2014 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show generates as much speculation about the quality and style of judging as any sporting event in the nation.
From football to auto racing, winners are determined by non-subjective means such as a scoreboard, stopwatch or finish line whereas judging dogs is personal opinion taken to the extreme. Judging, be it food, livestock, or art is a subjective craft. Our rules (breed standards) are interpreted, movement is in the eye of the beholder, and condition, presentation, and performance are assessed according to the priorities placed on them by that particular judge at that point in time.
Westminster Dog Show, The National, and Philly are still televised for a viewership who appreciates a glamorous fashion show and a Who’s Who of dogdom but the numbers are shrinking. Most breeders would agree that dog shows have worked pretty well. Purebred dogs have become healthier and sounder through decades of astute selection by judges. Admittedly, exceptions occur when judges succumb to fads or award exaggerations of “type” but overall, purebreds are sounder, healthier, and more appealing than they were a century ago.
So by and large, the judging system works. Or it has until the American Kennel Club decided AKC Reps know more about judging than do dog show judges. While there should be some degree of oversight in the art of judging dogs so that opinion doesn’t become disregard for the breed standard (or honesty), how far can it go without interfering with a tried and true judging system?
Should the American Kennel Club become involved in judging or should AKC stick to registering dogs and recording breed standards and show wins?
Senior Conformation Judges Association (ref #1), founded by Lt. Col. Wallace H. Pede and all breed judging icons like Melbourn Downing, Haywood Hartley and “Tip” Tipton, had this to say about who should be judging dogs. “Often times judges are severely critiqued by an AKC Rep while pursuing their duties judging.” SCJA cited an instance wherein “The AKC Rep questioned in a derogatory manner a fairly new judge, asking the judge ‘Did you really think that dog was 30” tall?’ The judge replied, ‘No, it’s a bitch and only has to be at least 28” tall.’”
There must be no misunderstanding about who judges dogs. The SCJA January 2014 newsletter contained this edict issued by the former AKC Director of Judging Operations which makes clear that no one can challenge a judge’s placements in the ring. SCJA’s CEO, Col. Pede cites AKC’s own words, “It is the responsibility of judges to interpret the rules and breed standards and apply them accordingly; therefore, how a judge conducts the ring and the specimens they select are at their sole discretion. … Further, a judge’s decision is precisely what an owner seeks when he or she enters a dog in a show. Just as it is practically impossible for anyone to be completely objective about their own dog, it is equally certain that no two judges are going to see the same dog, even at the same moment, in exactly the same way. The whole point of a dog show is for exhibitors to put the question of relative merit up to one particular person at one particular time.’”
Clearly, AKC’s only requirement is that judging applicants satisfy basic criteria and knowledge of the breed(s) for which they apply. That is their duty to the exhibitors who trusting the AKC’s judgment, expend millions of dollars every year seeking the judge’s opinion. AKC should respond to weighted complaints of judging ineptitude or dishonesty in order to insure the integrity of the sport but otherwise, the American Kennel Club should stay out of the show ring.
So the SCJA asks “Why on earth do we have the AKC expending hundreds of thousands of dollars employing a group of individuals to criticize and critique the judges and replace the judge’s opinion with their own? It’s about time we let the judges judge the dogs.”
Regarding the judging approval process, Col. Pede says the AKC Board has been trying to fix the problem of judging approval for the last 30 years “and they keep changing the process every year or so with no success - - a good many believe the judging approval process is worse than ever.”
The Judges Approval Process is an ongoing a subject of debate because it is ongoing and constantly changing. We advocate adoption of three simple, unbiased concepts:
If a judging applicant meets the basic requirements agreed upon between AKC and the three judges associations, every applicant should be “provisionally” approved for first and/or additional breeds.
Then, to remove the constant scrambling for assignments which are heavily weighted in politics and often result in tainted ring decisions, AKC should require clubs to use a minimum of 25% provisional judges on each panel, such judges to be selected from an AKC computer-generated list based on distance, availability, expenses, and approved breeds.
Each judge’s complaints, praise and entry numbers for provisional breeds should be computerized and reviewed with the judge yearly. Then, based on a preset number of times adjudicating a breed, a cumulative review would be shared and discussed with the judge at which time, the “provisional” designation would be removed on a breed-by-breed basis, a one-year extension could be granted for one or more breed(s) or if the review is deemed unsatisfactory, judging approval would be removed on a breed-by-breed basis.
What do you think would solve the confusion, dissatisfaction and unrest among aspiring and approved AKC judges? Send your comments and suggestions to
Comments@TheJudgesPlace.com to be included in a follow up after Westminster.
Photo courtesy Pam Guevera Collection
The Ring Steward says "You can now go back to the Judges Education Section!" We invite Judges to learn from more than a Seminar providing approved judging seminars with photographic examples of movement, structure, and breed type plus breed mentors to assist by email or phone.
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