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Judge Priorities, Not Point Scales

The AKC Bulldog breed standard was penned by the Bulldog Club of America (BCA) in 1890 and has survived with only two changes. At the request of AKC, the nose disqualification for “Dudley nose” was clarified as “liver or flesh colored nose.” More recently, in 2016, disqualifications were added for non-standard colors, and blue or green eyes, to eliminate so-called “rare colors” from competition (and preferably from breeding stock), even though most of these colors (particularly merle) had never occurred in the breed.

The Bulldog breed standard has always had a scale of points appended to it, even as far back as 1860, in England, when Dr. John Walsh (one of the earliest promoters of organized dog shows) of The Field started putting various standards into print. When the Bulldog Club (England) was founded in 1875, point scales were commonly in use in conjunction with the written standards. Indeed, many of the early Bulldog shows were judged “on points,” which did not always lead to a satisfactory outcome. The current AKC Bulldog breed standard still carries a point scale.

The Rise and Fall of Point Scales

If a written standard adequately describes the “ideal” or “perfect” specimen of the breed, what is the purpose of a point scale? For the breeder and fancier, a correctly comprised point scale defines the priorities of type in the breed. Characteristics that are essential to breed type in various breeds are given the highest value. For example, the point scale for the French Bulldog was dropped from the standard in 1991. However, at one time, the point scale gave 8 points to ears (lack of the correct bat ear being a disqualification), 6 points to skull, and 6 points to jaws. Even without a point scale, anyone judging this breed today should be aware that these elements are high value areas of focus for assessing correct type in the ring.

Point scales came into vogue with the increased popularity of dog shows in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As the spectator gate grew, point scales were distributed so that the audience could follow along with the decisions made in the ring. Newspapers even printed point scales for various breeds, with the statement that their readers would be able to recognize a quality specimen. During much of the 20th Century, most new breeds recognized by AKC originally came in with point scales appended to the written breed standard. In the AKC breed standard book published in 1935 (then titled Pure-Bred Dogs), 58% of the 102 breeds then recognized had point scales.

When AKC mandated standard formatting of all breed standards some 40 years ago, parent clubs were pressured to drop the point scales from their breed standards. This was strongly suggested even if there were no changes to the standards other than simple reformatting. When it came time for BCA to reformat, AKC was advised that the club would only do so under the condition that the point scale be kept as part of the breed standard. Despite objections, BCA, with Bulldog-like tenacity, held its ground. This was possible because, unlike The Kennel Club or FCI, which control the content of the breed standards, Article IV, Section 4 of the AKC Charter and Bylaws is clear that it is the Parent Clubs—not the AKC Board of Directors—that have the sole power to define the “true type” and that no modifications can be made to breed standards of the various breeds without the express permission of the parent clubs.

So, what is the big deal about keeping the scale of points for Bulldogs? Well, Bulldoggers have a long tradition and history, and that is the way it has always been. If it ain’t broke, we won’t be fixing it. More importantly, the point scale clearly shows the unique priorities of the breed. Those wishing to judge Bulldogs, who do not come from our breed, may assume that the head, as a whole, is a big priority. It is. On the point scale it is worth a grand total of 39 points. But which element do you think we consider the most important? Who would guess nose at 6 points? And it is not that the dog must have one—that’s a given. But historically, the nose was the key element for the Bulldog to be able to breathe while hanging onto the bull. The nose is large, broad, well laid back with a specific maximum length, and it must have large, black nostrils. The fact that the nose must be black is important, too, as brown or liver disqualify. Are judges really taking all this in when examining the breed?

Next on the head we have 5 points each for skull, ears, wrinkle, and jaws. Additionally, there are 4 points for the stop, as the breed’s unique furrow is a key landmark of the skull. Whether or not you are aware of the point scale, judging the head by simply asking the exhibitor to show the bite and not actually physically examining any of these important features of type is not a breed-specific exam. Two other elements with 5 points each are proportion and symmetry, and shoulders, aptly described in writing in the standard proper. Unfortunately, looking at the numerous Bulldogs in the ring with incorrect tight shoulders, one might not realize that the 5 points for this feature of anatomy are for the unique contributors to an essential stance—muscular, very heavy, widespread, and slanting outward.

Judging on Points

The problem with judging on points is that, frankly, it cannot be done. All judges have inherent biases for certain features. This is certainly heightened among fanciers in their own breeds. And even with only a written standard to work from, these breeder preferences (and judge preferences) must always be kept in check. Otherwise, they lead to the worst of all judicial sins—fault judging. This becomes even more obvious when dogs are judged only on points.

Bulldog breed standard

Point scales were originally designed to be applied to positive features. In other words, assessing the dog was started at zero with points added for each trait. However, human nature tends to do the reverse, starting at 100 and subtracting. While most of the older standards described the point scales as positive, the Kerry Blue standard had both positive and negative point scales for many years. On the negative, 10-point deductions were to be assessed for “bumpy cheeks” and “yellow or gooseberry eyes.” The Kerry no longer has a point scale, but it still faults bumpy cheeks and yellow eyes. “Gooseberry” has disappeared from the lexicon, and no reasonable person imagines today’s judges mentally deducting 10 points per fault, but rather, judging the whole dog in relation to the entire standard of perfection.

In Bulldogs, one might think that gait is relatively unimportant on the point scale at only 3 points. However, all the points of body, and fore and hind leg construction that contribute to gait, add up to 39 points. The additional 3 points is a bonus. This is especially true per the written description of gait. The Bulldog breed standard describes practically all traits as “should be.” Gait, on the other hand, is one of the few “musts.” Specifically: “The action must, however, be unrestrained, free and vigorous.”

Point Judging in Action

Years ago, the Detroit Bulldog Club had a point match. All of the participants were given score sheets, and each examined and gaited all the dogs. When all of the scores were tallied, everyone had a good laugh at the final winner because it was universally agreed that she was not the best Bulldog there. How did this happen? This was a nice enough bitch of correct size. She seemed to have most of the features of type, but not to a great degree. In other words, she was quite generic. But how much do you deduct for eyes that could be a little darker, ears that could be a bit smaller, not quite as much rib spring as she could have, and so on? The answer is, “Not much in each area.” On the other hand, the dogs we all agreed were superior were subject to personal bias. If you are a breeder of perfect jaws, those with less than your ideal can expect to be hit hard on the score sheet. Further, these dogs may be superior in other areas that are not necessarily your top priorities as a breeder, so they might not be scored high enough. And the big problem with judging on points is that each dog is scored individually, without relationship to the other dogs in the ring. Lack of major faults is not a virtue, but it might get you higher up on the point scale overall. And the best part of the experiment was that our winner did have a major fault—her tail went straight up in the air when she gaited. But, the tail is only 4 points. And in the real world of judging, a Bulldog would have to be as close to perfect as possible to overcome the standard’s admonition that “no portion of the member should be elevated above the base or root,” if it were going to be placed first.


Points scales are interesting historical documents. They show what the original writers of each breed standard considered to be the most important points of type. And that is how they should be used today: To understand breed priorities, but not to judge on points.

AKC Bulldog breed standard | Judge Priorities, Not Point Scales