Over the last few months, I have attended a number of shows where I had the opportunity to not only watch dogs being judged, but also the behavior and professionalism of judges whose actions at times might seem like proof of knowledge — and other times, the opposite.
I hasten to add, not many, but a few older as well as quite fresh judges seemed to run their ring as a military operation – and at the same time not very nice nor respectful to the exhibitors. Having had several pleasant conversations with some of these judges over the years, it reminded me of how some people change from being the nicest persons in the world until you put the steering wheel of a car in their hands: It immediately creates a personality change — and all of a sudden a Monster appears …
Similar transformations seemingly happen with an AKC judge’s license in hand for some.
So I return to the very old question: What role or mission is a judge supposed to fulfill?
In this country the standard answer seems to be “evaluating breeding stock,” which possibly makes some sense. However, where I originated the instructions were slightly — or considerably — different: Remember that you are judging the “product” (or result)! You are not supposed to be psychic, or in any way, shape or form try to predict the future …
But I think that in both worlds the most important message to judges is to focus on positives! Still, I think, especially in countries where written critiques are part of the process, too many feel they have to prove to the world that they noticed every detail that could be improved. And I could name a few examples from the past of fairly well-known faces who actually at times lost their way, as they were so obsessed with trying to prove to the world their talent and fabulous “eye”!
I suppose those of us who judge dogs from time to time have come across situations where a dog in his critique listed with a number of “shortcomings” then defeats a dog (or dogs) that by the critique definitely seems like a superior animal. Which can be a proof that charisma, showmanship, class or simply type can be compensation for a multitude of sins.
I have actually a number of times been asked: “How could you put up a dog with that front, that head or any other obvious fault?” And my answer is always the same: “He didn’t win because of his head — he won in spite of that …”
In Scandinavia, the rules for exhibitors included: The judge cannot be blamed! (Or criticized.)
But this section probably tops the list of broken rules in any country.
Some years ago, I wrote an article titled “Hands,” which was all about how a person’s competence easily could be assessed by the way he or she “went over” an exhibit.
But just as important — well, nearly — is the ability to handle the handlers so they feel they have gotten what they paid for: in my opinion, a competent, knowledgeable, trustworthy and polite assessment of their exhibits. And if you fulfill these requirements, I think in most cases your decisions will be accepted.
There have been moments while observing judges in action in which I wonder: “Does this person really like dogs?” And at times even people? And sometimes I wonder if this person has experienced a lifetime of frustration, never having any influence or “power” anywhere, and by getting the authority to officiate at dog shows then tries to make up for it by ruling the ring like a war zone. Which I guarantee is not appreciated by anyone …
Showing a dog should be a pleasant experience for both dogs and handlers — but there are of course incidents where disagreements lead to rather unpleasant moments. And if any decision is questioned in a polite and civilized manner, any judge who knows why he just did what he did will happily explain!
An incident at a recent show: A very experienced and highly respected breeder/handler entered the ring, only to have the judge refuse to judge her dog and ask her to leave the ring. And gave the reason that it was due to unacceptable behavior by the exhibitor at a previous assignment for the breed!
I know there are general instructions to judges that they reign supreme, as the ring is their territory. (Which of course under the supervision of field reps is a truth with modifications.) But I just wonder: If you have accepted the invitation to judge a breed — and the show has accepted the entry — and then the exhibitor drives hundreds of miles to the show, spends a couple of days in a hotel, has organized help for the dogs at home, etc., etc.: Is there really any way that being excused from the ring for the sake of old sins should be accepted by the exhibitor?
And how would this stand in the court of law?
I know, as an immigrant, that after some 18 years in this country I don’t yet have a complete understanding of how things work. If the incident happened at the actual show where the “refusal” took place, I could understand it. But by accepting the invitation, the judge is in my opinion obligated to judge every dog entered, without bias! And to eliminate an exhibitor who had caused upsets in the past — maybe she should have enclosed a list of exhibitors whose dogs she refuses to judge when signing the acceptance letter …
Which then hopefully would result in a cancellation.
In seriously unpleasant incidents in which a bench show hearing (?) is required, I wonder if when the result is a fine or temporary, a judge at a later date could refuse to judge any dog “the sinner” entered. To me, it is rather opening the door for a “Kiss and Make Up” opportunity?
I suppose many of you still remember the British judge Tom Horner for his excellent writing and articles?
Mr. Horner had a military career behind him when he started to judge dogs, which was very obvious whenever he officiated.
Once while judging in Scandinavia, he was very upset with the inexperience of so many of the exhibitors — and that a few didn’t even understand English, so could not follow his directions.
Therefore, as by a miracle, his steward by command was able to find four empty buckets, which were placed to mark “the route” to follow. And if you still misunderstood, he would take you by the hand and steer you round the ring …
Then he gave another order: “All dogs face the same direction!” Which seven of the eight exhibitors immediately obeyed, and the eighth exhibitor seemed to ignore. And, of course, he was asked to “Turn the dog around, sir!” To which the exhibitor responded politely: “No, sir. This is his show side!”
No further action. But the disobedient handler actually won the class and the breed, much to his surprise …
His first name was actually Geir, and he was about 15 years old — and knew just about everything about anything dogs … And nearly 60 years later, he has not regained that level of either knowledge or confidence!
I still think you as an exhibitor are entitled to show your dog from whatever side or angle you find most advantageous — and even move the dog at a pace you consider best!
That we as judges politely can request changes is of course acceptable, but if you still insist on ignoring instructions the judge might not like what he/she sees, and you must be prepared to accept what happens next!
I would, however, still like to finish this article by sharing what my original mentors told me all those years ago: WHATEVER BREED YOU SHOW — GIVE THEM TIME TO PUT THEIR FEET ON THE GROUND! Advice a number of current handlers should take on!
And when starting to judge, another piece of advice: If a dog is moved too fast, there is probably a reason — and something intended to be disguised!
Until next time …