Ask the Sporting Group Judges

Showsight asked some of the top Sporting Group Judges and breeders about their insights to the Group, and their favorite breeds.

    1. Where do you live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a judge?
    2. What is your original breed? What is/was your kennel name?
    3. Can you list a few of the notable dogs you’ve bred? Any performance or field titles?
    4. When did you know you wanted to become an AKC judge?
    5. Who inspired you to become a judge? Who were your mentors?
    6. What makes judging the Sporting Group a unique experience?
    7. How do you prioritize breed characteristics in a Sporting dog?
    8. Are there any trends (positive or negative) that you’ve noticed in the Group ring?
    9. Do some breeds have an advantage in the Group?
    10. A disadvantage?
    11. Have you had an opportunity to judge the “new” breeds: Barbet, Lagotto Romagnolo, Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, Wirehaired Vizsla?
    12. Which Sporting dogs from the past have had the greatest impact on their breeds? On the Group? On the Sport?
    13. For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing experience you’ve ever witnessed in the Sporting Group?

Virginia L. Lyne

Ask the Sporting Group JudgesI live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. We have bred and shown since 1953 when I exhibited and did Obedience with a Cocker Spaniel, and then moved to English Cockers in 1960. I have been judging since 1969 and am an All-Breed Judge.

My original breed is the English Cocker Spaniel with the kennel name, Ranzfel. I have also owned and/or shown Cocker Spaniels, Whippets, and Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? Any performance or field titles? Am. Can. Ch. Ranzfel Newsflash, Am. Can. TD; Am. Can. Ch. Ranzfel Highlight, and Am. Can. Ch. Ranzfel Kid Me Not.

Because I instructed Obedience for some 20 years and was an active Obedience Judge since 1968, I found my own dogs were neglected somewhat in the training/competition side. We put several tracking titles on Ranzfels. We never got involved in Agility, and the Rally events did not start until after we discontinued much of the performance work.

When did I know I wanted to become an AKC judge? I always knew I was eventually going to become a judge as the passion to learn about all breeds could not be denied. I started Obedience judging in 1968 and Conformation judging in 1969.

Who inspired me to become a judge? Who were my mentors? In Canada, Bob Waters and Vic Williams among many; and in the US, Annie Clark was my inspiration. Mentors were anyone whom I could learn from, but my primary mentors had to include Ted Eldredge and Annie Clark.

What makes judging the Sporting Group a unique experience? The Sporting breeds are so totally functional. They all have a reason, a purpose, and a hunting style. To judge them well you must learn your history—where they came from and how they differ, depending on geography and terrain. You need to know a lot about Great Britain as so many of the gundogs are of British origins. A knowledge of French Spaniels is essential.

How do I prioritize breed characteristics in a Sporting dog? What makes the breeds different and why? Why is the dour Scot home of the Gordon Setter and the rollicking redhead from Ireland? Why does an English Cocker have the rear end of an Irish washerwoman? I want to see the characteristics that immediately bring to mind the breed; the long, low, level substance of the Clumber, the air underneath him of the Brittany, and the unique color of the Sussex, the classic head pieces of an Irish Setter—red brick on red brick, the plush, shorter muzzle on the Cocker Spaniel, the forechest on the Weimaraner, and the otter tail on the Labrador. All are breed priorities because they are what makes the breed the product of its evolution and the history and purpose. Judging of gundogs requires that you know how they hunted as this determines the breed-specific details that you must assess in your judging. All gundogs need a very specific “hands-on” examination, and failure to assess the unique traits is a dead giveaway that the judge is not familiar with the breed.

Are there any trends (positive or negative) that I’ve noticed in the Group ring? Positive: Some truly wonderful, quality dogs are being bred and shown in many of the smaller entry breeds (Tollers, Kooikers, Sussex, Clumbers, German Wires, Wirehaired Vizslas, Lagotto, Barbet, and Irish Red and White Setters). I believe these are being overlooked in the Group as judges are less familiar and not willing to risk being wrong. As a result, the “generic” example of the popular is rewarded.

Negatives: Handlers are still determined to move dogs far too fast to give true breed characteristic action. The Clumber was an older gentleman’s Sunday hunting companion and he was expected to remain with his owner and not be raced ahead. Irish Setters, when raced, can begin to look like they are riding a Peloton! Most of these hunting breeds were expected to work for hours on difficult terrain, and being raced so fast does not allow the smooth, easy trot that reflects endurance and stamina.

Some of the breeds that are very popular are going to have to work to get back to true breed characteristics as they have become somewhat generic.

Do some breeds have an advantage in the Group? A disadvantage? Familiarity helps and flashy-coated showmanship can go through over plainer, more functional workers.

Have I had an opportunity to judge the “new” breeds: Barbet, Lagotto Romagnolo, Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, Wirehaired Vizsla? Yes, I have judged all of these and seen some wonderful examples. The Barbet is a strong entry in Canada as it has been recognized for quite a few years. These are excellent additions to the Group, as will be the Small Munsterlander when it comes in as the newest addition to the Miscellaneous Class.

Which Sporting dogs from the past have had the greatest impact on their breeds, the Group, and the Sport? This would require a book to answer: Dunelm Galaxy English Cocker, most of the Salilyn dogs, Bees Knees in Pointers with Michael Zollo, Chaos and Willis from Rush Hill Golden Retrievers, many of the Nani’s Weimaraners, “CJ” the German Shorthair, many of the Whiskeytown Wirehaired Pointing Griffons, “Stump” the Sussex Spaniel, many of the Clussex Clumber Spaniels, Tirvelda Irish Setters (bred and shown by Ted Eldredge), Labradors from the Driftway Kennels in Australia, Crookrise and Chesterhope Pointers, originally from New Zealand. My list goes on!

So many of these “influential animals” are really, in my thinking, the influential kennels that have placed a stamp for breed type and character that is consistent with master breeders. You know that when they show you a dog you will not be disappointed.

The most amusing experience I’ve ever witnessed in the Sporting Group? Judging a last class of German Shorthairs in a big ring under a barn style roof with open sides, I was just about to start to move the dogs around when a large flock of pigeons flew down into the ring and settled, center ring, eating up bait. I was absolutely unable to move any dogs until we were able to chase the birds away—as my class was all frozen in place on full point. No one failed breed character!

Beth Sweigart

I live in Bowmansville, Pennsylvania, and while I have had dogs all my life, I have been involved in the sport of purebred dogs and conformation in particular since 1967. I have been judging since 2006. My first breed was Labrador Retrievers. I chose my kennel name because my second favorite thing is gardening, and Yarrow is a beautiful yellow plant, so I thought it was a good name for a Labrador. I bred Labradors through the 1970s and ‘80s. I bred numerous champions and was a founding member of the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac. I started to breed Norfolk Terriers and Norwich Terriers in the mid-70s. With my partner, Pam Beale, we have bred many successful Norwich and Norfolks, including Ch. Yarrow Venerie Winning Ticket who won Best in Show at the Montgomery County All-Terrier show and the Group at the Westminster Kennel Club. We’ve also had the pleasure of campaigning the wonderful Norfolk bitch, Eng. Am. Ch. Cracknor Cause Celebre who was Top Dog All-Breeds and won Best in Show at Crufts and at the AKC National Championship. In the ‘90s, I started to breed Affenpinschers, and Ch. Yarrow’s Super Nova was the first Affenpinscher to win the Group at Westminster and be Top Toy Dog for the year, owned by Dr. and Mrs. Truesdale.

As a handler, I had the pleasure of presenting the Irish Water Spaniel, Ch. Mallyree Triple Expectation CDX MH who won the Sporting Group at Westminster twice and was Top Sporting Dog. He ushered in a wave of outstanding Irish Water Spaniels that made their presence felt in Sporting Groups.

I will always be thankful to Joan Read and Connie Barton who were both great mentors to me throughout their lifetimes, both in all things about dogs and in life. Mrs. Reed, especially, was a great influence on me as she demonstrated that anything is possible with determination and hard work. Her knowledge of both Sporting dogs and Terriers was monumental.

After a successful handling career, my partner, Peter Green, and I decided in 2006 to retire and start our judging careers. Of course, one of the first breeds I applied to judge was Labradors, and I have had the pleasure of doing many specialties over the years, including the national. That assignment it was quite amazing because I shared it with Bob Forsyth who, ironically, was the first person I met at a dog show in the ‘60s when I approached him about purchasing a Labrador from his client at the time, Dorothy Howe. So, in life, things come full circle.

Judging the Sporting Group is unique and fascinating because within this Group we have some sub-groups as Spaniels, Retrievers, Pointers, and Setters. All are gundogs, but all are bred with a specific purpose in mind. These different jobs lead to structural, coat, and temperament differences. There are also movement differences inherent with the job each is intended to do. I think this is why it frustrates me to see dogs moved around the ring at the speed of light when they have been purposefully bred to go at an easy pace. The other trend I see in the Group is that handlers seem to think all dogs look better with a sloping topline, even when the standard calls for “level.”

I think that in judging the Sporting Group, it is mindful to be aware of the purpose for which each breed was developed, and that they be in condition (structurally, temperamentally) to do the job. Reward the dogs that exude breed type.

I used to think that the flashy breeds like the Setters, Pointers, and American Cockers had an advantage in the Group. But, of late, I have seen other breeds that are not considered the glamour breeds in the Group rewarded and reach the pinnacle of success. I think this is a good thing because people are rewarding dogs that are very correct for their breed.

I have judged the “new” breeds that have recently been admitted to the Group and have been impressed with the quality of some of the exhibits. I think this is because many of them are older and establish breeds, and are just new to the AKC.

I think the dogs that come to mind as having had the greatest impact on the Sporting Group, and the sport of dogs in general, are the dogs bred by Julie Gasow of Salilyn fame. Her English Springers redefined the breed.

I’m not sure that this qualifies as amusing, but one event in a Sporting Group that I particularly remember is of a young man showing me a very lovely Pointer bitch. After doing his down and back, he pulled out his bait and waved it around for her to strike the pose when at the same time a butterfly fluttered past the Pointer who immediately forgot the bait and struck the quintessential Pointer point, watching the butterfly. I thought it was classic!

In closing, I would like to say that after almost 40 years, I have bred a litter of Labradors again. And I have to say that after living with them again for the past 10 years, there is a reason they are the most popular breed.

Thank you for inviting me to participate. This is all my opinion and observations from over the years. I’m sure others will have insights and observations that are pertinent, which I have
not mentioned.

Carol Brown

I live in North Carolina. I’ve been involved with show dogs since my daughter started showing at age 12 (1980). I learned from her and, in 1986, started showing a Pointer myself.

What is my original breed? I co-owned both Vizslas and Pointers with my daughter. We selected KROWN as our kennel name by using our last name, Brown, and replaced the first letter with a “K” from my daughter’s first name, Karen!

Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? I can’t say that we owned notable dogs, but our original Pointer sired an owner-handled Best in Show bitch as well as a Group One winner—from the American-Bred class! We had a few Novice Obedience titles, but that wasn’t our thing.

When did I know I wanted to become an AKC judge? After I was involved in a horrific car accident and could no longer run for handling, I worked for Rau Dog Shows as a licensed superintendent for a few years until my arm was twisted to judge some sweepstakes. I was hooked. I loved it. So, I resigned from Rau and applied
to judge.

Who inspired me to become a judge? Ever since the accident, Jean Fournier kept after me to start judging because she knew the variety and the quality of dogs I had shown to her. I have strived to become a judge whom she would have been proud to
have mentored.

What makes judging the Sporting Group a unique experience? Seeing the quality and the best of the breeds in the Group ring is thrilling. Some breeds simply sparkle when they have the big space to open up when they move.

How do I prioritize breed characteristics in a Sporting dog? My priorities are always those factors that tell me they are able to do the job they were originally bred to do; coat quality, muzzle length, soundness, underjaw, agility, substance, etc.

Are there any trends (positive or negative) that I’ve noticed in the Group ring? The quality of every breed goes up and down constantly over the years. Part of the problem is breeding to winners instead of knowing or looking to improve a bitch.

Do some breeds have an advantage or disadvantage in the Group? Yes, it’s hard to get past the flashy, perfectly groomed, coated breeds. The short-coated breeds have to be built correctly; what you see is what you get! No hiding any faults!

Have I had an opportunity to judge the “new” breeds: Barbet, Lagotto Romagnolo, Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, Wirehaired Vizsla? Yes, to all, but not so much for the Barbet. I’m a mentor for the Kooikerhondje and the Wirehaired Vizsla.

Which Sporting dogs from the past have had the greatest impact on their breeds, Group, and the Sport? There have been quite a few Pointers that have made an impact on the quality of the breed as well as [the same with] some Irish Water Spaniels. I think there have been dogs in every breed, shown in the Group, that have made inroads in their breed.

The most amusing experience I’ve ever witnessed in the Sporting Group? My favorite memories are when I can select owner-handled dogs for placements, and the owners tear up. Of course, I always cry when others do!

Judy Harrington

Ask the Sporting Group JudgesI live in Monson, Massachusetts. I’ve been in dogs for 50 years; 20
years judging.

My original breed was Great Danes, bred under the Justamere prefix, and will always be like “going home” when I judge them and spend time with those still involved in the breed. My current and longtime breed is now Australian Shepherds. I fell in love with this breed through a Dane friend who introduced me to Leslie Frank, and I haven’t looked back. The Propwash prefix with established breeder, Leslie, led to a co-breeding partnership under
that prefix.

Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? Great Dane, CH Justamere Lovett, a top producer and in many pedigrees of today’s Great Danes, and his brother, CH Justamere Christian Amber, a top-winning Dane. Three notable Australian Shepherds early on were #1 All-Systems CH Propwash Indicate Precisely and GCH Propwash 12 O’Clock High, both multiple BIS winners. And, of course, GCH Propwash Reckon, BIS and World Challenge Winner at the AKC Eukanuba Show in 2010 and 2011 respectively. (Full disclosure: I did not breed these three, although they were my early dogs that Leslie and I shared.)

When did I know I wanted to become an AKC judge? When I married Lester Mapes! We had so many great conversations about judging and dogs on the way home from judging assignments.

Who inspired me to become a judge? I would have to say that over my years of exhibiting as an owner-handler and as a professional handler, and judging sweepstakes, I was inspired by judges whom I thought did a good job of properly judging the breeds they were approved to judge. I was also inspired to judge the DOGS [thanks to] those who were approved, but judged poorly or politically.
My mentors were the many breeders whom I handled for in various Groups, who took the time to discuss their breeds and breeding programs over [our] longstanding client relationships.

What makes judging the Sporting Group a unique experience? I’m not certain I would say it is a unique experience. It is a wonderful Group to judge, in the attitude and purpose of the breeds working well together.

How do I prioritize breed characteristics in a Sporting dog? Beyond the qualities of correct breed head type and proportion, I want a Sporting dog that is fit for its purpose. Fancy, flashy, and fast is seldom what I see in a correct exhibit!

Are there any trends (positive or negative) that I’ve noticed in the Group ring? Negative comes to mind first with this question. The trend for “flying” around the ring is #1. The other negative I see is the grooming of several Setters and Spaniels that have outlines that are so scissored they look like cookie cutters. This will most likely not change, but I much prefer somewhat of a natural line—not a razor-sharp line.

Do some breeds have an advantage or disadvantage in the Group? I would have to say that the only disadvantage a Sporting dog would have in the Group (given the outstanding specimens in all breeds) would be a judge who doesn’t appreciate the rarer breeds.

Have I had an opportunity to judge the “new” breeds: Barbet, Lagotto Romagnolo, Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, Wirehaired Vizsla? Yes, all of them. A very enjoyable assignment was the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje in Georgia when first approved. There were 24 entries and educators from the Netherlands ringside.

Which Sporting dogs from the past have had the greatest impact on their breeds, Group, and the Sport? I will name one here. CH Lydemoor Leslie, Field Spaniel. He was an English import, when seeing even one Field Spaniel at a show was an event. He is in many of the pedigrees of this now well-recognized breed.

The most amusing experience I’ve ever witnessed in the Sporting Group? Here’s a memory from a past show in New Hampshire. (Not as much amusing as it was enjoyable to see.) A Pointer, being shown to Anne Rogers Clark a few rings down, was gaiting around the ring when a butterfly flew into the ring. It wasn’t the best conformation exhibit and didn’t win the class, but it froze on point and would not move from pointing the butterfly. I loved it!

Ken Murray

Ask the Sporting Group JudgesI live in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago in a small town, Island Lake. I have been involved with purebred dogs for over 62 years and have been judging for 14 years.

What is my original breed? My first dog that I bought to show was an Irish Setter.

Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? I have not personally bred any dogs of note, but had a major hand in several clients’ breeding programs, and they had a lot of success. I did breed a few litters of Irish Setters.

When did I know I wanted to become an AKC judge? I have always wanted to judge, but I made a living as a professional handler and could not afford to quit handling until I was in my late fifties.

Who inspired me to become a judge? Who were my mentors? I had many people whom I would consider “mentors,” but foremost were Dick and Ruth Cooper, Annie Clark, Maxine Beam, Jack Funk, George Ward, and others.

What makes judging the Sporting Group a unique experience? When I am judging the Sporting Group, I feel very comfortable in my knowledge of and experience with these breeds.

How do I prioritize breed characteristics in a Sporting dog? I need to have a dog that I feel is of correct type and one that is correct coming and going. I make my final decisions on the outline they give me going around the ring.

Are there any trends (positive or negative) that I’ve noticed in the Group ring? I am unaware of any trends in the Group ring. There have been some new “trends” in the grooming of many of the breeds, notably Setters and Spaniels. I am not always happy to see the furnishings on these breeds scissored so aggressively.

Do some breeds have an advantage or disadvantage in the Group? Naturally, the coated breeds, i.e., Setters, Spaniels, Goldens, etc. tend to be flashier, but it just depends on the individual judging. I really think you can evaluate a person’s depth of knowledge when they judge a Group.

Have I had an opportunity to judge the “new” breeds: Barbet, Lagotto Romagnolo, Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, Wirehaired Vizsla? These new breeds, I have only judged a few of each. So, I cannot comment fully on them at this point.

Which Sporting dogs from the past have had the greatest impact on their breeds, the Group, and the Sport? The English Springer Spaniel, Ch. Salilyn’s Aristocrat, profoundly impacted the breeding programs of many breeders. The Irish Water Spaniel, Ch. Oaktree’s Irishtocrat, was also an influential sire and brought the breed to the forefront. Also, the Gordon Setter that I showed, Ch. Bit O’ Gold Titan Treasure.

What’s the most amusing experience I’ve ever witnessed in the Sporting Group? One of the funniest things that I remember and witnessed was when Forrest Hall judged the Sporting Group at Chicago International KC (when it was still at the Amphitheater by the Stockyards) and a Sussex Spaniel rolled over on its back when he went to examine it. Forrest Hall proceeded to pull out a handkerchief and started fanning the dog as if he had passed out. The crowd was roaring with laughter.

Carol Sommerfelt

I live in Lenoir City, Tennessee, which is in East Tennessee near the Great Smoky Mountains and Knoxville. I have had dogs all my life, but became involved in the sport of purebred dogs in 1976. I have been judging since 1997.

My original breed was the Vizsla. However, along with my husband, Walter, I have owned dogs from each of the seven Groups. Vizslas are currently our primary breed and our kennel name
is Lorac.

Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? Over the years, we have had a number of dogs that we have bred achieve numerous titles in AKC performance events, field trials, and conformation shows. Many of our dogs have contributed to our breed as top-producing sires and dams. Some of these notable dogs we have bred are AFC Dual CH Mudsville Lorac Makk, CH Lorac Fancy Frozen Edition, who was from the first AKC registered Vizsla litter produced using frozen semen in 1985, BISS Multi Group-Placing GCHG Lorac’s Cap’N Jack Sparrow, who was a top breed and all-breed Vizsla in the show ring in 2013 & 2014, and GCH CH Lorac CMF Sommer’s Piece of My Heart RE BCAT ATT, who is the first Vizsla awarded the AKC Temperament Test title.

When did I know I wanted to become an AKC judge? I became interested in becoming a judge when my husband decided to start judging in 1985. By observing him as well as other judges, I found it was fun and challenging to try to find the best example of different breeds under their breed standards.

Who inspired me to become a judge? My husband inspired me to become a judge, as did respected judges of the time; Dr. Harry Smith, Gerald Schwartz, and Robert Stein, to name a few.

What makes judging the Sporting Group a unique experience? The Sporting Group includes breeds uniquely developed to hunt game in different terrain using their highly sensitive scenting ability for feather and, in some cases, also fur. In each breed, their conformation and temperament was developed to provide man with a highly developed hunting companion. This is why it is such an honor to judge some of the best examples of each of these
hunting companions.

How do I prioritize breed characteristics in a Sporting dog? Form Follows Function. First and foremost is type. The breed should look like the breed with its unique characteristics of head type, coat, tail, proper proportions, and “running gear,” which are the essence of breed type for each individual breed. Then, once type is found, soundness should be evaluated by observing movement. Correct movement is also different for each breed and, thus, is also part of type. When judging the dogs in the Group, it is about finding the dog that most closely matches the breed standard with the temperament and movement to do the job it was bred to do in
the field.

Are there any trends (positive or negative) that I’ve noticed in the Group ring? It does seem that since COVID-19 has hit the country, there are fewer shows with higher entries, which has resulted in top dogs from all over the country competing against each other at the breed level. This, in turn, is resulting in stronger Sporting Groups with numerous top-quality dogs in competition.

Do some breeds have an advantage or disadvantage in the Group? In my opinion, I do not feel any one breed has more of an advantage in the Sporting Group. However, since some breeds do have higher numbers in competition at the Breed level, this can result in different top-quality dogs of the same breed being shown in Groups all over the US, thus, resulting in that breed obtaining more Group placements. Low entry breeds do have the advantage of a dog winning the Breed and consistently being seen in the Group. However, that dog needs to be a quality representative of the breed in order to place in the Group.

Have I had an opportunity to judge the “new” breeds: Barbet, Lagotto Romagnolo, Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, Wirehaired Vizsla? I have had the opportunity to judge all four “new” breeds. I have observed the entries of the Lagotto Romagnolo increase since they were first recognized in the Sporting Group, and I have had the pleasure of judging a number of major entries in that breed.

Which Sporting dogs from the past have had the greatest impact on their breeds, the Group, and the Sport? In my own breed, I can think of several dogs that have helped place the Vizsla in the spotlight and receive more recognition in the Group as well as contributing to the breed as top producers. One is 7x BIS BISS CH Taunee Loki Santana CD ROM. “Bear” was shown by Bobby Barlow and was the first Vizsla to win seven BIS. The other is CH Harann’s Tulipann who is the only Vizsla to ever win the Sporting Group at the Westminster Kennel Club.

The most amusing experience I’ve ever witnessed in the Sporting Group? I cannot think of any one incident. I have observed on numerous occasions when a bird circles the ring or lands in the ring and the havoc it causes for the handlers whose well-trained show dog may decide its natural instinct is now in charge.

Walter Sommerfelt

I live in Lenoir City, Tennessee, about 25 miles west of Knoxville. I have been in dogs since 1972 and have been judging
since 1985.

My original breed was Old English Sheepdogs, but I have owned dogs from each of the seven Groups. Our primary breed is Vizsla and our kennel name is Lorac.

Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? We have bred numerous dogs that have contributed to our breeds over the years, either as stud dogs or brood bitches, and we have had numerous top-producing sires and dams over the years. We have bred one dual champion Vizsla and numerous dogs with a variety of performance as well as conformation titles.

When did I know I wanted to become an AKC judge? I think, for me, it started because I saw a need for more younger judges. Back in those days, it was a very slow and complicated system for advancement, so I started at age 31. My goal was to acquire three Groups before I retired. It took me 19 years to get to three Groups under the old system, and I have not applied for any breeds since. I do not feel the system in place today is producing quality judges who have put in the time and effort to try and understand breed type and variance. Today’s newer judges just seem to want to advance as fast as possible so they can get more assignments. And now, since they are allowed to publicly solicit for assignments, the exhibitors are paying the price for some of today’s poor judging.

Who inspired me to become a judge? I don’t know if any one particular person inspired me to become a judge. Rather, it was several individuals. Early in my career, I would say Helen Lee James, Gerald Schwartz, Bob Stein, Dr. Harry Smith, Bob and Ellen Fetter, along with Dr. Bob Berndt and others, were very helpful in developing my judging career.

What makes judging the Sporting Group a unique experience? The Sporting Group is unique in that each breed was developed for specific duties in assisting humans with hunting game. It is also important to remember that each of these breeds needs to have a stable temperament as they must have the stability to hold the game as well as to retrieve it, even when guns are being shot over them. A shy or scared specimen should never be rewarded in a Sporting dog. My cardinal rule is “no wag, no-win.”

How do I prioritize breed characteristics in a Sporting dog? Breed Type should be first and foremost when evaluating any breed, and breed-specific characteristics must always have priority. The Otter Tail of the Labrador and the Bee Sting Tail of the Pointer, the head types and various coat types in each breed are just some examples of breed variance. Whether it be a Pointer, Setter, Retriever or Spaniel, there are unique characteristics to each as well as certain common traits that make learning and evaluating the different aspects of breed type important.

Are there any trends (positive or negative) that I’ve noticed in the Group ring? Yes. In any case, it comes down to type versus showmanship. At the Group level, it can often be the very “showy” good-moving dog that will place over an excellent representative of another breed that may be lesser-known and not as showy. There was a time when the value was in winning the breed. It is in the breed ring where the real competition is, especially in those breeds that have regularly large entries. When a dog reaches the Group, there is not another of its breed to be compared against and it is here where it seems that showmanship seems to have an advantage.

Do some breeds have an advantage or disadvantage in the Group? I would imagine that this varies from judge to judge and Group to Group. I certainly believe that some judges are swayed by records and advertising, and there are also breeds with lower entries that give certain dogs a fast passage to the Group and are therefore seen in the Group more often. Obviously, the more breed wins a dog has the higher number of chances to place versus, maybe, a better breed dog that has a large number of competitors in the breed ring. And in breeds with numerous high-quality competitors, it is more difficult to reach the Group.

Have I had an opportunity to judge the “new” breeds: Barbet, Lagotto Romagnolo, Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, Wirehaired Vizsla? Yes, I have, and I was the first judge to award a Group First to a Nederlandse Kooikerhondje.

Which Sporting dogs from the past have had the greatest impact on their breeds, the Group, and the Sport? One of my favorite Sporting dogs was the great German Wirehaired Pointer, Multiple Best in Show and Best in Specialty Show-winning Ch. Windhaven’s Stutzer Stumper. “Duff” was owner-handled and achieved a very impressive record at the time. He also went on to become a great sire in the breed and can be found in the pedigree of many great winners of recent years.

The most amusing experience I’ve ever witnessed in the Sporting Group? There a too many to mention, but it is always fun when a bird lands in the ring and some dogs just lock in and point.

Karen Wilson

Ask the Sporting Group JudgesI live in Sperryville, Virginia. We got our first “show dog” in 1966, and I have been approved to judge since 1992. (Wow, that’s 30 years!)

My original breed is Irish Setters and my husband, Gary, had Airedales. Our kennel name was Karengary. We also owned, bred, and showed Cairn Terriers.

Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? Most of our “notable dogs” were from years ago when we were actively showing Irish Setters, Airedales, and then Cairn Terriers. We have not shown dogs since I received approval to judge my first Group, which was perhaps 25+ years ago. I was inspired to become a judge after doing a few “fun matches” and sweepstakes. I was also a judge for high school gymnastics up until 1984, and I found this to be a rewarding experience and also fun. Switching to the dog show world became easier than having “parents” question the score you gave their child!

My mentors in the Sporting breeds were the well-known Michele Billings and Anne Clark. Having exhibited under both of these ladies for many years, I felt they had great knowledge to pass on to an owner-handler who had some success in showing our
own dogs.

What makes judging the Sporting Group a unique experience? Is there nothing more pleasurable than to see the Sporting dogs gaiting around the grass on a mild, sunny day? This is a wonderful sight to observe. Other Groups also have this thrilling joy
to experience.

How do I prioritize breed characteristics in a Sporting dog? The Sporting dog has to be able to move. This is a definite requirement in my evaluation of each breed; that they move according to their written standard. How can they get their prey without proper movement? I was once ring stewarding for Ellsworth Gamble and watched him walk each dog down and back. After doing this for a few breeds, he turned to me and asked, “Now, miss, if they can’t walk correctly, how do we think they can gait correctly?” I have never forgotten this bit of sound advice.

I suppose I prioritize breed characteristics by what each breed lists in its standard for general characteristics. I believe the following are necessary: balance, proper movement for the breed, soundness, outline, condition of coat, and proper feet!

Are there any trends (positive or negative) that I’ve noticed in the Group ring? As far as trends go—which vary from year to year and will always be around—as judges, we need to know the standard and judge by it always. Conditioning of coats has often been overdone and sculpting the coat is a negative, in my opinion. I do not approve of overuse of chalk and spray. (This is not the dog’s fault, but the handler’s fault.) One other thing that stands out is the speed at which some handlers move their dog around the ring… racing around the ring is not in any breed standard.

Do some breeds have an advantage or disadvantage in the Group? As far as breeds having advantages/disadvantages in the Group ring is concerned, I believe all dogs come in the ring with equal status. However, the handling of the dog is where the advantage comes into play. Since Gary and I showed our own dogs, we made it a point to watch the “professionals” and learn the tricks of the trade from them.

Have you had an opportunity to judge the “new” breeds: Barbet, Lagotto Romagnolo, Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, Wirehaired Vizsla? I have been able to judge all of the newest breeds in the Sporting Group. Judging “new” breeds is always a great learning experience. I only wish those with “new” breeds to the Group would take the time to seek out the judges and let us go over them. Since there are no more fun matches and very few rare breed shows, we often do not get to physically examine the new breeds until they appear in our ring.

Which Sporting dogs from the past have had the greatest impact on their breeds, the Group, and the Sport? There are so many great dogs from the past that have impacted the Sporting Group that I hate to single out any particular one of them. There are many dogs that have had an impact on us over these past 56 years in the wonderful sport of dogs—and it has been a grand experience.

The most amusing experience I’ve ever witnessed in the Sporting Group? Many years ago, when the Irish Setter Club used to have a Specialty in New York, prior to the Garden, we were in the Penn Hotel in a ballroom. It was a crowded affair with lovely Irish around and many people. The judge asked the exhibitors to gait around the ring. Well, Dale fell, her wig flew off, and every Irish went charging after the wig. Needless to say, after much laughter and trying to get the wig out of three dogs’ mouths, it was so torn and slobbery that it became useless. Dale, however, did not seem to care; she put it on and finished the class. Those of us who were there have never forgotten it.

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