Conformation Dog Show Judges: Part 3 — How Do We Get What We Want?

From the December 2019 Issue of ShowSight, The Dog Show Magazine. CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE.


First of all, given that the things we want are sometimes contradictory, we can’t always get what we want (apologies to the Rolling Stones). We know that we have judges with varying education and training, and a wide variation in hands on experience in the ring. We do not want all judges to have the same opinion about everything, but we do want their opinions to be based in the Breed Standards with attention to type, structure and function. We all have opinions about what has happened in the ring and what needs to happen. It seems rare that we work together to try to come to some definition of what the problem is and how to make it better.

What, then, is the problem that we seem to have? The things heard consistently include:

  • There are too many shows and that has required too many judges to be approved to cover the shows;
  • We are approving the wrong people to judge, and making the process to become approved so difficult that the right people are not willing or able to go through what it takes to become a judge;
  • We are approving breeds too rapidly and no one can adequately learn so many breeds adequately in the time frames between application and approval;
  • We need a different venue for “new judges” to learn by doing;
  • We need a way to provide feedback that is meaningful to the judges and actionable by AKC.

Are there too many shows? If there were fewer shows and fewer judges, would that improve the quality of judging? Would it mean that judges would have better entries, better experience, and more exposure to low entry breeds? Entries seem to have decreased in shows across the country, including those areas that have fewer shows. We have, in some areas more than others, deserted our communities for venues in the area of another club, and for four and five day clusters of shows. Exhibitors are now able to choose where they exhibit and who they exhibit to in a way that was not possible in the past. Would they go back to entering at shows with larger entries where there would consistently be more losing than winning? Has winning become more important than comparing your dogs to others’ dogs and working together to
improve breeds?

It takes an incredible amount of dedication and devotion to the conformation dog show sport to judge. While some believe that it should be a retirement job only for handlers and AKC Field Representatives, not all of them are as intimately familiar with all the Breed Standards as we want in judges, and many are unwilling or unable to do the needed judge’s education to add breeds with which they are unfamiliar or less familiar. Do we want recognizable dog show professionals to be our only source of judges? Do they have more of an “eye for a dog” than others? It can be expensive to learn to judge, and it is a lengthy process to add breeds and groups as you move forward. Many owner-breeder-handlers spend as much or more time studying and observing as dog show professionals. Many of these owner-breeder-handlers have become some of our most esteemed and
knowledgeable judges.

Oft cited is that it only takes eight years to complete medical school and residency. It takes an average of ten years for a new judge to be approved for an entire group. Yes, there are rules in place that will allow a talented judge to accomplish this more quickly. Subsequent groups may be completed more quickly. Much of this is dependent on each judge’s contacts within the dog show community and/or name recognition. A judge needs to be invited to judge in order to move forward and become successful as a judge. Social media groups have helped to level the playing field for judges with less name recognition by including both judges and show chairs in their membership. Some also feel that once general dog anatomy and function are mastered, the nuances of each alternate structure/function in additional breeds are easier to grasp. Should we be looking at requiring or allowing judges to apply for certain groupings of similar dogs? Should we be requiring education for those groupings that includes breed comparisons that include input from all applicable
parent clubs?

There have been suggestions that AKC may need to have second tier shows, with or without the availability of points. Second tier shows could be a training ground for new judges. However, others have dismissed this idea out of hand as we already have matches for this purpose (although matches no longer have the interest or entries to make them a good venue for new judges to gain hands on experience). Are there other possibilities in a similar vein? As an example, would clubs consider the option of having a small local show that is limited in some way (Owner Handled Shows? Bred-By Exhibitor Shows? Invitational Shows?) that allow for points to be won and require hiring some definitive number judges who have less than the entirety of the group they are hired to judge? Should there be more “premier” shows such as Westminster and the AKC National, maybe regionally distributed with a requirement for judges with a certain number of years of experience in the breeds they are assigned?

How do we better assess judges’ skills and provide more feedback to them in a way they may be willing to accept? Should we consider apps providing links for those showing to a judge to provide feedback on how they are doing? Should the results be available to the judges, or just to AKC? Would this provide some assistance to AKC in identifying continuing education needs? It might be important to include length of dog show experience and length of experience in the applicable breed to make results more meaningful. Can we leverage technology in more ways than the Canine College to get what we want?

A number of questions are posed above. It may not be possible for each of us to get what we want from our conformation judges, but it should be possible for us to work together to fully identify the problems and suggest solutions that are workable. Each of us needs to see the entire elephant in front of us, not just the pieces to which we are first exposed. (see the poem The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe). We need to consider all ideas and all variations of ideas, and compromise where that is required to identify solutions. Comments and questions are invited and welcomed.

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

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