Time To Re-Evaluate
The end of July was the trade deadline for major league baseball. This year saw more than 10 all-stars traded away.
In addition to cost-cutting, teams took this time to re-evaluate their roster to determine in what direction the team was heading. Were they on the path toward being in winning contention, or was it time to make changes for the future health of the team? Were the many traded all-stars really of high enough quality that teams should continue to keep them as their foundation, or were they just voted to the all-star team based on popularity or past performance?
In order to make the right decisions and moves, team leadership had to remove all rose-colored glasses and objectively decide whether to “blow the team up” or continue on their present path. In other words, was it time to start over?
Should we ask the same questions? Is it time for us to push the reset button? Time to re-evaluate?
I know I am naïve in hoping that maybe someone will notice, and use proper judging decisions to make sensible breeding choices. Truth be told, I absolutely hate the stress of travel these days, and I am not so happy about being away from home, but I do love judging our dogs in the hope of “giving something back” by identifying and rewarding the quality dogs at the show, sharing my knowledge, and using judging as a mentoring experience. I also always have that hope that I will discover a really special new dog. That has happened a few times and it is always memorable. However, at the risk of never being asked to judge again – or even getting entries to judge – I think it is well past time for all of us to re-evaluate what we are doing. I believe the icons of our world do this every day and with every litter.
Is our breeding program based on knowledge of the breed standard and purpose – and the desire to do what is best for our breed – or just taking the easy path of breeding to whichever dog is winning? Is our judging based on the same principles? Or do we not want to look into Don Quixote’s mirror? Do we not want the truth? How do we instill a change? To my mind it requires changing our goal from winning a ribbon to improving the breed.
What was the impetus for this article? As our dog-show entries returned to pre-Covid (or better) numbers, I was delighted to again stand in the middle of the ring doing what I love to do. I was happy to again get to judge some dogs that I truly appreciate as well as having the opportunity to possibly “discover” new ones. But just as I always say that the process of judging is a trade-off, so was the return of our dog shows.
There was a dog I wanted to see because the pictures in the magazines really looked good – and it was even shown by someone I like. I finally got to see the dog. Looking across the ring I could see a nice outline and a beautiful head.
Then the dog moved! How could this dog be doing all this winning? My heart was hurt.
How do we keep showing dogs – in many breeds – with terrible rears? How do Sporting dogs win when they move like Min-Pins? Why do some breeds continually have extremely poor rears? Or poor fronts? Or … whatever? Aren’t we breeding to improve these things? Why are judges rewarding them? Must we keep lowering the bar? How about raising the bar to help our dogs?
Maybe I am just making too much of this. Maybe I should just point a finger and move on. But I cannot do that! There are breeds that I love, and it sincerely brings tears to my eyes when I see dogs with obvious lack of quality consistently winning. Is this what we are to believe these breeds are? Where is the passion and pride that we used to have when we wanted to show our best dogs in Bred-By or in specialties? Has it all gone the way everything else in our society has gone – just take shortcuts, do it quickly, and move on?
It is not something I like to do – or that I do without giving it a lot of serious thought – but there have been times when I thought it was in the best interest of the breed – and maybe to make a point – for me to withhold placements or even Winners. Who is considered the jackass when one judge finds it necessary to withhold giving our championship points and the next day, one of those same dogs is awarded Best of Breed over a pretty decent special?
And yet, as we return, and I see large entries, supported entries or even specialties, the thought of “doing what is right” – which is withholding because of lack of quality – has entered my mind more often. If I withhold Winners at a specialty or large entry would I be a pariah, insulting to the club and exhibitors, or someone who truly cares for the breed? Certainly, it is to be expected that most shows will have a smaller percentage of high-quality dogs at any all-breed show than those of lesser quality, but should you expect the same at supported entries and specialties? How about in the Bred-By Exhibitor class? Isn’t that where breeders show off their best?
What does it say when a judge considers withholding ribbons at a specialty show? We have all heard the expression “cheap champion.” Much worse than just allowing an undeserving dog to be called a champion is rewarding that dog at a specialty where breeders should be paying special attention. At a specialty we are truly exhibiting what we have produced or intend to produce. So, if a judge ignores an obvious lack of quality – or even serious faults that would be very difficult to delete from a breeding program – he is doing a real disservice to the breed. No one gets any satisfaction by doing this.
During the pandemic (and, by the way, it is NOT over, so please get vaccinated) we all had to re-evaluate many things about our lives. So, as we now seem to be back into “normal” shows, maybe it is time to re-evaluate breeding programs, judging decisions and judges, and what breeders, owners, exhibitors and professional handlers consider to be “show worthy” or championship worthy.
I understand that everyone loves their dog, and gets a thrill out of seeing her shown. And if this is done as a social event, that is understandable. But should every puppy sold by a breeder be considered “show quality”? Do professional handlers have a responsibility to be honest with potential clients, or should they just show any dog to earn a fee? Wouldn’t a true professional want to be thought of by judges as someone who always shows quality dogs to them, or do they want to be known as someone who will just show anything for a buck?
And of course, judges have the responsibility to judge the dogs in front of them on that day – not magazine ads, previous show records or who is showing the dog. Certainly, the quality of judging is a topic of discussion at almost every show, and AKC keeps trying to devise methods and processes to improve judges. Guess what: Checking boxes does not improve judges – it only slows down the applicant.
Good AKC conformation representatives can certainly help, but they are limited in what they are allowed to do – and there is always the occasional one who thinks his job is to flex his (imagined) muscles, which really is of little help. As far as I am concerned, a good judge simply has an “eye” and a “feel” for the right dog, which is significantly bolstered by constant studying and a sincere desire to be the best – not just to see how many groups he can add to his resume.
Again, I still believe judges are looking for the best breed representative, and to indicate which breeding program is fulfilling its purpose. On the other hand, if it is just a social event, then let’s stop giving out championship points and stop calling dogs champions. As Thoreau said, “They created a lot of grand palaces here, but they forgot to create the grand people to live in them.”
One final thought: It really will not give you a better chance at winning if you send a Facebook friend request to me a few weeks before I am to judge in your area. Furthermore, I will never accept a friend request from a Junior – that is simply dangerous, and parents should advise their Juniors not to do that.
What do you think?