Are U.S. Dog Show Judges Slighted?

From At Large, Dogs in Review October 2010


Dogs in Review


There are thousands of dog show judges in America. The exact number fluctuates, as more names are added constantly, but the total is certainly over 4,000, including also the performance judges. (The AKC Judges Directory lists conformation judges together with obedience, rally and tracking judges, making it difficult to separate the different categories.)

Since more than 1,500 AKC all-breed conformation shows are held per year, of course many judges are needed. (For the moment, let’s leave aside the question of whether it’s a good idea to have so many shows; that subject deserves its own article.) What now concerns me — and no doubt also any AKC judge who has been passed over by a foreign club for “not being an all-rounder” — is that only 22 of the several thousand AKC judges are officially approved to judge all breeds, as per the AKC Judges Operations Department.

The US is, in fact, in a nearly unique position in having so few real all-rounder judges. Only Great Britain is “worse” off, in that currently only one person — Zena Thorn-Andrews — has been passed by the Kennel Club to award Challenge Certificates in every breed that’s eligible for this award. The British, at least, are aware of the problem this creates for their judges at overseas shows, but I have not heard anyone at AKC voice similar concern.

What happens when so few judges are officially approved to judge all breeds is interesting. At the country’s own shows you have to come up with a practical solution for creating instant Best in Show judges, or the same all-rounders would have to make that award over and over again. AKC therefore will allow judges who are approved for a single Group to award BIS as well, and as a result most BIS judges are in fact not approved for all the breeds that compete in the finale; many of them are eligible to judge just one of the seven breeds that participate. In the UK they do things a little differently: you don’t have to be approved to judge all the breeds in a Group to judge Best in Group, but you must have judged breeds in at least a couple of different Groups before you award Best in Show.

Neither system really makes sense when you think about it, but it’s a pragmatic solution to what’s basically an impossible situation.

What often happens when American (and British) judges officiate at shows in the rest of the world is that “our” judges are passed over for the top awards in favor of judges from countries who have a larger supply of all-rounders. There are currently 123 Canadian judges who are approved to judge all breeds, and most of the national kennel clubs in Australia, Europe, South America and Asia also make it a lot easier for judges to receive all-breed status than AKC does. The Mexican KC has only 59 judges on their website, but 40 of them are approved for all breeds. Colombia lists only 24 judges in all, but 14 of these are all-rounders. Belgium registered less than 20,000 dogs last year but has nine all-rounder judges; Portugal has even fewer registrations but 17 all-rounders. Even Romania, with only 7,532 registrations last year, has six judges who are approved by its kennel club to judge all breeds. (To achieve a comparable percentage, AKC would need to have at least 500 all-rounders!) And remember that FCI recognizes twice as many breeds as AKC does, so at least in theory it ought to be twice as difficult to become an expert on all the breeds shown in the FCI countries.

This is not a question of which country’s judges are the best. We all know that talent and knowledge is not limited by geographical borders, but I think there’s a tremendous amount of untapped judging talent in the US. If AKC truly wants what’s best for its judges, approving more of them for all breeds should be a prime consideration. If a US judge has been deeply involved in this sport for a few decades, surely he or she must be at least as well qualified to judge all breeds as most all-rounders from other countries?

How is it even possible that people with such wide in-depth dog experience as e.g. Frank Sabella and Edd Bivin, to pick just two obvious examples, have not been made AKC all-breed judges long ago? Is all the paperwork really necessary? Isn’t the world standing of our AKC judges more important?

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