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Judge, and ye shall be judged

What qualities should dog show judges possess to be considered top calibre? Before that question can be answered, other more fundamental definitions should be established – what are the actual responsibilities of a dog show judge? Or even more basic – what is a dog show?

Dog shows were originally established as a means of determining which (not whose, but which) dogs most embodied the standard of excellence determined for each breed and should be used for breeding in an attempt to reach the ideal type symbolised by that standard. Dog shows, much like horse and other livestock shows, were a proving ground and a means for exhibitors and breeders to determine how close they were to the standard and in what areas their stock needed to improve. These events also served as both educational forums and places where neophytes could go in search of mentors and knowledge about the sport and their breeds.

The AKC states that ‘Competition in conformation and performance events can best demonstrate the progress that has been made in breeding for type and quality, and/or for practical use, stamina and obedience.’ However, a recent conversation with a KC representative indicated that the focus of the UK shows has changed from the original means of determining which dogs were achieving the ideal type and instead have now become ‘entertainment and enjoyment’ for the participants, enabling them to take pleasure in spending time competing with their dogs.

Unfortunately, that original purpose has somehow become lost to the vast majority of dog show exhibitors, and some registries, in today’s show scene. Very few exhibitors spend the entire day at the show. Even fewer engage in actively seeking to learn more about their sport, the history of their breed, structure, movement, or in watching the maestros art of presentation, grooming, or a hundred other aspects that go into making a well-rounded, knowledgeable enthusiast. Most exhibitors support the ‘show and go’ philosophy of modern events – show your dog, grab your ribbon, and make it home in time to spend the rest of your day in some other pursuit. Don’t believe me? Walk around the next show you attend and listen to the conversations; pay particular attention to how many of the thousands attending the show are actually around the group and best in show rings at the end of the day and again listen to the conversations.

The talk is not about why a dog moves a particular way or who the ancestors were in the pedigree that contributed to that great presence, but instead the conversation will centre around politics, past wins, which judges like the dog and who is going to win best in show based on who is handling what dog. Few exhibitors, even the most ardent, can actually give an accurate history of their breed or know which breeds of dogs were used to produce their breed. If I am wrong, please let me know – if I am right, donate a few dollars to Take The Lead or the Canine Health Foundation if you are an American, or a few pounds to the Kennel Club Charitable Trust if you are in the UK!

Now that we have determined dog shows in their most original form should be a means of determining our progress in breeding against a standard for type and quality, we need to look at how judges relate to that purpose. Judges should, if we concur with the original purpose of dog shows, be an integral part in the future of the breeds.

They are charged with determining which dogs are suitable from a type and quality viewpoint of being bred, thereby greatly influencing the development and well-being of those breeds. If a judge overlooks bad or improper movement in a dog and awards a win, harm has been done to that breed. While fault judging should not be practiced, neither can major faults be overlooked in the excuse that the dog moved great last week - or even yesterday - or because its handler is a ‘good guy’ and presents the dog well.

Judges are as integral to the future welfare of the breed as are the breeders. Breeders judge every single time they evaluate a litter of puppies they have produced or evaluate the dogs to be bred from; judges breed every single time they give the nod in the ring.

Judges must, as specified by the AKC:

l Demonstrate breed knowledge through continual study of the breed standards, knowing and demonstrating a thorough understanding of the breed and its purpose through the dogs that they place and advance in the show competition.

l Practice good ring procedure, control and adherence to the rules set forth.

l Show impartiality. As stated in the AKC Judges Guidelines, ‘It is essential that fanciers have full faith in the impartiality of judges. There should be no doubt that your decisions are based solely on the merits of the dogs being judged.’

l ‘Possess and project an unwavering air of integrity and ethical behaviour that protects the reputation of AKC dog shows as fair and well-judged.’

l Possess and use commonsense to avoid situations that might compromise or raise ethical questions.

The KC sets forth a Code of Best Practice for Judges, similar to the AKC. As well as ‘a comprehensive knowledge of the breed to be judged and its Kennel Club Breed Standard,’ the general requirements, in addition to those of integrity, age, health, and judging procedures, are:

l Absolute integrity in order to judge honestly and impartially, and to place dogs solely on their merit.

l A suitable temperament and sufficient stamina to cope with what can be a physically and mentally demanding task.

l To judge in a customary fashion acceptable to the exhibitor/competitor and the breed of dog.

The AKC must have thought the terms ‘integrity’ and ‘ethical’ to be of sufficient importance to boldface those words and the KC additionally attaches the adjective ‘absolute’ to further emphasise ‘integrity’. But what is ethical and what is not ethical? And just what constitutes integrity? What types of professionalism should a judge display and does that professionalism end when he or she steps out of the ring? How should judges conduct themselves at or away from shows? Should there be a code of ethics that a judge must ascribe to and abide by before being allowed to judge? And what exactly is meant by "ethics" or a "code of ethics"?

The word ethic is used to describe the concept derived from the ancient Greek word ethos, meaning moral character. The social rules of a society were known as ‘mores’ from which the term ‘morality’ comes. Ethos, in ancient Greek, referred to one’s inner character or choices, while mores referred to external pressures of society. Nowadays, the meanings of these terms are somewhat reversed; however, it should be considered significant that the origins of these two words reflect the tension between inner- and outer-driven analysis of what makes moral choices consistent.

Ethics are regarded as those principles which govern an individual or profession – moral principles that are laws or rules of conduct governing or directing a person’s actions. Quite simply, a code of ethics is a ‘moral set of rules of conduct governing an individual or a profession.’

‘Integrity’ is defined by Merriam-Webster as implying ‘trustworthiness and incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility, or pledge.’ The Encarta dictionary gives a further definition as ‘the quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles or professional standards.’ Not surprisingly, the synonyms for ‘integrity’ are honesty, honour, truthfulness, veracity, reliability and uprightness.

So, we should be able to define judges as ‘persons of integrity, honour, veracity and good moral character who uphold the rules and principles of any kennel club which has entrusted them with the duty of determining the progress and future of a breed by selecting those dogs that most meet an exacting standard of perfection.’ We, as exhibitors and breeders, should be able to rely upon these individuals to do their utmost in advancing breeds and sport.
But can we?

(To be continued next week)

by Sierra Milton

(First published in its original form in The Canine Chronicle in August 2004)