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By and For People Who Shape The Sport Of Dogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Evolution of Judging

Barbara J. Andrews, Courtesy ShowSight Magazine

 

If we understand nature’s plan of 12,000 years ago, breeders will evolve a better dog, you will judge it well, and neither of us will create a platypus.

 

There's a little-known secret about the part Nature played in how dog show judging evolved. Firstly, we're told that Mother Nature cannot be improved upon. Well, that’s not true. If Nature were so perfect she would have given dog 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. Nature is constantly experimenting but mistakes are not tolerated for long. She is only momentarily amused by a bad design like the duckbilled platypus, thus in the true sense of time, mistakes exist only a minute!

 

The canine species is a masterpiece but still evolving. 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 to suit our fancy. Therein lies the problem and we have only to look around the show ring to see the results are not what nature intended.

 

Although genetic problems seem to evolve overnight, they are always the result of pushing the envelope to get the judge’s attention or selecting for a trait that is too “outstanding.”

 

It isn't fair for dog show judges to say “We can only put up what breeders bring to us.”  The fact is, dog breeders will bring to the ring what they think the judge will put up.  Consequently abnormalities often thought of as 'features of type' have gotten significantly worse.

 

Evolution is a form of natural fault-correction. Genetic manipulation, when done by people, is not. Whether viewing a painting or an animal, the eye is drawn to the extreme (more noticeable) than something quite ordinary (correct) so both dog breeders and judges share equal blame for evolving structural and behavioral problems in the "purebred", i.e. genetically manipulated canine.

 

If we each understand Nature's script and play our part well; dog 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's inhabitants.  To insure harmony, evolution divided Carnivores into Bears, Cats, Hyenas, Wolves, Weasels, etc. Each species evolved to fit into a non-competitive slot in the ecology. The dog is believed to belong to Wolf family but that has not been scientifically proven.

 

Let's assume the master plan assigned mankind a role in constantly modifying the wolf/canine form in order to meet the demands of an evolving civilization. That is a safe assumption because about 12,000 years ago, humans or The Creator, began to tinker with the wolf as evidenced by the oldest documented remains of canis familiaris, found in of all places, Idaho and Iraq!

 

"Over time" man's first friend and hunting companion evolved into one that rarely hunts for food. It is in his bowl and sadly, it isn't meat...  As primitive humans learned how to control stuff, we went from caves to houses and developed interesting animal 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.

 

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You horse lovers will get this... we went from nature's hardy mustangs to Clydesdales that require special care.

 

Perfectly constructed Longhorns were domesticated into "beef cattle" that suffer hoof, leg and spinal problems. We won't name dog breeds so structurally unnatural that they suffer joint and back problems.

 

 

We’re told it’s important to know Breed History but it is 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 canine 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.

 

Both dog show judges and breeders 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 tiger, the Mammoth, the Elephant. Not too radical a change right?

 

Chihuahua - Great Dane EvolutionBut then from canis familiaris we created the Chihuahua and the Great Dane. Think for a minute how incredible this is. For the first time in all of evolution-creation, the human species actually created a new sub-species. Let’s call it canis purebred.

 

AKC gave you a license to judge. Nature has given dog 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!

 

What 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 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 give him more chest and spring of rib 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. We’ve been given evolutionary 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 how our best friend is able to walk, run, see and hear.

 

When we talk about “Breed History” it should be with the thought in mind that we are responsible for the flaws in today's purebred dogs. 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 having read this far, you lost innocence. Breeders bring to the showring 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 dogs 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 dog show judges must each do our part to prevent the untimely extinction of an evolving sub-species, canis purebred.

TheJudgesPlace.com EST 2005 2013160520102208 http://thejudgesplace.com/Judges-education/Evolution-Judging.asp

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