by E. Katie Gammill, AKC Multi-Group Judge
See the puppy that catches your eye? Look again. It’s symmetrical, “no one thing out of place.” Look for that balance in every breed you judge.
Head to neck proportions are very important when judging dogs. From the tip of the nostril to the occipital bone should be the same length as the occipital bone to the shoulder. If it is, the legs will ALWAYS be beneath the dog where they should be. If these proportions are not equal, nature will adjust or balance the dog to make it more efficient and symmetrical. The word “balance” is used by many people without understanding the meaning or repercussions. Balance is adjusting one end of the dog to balance with the other to make the dog more “Symmetrical”. Symmetry is “No one thing out of place.”
Most body faults come from lack of balance between the head and neck properties. If the neck is shorter, the front legs will fall further forward on the thoracic rib cage. This rib cage will narrow as it nears the front. This will put the legs on the “narrow” part of the rib cage, thus leaving big pockets behind each elbow. In turn, nature will make the dog pad, flip, wing, or bow in front to keep the rear end from running over the front legs that do not move out properly - a good reference tool is “toe beneath nose.”
Another compensation to keep the rear feet from over-running the front is almost invisible if you aren’t aware of it. That is the “curling of the hind toes” often seen in German Shepherds. This buys a few seconds of timing to keep the rear from running up on the front when a dog reaches from the elbow rather than opening up the shoulder on side movement as it should do. If the front legs are beneath the dog where they belong and the rear isn’t as good, the dog will not be able to complete the rear movement as the reach beneath the belly can’t equal the “follow through” behind. This is when you see, from the side, “locked hocks” or incomplete movement.
Most of these compensations is nature trying to adjust for lack of head and neck proportions. Yes, it can be seen early, even on an 8 week old pup. If they have it, they may go through stages but will return to the natural soundness. The 2/3 rib cage and 1/3 loin allow the short back and long underline that enables the dog to move forward properly. The body usually is 50% of the height, unless called out differently in a standard such as Samoyeds 55% leg length, or in case of achondroplasia dogs (low to ground dwarf) which then have 1/3 leg length.
A high tail set is usually caused by lack of balance between upper and lower thigh. If the lower thigh is longer, the 35% crop drop will become flattened, thus causing the tail to be higher on the spine. However, some dogs such as Dobermans and Boxers, are square dogs and it calls for the tail to come straight off the spine. Therefore one must identify the following when analyzing a dog.
Body shape. Square or rectangular? If the dog is “off square” then select the best shoulder on the shortest dog and you have it. Square does NOT mean the head “screws into the shoulders”. Many square dogs tend to stand under themselves behind. If head and neck are still balanced it means the dog will have “reach and drive’
for its particular body shape. Because it is more collected, the dog will carry its head in a more upright position. Rectangular dogs will appear to reach further forward with their head more downward, many being herding dogs that go for the hocks and nipping.
Top Line. Is it level or straight? Straight can slope! This is the Doberman, Boxer, Schnauzer and so on.
LEVEL MEANS LEVEL! If the topline goes downhill, it is due to a longer second thigh. Seen in many German Shepherds, the only way the dog can get the lower assembly beneath the body is to stretch out the rear legs. The GSD standard says “level top line” with slight rise over loin. When nature can no longer set those hind legs back further, she “CARPS” (humps) the back. This is also evident in other breeds.
Breed Specific Movement: There are many different types of movement in the Herding Group. Some breeds (Puli) actually jump on the back of sheep. Animation of the trot is called for. Reach and drive means "specifically" for a particular breed. Go back to body shape and understand not only the shape but the reason for which the dog was bred and its corresponding herding techniques.
The difference in Toy, Moderate and Giant! A judge’s responsibility is to be very aware of size and reward accordingly. When judges reward dogs that exceed the desired size in the standard, they encourage people to breed larger. Many judges have an excellent eye for size but when in doubt, if it’s a Disqualification, measure! If isn’t a DQ, learn to use some type of mark on your person regarding whether the dog you are judging is acceptable size wise.
Judges should be protectors of the breed standards. Judging is a responsibility to be taken seriously as it is a position of trust. Look for the best dog and judge it accordingly even if you have a personal problem with the exhibitor or handler. Look at the worst dog and forget it is your friend on the end of the lead. This is your call but always remember many breeders outside the ring know more about this breed than you will ever know.
Make an effort to understand what makes a breed “that breed”, nuances in type, the “LOOK” that so many dogs are missing today. Read your standards before judging. Have the ability to articulate why you put one dog over another. Stand firm in your analysis of a breed standard and don’t let people influence you with what they are currently showing, as this too shall change.
All breed type change is “A fault that becomes so common place, it eventually is seen as a virtue”.
Trust your own instincts. Judging is difficult at times as one may be picking the best of the worst. Other times, the quality is so deep it’s a joy to behold. A judge must apply the standard diligently and prioritize correctly. Always remember, YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO YOUR OPIINON until 2 or more dogs represent the standard.
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