Left or Right — Right or Wrong …
Well, I can assure you that I do not question anybody’s political affiliation or conviction, but this just happens to be the result of a conversation I had in Scandinavia some months ago when discussing differences in standards, judging procedures, rules and regulations with a European judge I have known for decades.
What initiated this conversation and following argumentation was that when I asked about judging procedure in his country, rules and gradings — I was given fairly good advice as rules have changed since I was part of the FCI community!
But I still didn’t feel totally comfortable.
I grew up in I a world where the dogs were graded First, Second, Third or Zero depending on their quality. To be awarded a Zero, the dog had to be virtually unrecognisable as a representative of its breed. Only the dogs given a First Prize in Quality remained in competition and could then be awarded Prize of Honour or CK (Certificate Quality), which meant you competed for the CC and there would only be one certificate in each sex counting towards the title of Champion.
Then we of course had a continuous change of rules and regulation, but things still stayed basically within the same framework.
I have over the years in Scandinavia built into my head a more or less automatic grading of the dogs according to the old system. But now rules have changed and a First Prize is described as Excellent! But being told that the Excellent does not necessary mean that a dog is of champion quality puzzles me. As even amongst the dogs in the Champion Class there were dogs which in my opinion were far from Excellent! So I had to reprogram my brain — or at least try to, but then also had to write some critiques on all the dogs entered. And in some cases I found there was a discrepancy between critique and grading.
I suppose anybody who has ever judged a dog show will have experienced that there are individuals which appeal to you despite the fact that there are several details which could be improved, while other animals with whom you cannot see much wrong have no appeal at all … I think type and quality is at times hard to define, more or less abstractions which have to be seen to be appreciated.
But what has all this got to do with right or wrong left or right?
Well, my dear friend claimed that the U.S. system of judging dogs was completely useless and that if he ever was invited to judge here (which he has) he would judge by the standards in his own country and was also claiming to subconsciously be grading all exhibits as per the routine where he came from. He claimed that he was invited here to give his opinion on a breed that was his specialty, and if judging by the AKC standard he would have to deviate from what was his own ideal in certain areas.
And I of course repeated that same old song: “When in Rome,” etc. Just as you when driving in the U.K., whatever your desire, you have to drive on the same side as the Brits or you would cause chaos — probably die. And knowing some tough exhibitors in different parts of the world, your life (or at least your reputation) might be at risk if not following the right procedure.
Then the discussion continued: “If the AKC or any kennel club in any country will not allow me to follow and judge by what I think is right or wrong: Why invite me at all?” This is in a way an understandable argument. And a question I have been faced with many a time, to which I have given the same answer: Judge by type, but still allowing for difference in height or weight as asked for in your host country.
So comes the next question: Is it possible to judge to type when like the Cairn Terrier standard has a 2 inch difference in height? And the same issue for Whippets. And I find it hard to argue that the size and often with it, amount of bone, movement, etc., does not create a totally different animal?
And if that is an issue: Go for the smaller ones in the ring, which are still within the standard, but also closest to your own perception of what is desirable …
That answer might seem unfair, but if an overseas breed specialist is consulted/invited to judge — what can you expect?
I think over the years we have seen some rather scary examples of imported judges who have tried to judge by what they believe is the American ideal — and totally lost both the grip of things as well as their reputation and credibility. Others have stuck to their guns and tried to show those lost American souls what their breeds are really supposed to look like. Neither route the Road to Popularity!
Much to my surprise, there are judges who love writing their critiques! Despite the fact that their knowledge of the breeds involved often are rather limited — to say the least.
Up until my latest move, I kept all critiques for all the dogs we ever showed. And of course all were filed according to breed and gender. Then prior to deciding what to save or scrap, I went through them all — and found such a variety in what was described as good or bad that I decided they had no value at all. They were scrapped!
I have probably told the story before, but when in 1966 or '67 I showed the very first Wheaten Terrier in Norway, I first entered the ring with my Welsh and Wires, then sat ringside with this new breed. The judge was a well-known Dachshund breeder, but the steward was my good friend Torbjörn Aasheim, a breeder of Kerries and Sealyhams. The judge turned to his steward, pointed at me ringside and asked, "How has he got permit to bring that mongrel into the show?" Whereupon Torbjörn (who actually was involved with the importation of the mongrel) told the judge that this was a new breed in the country, etc. — and that this was a good one! And the Wheaten got one of the best critiques I had ever read …
Of any kind of value? I don’t think so.
And being in love with the American system where it is all about comparing dogs without being distracted by what I should or should not include in a critique!
It is of course a valid point that if you know you have to, in writing, share your opinion about good and bad points, plus explain what you did and why you did it, it requires a little more knowledge than just having to point at 1, 2, 3 and 4! Makes it really more complicated to “fake it” and pretend you know what you’re doing.
And if the system in this country is so useless, how come American influence worldwide is so huge in so many breeds?
Most credit should of course go to the breeders — and in some cases even handlers, who often rule their clients' breeding programs. But in general all parties are essential ingredients in what has given the United States such a prominent position that breeders and exhibitors from all over the globe come on crusades to this country to buy dogs or semen to share the benefits and advantages made possible by some very creative individuals …
And then of course learn about how to present their dogs. Learning by observation from those, in too many cases, underestimated artists we are privileged to watch in action at every show we attend.
But whether you turn right or left — make sure you are doing it for the right reason!
Until next time …