From the February 2020 issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe.

I have a lot of conversations with dog people, some people I know and some I do not know. Probably many of you have similar conversations, discussing dogs, evaluating dogs, discussing judges’ likes and dislikes, sharing information about crates, dog food, veterinarians. Some conversations center on dog show sites, RVs and how they work for dog shows, other vans, trucks, and equipment needed to get to dog shows and prepare dogs to be shown at their best.

When judging, most conversation is with other judges or those hard-working people who are putting on the show. Those conversations tend to focus more on flights, rides, where to eat and the health of those who are present and those who are not. There tends to be very little discussion of dogs between judges. You are never quite sure which of your colleagues will be passing judgement tomorrow on the same group of dogs you just saw today, and no one wants to be thought to be trying to influence those whose day is yet to come.

Conversations between judges and exhibitors can be interesting and challenging. Most days those conversations focus on the positive attributes of the dog that was awarded a win, but there are days that exhibitors adamantly want to know what the judge did not like about their dog—usually followed by an equally adamant disagreement with the judge about anything negative the judge might mention. Or a subsequent conversation with a fellow exhibitor about how the judge would not answer the question. Then there are the more aggressive confrontations

I am a little embarrassed to say that my New Year’s resolution to move beyond the shocked stare as my immediate response to an aggressive confrontation in my ring has not yet been implemented. An angry exhibitor at a show receiving a Reserve Winners ribbon accosted me. A shocked stare was what she got from me.

It continues to be surprising to me the numbers of both professional handlers and owner handlers who want to have a conversation expressing their appreciation of judges who “just judge the dogs”. I believe that judges all try to do the best job selecting the best dogs in the ring. Each judge has his or her own priorities within the Standard for whatever breeds they judge. There are also varying opinions regarding the importance of grooming and presentation of the dog. Pay attention and you will see what judges are looking at and feeling for on the examination.

As someone who does exhibit dogs from time to time and does have conversations with others about the conformation and the interpretation of the Standard, I am surprised sometimes by the direction those conversations can take. Different people are sensitive about different things. There is so much need for teaching and learning in our sport, yet it can be difficult to listen and sort through all the differing information from different people. In college, when asked what I wanted to be, my answer was always “a professional student”. Having retired from my full-time job, I think I may have attained that goal in the company of dog show people.

I hope everyone continues to have conversations about their dogs and continues to share information with their colleagues within the sport. All conversations have value and our conversations help to build the relationships that are truly one of the most important facets of our sport. Hope to see you soon at a dog show!

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