Interview with Working Group Judge Robert Vandiver
I am approved by the AKC to judge all Working, Sporting, Non-Sporting, and Herding breeds, plus Best in Show. I have judged many prestigious all-breed shows in the United States, including Westminster Kennel Club four times (judging the Working Group in 2013 and Herding Group in 2018). I have judged several national specialties, and I’ve judged internationally in China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, England, Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Canada.
I am a member and former Chair of the Doberman Judges Education Committee and I’ve been active in many dog clubs, having held offices in each. I am past President of the Greenville, South Carolina Kennel Club and I was the Cluster Chair for 22 clusters of the Carolina Foothills Cluster, one of the largest-entry clusters on the East Coast.
I am a retired executive for one of the largest Engineering Construction Companies in the US. I’m a Registered Professional Engineer and I have had total responsibility for the design, procurement, and construction of very large industrial projects, typically in the range of US $100 million.
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a judge?
Robert Vandiver: I live in the Greenville, South Carolina area. We have been in dogs for about 50 years, and this year, I just received my AKC 25 Year pin.
What is my original breed? What is/was my kennel name?
Robert Vandiver: The first dog we showed was a Wire Fox Terrier. When we began our show career in Houston, we were taught how to groom by a local breeder for a couple of years. But after living with an aggressive Terrier, it didn’t take long to choose another breed. We went to Doberman Pinschers shortly thereafter.
We chose Mistel as our kennel name because our first litter was due to be born on Christmas Day. “Mistel” is German for Mistletoe.
Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? Any performance or parent club titles?
Robert Vandiver: We have bred only to produce our next competitor and have never bred a litter for any other purpose than for our next show dog. We always concentrated on one dog at a time when showing. We have only had 18 litters, which averages just under three years between litters. From those litters, 110 puppies were born. The results were 35 champions, 15 others with points but no title, and 17 performance titles. All of the dogs that we kept for ourselves we finished breeder/owner-handled. Many of our champions were during the highly competitive years when a 3-point major in bitches took 30 to 50 entries. Most Dobermans were handled by professionals in those days.
We did not “special” dogs until late in our careers. One bitch, GCHB Mistel’s Anything You Can Do CD ROM, was out as a special for just under a year. When we brought her home, she was Number 10 Doberman. She was a Group winner and went on to earn an Award of Merit at the National. She earned her CD, with an average score of 193, and passed the DPCA Working Aptitude Test. She went on to earn a Schutzhund BH. But most importantly for us, she whelped six champions in her first litter and was the Top Champion Producing Dam in 2014.
Her daughter, GCHS Mistel’s Can Can, WAC, was shown for just under a year, earning 14 Group Ones and 44 Group Placements. She finished the year as Number 3 Doberman Bitch and Number 6 Doberman.
As far as performance titles, we have obedience-trained a few of our dogs to the CD level. One we trained to a Schutzhund Tracking title and a Schutzhund Obedience title.
What are the qualities I most admire in the Working breeds?
Robert Vandiver: I believe most Working breeds have an innate desire to please their owners.
Have I judged any Working Group Specialties?
Robert Vandiver: I don’t have the numbers, but I suspect that I have judged a specialty for well over half the breeds in the Group.
Do I find that size, proportion, and substance are correct in most Working breeds?
Robert Vandiver: Most of the Working breeds seem to be staying within the size standards. As for proportion, most breeds seem to meet that fairly well, but substance can be an issue in some breeds. Soundness is one of the most important elements in a Working Dog. I find many to be lacking in this area.
Is breed-specific presentation important to me as a judge? Can I offer some examples?
Robert Vandiver: Presentation is important to a point. Dogs must be presented in a manner that the judge can accurately assess the movement. One of my pet peeves is the handler who has trained the dog with bait while moving. On the down-and-back, the dogs go away well because they don’t get the bait. On the return, they always get bait at the end for the self-stack. The dog knows the routine, and starts anticipating the bait on the return by looking up at the handler. This causes the front to move in a sideways manner. Another example is the handlers who tend to move their dogs too fast on the go-around. This doesn’t help the judge evaluate correct trotting movement.
The flashy, showy dog that hits a perfect stack is frosting on the cake, but it doesn’t make the dog any better than the non-flashy dog. I’m perfectly happy with a good dog shown in a correct manner, without all the drama.
What are my thoughts on cropping/docking the Working breeds?
Robert Vandiver: This is a question that could be an entire article. I’ll address cropping first and docking separately.
All Working breeds that have been traditionally cropped have changed their standard to accept natural ears, except one… the Doberman. I abide by the standards, and dogs with natural ears get the same opportunity as cropped dogs … except the Doberman. The Doberman is cropped, and the standard has no reference to describe what a natural ear looks like.
The breeders and judges who claim to be bred-for-purpose or preservation breeders need to remember the background of the Doberman. The breed originated by one man’s effort, Louis Dobermann, and later, during the 1870-1890 timeframe, by a few breeder-friends. It was bred-for-purpose as a personal protection dog. Ears were cropped and tails docked for a purpose. Long ears and tails were “handles” that a criminal could use against the dog when in a forceful engagement. The breed has been cropped and docked for 150 years. Why would anyone disrespect a breed by choosing to oppose the very origin, purpose-breeding, and history of
Now, about docking…
If any breed of dog in any Group has a statement in their standard that the tail is docked, and there is no wording that allows otherwise, then my position is that the dog’s natural tail eliminates if from AKC championship points.
My rationale is that if the dog was bred in this country and the standard states that the dog is docked, then the “Preservation Breeder” must breed to the standard. To do otherwise is to disrespect the standard, and to inflict a glaring fault on the dog that didn’t need to be there. The breeder made this decision knowingly, and the dog may suffer the consequences because of this decision. I enforce those consequences.
If the dog was bred overseas and imported for breeding purposes, I commend the breeder for finding strength from outside the US and for broadening the breed’s gene pool. Use the dog in the breeding program, but it does not have to be shown. Most people show their imported dog to earn a championship because it makes the pedigree look better, and therefore, the pups more marketable. Many of the countries these dogs come from do not allow a cropped or docked dog on the show grounds, much less in the ring. We should all be treated equally. If imported dogs can show here, then ours should show there. It’s called reciprocity.
Are the Working breeds in good shape overall? Any concerns?
Robert Vandiver: At the typical all-breed show, most breeds will have a few good dogs mixed with a lot of mediocre and less-than-mediocre dogs. Some will have very few good examples of the breed. This is not a constant. With luck, some shows will have breeds with mostly good dogs, but taken over a couple dozen shows, they regress back to the average. My concerns would be the large number of dogs that just lack breed type and/or soundness.
In my opinion, how do today’s exhibits compare with the Working Dogs of the past?
Robert Vandiver: It’s interesting to look back to a few decades ago. In the sixties and seventies, there was much more competition. Competition breeds improvement. By the end of the seventies, breeds had evolved in type and soundness. That stayed with us for almost three decades. In the late 2000s, the competition dropped steadily, and the overall quality has deteriorated since. The lack of competition is a result of fewer people interested in showing dogs and the on-going increase in the number of dog shows, dividing what little competition there is over more shows. This results in even less competition. Does that seem like a spiral?
Why do I think the Working breeds are so admired as family companions?
Robert Vandiver: There are so many different types of breeds in the Working Group: guard dogs, cart pullers, livestock guarding, sled pulling, water dogs, etc., and so many colors, sizes, and coat types. Families can usually find something that fits their lifestyle easily. And probably, as stated earlier, they are admired for their innate desire to please their humans.
Just for laughs, do I have a funny story I can share about my experiences judging the Working Group?
Robert Vandiver: The only one that stands out was during a large Group; I think it was in Florida. It was an indoor show. The Group had entered the ring, and as usual, the Great Dane was first in line. I always walk the line for an overall review prior to the exams. When walking back from the end of the line, I pointed to the Great Dane handler, indicating that I wanted the Dane moved to the exam area. As I was pointing and walking, I stumbled on a rumple in the vinyl mats. It was a dramatic trip, and an unusual visual to see a judge flat-out doing a “face plant.” I quickly stood, brushed myself off, and although totally humiliated, I went to judging as if nothing had happened. Afterward, I wish that I had stood up, faced the crowd, and said, “For my next trick, I’ll judge the Working Group.”