E. Katie Gammill, Exhibition Editor, Multi-Group AKC Judge
There was a time when the pure bred dog’s blueprint (Breed Standards) was honored and those who carefully bred or judged to it held the respect of others striving for the same goals. Breeders and dog show judges understood that dogs were originally bred for a specific purpose such as assisting their owners around the farm, hunting, security, and especially as family pets.
Things began to change in the 1980’s. Many exhibitors felt poor judging was a problem. This introduced AKC judges education, more books, more papers, more seminars, more record keeping and the madness of running all around the country.
New judging applicants whined it was difficult to get off work to drive to take closed book tests. AKC acquiesced and allowed open book judging tests available at home. The other problem was the failing of such tests by many who “thought” they knew the breeds due to what they saw being awarded in the ring.
Then, due to complaints about not receiving assignments, the AKC succumbed, telling clubs that if they would hire provisional judges it could be considered one of the requirements to fulfill their club approval status. This tipped the scales toward the provisional judge who came for less money and who was often willing to reciprocate the person who nominated them for the assignment. Further diminishing the process, many AKC judges weren’t chosen on knowledge of a breed but on what breeds they needed to fulfill their current application requirements to enable them to go forward toward more breeds. This was a disservice to concerned breeders.
Many exhibitors are far more versed in breeding to standard than the one in the ring passing judgment on their breeds. When true breeders with quality stock entered the ring and a newer judge made awards based on what was most common in the ring, there was discourse. This was most often due to a new judge’s lack of ability to correctly interpret and prioritize a breed standard. The result was that often a true representative of the AKC Breed Standard was ignored.
Since judging to a certain extent IS a sport of opinion, it’s best never to question another judge about their choices or try to influence them to your way of thinking.
That said, one fatal flaw is to judge a new breed by the characteristics of the breeds with which you are familiar. The judge’s responsibility is to analyze those standards carefully. Seek mentors in the new breed on your approval list. On the other hand, always be willing to share in your knowledge of your respective breeds and adhere to that breed’s AKC standard. Get involved in breed education.
At one time kennel visits offered a wealth of information and were required. Today many people go out of their way to bring dogs for new judges to review at their own expense. From my experience, I have learned more from bad dogs and bad horses regarding structure and movement than can ever be learned in a seminar. I also feel “balance” means a balance between structure and type, NOT FRONT AND REARS.
I resigned several years ago due to my husband’s illness but I still hear that exhibitors often challenge judges outside the ring. They complain to AKC representatives and in turn, judges are asked why they placed one dog over another. In some cases, this is justified. People ask how can a judge give a Group placement to a dog one day and ignore it the next day when judging BOB? The answer is often simply that the Specials class offered a more worthy dog the following day. You can only judge what is before you “on the day” and on a circuit, breed winners may be different.
Today’s judges must be well versed in cosmetic grooming techniques. To call measurement or suggest coat enhancement products can cause the roof to fall in! Exhibitors take complaints to AKC reps and a judge can be considered guilty without a trial by only trying to do their job. When you dip your toe in the pool of judging don't be surprised if you are drowned in a wave of criticism. Words hurt, especially when a judge is criticized at ringside for doing their job correctly.
Rules and regulations are important, and situations can arise that must be addressed. How to measure, how to weigh, how to identify foreign substance in coats, poor sportsmanship, ring procedures, time restraints, starting at designated ring time to enable those handling several breeds to be able to depend on your punctuality are but a few.
Having attended shows after retiring, the appearance of judges can be an issue. Always remember YOU represent the AKC, the cream of the crop, and conduct yourself accordingly. Dress the part in conservative attractive dresses and dispense with being “fashion plates”. For the most part, dogs neither like cigarette smoke or heavy perfumes. Don’t cross your arms or stand with hand on hip when viewing the dogs. Keep your arms at your sides and do not make direct eye contract of any dog that has tense muscles. Exhibitors visiting with others during ring judging are being rude and I have told ring stewards to advise exhibitors when entering the ring if they plan to visit, don’t bother coming in.
Judges must keep exhibitors straight in their minds so do not allow exhibitors to change position in the line unless you indicate it, especially in large classes. Make your wishes known initially as to what you will accept and will not accept. Incompetent ring stewards can be a problem for a new judge. Be patient with them as many of us judges were once in the same position and well remember the kindness of officiating judges. The ring steward associations are a great support for your club.
There should be no conflict of interest in judging. Ask yourself this. How important are your friendships? Can you ask them to put their animals with a handler if they choose to show in your ring? There are so many gray areas in judging. Making your wishes known will avoid many questionable situations. Will your friends be upset if you don’t use “Susie?” How staunch is your character to judge according to AKC breed standard? How adept are you at explaining your choices according to the breed standard if an AKC rep questions your placements?
Can you control your expression as you watch a dog go down and back with a snap tail and horrendous movement and still be cordial to the exhibitor? Can you give a word of encouragement or compliment a novice entering the sport of dogs? Can you control your ring and keep exhibitors in order in enormous classes and do you have a system for knowing who you select after you have examined a large number of dogs? This is why you judge all the matches available.
Is it important you visit with people outside the ring while awaiting your starting time? (DON’T.) Can you be kind to an inept ring steward? Can you get to the lobby on time to make it easy for pick up to the show? Do you enjoy staying for Best in Show selection? Do you allow enough time regarding flights so as to not require special circumstances?
I truly enjoyed the sport of dogs. A wealth of friendships came my way. So many beautiful pure bred dogs fill my memories. My articles are printed around the world and I have friends from distant lands. I only wish the best for the American Kennel Club and admire their efforts to promote the pure bred dog.
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