Have you attended breed-specific judges education seminar? If you have, you know how valuable they are to getting insight into your breed and its Standard. However, on occasion, when the subject of judges’ and breeders’ education seminars comes up, there is sometimes an air of uncertainty or distrust by breeders and exhibitors who have never attended one. There are always questions. I love attending breed seminars and webinars and enjoy learning about the different breeds. Let’s dive into breed seminars and see what they are about.
First, the purpose: Education, primarily, but not just for people who want to be judges or those who currently judge and wish to add that breed. While various judges’ groups and institutes put on breed seminars specifically for people seeking to add approval for additional breeds, breed clubs themselves usually seek to include breeders and exhibitors. Breed clubs typically offer seminars in conjunction with their National Specialties and large regional or district events. These are advertised through the AKC Judging Operations department, as National Specialties are a great way to see a large number of the breed and find ringside mentors in addition to the seminar. Judge applicants must earn a minimum number of CEUs (Continuing Education Units) in addition to passing a breed standard test to apply for a breed. For those with one or less variety Groups, the minimum required CEUs is ten. National Specialty seminars and Judges Institute seminars with hands-on workshops are valued at three points.
AKC has specific criteria for a breed club to provide a judges education seminar that will gain the judge applicants the full three points. The first primary requirement is a 90-minute or longer presentation that includes history, form and function of the breed, an in-depth discussion and examination of the Standard, and a question-and-answer period. The second main requirement is a 60 minute or longer period that includes instructions on how to properly conduct a breed-specific examination, and that at least four dogs are present for the attendees to examine.
Most AKC parent clubs have club-approved, copyrighted slide decks in PowerPoint or Adobe for the 90-minute presentation, and they use parent club-approved presenters as required by AKC. These slides cover everything from the history and current use of the breeds to a complete in-depth examination of the Breed Standard and what is ideal and what are commonly found faults in their breed as well as disqualifications.
The professionally rendered drawings and carefully selected photos in the breed presentations help to create a clear mental image of what is called for in the Standard. Most parent clubs also use their presentation to show what are the treasured virtues that judges should seek to find and what are the faults that the breeders are striving to remove or correct as well as what are the hallmarks of their breed. Presenters discuss the original purpose of the breed as well as its development and how the origins and purpose tie into their Breed Standard. This helps the potential judges understand how the form and function called for in the Standard are applicable to the breed’s purpose and how they contribute to breed type.
An important aspect of the breed seminar is a description of how to properly examine the breed. Whether it’s rubbing the thumb over the teeth to ascertain an underbite, putting hands under the coat to determine the structure, spanning some breeds of Terriers, or properly approaching a large breed used for protection, it’s important for the people aspiring to judge to learn the specifics of how to go over that breed.
Once the classroom piece of the seminar is complete, it is time for the “hands on” workshop. AKC requires a minimum of four dogs present for the potential judges to examine. The workshop is an hour of time and is used for the attendees to take the knowledge they gained in the classroom and apply it to live specimens. Generally, the workshop begins with the assignment of alphabet letters to identify the dogs, and their gender and age will be provided to the attendees. Registered names and show records are not provided to the attendees. The presenter will begin with an example of the proper way to conduct the breed-specific exam. Once that is complete, the attendees will go over each dog. While the AKC instructions allow for no more than twenty people examining a dog, in practice, I’ve seen that most will try to get their hands on each dog. When the dogs have been examined by everyone, they are then gaited back-and-forth and around. The dogs and their handlers are then dismissed from the room and the presenter will ask the students for their placements and comments on each dog.
Workshop presenters steer the attendees from only making negative or generic comments, but will ask them to identify the desired characteristics in the dogs they examined and each dogs’ virtues. At the workshop, it is about the students sharing what they’ve learned and the presenter acts as moderator. Often the attendees will not agree, and good moderators will encourage the sharing of the varying opinions and dialogue while keeping it to the parameters of the Breed Standard. Moderators also ensure that every attendee has had an opportunity to speak on the dogs they’ve examined, and their findings and comments. The application of the Standard they just learned and the open discussion lead to knowledge sharing and broadens learning. This is quite valuable. The moderator will weigh-in to correct assumptions regarding the Standard and will answer questions.
Often, the discussion between exhibitors and breeders concerns the selection of the dogs to be used in the hands-on workshop. For some breeders, the selection of dogs or the perceived exclusion of their dogs becomes a point of contention. A post on a Facebook dog show forum a few years ago had nearly 250 comments regarding this. Each breed’s parent club has a different process, and even within the clubs the presenters may have differing approaches to selecting the dogs to be used in the workshop.
Ideally, the dogs used represent a spectrum of quality live examples—dogs, bitches, young, mature, and in some breeds, coated or uncoated, or different sizes of the size varieties. With the judges education seminars generally associated with national shows that many fly to or drive to, there may be a shortage of volunteers for breeds with smaller entries as they may not have extra dogs with them available to use. Dogs being actively shown are not typically used as it might reduce their show “sparkle” after standing for a long period of time being examined by a large group of people. In many workshops, the adult dogs used are retired champions. These canine retirees are accustomed to being handled and examined, and will generally have more patience with hordes of people going over them. In coated breeds, it might be difficult to find retirees in full show coat (and people who are willing to show groom for the workshop), and in this case, owners with dogs being shown might be pressured to volunteer. More popular breeds often have many club members available to use their dogs, and the presenters base their selections for the workshop on trying to achieve a balance of specimens.
It’s clear through conversations at ringside and on social media posts that there is an impression that the judges will be influenced by the dogs used in the workshop. This is not likely, as the one-hour workshop with the minimum four dogs is only one of the requirements necessary to apply for an additional breed and the applicants will have had to see many more of that breed before they are granted approval to judge it. To earn the rest of their CEUs, they will have been mentored ringside at shows where there are majors, including the breed’s National Specialty, and they may have had kennel visits with various breeders, apprenticeships with a judge in a ring, NOHS Group assignments, Sweepstakes judging invitations, and many other opportunities to see examples of the breed they are pursuing.
If you have the opportunity to attend, assist, or participate in a breed workshop, you will find it a valuable learning experience. I firmly believe breeders and exhibitors in a breed should attend their parent club’s breed education seminar. If you are long-term breeder or exhibitor, encourage the new exhibitors and breeders you are mentoring to attend their breed’s seminar. If you are interested in a breed or applying to judge it, you can find judges education seminars listed on the AKC website at https://www.akc.org/clubs-delegates/clubs/resources/seminars/
Additionally, SHOWSIGHT has an excellent series of articles written by Celeste Gonzalez on Breed Education that are primarily focused on helping to organize and present the seminars. If you are interested in learning more about presenting a seminar or assisting with a workshop, these articles are on the SHOWSIGHT website. The first one in the series can be found at https://showsightmagazine.com/breed-education-it-starts-with-you/
AKC also began offering breed education webinars, and while these don’t offer the opportunity to put your hands on live examples, they are a great way to learn about other breeds. It’s exciting to learn in-depth about the various breeds, especially those we’re passionate about or interested in, and if you have the opportunity to attend one it’s well worth your time.