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Meet Duff Harris – Terrier Group AKC Judge

Bull Terrier side photo


Insight’s from Duff Harris, Terrier Group AKC Judge


Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a judge?

My first Bull Terrier came home with me in 1976, and I have had at least one, if not many, by my side ever since. I bought my foundation bitch a year later from the renowned Bull Terrier breeder and AKC Terrier Group judge, Hon. David Merriam. I began conformation showing in 1979 with her progeny. In the 46 years thereafter of breeding and exhibiting Bull Terriers, my wife and I have been the breeders of 26 litters under their “Allegro” prefix. We have been very fortunate to have received a Best in Show and have had 16 different dogs win a Best in Specialty Show, with over 50 combined BISS wins. We have bred 32 AKC champions to date.

I began judging in 2011, with my initial breeds being Bull Terriers and Miniature Bull Terriers. Currently, I am approved for the Terrier Group and Best in Show. I have had the honor and privilege to judge Specialties for many other Terrier breeds in the US and abroad. I have judged Championship Shows three times in Australia, twice each in Canada and New Zealand, and a Championship Show assignment in Slovakia, and I have been fortunate to have also judged the Bull Terrier National in 2017 and will be judging the main trophy show for Miniature Bull Terriers, the Van Hildrikhusen, this November.

Fall is fast approaching, and this means one thing for Terrier lovers—Montgomery County! As the penultimate Terrier show in North America, it is always such a wonderful experience to see the top Terriers of each breed, with such great depth and quality, at one show. Many of the breeds hold their National Specialty at Montgomery, which further signifies the importance and prestige of this event. This past year, 23 of the 31 Terrier breeds held their Specialty at this show, which translates to a Group line-up of the highest caliber and virtue. It is certainly a sight to behold.

SHOWSIGHT magazine invited me to respond to a number of trending, Terrier-related topics that, as a judge for 11 years and a breeder/exhibitor for 46 years, I may have some thoughts on. It is nice that they are giving me the benefit of the doubt that I am cognizant enough to have thoughts!

The Terrier breeds are most definitely declining in number, as the AKC statistics for show entries and litter registrations certainly demonstrate. In the ring, this translates to quite a number of breeds that are now on the “Low Entry List.” The question of “why” requires a multi-faceted answer.

Obviously, today’s world is quite different than just a decade or two ago. In my area of Southern California alone, the number of “show breeders” has declined dramatically. To have exhibits for shows, there must be breeders who have the interest of a specific breed at heart and want to preserve the quality and integrity of each breed. As we know, to do this properly takes a commitment of many years for a quality breeding program. It also requires much time, expense, and space to do so. Many of these aforementioned breeders formed the crux of the sport for many decades and are now in an aging demographic or, unfortunately, are no longer with us.

For the above reasons, plus several others including city and county legislation, younger age groups such as the Millennials and Generation X do not have an interest in purebred dog breeding, much less Terrier breeding where most of the breeds require regular coat maintenance. There are, of course, exceptions. There are a number of wonderful younger breeders, just not anywhere near the quantity that we had in the past.

This does not mean that there is a lack of top-quality exhibits. While some parts of the country have more Terriers than others, there is still good quality to be seen throughout the breeds. What may be lacking, however, is the depth of quality that has been there in the past. Since there can be many shows within a region on any given weekend, the smaller shows might not see the depth of Terrier quality as do the shows with larger entries. If one is talking Group placements, however, there are usually four to six good Terriers at even the small shows.

Another problem with the diminishing Terrier numbers is that, in certain regions, there are breeds that one may never see. This makes it difficult for both the public and the prospective judge who would like to learn about those breeds. Several years ago, I took an “I-70 Tour” through five states just to get the mentoring and hands-on experience on three breeds that one rarely sees out West.

For judges coming from other Groups, Terriers can be challenging. Like with anything visual and tactile, one needs to see and get one’s hands on good examples to form a good mental “template” from which to draw. As discussed above, if there are very few examples to actually see and learn from, it can be more of a challenge while judging to properly assess a class with multiple entries.

The main challenge that I see with Terriers is the great variety of size, shape, conformation, movement, and balance throughout the breeds. Just about every breed has its own, specific nuances. While these nuances are virtues in some breeds, they can be faults in others. There are many judges that I know who began in other Groups and are fantastic Terrier judges. As with any breed, they are able to see the correct balance as it relates to breed type and recognize the presence of important virtues.

Through the years, there have been many wonderful judges who have shared their insight and wisdom with me, not only with breed knowledge but also with ring procedure. Obviously, while choosing placements, one tries to find breed type first and foremost. This is why, I believe, that mental template of each breed is important to have. In regards to ring procedure, having been an exhibitor going on 46 years, I know how I would like to be treated. I have watched quite a number of judges who model how I strive to run my ring; with kindness, decorum, and respect.

I was also asked to share any funny moments while judging the AKC Terrier Group; thankfully, there have been none. To date, all of my Groups have run smoothly. As an exhibitor and spectator, however, we all have many stories. Perhaps this can be a future article, with judges and handlers sharing their most comical moments.

Terrier Group akc judge
Duff Harris – Terrier Group AKC Judge