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Judging dogs:
How to lose friends and not influence people!


A short while ago this paper brought up the subject of dishonest judging which has led to an article of mine in a rival paper (Dog World 21st February) and an editorial in the same issue.

Since my piece seems to have stimulated/annoyed/irritated/pleased some people I have been asked to elaborate here. I am going to restrict myself to CC judging because that is the top echelon and I consider general open shows to be a training ground for both dog and judge and thus an area where mistakes will be more often made and be part of the process. Mistakes at CC level should be minimal and best eliminated.

In sport judging tends to be easy. If it is based on who jumps the highest, runs the fastest, throws the furthest, scores the most, then picking the winner is straight forward once they have all competed ( unless, of course, you are trying to sort out the Duckworth/Lewis method in one day cricket). Some sports (ice dancing, diving and, heaven forbid, synchronized swimming) are based on the views of a panel of judges and thus become a matter of opinion even if rules are laid down to which the judges have to pay allegiance. Dog judging in the conformational ring corresponds to this latter category of sports but without the comfort of a panel. Because we are dealing with the judge’s opinion and because exhibitors also have opinions (sometimes more skilled than the judge) then there will be differences of those opinions. Sometimes the differences are so marked as to bring forth the cry of "foul!"

At one time judges could judge dogs that they had bred, now no longer possible but there are still many things that a judge can do which will not bring him/her approbation. You can, as a judge put up your best friend’s dog, a dog sired by your stud dog or out of one of your bitches or simply related to your stock. You can give the top award to someone who did the same for you last week or last year. You can give Mrs A the CC every time you judge. You can, in a late maturing breed, put up a puppy to its first CC or give a dog its 51st CC and all of these decisions may have been made for the best and most honest of reasons and may have been absolutely correct but there will always be some who will criticise you. Many years ago I gave BOB at an East Anglian open show to a dog bred by a gentleman who was no great friend of mine. He later said to a friend of mine: " I can’t understand Willis putting up one of my dogs". Did he mean that if positions had been reversed I would not have won under him? At the time I knew full well who the dog was and put him up because I thought he was the best dog under me and for no other reason. To not put him up because I did not see eye to eye with his breeder would have been dishonest.

Poor judging

The fact is that most judges are trying to do the best they can and in that respect I agree with the Dog World editorial of 21st February. I believe that most poor judging stems from the incompetence and lack of skill of the judge and to this end welcome anything which will seek to prevent anyone getting into the CC ring before they are fully ready. Though useful I am not convinced that attending a conformational seminar (no exam) and learning KC rules (examined) makes anyone competent to judge dogs. I think would-be judges must be trained by experts in that breed in a training course that involves a practical and written examination and I would leave rule learning to stewards. This week-end I attended a GSD lecture run by the GSD Breed Council and given by Mr Peter Oirschot the Dutch Breed Affairs supervisor and international GSD judge. In a highly informative lecture one of the things he did was show an American video on judging GSD the German way. There were several things that one could disagree with in the video but it would form the basis for an excellent discussion document, judge training scheme and something such as this should be compulsory for would-be judges to view and then debate with experts. Sadly, many of the younger generation did not attend...so much for a will to learn!!

If we accept that most judges are doing their best then we have to have a system of control which removes judges from the task if their best simply is not good enough. The KC policy of having each new judge evaluated is a good one provided the evaluator knows what he/she is doing and that the evaluated has a chance to comment on the report that is submitted. If the final decision is that someone is not good enough then at the KCs insistence they should come off the A3 list and go back to the drawing board. It cannot be against civil rights etc to remove someone from doing what they are not competent to do. What does surprise me is the speed with which some people can add breeds to their list. I am not unintelligent and I have been 50 years in GSD and 17 in BMD and am still learning. It astonishes me that some judges can add half a dozen breeds to their repertoire inside 12 months!

Concluding that a judge is dishonest is easily done but difficult to prove and dishonesty is often claimed when the judge’s decisions could be logical. What look like odd decisions can often be readily explained. Many years ago I gave a GSD the BOB in Eire. Six months later I had the same dog fifth (I think) in the Open class at Belfast championship show. The owner asked why I had put the dog BOB one day and down the line six months later. I pointed out that on both occasions I had graded the dog VG but that at Belfast there were three Excellent dogs and one VG, with all his teeth, ahead of him. In other words the dog had been graded the same on both occasions but the competition was much harder the second time. Very often such situations are misunderstood by exhibitors.

Exhibitors are often the reason why poor judging occurs. I was brought up in GSD and have judged GSD & BMD around the world, often in countries where one has to place first to last and do critiques on each animal. My wife learned the same way and we both tend to place first to last when judging. Recently an exhibitor commented to my wife that exhibitors did not like being 15th of 15 (nobody does) and many were bored by judges spending time to critique dogs. How on earth can exhibitors learn with this sort of mentality. Once, my wife took a GSD puppy to her first show and she backed off. Having returned dispirited Helen told me the story and I said: " I hope he placed it last." The judge had and my wife eventually saw why. Socialized, the bitch improved and even won a CC but that first judge was correct to penalise character even in a puppy. That a judge places dog A first and dog B last is important and exhibitors need to know why or they will never advance. Because your dog wins BOB and RBIS at Much Binding in the Marsh Canine Society Open Show but is last out of 10 at a championship event is important and the reason could well be that the dog is not good enough not that the championship show judge is wrong.

Grading and critiquing dogs is essential for the advancement of dog breeding and more useful than a first past the post system. The sooner the KC encourages grading - at least for Breed Club events, the better. If I place eight dogs in order A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H and grade ABCD Excellent and EFGH Very Good and you judge the same eight dogs, give the same gradings but place them ACBDGFEH then we have been consistent in that on each occasion the Excellent dogs are in front of the VGs. If a multi-breed judge then places them HGFEDCBA I think we would have cause to question not his honesty but his competence. Recently the Southern BMD Club has published in booklet form the critiques of each championship event of the year for BMD but some judges, claiming copyright (rightly!), would not allow the club to use their critiques. How short sighted? Critiques are valuable ( I have GSD reports going back to the 1920s) and to have them in accessible format is a service to the breed. I am given to believe that it is alleged that some multi-breed judges have threatened to withhold critiques from Our Dogs because they do not like the campaign about corrupt judging. If true I would advise such judges to think again because they do themselves no good. If you are an honest, competent judge what have you to fear from a campaign about judging?

Withholding critiques from one paper disenfranchises a group of exhibitors? For my part I would remove you from judging lists for such an offensive move.

We have to accept that most judges do their best but that some are not good enough and removing these is desirable but some judging decisions do need examination. I remember being at a championship event where a dog, not ours, won the first two classes. He should have also won class three but the judge said: " you’ve had enough today" and gave him second. I am no enthusiast for entering a dog in more than one class but this decision was unfair at best. (The judge has passed on). There are judges of whom it is said that if you win with your dog then you will not win with your bitch. Judging should not be about turns at winning but about putting up the best dogs. Winning must be on merit not influenced by what another dog has done. If Mrs A has the best dog in every class then she should win every class even if it does not make the judge the most popular man/woman on the day.

Knowledge

I agree with the editorial writer of Dog World (21st February) that show committees should consider exhibitors when putting up judges. They should seek judges " who in terms of knowledge, experience and genuine interest have got something to offer exhibitors." A Championship show cannot expect to always have a "new" judge especially if none good enough are available. Sometimes "hard judges" are the best to take on. I remember the late Nem Elliott being considered a hard judge of GSD but if you won a CC under her you prized it above all others. Because a judge placed you last does not mean he was wrong and if he was right you should learn from that. Because a judge placed you first does not guarantee you first next time you show under that judge.

Predictions

We do not judge dogs with pedigrees alongside as is done by the SV in Germany and I am not advocating that we should. Using pedigrees may encourage some judges to make their "predictions" come true because you may be tempted to put up the progeny of your last year’s Sieger even if that is not the wisest decision. Having said that, the decisions we make as judges can influence the breeding of the next generation. An experienced breeder does not need the show ring to make his/her breeding decisions but rather uses it as a shop window. Nevertheless many lesser skilled breeders are influenced by what wins the top awards and it is thus imperative that the very best specimens win. The best will not always prove to be the best producers but poor dogs will not be good producers --genetics is against you.

Some general championship shows seem to pick judges again after short intervals. Are we that desperate for judges? Other shows like Crufts, arguably the pinnacle of a judging career, have a habit of occaisonally picking judges long after they have left the breed or long before they have proved their worth. Of all places, judges at Crufts must be competent and honest first and foremost but they should also be people who have been pillars in that breed either as judges, breeders or administrators. Who does pick them and how?

We can all predict winners part of the time like we can all pick a horse that wins.
Bookmakers profit because the punters can’t do it all that often. At about sixteen I went to a Point to Point which I remember to this day because Teal who later won the Grand National was in one of the races (he won). My friend backed a fat gray, Goliath, and I went for Ballymuck (he looked a ball of fire in the paddock) in a six horse race. Goliath was last and Ballymuck dropped dead as he passed the post in fifth place! We each lost two shillings that day! That you predicted the CC going to A of Y does not prove dishonestly because A of Y may be the top winner (deservedly), the type the judge likes (and a good type at that) a son of the dog the judge has just used and which he/she obviously admires etc etc.

I have had predictions made about me. One was that at a breed show I would give the CC to a top winning GSD of that period. I knew that I would not because he was owned by a member of the show committee and they were not allowed to show at their own show!! Like any judge there are dogs that I have seen/judged and which I do not consider good enough to win CCs. It is obvious that I am unlikely to give such dogs the CC even in a class of one but as for who I will give the CC to, I don't know until I have judged all the dogs. The interest and excitement is in not knowing who will be there and which will appeal. That is how it should be and hopefully with good controls by the ruling body, how it will be.

The KC cannot argue that it is just a registration body because it controls all pedigree dogdom and in doing so it should make decisions that benefit dogs. On a side issue I understand that the FCI will not allow a judge to take on new breeds (at CAC level) once they have passed 55 years of age. Such a rule is crazy because the age is too young.

Principle

But the principle has much to recommend it and I would welcome a KC ruling that once you reach a certain age (let us say 70 as a starting point) you can continue to judge the CC breeds you already do but not add new ones. I accept that people age differently and one man is a spring chicken at 70 while another is in a zimmer frame. But if you haven’t made an impact in a breed by the time you are 70 then isn’t it time to call a halt and retire gracefully.

Incidentally I was born in 1935!