Conformation Dog Show Judges, Part 1: WHAT DO WE WANT?

From  ShowSight Dog Show Magazine, October 2019 Issue. Click to subscribe.


The ongoing discussion about the quality of judging seems to range far and wide. The approval system is too hard, too easy, changes too often, and does not do a good job of giving us the quality of judging that we want. What do we actually want of our conformation judges?

We want a judge who judges according to the Standard. We want someone who has an intimate knowledge of the breed and what the breeders are struggling to overcome. We want a judge who will just judge the dogs and not pay any attention to the handler. We want a judge who is always polite and friendly to the exhibitors. We want a judge who is serious about identifying the best breeding stock for our breed. We want a judge who will reward the best dog, even if it misbehaves or is not groomed as well as other dogs. We want a judge who will pay attention to good grooming and presentation. We want a judge who will know the nuances of how the different groups, and breeds within those groups, are different, to avoid moving toward the generic show dog. We want a judge to be knowledgeable about structure and function, and to reward good movement. We want good dog people to become judges. We want to recognize what judges are looking for so that we can bring the right dogs to the judge that will appreciate the virtues of those dogs. We want to give new judges a chance, especially when no one knows what they will like. We want judges who do not fault judge. We want judges who do not miss serious faults or disqualifications.

We want judges who have ethics. The AKC Code of Sportsmanship has a good description of what we want in both judges and fellow exhibitors. We want to quit believing that politics play a large part in some decision making in the conformation ring. We want to not hear about judges who “only put up handlers” or “only put up their friends”. We want to know that clubs are hiring judges based on good reports on their judging and a sense that they will work with the club to ensure that exhibitors and their dogs will have a good experience and be judged against the Standard of the breed. We want to never again hear a judge say, “I don’t care what the Standard says” (one of the worst experiences of my life as an exhibitor). We want to be able to believe that judges never benefit personally from the choices they make in the conformation ring and never “swap assignments”. We want judges who have been honest on their applications to judge, and who are earnest in their efforts to learn about each breed they want to judge.

We want judges who are willing to work with clubs struggling financially. We want judges who are icons and we are willing to pay high fees for their opinion on our dogs. We want to fully utilize judges who charge high fees and minimize the numbers of judges we need to hire for a show. We want to see more judges who are just starting out and charge little or nothing for their services and cover their own expenses (even though that makes us a little worried about their skills). We want to be able to tell the difference between those who are knowledgeable about dogs and those who are knowledgeable about dog shows. We want that knowledge to make a difference in who gets hired by clubs. We want AKC to police judges more closely and investigate more frequently. We want AKC to back off and let the market determine who will get assignments and who does not get an opportunity to judge. We want to make becoming a judge easier, and we want to make it more difficult.

We each want to win. Or want our friends to win. Or want our new puppy owners to win. We want to believe that there is some kind of “fairness” to everyone who enters a show, regardless of the quality of their dogs. We want to be able to hire the judges who we know like our dogs. We want our club to be able to increase entries by choosing the right judges. We want the clubs who put on premier shows to choose judges we think are the best to make decisions about large entries in our breed, so that we feel good about our chances to win. We want them to hire newer judges in our breed, because they have less experience with the dogs and exhibitors, and no one really knows who they will place highly.

You should, by now, see that what we want is sometimes contradictory. Sometimes it is not, it is just differing opinions about how to get to a better place in our sport. How do we get to a place where we can begin to get what we want? Are there ways to improve our systems for approving and managing judges? Are there better methods of training judges and assessing their knowledge base and ability to apply that knowledge? More to come!

Hope to see you all down the road at a dog show…. 

About the Author

Andrea Bradford MD began showing AKC registered Samoyeds in conformation in 1978. She has owned and exhibited Beagles, English Foxhounds, Borzoi, Smooth Fox Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Irish Terriers, Italian Greyhounds and an American Eskimo Dog. She has bred and/or campaigned top 10 dogs in many of the breeds and continues to exhibit Irish Terriers and Italian Greyhounds. Dr. Bradford has been judging since 2006, completed approval for her the Hound Group in 2015, and currently also judges the Working Group, the Terrier Group, 16 Toy breeds and 2 Non-Sporting breeds. She is a member of the Irish Terrier Club of America, The English Foxhound Club of America, North GA Kennel Club, North GA Hound Association, North GA Working Dog

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