Mon, 04/11/2022 - 9:34pm

On the Day

If anybody challenges a judge's decision, there's always that answer

You’ve heard it before, and will surely hear it again.

Surely it is not just a clichéd excuse for rewarding friendship and relationships, rather than actually judging what you really see in front of you?

We all know it is happening: Judges are always being accused of prioritizing owners and handlers from their own states. Others for “helping” handlers they have had as assistants themselves – or even handlers who handle dogs bred by the judge, but shown with different ownerships. At least in name!

For some reason, all this talk about judges prioritizing professional handlers over owner-handlers never stops. Maybe at times justified. But hopefully in the majority of cases simply a way for losers to let off steam and blame anybody but themselves for their results. Whatever happens, in this country we have the highest level of professional handlers in the world. Naturally a bunch are not really up to par, but those I will describe as The Elite hopefully will not drag any animal into the ring that they don’t consider a potential winner. Sadly, at times you see dogs in the hands of professionals that make you wonder: Is this guy/gal really willing to sacrifice his/her reputation for a lousy handler fee?

Of course, there have been and will be times when some of the pros decide to test the mental strength of an up-and-coming judge by showing an “inferior” specimen – and of course we have all witnessed “targets” taking the bait … Sadly!

Playing it safe by putting up well-known faces is not always as safe as you think …

We do have some real Super Stars among the handlers. Most of them with a natural talent and ability to understand and connect with their charges, which for those less fortunate means lots of hard work.

I think we all have a strong tendency to focus on the negatives in our sport, although there is so much to appreciate and be grateful for. Therefore, sad to witness the negatives getting so much space – be it in the media, Facebook or in our lives.

And for a number of reasons I don’t think it’s going away!

Maybe I tend to glorify the past, but I remember the days when I was so excited to show my dogs to well-known, respected judges – as their opinion was how I measured if my ambition to breed competitive dogs of preferred type and construction was successful or not. To win was of course the ultimate goal, but just reading the critiques or listening to their comments and advice was considered a reward in itself.

There is no way you can compare my early experiences in Scandinavia – or even the U.K. – to what it would have been like to go through the different stages of gaining knowledge and experience in this country.

Junior showmanship was not even invented in my world at the time. And apart from those cute kids thrown into the center of the ring by overambitious parents, the rest of us had to face the real world and compete in regular classes “against” all those old seasoned campaigners. And most of them you both admired and respected. If the most well-known ones even addressed you, spoke with you or, even better, offered advice, your ears and eyes were wide open. I can tell you that a lot of those wise words are still imprinted in my brain. And as time went on and you were able to create your own version of reality, maybe they weren’t all that wise … But then after more experience, maybe?

I have a tendency to repeat myself (?), but I will still do so: “It takes a lot of knowledge and experience to realize how little you know and how much more there is to learn.”

That judging dogs will never be an exact science is something we all are aware of and very different from judging other livestock like cattle and horses. At least that is what my equestrian friends keep telling me.

The major difference is probably that to gain a “license” to judge in those categories there are no shortcuts. Your opinion has to be considered worthwhile – as big money is involved, and no guessing games accepted!

I am probably a slow learner. Or maybe I have too much respect for breeds, current breeders and those who once upon a time created the concept for what each breed was going to look like – and which features were without compromise required to be considered “a worthy representative” of the breed. And even if I by now have been given the opportunity to judge dogs at different levels for more than 50 years, I come home after each assignment with a couple of question marks: Why did I make certain decisions? And those questions normally remain fresh in my head until replaced by new decisions … I hope it is a sign that I take this mission seriously and judge dogs for the right reasons …

It is an undisputed fact that due to the size of this country and the number of smaller shows, it is impossible to have breed experts judging any breed on a regular basis. At most shows, all exhibitors and handlers know more about the dogs they are exhibiting than the person in the center of the ring judging them. And if you check results from a lengthy “circuit,” you will find that oftentimes a decision made the first day is copied the rest of the week …

I have during my years in the U.S. had a few “run-ins” with judges coming from other groups who have seriously promoted dogs of my own breeds that in the majority of experts’ eyes came far short from the ideal. Then due to what I think is a “follow the leader” mentality – thinking, hoping or actually believing that they are making the right decisions – dogs end up on Top Ten lists that shouldn’t be on any list!

I think there is a recommendation, or even a rule, that judges don’t discuss individual dogs and their placings …

Personally, I have no problem listening to established breed experts comments on my decisions, as I can either learn from it or just realize that even within the group of breed experts for the same breed there can be huge variations of which features to prioritize and reward. But provided you have done your homework and are well prepared (not necessarily by listening to people who intend to show to you), you should be able to decide what is right and what is wrong.

However, what I think is the major issue in the world of non-expert judges: How can we learn from each other without breaking any rules or recommendations issued by AKC?

If I consider, in my own breeds, that what is “done” judging by an “outsider” is nearly criminal or seriously detrimental for the future of that breed, how can I address this with the judge committing the crime as well as others on that day’s panel? Without breaking any rules?

I have just watched the finals at Crufts 2022, and although I think most of the animals reaching the finals in each group and the winners of great quality plus the eventual Best in Show winner quite outstanding, there were among the breed winners dogs that in my opinion clearly shouldn’t have been there. I think it is sad when you again and again observe that incompetence is allowed to create fashion.

But even if the level of competence was elevated to perfection, we would still find something to complain about.

And if anybody challenge your decision, there is always that answer: “On the day …”

Until next time …




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