Interview conducted August 2006 by Barbara Andrews
Joe Gregory rarely grants interviews so we are honored. He's a man of few words and many hyphens. Quiet-spoken, easy-going, good-looking, well-dressed, truly a judging legend; Mr. Gregory is immensely popular but not a judge whose name comes up when judges are “discussed.”
What’s to say? The problem with Joe is that being non-controversial, quiet, and modest doesn’t get you noticed or talked about. In this crazy dog show world, talent, experience, family values and character are too often overlooked. Mr. Gregory is unfailingly polite, gentle with dogs and people, and his love for the sport shows from the first class to the last dog judged. He is opinionated (as you shall see), but then aren’t we all?
Joe and Mamie Gregory are as genuine as a summer sky. Says daughter Evalyn "Besides both going to the SEC Tournament College Basketball every year in March, which is a ritual and very special to do with Dad, softball is our new activity together."
He's as good a dog man as ever was. He has equals to be sure but none with more hands-on knowledge and success. In today’s world of self-aggrandizement, one might wonder how a man of so few soft-spoken words could possibly handle so many dogs to the top? I asked. Joe smiled "I just let the dogs to the talking."
Joe Gregory rarely grants interviews but is often quoted. "Judge Joe" turned 79 in July 2006. We hope you appreciate his candor and generations of wisdom as much as we enjoyed prying it from him!
BJA: In which judged activity did you first compete? Obedience, Conformation, or Performance?
JEG: Well… conformation. No obedience.
BJA: What is/was your primary breed and how long were you involved?
JEG: Boxers, since about 1948. Uh, started out about like everyone else I guess. Saw a picture in the paper, a Boxer, and I liked it, and went on from there.
BJA: In what area do you think the Boxer has improved the most?
JEG: I think overall they’ve improved as a breed. We have a lot more breeders and a lot more dogs today than we did back then. I go strictly for type, I guess everyone does with certain breeds, they’re supposed to look like, a Boxer, a Doberman or a Pekinese, and in Boxers, I’d have to say the heads are better than they were, they’re the way they are supposed to look.
BJA: What is the biggest problem you see in the breed today?
JEG: Probably that people don’t read the standard or know what a good Boxer should look like. (chuckle here) When you first start out you don’t know and it takes a few years before you really feel like you know a little something about it. (pause) Then you get to the point that you decide you don’t know anything. (laughter)
BJA: Do you and Mrs. Gregory have a “personal” dog now?
JEG: We still have Maltese. She sometimes sees one she can’t resist or people ask her to put her name on a dog and she helps with expenses. I bought a Maltese for Mamie years back. Peggy Hoge had this Maltese named Maya Dancer and she had about 7 BIS on it. She was showing him in New Orleans and she told me he was going to show in Japan. I said I’ll buy it so I bought it for Mamie, she continued showing this dog and we ended up with 45 BIS. So Mamie’s always liked Maltese and we’ve been involved with them ever since. Griffons, Boxers…. I don’t know how many breeds we’ve had. Mamie’s grandmother brought over one of the first Lhasas. Of course Mamie helped show and was very involved and she’s helped a lot of people.
BJA: Yes she has! So tell us, do you think the purebred dog is better today than it was 20 years ago and if so, why?
JEG: Well… yes, sure, but back in the early days people had big kennels and all. At first AKC had no way of really checking who was bred to who so a lot of these pedigrees are false to begin with. (laughter) It’s really true, like somebody had Old Joe in their kennel and they’d breed him to a bitch (but then they got this famous dog that did a lot of winning) and if the puppies turned out great, they’d just change ‘em to show the top pedigree and the top winner. So a lot of these are phony pedigrees. As far as the improvements, yes they have improved. As far as I see, the shoulders are one thing. I’ll really have to knock a dog on shoulders and rear quarters. Cow hocked? I’m really tough on that. If you have a Working or Sporting …. well, almost any other breed, I have to be tough on ‘em. And topline going around the ring, that’s the first thing you see, and it’s in their standard. A lot of times they bring the class in the ring and I say ‘take ’em on around.’ I like to see them move, I can tell right then what I like that has a chance of winning. Then they can set them up and I can go over them.
Of course there are other things. Like in your breed, I look at those big pointed ears or the weak ears in Akitas. You see some that are almost on the point of being disqualified - but nobody does it. Y’know, some dogs should be disqualified for the ears. It’s a disqualification in many breeds. In judging you have to really consider those things that are the most important as far as that breed goes.
Missing teeth, I usually won’t disqualify a dog …. unless they’re all gone (laughter). Now if you open the mouth on a really bad Golden or Lab, well, you don’t put it up because “the teeth are bad." It’s just like a red Doberman back in the early days, a lot of them had missing teeth. I remember those things and… for instance, last weekend I had a red bitch, nice looking bitch but she had a missing tooth. I didn’t do anything with her and later this guy came up and he says “you didn’t like my Doberman.” I said “Yeah I liked her but she’s got a missing tooth.” He just smiled and he said, “Yeah she has.” He knew and what else was he going to say?
I like a good eye on a dog, then movement and shoulders, topline, and everything you’re supposed to be looking for but of course you can’t see the weight. There are very few dogs that I judged this year, that I’d say ‘I would take that home with me.’ I’d say four or five, and they’re really hot which is why they are winning.
It’s just like they say now, take the breeds away from people, well it’s a bunch of bull. Y’know who’s gonna say what kind of job you really did? Sometimes even the best judge in the world, Alva Rosenberg or anybody, can do a lousy job, or otherwise, say, “I had such lousy dogs in the ring” (which we usually have anyway) and anybody outside the ring can say, “Why did you do that?” The answer is, because they are all so bad. So how in the world can they classify what a Judge did, you know, unless the person is a downright crook? You don’t know what a judge is thinking.
BJA: I’m glad you said that because that’s one of the questions we have on the website and Judges are speaking out about it. I don’t think it’s out of self-preservation, or self-interest, it’s just the way it is.
JEG: Look at it this way too, why have dog shows if you’re going to get to the point where everything is the same? Then there’s not going to be any dog shows. There has always got to be a difference, a different opinion, that’s what makes dog shows. And just like you have to have dogs not as good, also you have to have lousy Judges too as well as good Judges. Yeah. (he chuckles softly) And the way the system is, you have to have that if you want to finish a lot of these crappy dogs we’ve got.
BJA: That’s never been more true.
JEG: Sure, it makes a lot of us Judges look good to have these lousy judges. If you’re gonna take it to the point of life or death, you’re in the wrong game. I try to make everybody have fun.
I remember one show and we were going to lunch and this elderly lady said “Oh Mr. JEG, they took my breed away from you” and at first I thought ‘Oh boy and she’s gonna tell me…’ but that’s not the reason she stopped me. She said “you’re so nice and I like to show to you….” and well, the point is, she went to the shows just to show her little Westie dog because she didn’t have anything else to do but she wanted to be treated nice while she was there. She went to meet her friends and not be in a ring where somebody says ‘lady don’t you know how to handle that dog?’ She just wanted to be treated nice and have a good time. If she won great! If she lost and she was treated nice, that was OK.
There’s a lot of good dogs out there. You just can’t put everybody up. You really try to pick the best dog and IF sometimes you flub it up in there, yeah, (laughing) really, you can’t cry about it. You just have to go on to the next show and try to do better.
It’s really nice when you go to a show and you can say, ‘Oh my God, this is a really nice group.’ And it’s even better if they’re still that way when I get down to the type and movement. And they gotta be pretty also. You know pretty goes a long way too. If they’ve got the qualities, movement and prettiness, then they belong in that Group, and they’ll be in the first bunch.
BJA: Would you comment on the old discussion about a “group dog” versus a “breed dog?
JEG: Well it’s true. A lot of times a good group dog might not be a great breed dog. You show him in a Specialty Show and someone says ‘what is this?’ But within the Group, showmanship, prettiness, and groomed nice usually goes along way with a lot of Judges.
BJA: So what do you look for as a breeder or buyer?
JEG: Well, when you buy a dog from somebody you’re really sticking your neck out. And sometimes you get a good one that just won’t make it. They can be really good breed dogs but they don’t make it in group.
Sometimes they do. (thoughtful pause) I had this Boxer bitch …. and I had to treat her like a lady. This bitch we’re talking about is “Painted Lady” one of my top Boxers, with a funny temperament, she was just like a lady, and I had to treat her right. I couldn’t scold her in the ring, if I did she’d quit. Had to pamper her all the time... She had one bad feature; she had a low tail set but she was animated to the point that you couldn’t tell. When I’d take her in the Group, I’d never let her stand idle, you know, like when you just stand there and talk to somebody? If I had done that, she would be looking bad. I’d always keep her looking for that goodie where you wouldn’t see the tail set. I’d have liver in my pocket for her and she had a deal for me - she’d arch her neck and look so pretty. She’d be looking at me all the time with that great expression. There were Judges outside the ring that would be judging that dog y’know? So you don’t let them see faults either. (pause) That bitch would always put out and show for me but I had to always treat her nice. If I didn’t, she’d quit and make herself look horrible. That’s how you have to treat some of these dogs, especially the bitches.
(It paid off. In addition to 150 Best In Show wins overall, he put 45 BIS on Painted Lady - before cluster shows)
BJA: What other countries have you judged in?
JEG: South America, Australia, Japan, England, Jamaica. Most everywhere. I don’t care to go out of the country any more…. I turn them down. But a lot of people really go for that, it’s their crowning glory to get to go other places and judge. I don’t care much about judging Chicago or Westminster although it’s fine to judge there, I’m doing Westminster this year. I like to go to these little bitty shows, they pay me as much as the big shows pay me and they are a pain in the butt. Not the shows, but it’s the lousy hotels; you’ve got to get to a hotel, you got to get the limo in Chicago, you have these dinners which I don’t like to go to and it’s a lot of who-ha. When I go to Westminster you don’t see me at all those places. About the only place you’ll ever see me is at the Tavern On The Green, I get all these cards from people asking me to come to these parties, and I appreciate it but I don’t go. (a grin in the voice, then laughter) I’d rather have a pint of ice cream, watch TV and go to bed. I don’t go up there to party around.
BJA: TheDogPress will cover the show there next year so we’ll look forward to seeing you and the family there.
JEG: Okay, y’know I told Evalyn, (his very talented handler-daughter) Joe McGinnis and Duane, they were at Westminster last year and I sat with them a while, and you could see everything, they have good seats there every year. And we were looking at the dogs and the people. Now Joe is as sharp looking as any guy you see there and we noticed some of the clothes the guys were wearing when they came in the rings. Now I like pegged pants, I don’t like those loose baggy pants like they got today, I like them to taper down to a sharp pair of shoes. (laughing) I’m not going in there wearing old baggy pants.
BJA: What is the nicest thing and the most inconsiderate thing a kennel club can do for judges?
JEG: Well there are some clubs I go back to; I think I’m doing Yorkies again, I’ve done the Chow club four times. Good clubs, and they keep getting me back and I enjoy it. I don’t think some clubs understand if a Judge judges all day and cares about what he’s doing, he is done at the end of the day and probably wants to rest and be fresh the next day. All some club people or judges care about is going out and having a drink; I don’t drink, and once they get to drinkin’ they get to blabbin’. I like to judge that day, go to the room, call the family and then go to bed. Other than that, everyone goes through the normal things, like you don’t get the letter or the club doesn’t inform you on things. Ha! You know, that’s almost standard procedure, it’s like getting there is one of the hardest things, I just spent five hours in the airport waiting to get out due to bad weather. Everybody goes through that.
What’s bad? Some of the shows you go to you don’t even know who’s in charge of the show. You’re just there to judge and nobody cares, they act like you are just a ring fixture. But most of the people know me and they know we have a good time, and they are good people to get along with. I go and say ‘Hey, I’m here, I’ll do anything you want me to do, if you want me to judge extra groups I’ll do ‘em. I’m here for the show.’ and that’s what I always tell them. And that’s the way it is. I don’t complain. So it’s hard to answer your question. I’m there for the show, so I don’t go party, I’ve said it many times ‘I’m going back to the room and going to bed.’ I just want to get ready for the show the next day. Most clubs know that.
BJA: And all the shows would be better if more judges did just that. Everyone wants to know, do you evaluate puppies as puppies or as adults when selecting winners?
JEG: Sometimes, like this weekend, I had a nice Weimaraner puppy that I put up. It wasn’t quite the maturity and depth of the adults but I’d take that one home any day. I put up a lot of puppies. I’m probably known for putting up puppies. In Boxers, I remember going to Dayton where they had about thirty-five puppies. Everyone must have brought their puppy – said to each other “JEG likes puppies.” Ha! Well, it’s true. If I’ve got a good one, I’m going to put it up, I have to put it up. I never turn down a good puppy. But they have to be good. They have to be moving, they have to have a top line, they have to have a good head. What you mostly get in an Open class is a lot of nothing, a lot of the time. But here comes a good puppy, why wouldn’t you put it up? I don’t hesitate at all.
Some puppies are better puppies than adults. You look at them, (chuckling) you think “You’re sure cute…” so you have to be careful there. I judged in Ohio and did the Toy Group the first day and I put up this 6 months Min-Pin over some good dogs. I really loved this puppy. It was moving good, really a special puppy and beautiful. The breed Judge came up to me afterward and said, “you know, I really liked that puppy, I put it over five Specials.” I said “You did? Well, I probably did too. That’s really one heck of a puppy.” He was doing BIS. After he told me that, well I said “Well man, if you’ve got the nerve, you might put that puppy up.” He didn’t, he put up George Ward with the Wire Fox Terrier. So the next morning before judging, we were standing outside talking. He said “I called my wife, and I told her what a beautiful puppy I had, told her all about it, said ‘man that was really some puppy.’” I looked at him and asked, “Well, did you tell her about the Wire Fox Terrier?”
The way I feel, if you really see something you like, that's really outstanding, put it up. Roll with it. But I’ll tell you one thing, sometimes puppies do change. A year later I saw that puppy and it wasn’t moving like it did then. I just couldn’t go with it. So I mean they do change and then you have to change your mind
BJA: Are you comfortable with Breed Take-Away and the Reps new authority in that regard?
JEG: You mean for a rep to take away breeds? It’s entirely my opinion, but NO WAY! No way. And who’s gonna decide? And on what basis? Like I said, any Judge can look bad on some of these breeds they are judging. You look bad because it doesn’t matter what you do, there’s no way to look good when you don’t have a good dog to pick. So I mean, I think they are not thinking clearly, or they’ve never been in there doing it. You do your best with what you’ve got and who’s the person to say you did a bad job that day? The next week you could have a ring full of great ones and never go wrong. You understand?
BJA: I sure do. So Mr. Gregory, what advice would you give aspiring judges?
JEG: I’d say just go out there and be honest in what you do. If you are honest and you have a conscience, I think you’ll do a decent job if you know anything about dogs. That’s about it really… or it should be. Read your standards. I read my standards every night for the breeds I judge the next day. And I still got a copy on the table to go back to if I’m not sure about some point. I don’t mind doing that, if I have to go back to check something. It’s better to be sure, to do it right….. because you can’t remember everything. (Gregory not only doesn’t mind people seeing him check something, he left the distinct impression that more judges would do a better job if they were to check standards more often.) There are some breeds I’m better at than others, naturally. Some breeds I’m more sure of myself. You just can’t be an expert in every breed. There’s no way, there’s so many different opinions, and what the heck, that’s what makes it a judgment call. So I’d say just have confidence in yourself and go out and do the best you can. Be honest. That’s what’s hard to do.
BJA: Thank you Mr. Gregory for sharing this with our readers. We get it.