My Inner Voice
I don’t know if every judge does it, but I often find that I talk to myself when judging. It may not be as visually apparent as when Mark (The Bird) Fidrych did it, but using my inner voice I can hear the talk in my head (at least I hope it is my inner voice).
In case this confession makes you wonder – or worry – about me, www.exploringyourmind.com says, "People talk to themselves to optimize their brain. This behavior isn’t only a trait of sanity but also of intelligence." So there!
By the way, one additional advantage of wearing a mask in the ring is that my feelings and opinions are not readily discernible by my facial expression. My wife always told me that I huff and puff or make faces if I am not pleased with what I am seeing. Thank you, masks!
As I have often said, judging is evaluating trade-offs of strengths and weaknesses. Certainly these are most of the issues I discuss with myself in the ring. However, there are often other items rattling around in my head. The night before judging I reread the standards of the breeds I have been assigned – as I am sure many judges do. Before entering the ring I think I subconsciously remind myself of what it takes to be the quality of judge that I want to be. I want to be the kind of judge who I would like to judge my own dog. Certainly breed knowledge – with a true understanding down to the finer nuances of the breed – is a requirement. This is often a reflection and combination of experience and a willingness to continue to learn. I believe I learn – or I am reminded of – something new every time I step into the ring.
Any judge who has been part of our dog-show family for any extended period of time usually knows many of the handlers and exhibitors in the ring – both favorably and some not so much. As I look at the dogs, I sometimes look for guidance from my dogs that have gone over the Rainbow Bridge, and I simply remind myself to just JUDGE DOGS! I believe impartiality and integrity are at least as important as is knowledge.
What else is needed to be a good judge? Certainly a thick skin helps. Very few people who disagree with your decision will say something directly to you – probably out of fear of a bench committee hearing being called. But in this era of social-media fake muscles, it is easy for a disgruntled exhibitor – no matter how little knowledge that person has – to bash a judge online. Some cowards even choose to send notes anonymously (to a judge who would not be influenced by anyone else).
Another quality judge with unquestioned integrity had a couple of people with big mouths and little minds complain about her stewarding because "she might judge those breeds sometime." Of course, these idiots didn't step up and volunteer to steward, and isn't it nice to have a quality steward? It is easy for a judge to say, "I don't care about that," and that is usually true, but no one likes to be accused of stupidity or certainly a lack of integrity – even though it is completely unwarranted.
For breeds that have large entries – at all-breed shows or specialties – judging experience needs to have some consideration. Knowing how to work through a large entry with consistency and efficiency is a meaningful attribute. Experience increases the judge's ability to reason and weigh the attributes and weaknesses in a timely manner, leading to (hopefully) correct and quick decisions. However, experience without knowledge and integrity is of no value, and there are certainly times that a relatively inexperienced judge is the correct choice.
As I move down the line of dogs, I sometimes come to a dog that is groomed so incorrectly (in my opinion from experience, knowledge of the breed and its history, and the standard), I can hear my inner voice screaming at me, "NO!" This is another good reason for me to wear a mask, since it doesn't allow others to see my expression of "Ugh" when I see this. The presenter of a recent AKC Shih Tzu webinar said, "Don't punish the best dog in the ring because of handler or grooming." I agree with this within reason, but when the grooming changes proper breed expression or appearance, it does influence my decision to some extent. Grooming can accentuate or ruin the softness or intensity of expression, and expression is an important element of breed type.
As our shows get back into a regular schedule, we see more and more young dogs that did not have the opportunity for good socialization due to Covid. I believe I give every dog a chance to relax and feel a little more secure in my ring at all times, and it is especially important now. My inner voice tells me, "Judge the dog's quality, and be lenient about the (lack of) showmanship." However, I cannot treat every breed the same when it comes to exhibiting confidence or a lack of it. Terriers, especially, come to mind. The standard for Scottish Terriers, for example, says, "No judge should put to winners or Best of Breed any Scottish Terrier not showing real terrier character in the ring." Understanding the function of this group – and certainly breeds in the Working and Herding groups would be very similar – would have my inner voice telling me that I can't be quite as forgiving with the dog's attitude as I might be with a Sporting breed. This is not to say that I completely discount temperament or attitude in a Sporting breed because of Covid, but there is a difference – and I am looking for the best dog.
Closely akin to this are the young dogs or puppies that are barely lead broken and certainly not ring-wise. In the olden days we had match shows to assist with show training, but they don't exist now – even without Covid. There are many times that I can see and feel the potential in a youngster that is at a higher level of quality than I see in the more mature dogs in the ring. So, yes, I do reward the youngster. Should I put up a lesser dog simply because he is more mature – or just older?
Apparently I am not alone, because a renowned international judge also listens to her inner voice: "... not only DO I talk to myself (especially when I’m puzzled in front of two dogs ... and say: You can do this! Carry on!), but I also hear my mentors’ voices (in my head)! Just recently I was doing a specialty. There was this class of young dogs, maybe 9 to 18 months old. (BTW: I HATE this stupid FCI class ... you have these 9-month-old pups, barely making the class, competing with 'almost-finished' 17-month-old dogs.) Sure enough, there was one of each. One was a mature dog, groomed and showing to the nines, with steep shoulders and rear equally straight. As a result he was balanced and moved “nicely” (no reach or drive of course), absolutely firm topline, excellent ribs and a foreign eye expression. The other one was an obviously young dog, with EXCELLENT conformation and proper movement, looking and acting like a pup, definitely not so well groomed or shown. I watched these two dogs, and thought: ‘Oh, my! Am I going to put up a 'light' dog (lacking body) instead of a mature, substantial dog?’ And there it was, in my mind, (my mentor's) voice telling me: ‘These are slow-maturing dogs! Body and substance will come, angles will not!’ And I put the puppy up."
Probably because my wife and I showed some "less popular" breeds – also called low-entry breeds – I make sure to give every breed equal consideration in the group ring. I am not implying that all judges don't do this – well, maybe I am. In the same vein, I believe that if a dog is strong in an area in which her breed is known to be weak across the board, she should be rewarded. Hopefully, this might make breeders of that breed take notice.
I believe that we are many different people during our lifetime, and when it comes to our dog-show community I would hope we grow and mature as the years go by. Throughout our years we learn from those who come into – and out of – our lives. Hopefully, we can do the same for others.
As an aside, at a recent show some judges were discussing the proposal that would allow Juniors with mixed breeds to show in Junior Showmanship. Many judges are not in favor of this, and a significant reason given is how is a judge supposed to judge a mixed breed without knowing how that "breed" should be shown? My suggestion would be to have separate classes for "All-American" Junior competition, and these juniors would be judged by how they use their hands on their dogs and the rapport between dog and handler.
What do you think?