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The Evolution of Judging

Introduction to Breeder and Judges' Education Seminars

 

 

Barbara J. Andrews, Courtesy ShowSight Magazine 2001

 

There's a little-known secret about the part Nature played in how judging evolved. Go back 12,000 years and learn how to judge canis purebred in this unusual introduction to Breeder and Judges' Education Seminars, circa 2005

 

We're told that Mother Nature cannot be improved upon. Well, that’s not so. First of all, if Nature were so perfect she would have given breeders three hands instead of two!

 

Seriously, Nature is not our mother, it is a ruthless, totally objective tool used by an infinitely Higher Power in the process of creation. I believe in Divine Creation but as a dog breeder I see Evolution at work in every litter. Fitting together those seemingly incompatible beliefs has allowed me to become a fairly successful dog breeder.

 

Understanding our roles in the process of evolution makes breeding and judging easier. Let’s start with things you know but may not have realized. Nature is constantly experimenting but mistakes are not tolerated for long. She is only momentarily amused by a bad design like the duckbilled platypus and in the true sense of time, the useless mistake exists only a minute! As the original architect, Nature corrects it or throws it out.

 

Nature has done an extraordinary job on the canine species but if we interfere too much with the blueprint, we can expect consequences. If we bend a stifle joint too much, like any good engineer, Nature will compensate for the imbalance. Then, being human, we are compelled to tweak something else. Therein lies the problem and we have only to look around the show ring to see the results.

 

When we select for extremes, Nature compensates. Savvy judges and breeders have to work backwards as many of us are doing today. Although genetic problems seem to happen overnight, they are always the result of pushing the envelope to get the judge’s attention or selecting for a trait that is just too “outstanding.”

 

First, we must throw out a common myth.  It isn't fair for judges to say “We can only put up what breeders bring to us.”  The fact is, Breeders will bring to the ring what they think the judge will put up.  Unhealthy abnormalities have gotten significantly worse due to everyone soft-peddling that issue! And being human, most judges will be drawn to something more extreme (noticeable) than something quite ordinary (correct) so breeders and judges must share equal blame for evolving structural and behavioral breed problems.

 

If we each understand Nature's script and play our part well; we breeders “evolve” a good line,  you judge it well - and neither of us creates a platypus!!

 

So let's take a look at evolution. Weather, war, and whimsy all have an effect on the planet and its inhabitants. Let's assume the master plan has assigned mankind a primary role in constantly modifying the canine form in order to meet the demands of an evolving civilization. To insure harmony, evolution divided Carnivores into Bears, Hyenas, Cats, Raccoons, Weasels, and Mongooses, each evolving to fit into a non-competitive slot in the ecology. Then, the Bear Family further divided into Wolves, Coyotes, Jackals and Foxes.

 

12,000 years ago, Man began to tinker with the wolf as evidenced by the oldest documented remains of canis familiaris, found in of all places, Idaho and Iraq! Gradually, man's first friend and hunting companion developed into one that rarely hunts for food or depends on fitting in to its surroundings. Since man learned how to control the environment, there was no harm done. Indeed, we developed interesting variations called “breeds” and Nature was not particularly offended.

 

But then, a couple of centuries ago, man began to select for traits that markedly interfere with functionality and overall health. We’re told it’s important to know Breed History but it many be more helpful to know how a breed evolved. Acknowledging our human compulsion to mess with Nature’s design, you need only look around the show ring to know that we’ve made some really bad mistakes.

 

In just the last fifty years, we’ve gravely insulted the careful work of evolution by creating genetic misfits with eyes that can’t see, ears that can’t hear, legs that can’t run, and in many dog breeds, natural reproduction is a thing of the past. Were it not for the compensations of science, some purebreds would be teetering on the brink of extinction.

 

Indeed, canis familiaris is looking over a precipice because after all, our lifetime is but a blink in the eye of evolution.  We are observing an astounding increase in deadly genetic problems and a corresponding decrease in reproductive ability.  As a tool of Evolution, you've just been handed a new title – Custodian of the Canine Gene Pool.

 

Chihuahua - Great Dane EvolutionSo before we talk about purebred dogs, we need to understand our personal accountability for having changed  the domestic dog more than any surviving mammal on the planet! Consider this. The Sabertooth became the Bengal. The Mammoth, the Elephant. Not too radical a change right? But then, Modern Man created the Chihuahua. And the Great Dane. Think for a minute how incredible this is. Twentieth Century Man has actually created a new sub-species. Let’s call it canis purebred.

 

AKC gave you a license to judge. Nature has given breeders the desire to develop canis purebred but with both comes responsibility. Would you fault the too-big, too-wide, floppy, soft foot of a lioness? No. She is a stalking predator. The overly flexible pastern allows her to precisely place each foot, advancing softly toward her prey without rustling a leaf. When she charges, the oversized feet are an impediment, which is why she can’t run far but if she’s timed her rush well, they become extraordinary grasping tools with the power to knock a wart hog senseless!

 

Cheetah, a marvel of evolutionWhat if a novice breeder decides the cheetah would be better served with the lion’s foot because it is after all, so functional? A good judge would know the cheetah is designed to hunt smaller, faster game. Non-retractable claws on a small, tight foot means traction and speed. The deep chest, extreme tuck-up, lighter bone, and long legs clearly signify that this animal does not compete with the stalking-pouncing cats for food. No indeed, this cat is equipped to go zero-to-sixty in six seconds!

 

Knowing what the cheetah is, you award and/or perpetuate it for Cheetah virtues, not as a Lion!

 

Let’s go back to canis lupus. Narrow chest, flat rib cage, long legs and short back, big floppy feet, east-west front, cow-hocked rear, oh, and did I mention the light eyes? Right away we want to improve that design! Can’t keep our hands off of it. Let’s shorten the leg. Give him spring of rib. Lengthen the back and tighten up those snowshoe feet so he can trot more efficiently. And for Pete’s sake, darken the eye.

 

Whoops, the wolf died out the very first winter. Couldn’t plow through deep snow with the wide, deep chest and shorter legs. Couldn’t traverse packed snow with those small tight feet, couldn’t run down his prey or pace behind the herd for days. Snow glare blinded him. Sort of like the platypus he was…

 

Here’s where you come in. As a newly licensed tool of evolution, you will recognize the wolf’s superb design for survival and endurance …… you might level the topline and tail carriage, tighten the foot-pad and lengthen the back just a trifle because our dog will tirelessly trot a packed trail or show ring. He is no longer the ice hunter. The well-fed, carefully developed purebred has a new purpose. Northern Man created the incredibly functional Siberian Husky, evolved through our need for endurance, beauty, and speed.

 

Would a Malamute do as well? No. But man also needed to move heavy loads, so he selected for a shorter, broader back, heavier bone, denser muscle and the greater body weight needed for an unsurpassed Arctic freighting dog.

 

Judging is done in a day. Breeding in less than seventy but it doesn’t stop there. I truly believe we’ve been given permission to shape canis purebred to serve modern man’s needs and desires. Given that power, then every single decision we make has an impact on canine evolution.

 

When we talk about “Breed History” it should be with the thought in mind that we are responsible for the dog's developmental history. If I’ve done my job here, you will select stock, whether in the show ring or for breeding, with a whole new appreciation on how “form follows function.”

 

Westminster KC Dog Show BIS Lineup 2006Of course you can only judge what we bring to you but that is no longer an excuse because today you lost innocence. It’s like learning about sin, once you know it exists, you can’t ignore it any more. Breeders bring to the ring what they think a judge will put up. Now you know how crucial your decisions really are.

 

Depending on the flexibility of the Breed Standard (which may not have been written with the insight you now have), you must weigh and reject that which you now recognize is detrimental to the purebred dog. If you judge with the objectivity of Nature, and if you share your profound knowledge with Breeders, they will respect and learn from you.

 

Having created canis familiaris, breeders and judges must each do our part to prevent the untimely extinction of an evolving sub-species, canis purebred.

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- from Judges' Seminar Guidebooks prepared by Barbara (BJ) Andrews

JEC Chairperson, Akita Club Of America

Founder and First President, Miniature Bull Terrier Club Of America

Toy Fox Terrier Club Of America Approved Presenter, AKC Gazette Columnist

Author of eight breed books published in four languages

Breeder of over fifty BIS, BISS, and/or Group Winners

 

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