that this not an ‘official’ document. E-mails to me at ‘’ on the subject are also welcome and I will try to incorporate groups of ideas in future articles. However, because I believe an open debate on all matters concerned with the development of judges is essential if progress is to be made towards the development of judges that have the confidence of breeders and exhibitors, I would encourage all those with an interest to make their views known through the open and accessible pages of the canine press.