The Evolution of Judging
Barbara J. Andrews,
Courtesy ShowSight Magazine
If we understand nature’s script of 12,000 years ago, breeders will evolve a better dog, you will judge it well, and neither of us creates 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 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 and in the true sense of time, useless
mistakes exist only a minute! As the original architect, Nature corrects it or
throws it out.
The canine species is a
masterpiece. When we trifle with it too much, we can
expect problems. 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. Therein lies the problem and we have only to look around
the show ring to see the results.
Although genetic problems seem to happen overnight, they are always
the result of pushing the envelope to get the judge’s attention or selecting for
a trait that is just too “outstanding.”
It isn't fair for judges to say “We can only
put up what breeders bring to us.” The fact is, 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.
fact is, whether it is a painting or an animal, the eye is drawn to something more extreme (noticeable)
than something quite ordinary (correct) so breeders and judges must share equal
blame for evolving structural and behavioral breed problems.
If we each
understand Nature's script and play our part well; we 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 and its
inhabitants. To insure harmony, evolution divided Carnivores into Bears,
Hyenas, Cats, Raccoons, Weasels, and Mongooses, each evolving to fit into a
non-competitive slot in the ecology. Then, the Bear Family further divided into
Wolves, Coyotes, Jackals and Foxes.
Let's assume the master plan assigned mankind a
role in constantly modifying the canine form in order to meet the demands of an
years ago, Man 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 we developed
interesting animal variations called “breeds” and Nature was not particularly offended.
But then, a couple of centuries ago,
man began to select for canine traits that markedly interfere with functionality and overall health.
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
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 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?
But 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 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
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 ring 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 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 judges must each do our part to prevent the untimely extinction of
an evolving sub-species, canis purebred.
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