Question of the Week
When it’s just a job or a chore that they don’t enjoy – or just another day at the dog show, when the passion is gone, when the excitement of finding an outstanding dog is gone, when they are physically or mentally unable to complete their assignment, when they’ve lost sight of applying the standard and instead judge based on personal preferences, when getting through the assignment or catching a plane is the priority, when they don’t appreciate/respect the individual effort that collectively makes up the dog show.
Dr. Sophia Kaluzniacki
Green Valley, Arizona
Difficult question to answer, as it can vary with each individual and has nothing to do with age. The most obvious answer to me is whether the individual in question can physically and or mentally perform their duties as a judge. Physical is fairly obvious … Mental, however, is a bit more difficult, but would include forgetfulness, confusion and frequent bookkeeping errors.
Most judges know when it is time to stop judging. Some that keep going beyond their time get a reputation among the judging community, exhibitors and clubs as not being reliably able to do their job, and usually in a short time the invitations to judge quit coming. The AKC reps are also very good at assessing a judge’s ability to adequately do their job, and I certainly hope that they report their observations to the home office and perhaps the judge is gently told that it may be time to go on emeritus status.
If not, then I believe that is the way it should be handled. I think that in the end, the situation usually takes care of itself.
I think at 75 judges should be automatically retired. It is a physically demanding job, and it gets to be too hard for them to stand all day.
Anne Marie Kubacz
Jackson, New Jersey
This is such a difficult question, but certainly age is NOT a criterion. There is really no "one size fits all" criterion. It's possible for someone to appear inept or confused, but it's not a permanent situation but rather a result of something like an infection – a bladder infection can really affect mental sharpness as someone ages!
The key thing is that when it becomes evident that a judge is struggling, that they are treated with dignity and respect, but it is important that the issue is addressed by the rep or by the show chair if there is no rep. Sometimes having a really good steward can help that person get through the day.
It breaks my heart when people mock judges who are struggling, especially when they are judges who were once revered.
Basking Ridge, New Jersey
This is a difficult question to respond to, as the judges are people we have known and trusted for many years. However, we all have our limitations, and we should be able to honestly judge ourselves as to the activities we are able to do safely.
I am including the word "safely" because in the judging of dogs, one can be bitten. I have seen judges using walkers, bending much too close to a dog's face, leaning on a dog's back to support themselves and judges who have other disabilities.
I am reminded of an occurrence that happened about 25 years ago. It was early in the morning and quite cool. The judge was wearing a very large and fuzzy sweater. That in itself was not a problem. But she also had a very bad limp. As she awkwardly approached a Rottweiler on uneven ground, it appeared (to the dog) that she wore a bite sleeve. The dog did a perfect Schutzhund bite. The handler was unaware of the "out" command, and the dog held tight. Another handler knew the command, shouted it out, and the dog released immediately.
Fortunately, the judge was not injured. The Best in Show dog was disqualified. The dog, of course, was blamed. I think what we tend to forget is that these are dogs. They think like dogs. When they are put into trained and/or unusual situations, they usually behave like dogs.
The judge continued to judge, but the other dogs in the class became nervous and agitated. I was in the ring at the time and was able to anticipate the actions of the dog I was handling. One or two others in the class were excused for growling at the judge. Over the years I learned which judges had disabilities and acted accordingly (based on the dog I was handling).
I think that judges should truthfully evaluate their own disabilities and determine whether to continue to judge or step aside. If a judge is putting himself/herself into a dangerous situation without realizing it, then the AKC representative should step in ... before something really bad happens.
As far as hard and fast criteria, when two AKC field reps file reports that the judge cannot handle the ring, or is often confused about classes and awards.
In a more civil world, judges should retire when their friends and family suggest it is time.
Stafford Springs, Connecticut
The AKC should institute a continuing-education program for ALL judges to complete every three to five years, at least. I don’t know any industry that doesn’t have such a program for professional-level people. Failure to successfully complete CE requirements should be one criterion. Observations from field staff and written comments from exhibitors should also be taken into consideration.
Martinsburg, West Virginia
As a psychiatric nurse practitioner specializing in geriatrics and dementia care, my feelings about determining judge retirement criteria are that any decision must be individualized and based on cognitive functioning and executive decision-making ability.
For example, a judge should be able to find a show ring on the grounds based on using a map or instructions instead of requiring a person to take him there (demonstrates ability to understand).
Another example is it’s not that a person doesn’t recall specific DQs in a breed, it’s that he is able to remember it’s part of the judge role to remember DQ consideration is part of judging, that he must choose an action, and later be able to defend his decision (executive decision making).
More examples: If a judge is unable to complete simple tests without assistance, continues to make an identical error after repeated warnings, or behaves inappropriately (wandering, excessive lingering over dogs, obviously forgets ring procedures), then his ability to continue should be further scrutinized, just as it would be in any job for which a person holds responsibility to others.
If anyone’s comments toward judges retiring has anything to do with their dogs not winning, it may be the right time for them to examine their own breeding program. Our senior judges know the breed better than anyone, and judging according to the written breed standard is their job. Breeders and exhibitors have always tried to shape their breeds in the image that they choose, and younger, less experienced judges fall for it over and over until many breeds do NOT resemble their standards anymore.
Patrick C. Byrne
Kansas City, Kansas
I think retirement for an AKC judge will be subject to several factors. Physical impairments such as failing eyesight, the inability to focus on ring procedure, and constant hesitation on placements are but three that come to mind.
Lake Mathews, California
When they get so old that they lose their objectivity and cannot properly evaluate the exhibits in their ring but can only search for and pick familiar faces, hoping they have a worthy exhibit!
This is a very subjective topic. Over my 50-plus years of watching dogs and judges, some should have never taken up their profession. Others are very astute judges and are very aware of nuances of each breed they are judging. I have been in the ring and stewarded for judges that seemed to be declining in their cognitive abilities. Recently a much younger breeder/judge put more emphasis on the handler's "showmanship" than the quality of the animal. Then of course we all as spectators have seen examples where the judge put up a well-known handler with a mediocre dog over better entries.
Also a judge should take their own health as a concern before accepting assignments. We all have heard stories where a judge has passed or had a major medical event at a show or while traveling to a show. Some in the past two years have put themselves above that risk by declining assignments that might expose them to Covid. They are to be commended for putting health above monetary concerns.
Amsterdam, New York
Judges should retire when they believe they know everything!
Judges should retire when they no longer have fun judging.
Judges should retire when they need the assignments for income to live.
They should retire when their health causes them such discomfort that they are unable to do a proper examination of each dog or their discomfort makes them cranky or short.
When the judge obviously does not like or care for the breed they are judging. The judge is looking at the dogs in the next ring, barely touches the dog on exam, chats with the pro handlers and then awards all ribbons to their obvious friends.
The judge is so confused the super asks the ring steward to "watch" the judge and help them. That is a personal experience. The judge was so confused she forgot what ribbons to give out. She pulled dogs into a lineup and looked at the ribbons. I had to ask her: Which dog do you award BOB to? Which gets BOW, BOS etc.? I hope that judge doesn't drive.
At a recent regional specialty, an all-breed judge put up a dog with the worst front in the whole show. Everyone but the pro handler on that dog was totally aghast. My breed's most unique and special aspect is the front. This judge really needs to be put on probation or something until she gets further training in this breed. The judge of course has the whole group. I wonder how badly she judges the other breeds she doesn't care about. It is extremely frustrating for us breeder/exhibitors to see such horrible judging.
I understand why clubs hire whole group/multiple group judges. But when the judging is apparently not as serious as the breeders entering the dogs about the breed type and special features that make each breed unique, it is a sad statement for the state of AKC judges. Saying that, I have shown to many fantastic judges. I am sure this is nothing new.
Commerce City, Colorado
In my opinion there are several reasons to just sit ringside:
1. When it is no longer fun.
2. When your body says, “Enough.”
3. When you question your selection.
4. Lastly, when your family insist it is time.
When a judge consistently struggles with memory lapses or sight that hampers the judging procedure to the point that it is difficult to keep order.
Physical constraints should not force a judge to retire as the use of motion enablers should be fine as long as a judge can still effectively examine a dog.
Mt. Airy, Maryland
Perhaps my being a senior, the answer is biased. However, you can't set an age, and you can't set the number of complaints as being the criteria. Heaven forbid that you decide to use as the criteria what an AKC rep says. Any fixed criteria, like age, varies with the judge. Some old judges do a good job and some young ones do a terrible job. I think the best criteria is let the marketplace govern. If a judge keeps getting assignments, it means the hiring, exhibiting market is satisfied with the job he/she is doing. If the "user" of the service is unhappy, there will be no more assignments.
The individual judge will probably exercise what he/she thinks is the time to cut back.
JoAnne M. Buehler
That is really going to be an individual thing. A hard and fixed rule would not be a good idea, as everyone ages so very differently.
Joy S. Brewster
This question has been around for quite some time with no simple answer. A judge who exhibits either mental or physical limitations while in the ring that would be conceived as compromised behavior should be brought to the attention of the AKC field representative and/or show chair. A report describing the situation should be sent immediately following the show to the AKC Judging Dept. The AKC should then notify the judge in writing expressing their concern as observed by individuals at the recent show. The AKC offers a consult with the judge to discuss the situation and any suggestions or referrals for assistance. The judge is also informed to expect future assignments to be observed prior to any further action.
Joan C. Behrend
Hertford, North Carolina
In today’s dog-show environment, I think we should hang on to the old guard as long as they are willing. The new judges don’t seem to have the finer, important breed-type understanding that the last generation of judges has. I show very rarely to new all-rounders because they haven’t a clue. I have been in the top ribbons the past five years at the nationals, and the same dogs lose to pets at a local, two-point show.
Pretty soon every dog in the group ring will look and move the same way. The coveted “dog show” breed.
When should a judge retire?
When judging on your feet for eight or so hours becomes physically troublesome.
When you are giving wins to people (handlers) because it's too difficult to actually remember the standard.
Pamela and Jerome Oxenberg
Boynton Beach, Florida
When health issues interfere with honoring assignments.
Marge B. Calltharp
East Haddam, Connecticut
I hope I recognize when I am not physically or mentally at my best and will voluntarily retire. However, I also hope my dear friends will gently tell me that if I myself am not able to recognize my condition. We would all like to continue to do what we love forever, but that does not mean we can’t enjoy our friendships and the ability to watch dogs from a ringside seat!
In my opinion they should retire when they no longer judge the dog. In other words, when they make the selection on factors such as choosing a particular handler, a breed they are involved with or co-own rather than the dog.
Watertown, New York
For me the best time was before I embarrassed myself, the dogs or the AKC. Do I miss judging? Of course, and I had second thoughts, but the right answer was to go out before some rep came after me with a big net!
When they can no longer see or move around on their own, or when they become mentally impaired, as everyone ages differently. Also when there is a consensus indicating gross ignorance or lack of honesty.
Sandra L. Gillen
I believe that many all-breed judges do not have ANY hands-on experience in breeds that they judge!
Hands-on experience and annual breed testing should be mandatory.
Complaints from exhibitors about specific judges should be reviewed and then AKC representatives should observe these judges.
This isn’t necessarily an “age” problem, but ability to maintain consistent judging throughout a full day of judging is very important! When I have paid full entry fees, I expect for a judge to FULLY examine my dog and not have me go “Halfway down and back.”
I think a judge should retire when they no longer enjoy it and it shows. Also if they are having trouble keeping their balance while going over dogs. I hate seeing a judge leaning on the table to keep themselves upright.
Port Ludlow, Washington
This is an excellent question and brought to mind a situation I was involved in. I was ring stewarding for an elderly lady who kept asking me how she should place the dogs. I said, "I cannot do that." She then just pointed without even going over the dogs. In an effort not to embarrass the judge I quietly asked the ring steward in the ring next to me to call the AKC rep. We got to Best of Breed and she said, "I can't put up that dog as the parent club would kill me because of the markings. Should I?" I said, "There are several specials to choose from?"
At that time the AKC rep, Michael Canalizo, stepped into the ring, put his arm around the judge and said, "Why don't we take a break and enjoy a cup of coffee?" She smiled and said, "Oh, yes." Just seconds after she left the ring another judge stepped in and completed judging that breed and that day’s assignments. Michael handled it with professionalism and kindness.
In another instance, I was doing a ringside observation and the judge could not be found. Thirty minutes later she was discovered wandering the grooming area petting the dogs.
I know there are many more stories, and they are sad. These are people who have devoted their lives to our dog-show world.
I have seen many judges with physical limitations that have done an excellent job of judging. Unfortunately, as we get older we don't have the balance and stamina we once had. When this happens, judges seem to take lighter assignments (less dogs or groups per day) or go emeritus. Their bodies tell them to do so.
But who is to encourage those that are mentally challenged to retire? Retire with dignity!
Durham, North Carolina
When they are physically UNABLE to navigate the ring and examine the dogs. When they REQUIRE the assistance of the ring steward to mark their book, or verify armband numbers without dependence on the ring steward to provide them with that information.
When they ARE rude, cross or impatient with the exhibitors, ring stewards and show committee.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Hopefully each individual judge will know when the time has come.
But personal experience has told me some will not. That is when problems arise. Certainly, the answer is not when a judge reaches a certain age. Unfortunately, some of them appear physically able to carry out the tasks of judging dogs but are not perhaps mentally as acute as they should be. All judges, like all people, are different, and one size does not fit all.
Ruth A. Marcy
In my opinion, a person should quit judging when their physical abilities are hindering their judging abilities.
Judges should consider retirement when physical limitations, health challenges and mental acuity begin to interfere with accomplished and efficient adjudication.
I have seen senior judges mismark or omit important multiple awards in their book, use a walker/cane/scooter in their ring, sit in a chair between classes due to fatigue and fall dramatically behind schedule. Of course, the sport has many that are competently judging in their 80s and 90s, yet there are some who solely rely on judging as a source of income or opportunity to socialize/travel and fail to recognize their limitations.
When a judge fails to perform his/her duty in a respected and dutiful manner, it serves no benefit to the exhibits, owners or fancy. It should be no different than if the judge was incapable of understanding breed standards, conducting improper procedure or being limited in education.
Although some of our best judges are seniors, some quite advanced seniors, the time to retire is when one cannot be civil to the show-holding club members, get to the ring on time, fill out the judge’s book without help from the steward, make timely decisions, or be patient and tolerant toward all exhibitors.
Sandy Hook, Connecticut
I suppose one could answer this many ways! However, I choose to say that it is up to the individual to decide. Sometimes, it takes conversations with spouses and partners to reaffirm the decision.
Millstone Township, New Jersey
It is time to retire when you no longer enjoy judging, or when you physically have problems getting through an assignment or have cognitive issues.
Mary Ann Leonard
St. Louis, Michigan
1. A judge who cannot stand and must judge from a chair should retire.
2. A judge who must stand with one arm wrapped around the tent pole the entire day to hold her up should retire.
3. A judge who “spaces out” in the group, leading the entire group to run 10+ times around the ring while the judge looks blankly outside the ring should retire.
4. A judge who ignores the entries in his ring as he watches judging in the next ring should retire.
I have witnessed these behaviors myself!
Las Vegas, Nevada
I believe that a judge should retire if he or she has a problem traveling. It is hard enough even if you are not old. In some of these airports going to your gate is lots of the time a long way. Being on your feet all day is not fun even if you are young, and lots of judges have back or feet problems that makes their days miserable.
When I was a superintendent, I had to go to rings a couple of times when a judge did not know what breed he was judging or what to do in the ring. That is sad but it is also not good for the memory of how the exhibitors will remember that judge. I want my friends to go into my ring and say to me, "Johnny, it is time!" I hope I will know what my friends meant ... that would be a problem.
I'm not sure criteria can be set. Having said that, my opinion and comment would be “when it is evident that the judge is not enjoying the activity.” Exhibitors can tell when a judge is not enjoying judging dogs, and I feel this attitude is reflected in the judge's choices. When a judge cannot greet exhibitors in a friendly manner, cannot be patient with all exhibitors (and club support), looks everywhere but at the dogs (throughout the whole exam), cannot smile and genuinely enjoy the people and the dogs, then this is when that judge should do something else! Having posed this question to a few exhibitors at a recent show, the major response was “When they show they don't enjoy it!”
Sherman Oaks, California
This is a great question, and continues to be a topic within clubs after shows.
As a long-standing breeder and exhibitor for the past 60-plus years, I have seen many judges who should not be allowed to judge when they are still active.
In my opinion, judges should bow out gracefully rather than have the rug pulled out from them when enough complaints are made.
The following criteria should be followed in the AKC:
1. Mobility. When a person can no longer get to and around, they should stop. This includes going over a dog without any negative impact on the dog.
2. Medical. When a person has a medical issue that either impacts their ability or that the animals can detect (and they normally can), they should stop.
3. Vision. When a person has a reduced vision issue (where they cannot see past five feet clearly), they should stop.
4. Memory. When a person has trouble remembering, and that applies to the standard, what they just judged, and so forth, they should stop.
The list can go on, but to what avail?
We all want to remember our judges in a good way.
They deserve and have earned the respect from all of us and should be honored for what they have given us over so many years of service to our sport.
I am always saddened when I see and have seen many judges being escorted out of a ring by either the show chair or the AKC rep for not being able to continue with their assignment.
A difficult question to answer since few want to ever admit it's time.
Many years have been put into the process, and the fear of retirement is viewed as being forgotten and the loss of friends.
There is a point where judges must face the reality of the situation: Judges must be able to function physically and mentally. In many cases it affects the whole show, time schedules, the show chairs and the exhibitors. The exhibitors deserve a fair examination; once a judge cannot bend over to properly examine a dog would be one indicator. Dogs deserve more than a pat on the head and a swipe down the back.
Exhibitors are proud of their placements and deserve to have them presented at the proper placement marks. Fatigue does set in, but the exhibitors should never be slighted with a come-and-get-it approach.
One other indicator is being able to work within your given time frame, not setting back the schedules as well as the next judge, causing stress to the show committee and handlers, who are often on tight schedules.
Again, the signs are there, but the individuals must face up to their weaknesses and make the decision.