Fri, 03/10/2023 - 1:33pm

Judges As Friends

Navigating those inevitably overlapping relationships in our sport

A great many years ago, I was about to judge my first assignment. Arriving at the show, I had to walk through the grooming tent to get to the rings. I walked with my head down because I was very nervous about judging and all kinds of thoughts – and standards – were tumbling through my mind.

I was so preoccupied that I didn’t even notice when I walked by my great friend, Laddie Carswell. I used to go to shows with him and I considered him one of my mentors. Laddie said, “Hey, now that you are a judge, are you too good to say hello?” That snapped me out of my reverie, and we shook hands before I continued on to the rings. I will never cut out my friends just because I stand in the middle of the ring at times. 

One of the great weaknesses of our community is our inability to hold on to new exhibitors in any great numbers. Conversely, we have a very large core in our community of members who have been with us for a long time. We are both a large and small community at the same time, and what unites us – the dogs – makes us feel as if we know everyone. It takes great passion and staying power to last as long as many of us have. And, as Laddie reminded me, just because some of us choose to contribute to our community by judging (and hopefully passing on our knowledge), we don’t forget our friends. 

So, I asked a few key people – judges, breeders, exhibitors and professionals – some questions: 

If you are an exhibitor or professional handler, do you have a friend(s) who are judges? Do you show to them? Is this more difficult for you than showing to someone you don't know as well? 

If you are a judge, how do you feel about friends showing to you? I know the politically correct answer is that it is fine as long as they know I will judge dogs, but do you feel any additional pressure one way or the other? Do you prefer them not to show to you, or if they don't, do you feel badly about that? 

How do you feel about judges showing? 

How do you feel about those breeds who don't allow professionals to show in sweepstakes? 

As an exhibitor/professional, do you prefer showing to a judge who does multiple groups or one who is a breeder-judge? 

How do you feel about the ranking systems? 

Do you prefer to show at specialties or all-breeds? 

As befits the diversity of our community, opinions varied. One judge who shows on a somewhat limited basis replied, “I am an amateur handler and a poor one at that, and I do judge. I will show a puppy or a young dog. I will not take a dog or special in the ring except at a national specialty. I don’t feel comfortable showing to friends. I don’t mind people I know showing to me as long as they realize that I am looking at the dog and not them. As a judge, there are so many people who think they are your friends.” This judge does not believe a judge should campaign a special while still actively judging. He believes sweepstakes should be open to all. He also says, “There are too many meaningless ranking systems. A great dog is a great dog, period.” 

One of that judge’s comments reminded me of an interesting phenomenon. When I am listed to judge in a particular area, it is interesting how many “friend requests” I get on Facebook from people who live near there. I guess it is just serendipitous.  

An owner-handler has friends who are judges and does show to them. She says, “I feel I have to not only bring them a very good dog, but we need to show extremely well, too. I believe those I know who are judges are NOT going to give me an easy win.” On judges showing: “I've seen judges win with nice dogs, but I've also seen them win with dogs that shouldn't. That says volumes.”  

As for professionals showing in sweepstakes, “I used to feel if they are the breeder, they should be able to show in sweeps. Now, so many put pro handlers on the papers as breeders/owners, when everyone knows they never had anything to do with the breeding/whelping/raising of the puppies, I'm good with them not being allowed.” She has no preference for multi-group judges over breeder-judges, although she says, “… there are breeder judges I would not waste my money on the entries.” As a highly ranked NOHS handler, she is dissatisfied with the apparent inequity between the point system assigned to NOHS compared to the regular groups. She also says, “It's good to remember that while you may want your dog to be ranked, it's not always the best dog at #1.” 

One judge says, “I have friends who exhibit and if they show to me, they must be willing to accept my ring decisions.” She also doesn’t think judges should show. As far as sweepstakes allowing professionals to show, “Their decision, but many exhibitors are getting too old to show themselves.” I absolutely understand that. 

I agree with one of my best friends – also a judge – who says, “We don’t judge near home, so that avoids many of those cases [friends showing to him]. Anyone is free to show to me, and they should know I’m busy judging the dogs and that is that. And another thing ... I think judges who are approved for a full group are no longer amateurs and should not be eligible for NOHS.” As for judges who show, he says, “We show. We also breed, so we are fully involved. Those judges who are no longer breeders and exhibitors sometimes get stale and don't see things from the exhibitors’ point of view. Some of the best judges in this country are still active as breeders and exhibitors.” I couldn’t agree more. He feels the ranking systems are “an (apparent) necessary evil.”

A long-time breeder says, “Over time, friendships develop. Why stop showing to someone you admire as an ethical, competent judge? I admire judges who continue to be dedicated breeders and want to exhibit their dogs or have them shown. How many breeds they judge doesn't matter to me. Some breeder-judges and all-breed judges are ‘fault judges.’ I steer clear of them. I also steer clear of unkind judges. If you don't enjoy judging anymore, stop judging. It's a hard physical job under often challenging conditions. But that's not an excuse to be impatient or unkind to anyone. Clubs who deny professionals entering sweeps really annoy me. Then handicapped people who can't show dogs and also people who get more pleasure watching their dogs being shown than doing it themselves are excluded. Shows should be inclusive. Specialty shows can be exciting. Clusters of specialty shows are wonderful ... in my breed (Irish Setters) they are ‘family reunions,’ and often have tailgates and educational programs.

“I also love certain clusters more than others. The ones I love offer so many things beyond competition. Certain clusters have figured out that when they get good diverse judges, have good vendors, good photographers and health clinics, seminars, and camaraderie opportunity for people to have good times, it makes those clusters attractive to attend.” 

A good judge-friend responds, “I show because I enjoy it and when I have a quality dog to exhibit to those judges who I think will appreciate quality. I do my homework, read show results in the breed and try to support knowledgeable judges. Exhibiting is where I started, and I think it’s vital to stay abreast of trends in the breed and the sport. Hopefully it keeps me growing as a judge.” 

Another judge says, “… it puts more pressure on me when friends show to me, but the more I judge, the more friends I have, so it's back to basics. I do tell them that my standard is higher for them, as I know what they have had prior to this one. Judges should show in the classes, but I don't think they should special a dog.” He still shows in the classes, and will show to “anyone who knows my breeds.” 

A professional handler says, “Yes, I am friends with judges. I show to them but only if I have not shown for them in over four months and if I have not bought or bred any dogs with them. It is hard to show to judges who are friends because I want the dogs that I bring to them to be perfect so there is no reason for the dogs to lose. I do not mind judges that show. This is a sport that you can be involved in for your entire life, and I do not see how becoming a judge should take the joy of exhibiting your own dog away from you. In AQHA quarter-horse shows, many professionals (handlers) are also judges.

“The rankings system is what it is. I believe that good dogs will always be recognized even if they are not shown every weekend and not advertised in all the glossy magazines. It is difficult to show exclusively at specialties because it is hard to have that many dogs in one breed. Truthfully, I truthfully believe in the dogs that are with me all the time.”

I have had a few judges tell me they don’t like judges showing, and that is disappointing to me. None of us was born a judge, and we all started out showing our own dogs. Bless those who still can physically do it and maintain that passion. Just judge the dogs in front of you.  

I thank those who replied, and who are always helpful. 

What do you think?


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