Uniform Judging: Can coat throw off the most discerning eye?

Uniform Judging: Can coat throw off the most discerning eye?

From the May Issue of ShowSight. Photo by Sharon Carvalho. RECEIVE SHOWSIGHT IN THE MAIL. CLICK HERE.

While I enjoy it, I take the judging of dogs seriously. I have been humbled as a breed judge, and I am much less likely to be overtly critical of the choices made by fellow judges, particularly as I venture beyond my own breed and into judging others that are not as familiar to my eye or experience. When multiple exhibits possess the type, temperament, and soundness we seek in our ideal breed dog, there is room for 
honest disagreement.

In the dog community, there is a wealth of knowledge for those who seek it. On many occasions, it has been my great pleasure to interact with the most revered of our fancy. When I keep my mouth shut and my ears open during the group judging, to and from the show site, or over a dinner or drink back at the hotel, I can usually pick up some valuable absolutes that enlighten my canine education. I am relatively new to “the club,” and the simple truth is I have much more to learn than to teach.

Except with this article I do wish to teach—or rather remind—my colleagues of a simple, yet salient truth. There’s a dog under that coat! This axiom should resonate with all who seek to preserve breed type and are passionate about the integrity of all “long-coated” breeds.

At almost any judging seminar and particularly those involving long-coated dogs, we are reminded again and again to “put your hands on the dogs” and get under the coat. Still, I regularly observe long-coated dogs being judged with only the slightest hands-on evaluation. I wonder how the manipulation of such a minor part of breed type can so overwhelm the more important characteristics beneath it. Neither coat, nor the silhouette it presents, 
are type.

Let me put this in perspective. Coat is a component of type. In the Alaskan Malamute, the double coat is an obvious survival characteristic of the breed. The coarse guard coat is water repellent. Together with the insulating undercoat, the Malamute retains body heat and can survive in extreme temperatures—a vital requirement for its function. Nevertheless, a Malamute with correct coat but without the correct head, bite, eyes, or ears necessary for survival will cease 
to function. The Malamute without a strong neck, powerfully balanced movement, or good feet will not complete its job in the snow. Despite its proper coat, the Malamute described could not perform its function and should not be rewarded.

Likewise, in breeds where coat is more cloak than 
comfort and scissoring is the norm, we must not allow it or its groomer to distract us from the rest of the dog. According to its breed standard, the Portuguese Water Dog should present “an indelible impression of strength, spirit and soundness.” Shown in multiple presentations of the two coat types and clips allowed, the gifted groomer can sculpt a dog from the “profuse, thickly planted” coat. One must look beyond this important, but diminished distraction, and seek a robust and spirited dog of moderate proportion. Unlike Samson, the strength of the dog is not in the hair!

The correct Portuguese water dog head is “distinctively large, well proportioned with exceptional breadth of topskull,” an essential part of a body that is “ruggedly built” and “well-knit.” No amount or style of hair should camouflage this construction. This mariner requires the muscle and substance that will take it through a full day of work on water and land. Coat can’t 
do that!

Think of it like this: Coats are uniforms and many are tailored to construct a picture of breed type. Crafting a dog’s uniform no more indicates correct form and function than wearing an NFL jersey makes a Hall of Fame quarterback. Regardless of the uniform, we should require that underneath it are the components that make the dog singularly prepared, equipped, and willing to perform duties associated with its task.

Recently (and too often), I have heard it said that a winning exhibit is “beautiful” or “pretty,” an apparent, if not singular justification for its reward. Such terms are not breed specific. A generic show dog can be pretty, and devoid a standard, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When an exhibit best exudes the essential characteristics outlined in the breed standard, “beautiful” is the result, not the reason. “Pretty” is as pretty does!

Judges should look first for requisite breed type and reward the athlete presented in the correct uniform that best exhibits these underlying attributes. Now that would 
be beautiful! 

A native of Wichita, Kansas, David obtained his first purebred dog in the 1970’s, during which time he owner-handled the Alaskan Malam ute to an obedience title and conformation championship. He later acquired Portuguese Water Dogs, handling one of the first PWDs to achieve both Breed Championship and Utility Dog titles. He is a former board member of the PWD parent club and has authored several PWD articles that have appeared in national publications.  David and his family have also owned and exhibited Border Terriers, Parson Russell Terriers, Havanese, Chihuahuas, Toy Fox Terriers, Whippets, and Samoyeds.

David is the long-serving President of the Nashville Dog Training Club, where he has been instrumental in developing multiple venues for canine performance.  During his tenure, the club has gained national recognition for its semiannual 4-day agility trials and multiple venues for obedience, rally, tracking, and lure coursing. He is also a member of the Nashville Kennel Club, Santa Barbara Kennel Club, Westchester Kennel Club, and the Westminster Kennel Club, where he serves on the Dog Committee. David is a nationally recognized obedience judge, having adjudicated at over 300 trials in 40+ states. He is also approved for several breeds within the Working Group.

David is a graduate of Washington & Lee University (BA, 1983) and Columbia University (MBA, 1987). He spent his early professional career with New York-based real estate and finance companies before embarking on a successful entrepreneurial career, first in the health-care field and later in consumer products. He was a founding partner and/or executive in multiple start-ups and early stage businesses, including Windy Hill Pet Food, a roll-up ultimately acquired by Mars Pedigree. He has worked internationally as a pet industry consultant, and owns and manages several niche brands within the pet food industry.

Responsible dog judging entails much more than ring time; it is a life long pursuit of education. Years ago, a person who had the eye, experience, and education to properly critique a dog or a dog situation was known as a “good dog man.” Today, we all know men and women who fit that description, and those of us who intently take the responsibility aspire to achieve that worthy distinction.

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