Dog Show Life – On the Road Again – Judging the Sinatra Way

Dog Show Life - On the Road Again - Judging the Sinatra Way


This crazy journey that we call dog show life is filled with many memories as well as numerous defining moments. For those of us who are involved in the sport of purebred dogs, we have traveled many roads and miles to and from the many events we have attended over the years. As Willie Nelson once wrote in a song, we are “on the road again.” For some, it is weekly, but for others it varies. For all of us, we have spent many hours traveling down the road again.

I am sure most of you on more than one occasion have found yourself, and your friends and family traveling with you, doing “Car Karaoke,” singing along with those wonderful tunes on your radio. It sure makes the time go faster and makes for happy moments traveling to and from your destination. The drive home after a great weekend is even better when you sing along with your favorites.


Entertainment systems in our vehicles have come a long way since the first car radio was introduced in 1930 when Paul and Joseph Galvin developed a vacuum tube radio which they named “Motorola” and was powered by a single battery. The new system was a luxury for an automobile and cost about $130.00; equivalent to about $1,500 in today’s dollars. That system only offered AM radio, but it was the start of what is now standard equipment on all of our vehicles.

The car radio had improvements, and in 1953, the first AM/FM radio was introduced. Of course, the reception was limited to the area you were driving in, but it was an advancement that provided more options to the family car.

Believe it or not, in 1956, Chrysler had the first and only in-car phonograph which played 7-inch vinyl records. As you can imagine, it did not last as the records would jump and skip while going over bumps and curves.

In the early 1960s, there was a brief 4-track system followed by an 8-track system which allowed drivers to bring their music along to listen to. It was in 1964 that Phillips developed the first compact cassette tape system which would be the hot option through the 1970s and ‘80s. I’m sure many of you remember those mixed tapes you might have made for a road trip or as a romantic gesture for that special someone.

During the 1980s, the compact disc was the new wave in music and dominated the scene well into the 2000s when the MP3 player came along. Now we have Bluetooth and commercial-free satellite radio for our karaoke singing while we are on the road.


The relationship between man and music is well-documented throughout history, and I am truly amazed at the many talented songwriters who use music to tell a story. Great writers and musicians tell stories about all facets of life through song. Songs are out there which tell many stories of man’s journey through life from the cradle to the grave.

While driving down the road, an old favorite of mine came on the radio and it got me listening closely to the words and thoughts that went into its story. The song “My Way” was written by Paul Anka and was recorded by Frank Sinatra. The song, of course, is a reflection of a man as he ponders the ultimate end of his life. As I listened to the words, I began to think not only about my future but also of the many friends and mentors I have lost over the past several years.

To me, it seems like we are living in a world where someone or some group is telling us how we must do everything. The media tries to intimidate us with their opinions. The government is more involved than ever in telling us what we can and cannot do. Healthcare professionals are always telling us what is best for us. Plus, there are those who are constantly trying to be sure that we are all “politically correct” in every facet of our speech and our actions.

Even in this crazy sport we love called showing dogs, the AKC sets procedures to be followed, and rules and guidelines regarding behavior for judges and exhibitors alike. A person’s individuality to do things differently can often be a topic of judgment among the fancy.

When I began in this sport, we had many different people who could only be described as “colorful.” You never knew what they would do or say. There were very few magazines, and the advertising of dogs and show wins was minimal. Many of the judges in those days had their own individual procedures and processes. Some were known as “tooth fairies” while others would not tolerate a dog soiling their ring. Still others had reputations for liking “the ladies” or “the boys,” and some were well-known to “spread the wealth.” Although very different from each other, what they all had in common was a deep background in our sport, and they were well-respected.

I think they earned their monikers because they all did it their way.

Dog Show Life
Dog Show Life


Let’s take a look at how the song “My Way” can tell the story of many of the judges of the past as well as a few of those who are current.

And now the end is near

And so I face the final curtain

My friend, I’ll say it clear

I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full

I traveled each and every highway

And more, much more than this

I did it my way

As someone who has been involved with dogs for half a century, I know I have lived a full life. And like many others in the sport, exhibitor, breeder, and judge, I have traveled each and every highway. Most of us who have achieved any success did it our way thanks to the great friends and mentors who allowed us to develop our thoughts and interpretations and apply them as we saw fit.

Regrets, I’ve had a few

But then again, too few to mention

I did what I had to do

And saw it through without exemption

I planned each charted course

Each careful step along the byway

And more, much more than this

I did it my way.

All of us have had regrets, not only in judging but also in life. We are, after all, human. I have never met anyone who is perfect in either category, though I have met a few individuals who would like for you to think they are always right and never make mistakes.

In our lives and our careers in the sport, we chart a course that could be a breeding program, or possibly, a path toward accumulating various breeds and achieving various levels of judging. It is a long road and takes many years to achieve success.

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew

When I bit off more than I could chew

But through it all, when there was doubt

I ate it up and spit it out

I faced it all, and I stood tall

And did it my way

This journey is never easy. We make mistakes along the way. Breedings that, although carefully thought out and planned, for some reason just don’t “click.” We acquire new breeds, and in those early assignments we may struggle with what we’ve learned and what we see standing in front of us—and we hope to get it right until we are comfortable with that breed.

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried

I’ve had my fill, my share of losing

And now, as tears subside

I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that

And may I say, not in a shy way

Oh, no, oh, no, not me

I did it my way

We all have loved, laughed, and cried with our many friends and family. Our dog family is filled with so many people who have touched our lives. We enjoy their special moments together and we support them and cry with them when they suffer tragedy. We all have had our share of wins and losses in the ring and the amusement of observing all the drama along the way.

For what is a man, what has he got?

If not himself, then he has naught

To say the things he truly feels

And not the words of one who kneels

The record shows I took the blows

And did it my way

Yes, it was my way.

Although this song was originally thought of as sharing the sentiments expressed by an individual who is looking back on his life, I also view it as a way to look at our journey through the sport of dogs and especially the journey of a judge.

Dog Show Life
Dog Show Life


You have heard the phrases “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Both of these phrases can be applied to the judging of dogs. Each judge has his interpretation of the Standard and may also have his or her own set of priorities.

All too often in our sport, some critics find fault with our judges. Field Reps who don’t agree with their choice may give them a poor report. Handlers and exhibitors who lose can often be heard being critical of the outcome of the day. When the top-ranked or rated dog does not win, the cries go out even when the winner was an extremely deserving winner that was owner-handled or simply not being actively campaigned.

It is very easy for any of us sitting ringside to find ourselves judging the dogs. What you may not understand is that while you have dismissed in your mind those exhibits that you have eliminated ringside (as you focus on those that you see as the competition), the judge in the ring can only focus on each exhibit as it is presented to him or her.

Good judges have that true self-confidence which allows them to block out the outside influences and focus on the exhibits in front of them—on that day and at that moment. More often than not, they are getting it right even if you don’t agree.

I ask you, would you rather have a judge who always puts up the most advertised dog or the top handlers? Or maybe, you would like to see capable judges just do it THEIR WAY.

I know I can always look into a mirror at the end of the day because “I did it my way.”

  • Walter Sommerfelt of Lenoir City, TN has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs since acquiring his first Old English Sheepdog in 1972. He is a former professional handler as well as a breeder, and exhibitor of breeds in all seven groups, most notably Vizslas, OES, Pointers, Bearded Collies and Weimaraners. Judging since 1985 he is approved for All Sporting, Working, and Herding breeds and groups, Junior Showmanship and Best in Show and has had the honor of judging on four different continents. Mr. Sommerfelt has judged many of the most prestigious shows in the United States including the herding group at the 2014 Westminster Dog Show in New York City where he has judged on three separate occasions. Mr. Sommerfelt was the founder and chairman for the St. Jude Showcase of Dogs from 1993 until 2009, a unique event showcasing the world of purebred dogs. This special event was the largest collection of various dog events in one location, featuring an AKC all Breed Dog Show, AKC Obedience and Rally Trials, AKC Agility trials, (prior to AKC adding agility NADAC trials ) One of the largest Fly ball tournaments in the U.S.A., Herding and go to ground demonstrations, A main stage featuring performances by Canines from Television and the Movies, Freestyle, Demos by drug and various therapy dogs, A full room of booths for meet the breeds, over 50 AKC judges seminars annually, Lure coursing, A fun Zone for Children, and other dog related fun activities for the general public and their dogs. Over the years the event not only raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the world-renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, but also raised awareness of the many activities for people with their dogs as well establishing a voice for dog people in the Memphis area with regard to legislation. Many aspects of today’s AKC Royal Canin show can be traced back to the St. Jude event. Along with Carol his wife of 36 years they have bred well over 90 AKC Champions including Group, Best in Show and Specialty Winners, dual Champions and multiple performance titled dogs. During the past 40 years Mr. Sommerfelt has been active in a number of dog clubs and is currently the President of the Tennessee Valley Kennel Club. He is recipient of the AKC outstanding Sportsmanship Award and is also a career agent and financial planning specialist with Nationwide Insurance. The Sommerfelts’ have two grown children, both former Junior Handlers and they are still active breeders and exhibitors of the Vizsla breed.

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