By Graham Mabbutt, author of A Passion for Dogs, A Journey of Discovery
A judge who awards a dog should be honest and fearless, calm and composed – the same canine traits on which good character and working aptitude are founded.
A judge’s honesty must never be in question, in as much as any decision that is right will be made no matter the temptation to do otherwise. Accordingly, breed politics, pecuniary advantage, judging who is on the other end of the lead to the dog, and playing to the crowd flies out of the ring.
A dog show judge must know the breed standard by rote, combining a complete knowledge of canine anatomy including biomechanics. He/she should have the eye of an Engineer knowing the moving parts and their optimum ratio according to breed type (that which makes a German Shepherd a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler a Rottweiler) and how they fit together.
He/she must have an inborn flair which recognises at a glance quality, style, symmetry and balance.
Such recognition must combine a technique gained by experience where exhibitors and spectators alike know how conclusions resulting in the awarding of prize cards have been reached.
To begin with (and in the final analysis) a judge conducts his business at a distance. It is impossible to assess the all-round balance and merit of an animal if standing on top of it. However it is necessary to call up each dog in turn to examine it free from the distractions of others around it.
Certain individual features cannot be determined by eye alone. It is impossible to assess quality of coat, particularly undercoat and guard hairs with the cushion of air between able to withstand the rigours of wet and or harsh weather as well as provide ease in hot weather. A smooth coat with absence of undercoat is every bit as much as much a fault as the long or silky coat in the working German Shepherd Dog, although seeing that The G.S.D.
A GSD of good character dog standing free should be able to accept direct eye contact from a judge with no hint of shiftiness and allow his handler to widely lift his lips (flews) to expose his teeth for examination. (A judge in my view should not risk passing on infection through contact with saliva from a succession of dogs.)
After the teeth examination, the handler should step away from his dog allowing the lead to go slack for the judge to carry out the coat examination as described above in what is sometimes described as the ‘laying on of hands’. Many judges look Heaven-wards as they do so as if communing with heaven. If this is necessary to determine lay-back of shoulder, length of back, bend of stifle, etc., who am I to say otherwise.
A dog for show should take up a natural stand free and alert on a slack lead without the necessity of baiting, neither should he be ‘stacked’ in the overstretched pose so widely practiced by professional handlers. Any sign of lack of confidence or inter-dog aggression should be severely penalised.
To complete this examination the handler should move his dog at the slow trot over a triangle, first directly to and from, thence at right angles to return to stand quiet calm and composed several feet away from the judge.
Finally the class as a whole in order due, one, two, three, and so on should be moved at the slow trot in single file in as wide a circle as the ring allows. From time to time as necessary, the order may be changed until the final placements are decided and the prize winners brought forward to be awarded their rosettes and prize cards.
The two time gait of the slow trot is a sequence of one diagonal after the other, the left front and right rear legs moving in unison with each other, as do the right front and left rear thus insuring the body always has perpetual support. The trot is ideally suited for travelling long distances over rough irregular ground. No one leg has more work to do than its opposite and the diagonal support makes it easier to maintain balance. The slow trot reveals the structure and conformation of the dog more than any other gait.
The flying trot (which since the early 1930’s has been bred for to become The German Shepherd’s raison d’etre) has a period of suspension between each diagonal and to function correctly requires the back-line becoming closer to the ground as though crouched. The withers are maintaining a level course, the front legs adopting a long stride, the back legs including the hocks thrusting backwards. For this long stride the dog must have excess body length over height in order to avoid the front and back legs hitting.
Whilst all this produces speed and a flashy kind of movement particularly when straining into a collar I know of no work (tasks to assist man) either herding, driving, running the furrow, companion/assistance, search and rescue, guiding for the blind, police work or competitive trials or in tracking/obedience competition where the flying trot is required.
Further I would point out that in the G.S.D., in-breeding for the changed conformation and shape required for this gait as well as exaggerated angulation, bend of stifle and turn of hock has produced a degenerative skeletal weakness and instability resulting in dysplasia of the hocks, hips and elbows plus defects of the spine, stretched cruciate ligaments and cow hocks more than in any other breed.
The pace or amble is a two-time lateral gait where the left front and left back legs move in unison as do the two right legs. It is an untidy gait of fatigue, and/or of physical weakness which dogs can adopt when driving cattle over long distance to conserve stamina. Why dogs turn to it when tired or out of condition I do not know. Puppies often pace having as yet not learned to trot.
In conclusion, judges should always remember the responsibility they bear in regard to future breed progress and welfare of the breed, and that history will prove whether their judgements were correct through the records of dogs judged as entered in The Kennel Club stud books.
Too often is heard, “I put the dog up because I like him and to hell with progress; I am only concerned with today.” A statement that is utterly wrong for the following reason. The more a dog wins the more likely he is to be used at stud and wider will be his influence.
The perfect dog is an impossible dream. Never the less, through knowledgeable selective breeding, monitored by correct judging and breed surveys, a breed advances towards what is an ever-receding perfection only to be found where the rainbow ends.
Related Article Information: Dog Training: Correction Not Punishment
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