One of the most central issues imperative to our sport’s continued success is that judges must be welcoming and helpful in the ring. Years ago judges were revered and sought after for opinions. With the proliferation of dog shows and circuits, our opinions mean less and less today, as there is always another show and another judge. So what can the judge offer now? Well, one would hope judges understand the breed and have studied its nuances in depth. But what I see missing now is the desire to give the exhibitor a good experience in the ring.
I cannot tell you how many shows I go to and see rote judging with not an ounce of levity or enjoyment. While it is a serious matter to evaluate breeding stock and sometimes very challenging, why can there not be times when judges drop the iron mask and show at least some bit of emotion? Dog shows are a family event for many people, and we must encourage those families to return every weekend. Continual support is the backbone of our sport. When I was younger, I wanted to show under people who showed me that they cared about and enjoyed the sport as much as I did.
Politeness goes a long way in addressing this issue. There should be boundaries between judges and exhibitors, but surely a simple good morning or good afternoon isn’t too much to ask when an exhibitor just spent hundreds of dollars to be there. That common courtesy is the least we owe them! Not only are you being a good ambassador for the sport, but you may also ease the nerves of that exhibitor, allowing them to present their dog in a more positive way. Being a drill sergeant in the ring only ensures that exhibitors will leave with a poor taste in their mouths — it doesn’t do the sport any good.
Embrace New Exhibitors and Dogs
It also does the sport no good to sternly correct someone for missing an instruction or performing the wrong pattern in the ring. Have we never made a mistake in our showing or judging careers? I certainly have. You have to embrace what makes our sport so dynamic. Yes, the simple down and back pattern appears to be a difficult concept to grasp for even the most seasoned exhibitor. But, so what? Move a few steps over to see the gait. That is all it typically takes. Why not just enjoy those lovely serpentine down and backs? I see the humor in them, not the failure or the ineptitude. And if the pattern truly offends you, politely request that they make another attempt. We have all skill levels, and it is up to the judge to be able to sort through the mishandlings without disdain and see the best in each dog before us.
Sometimes we see exhibits whose temperaments are less than what we desire. Dogs come in shaking and afraid. We see dogs that haven’t been properly leash-broken. Gone are the days of match shows held every weekend where our young dogs could receive their show training. Today, many people socialize and train their puppies in the ring. Allow those dogs some more time. Give them reassurance on the table, and an extra down and back to allow them to relax. Younger dogs need more time and encouragement, so spend the time with them and enjoy their puppyhood. Puppy antics make my day so much easier to complete. Revel in the fact that your dogs were once at this stage too and appreciate what the dog may become one day.
Remember Where You Started
Don’t forget that we all started somewhere. If we were lucky, we had a quality dog, but many new exhibitors have dogs only a mother could love. Why should judges show contempt for an exhibitor who unknowingly is showing a dog that is less than desirable? It is not for us to belittle them in the ring. If the dog offends you, you have the right to excuse it or withhold, but in doing so, part of your responsibility is to be encouraging and request to talk to the exhibitor afterward and open up a dialog with them.
Many beginners go to a backyard breeder who assures them the dog can be shown; after all it has “papers.” Why would judges punish, embarrass and scorn this naive person who is showing an interest in our sport? Instead, refer them to peers in the breed who can become mentors and teach them how to improve the quality of their exhibits. Most judges have so much knowledge that could help this person grow into someone who may one day teach others about the breed. And you never know who may become the next great breeder if we simply take the time to help them along the way.
My first two dogs were German Shepherds we thought we were buying from a reputable breeder. I spent my childhood going to match shows and being excused because they had such poor temperaments. I will never forget the one judge who spoke to me about the importance of temperament in this intelligent breed and helped my family find a good breeder. If it wasn’t for that one person taking the time to speak to me, I may never have gone on to enjoy all of the family, friends and camaraderie that comes with our sport.
If judges continually encourage exhibitors, we can to some extent elevate the quality of dogs present in our ring each day. The more exhibitors who feel encouraged to show, the more competition. More competition allows for quality to improve. When judges have the pleasure of evaluating higher-quality breeding stock, our judging also becomes more proficient and refined. Quality judging encourages those same exhibitors to return time and again. So next time, give everyone a fine welcome to your ring and see how that can change your day.