Interview with Jan Sigler, Working Group AKC Judge
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as an AKC judge?
Jan Sigler: I live in Overland Park, Kansas, which is a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. I started in Junior Showmanship in the 1960s, helping to form a Junior Kennel Club.
By the late ’60s, I was showing Siberian Huskies for a family friend and that led to showing additional dogs. I wasn’t a professional handler and I never accepted payment, but I got a lot of free rides to the dog shows.
I didn’t do any breeding until the late ‘80s and then it was just for our own pleasure. With very few litters, my husband and I were able to keep ourselves busy throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Have I judged any Working Breed/Group Specialties?
Jan Sigler: My first judging assignment was a puppy match for Heart of America KC in the ‘70s. Mel Schlesinger asked me to judge several of the Working Breeds and Junior Showmanship.
Throughout the ‘80s and into the ’90s, I judged A and B Matches and Sweeps. In 2000, I was licensed for Siberians and Samoyeds.
Are there specific qualities I admire most in the Working Breeds?
Jan Sigler: I admire the Working Group because, generally, we appreciate the “whole dog” not just individual pieces. I think this leads to sounder dogs which means less stress on their bodies. We value the qualities for which the dogs were originally bred, even if they are not asked to do them anymore. This concept of purpose-bred dogs and heritage breeds is important to stress in today’s world.
How important are the breed hallmarks in the Working Breeds? Can I offer a few examples?
Jan Sigler: Group shows are a “positive.” The pace of the show is a little less hectic. If you want to study breeds, you can often sit down at one ring and watch one breed follow another. I believe more exhibitors “hang around” and there is less “show-and-go,” making it easier to find mentors.
It is unfortunate that Group shows are generally held earlier in the week with an all-breed show, because this does limit some working people. Yes, I have done Working Group shows and they have allowed me to see breed entries that I do not see in all-breed shows.
Can I speak to the general presentation of the Working Breeds in my ring today? Is breed specific presentation important?
Jan Sigler: Standards dictate how a breed should look, move, etc.
The presentation should be geared to making the dog match its standard. Movement is an area in which exhibitors sometimes forget what their standard says. “Flashy” and “fast” are not in most standards. Grooming is another area where standards are forgotten. Sometimes it’s just doing “too much,” and then there is scissoring when a standard says, “No.” Judges have some control over movement issues with ring directions. It is pretty easy to say “slow down” and not reward those who don’t. It can be trickier with grooming issues, but noticeable issues should be penalized.
Are size, substance and proportion correct in most Working breeds?
Jan Sigler: For the most part, yes, but you have to look at individual breeds to answer this question. You find variations depending on the area where you are, and sometimes you will see changes in a relatively short period of time. Comments about the state of a breed can change relatively quickly.
This is true in all breeds and is not restricted to the Working Group. We can make a statement about the quality of a breed today, and two months down the road regret it. Sometimes judging does not follow the breeders’ interpretation of the standard.
Are the Working Breeds in good shape overall? Any concerns?
Jan Sigler: To get a really good reflection of how a breed is doing as a whole, you need to look more broadly than just the dogs at a show. If I have a concern, it would be that show people are too myopic; thinking that what we see in the ring is truly representative of the breed, particularly in popular breeds.
To get a true reflection of a breed, you need to look at the dogs that are in the general pet population too. If we go back to evaluating the dogs we see in the ring, I would say that we see a lot of mediocrity in the classes; specials classes can be pretty strong. Breeders are the folks who can provide the best answers on this.
In my opinion, how do today’s exhibits compare with the Working Dogs of the past?
Jan Sigler: Comparing dogs of the past with current exhibits, we hear a lot of “dogs aren’t as good as they used to be.” Be careful with past memories. We tend to remember “the good old days” with fondness. Most of us remember when it took many more dogs to get a major than it does now.
I remember a show where the Open Bitch Class was so big that they opened the Group ring to judge it. The drop in the number of dogs shown can also mean a drop in the number of really good dogs. It may be easier to find a winner in a class of 30 than in a class of three. That’s not always true, but it is a lot of times.
I guess I would say that the only fair way to compare current dogs with dogs from the past is to pull out pictures of the exceptional dogs, both past and present, and let some really knowledgeable breeders discuss them. In the ‘60s and 70s we saw some really good dogs that could compete today, but we also saw some dogs in the ring that were much worse specimens and would never be shown today.
What are my thoughts on cropping/docking the Working breeds? How about cropping/docking?
Jan Sigler: Leave that up to the individual breed clubs. Let them decide “if” and “when.” I’m getting used to uncropped Boxers, Danes, and Schnauzers, even Rotties with tails, but not Dobermans. The breeders should get the last word on this.
Why do you think the Working breeds are so admired as family companions?
Jan Sigler: Working Dogs are popular family pets because most families are familiar with a number of the breeds. They have a sense of what they are getting. Because most Working Breeds were developed for a purpose, people can romanticize what their dog can be.
Many Working Breeds are seen as easily trained and devoted to their families. Even the independent ones like my Siberians have a fan club because of their independence and the stories of the Far North. And last but not least, Working Dogs are popular with families just because they are Good Dogs!
Interview with Jan Sigler – Working Group AKC Judge