At Large: Winning All The Time

What happens when a dog judge goes against the grain?

Dogs in Review


In his report from Great Britain in this issue, Simon Parsons mentions that one of the people most closely involved with the all-time top show dog over there has been reprimanded by the Kennel Club for “inappropriate remarks” to a dog judge who placed the dog second.

The point isn’t so much what was said as that this dog judge, at her very first assignment, had the guts, or the gall (depending on which side of the fence you’re on), to do anything but put a very famous dog to the top in its breed, or even in its class. “That would never happen over here,” I was told by someone who wishes to remain anonymous. “Our judges just don’t have the strength of character that the British have.”

Let’s leave alone the question of whether this particular dog judge was right or wrong: I don’t know the particulars. According to some, whenever a famous dog goes down in flames the only reason can be that the judge is misguided, or worse. Others feel that the dog judge by this very act has shown independence and strength of character, refusing to bow under pressure. It’s all a question of whether you’re a fan of the dog, or the judge, in question.

However, I’m not at all sure that our top dogs are any more “unbeatable” than those overseas. Given the fact that we have many more shows and usually smaller entries than they do in Great Britain, there’s obviously less competition at the breed level here. Yet looking a little deeper into the show records of some of the most high-profile winners, you will find that many of them suffer defeats in their own breed on more than the rare occasion — and that this isn’t so surprising to the people in that breed as you might expect.

I remember a few years ago when a dog in one of the big glamour breeds was blazing a trail, setting all kinds of records not just in its breed but also in the Group, piling up Best in Shows “like bones on a plate.” The dog had everything going for it: a great win record, a famous and talented handler, a devoted and wealthy owner. I happened to be there on one occasion when a nice, low-key owner-handler defeated that famous dog for Best of Breed. I was surprised she wasn’t more ecstatic, but she shrugged it off: “They are both nice dogs, and we win almost half of the time they meet.” I had no idea; nor did most others, I’m sure.

I also remember last year when a very famous handler with a highly ranked Best in Show winner had to take the back seat to a young class dog, handled by a talented but inexperienced owner-handler with her first show dog. Was it the right decision? I don’t know, but I do know that this dog judge at the very least had “strength of character.” And we’ve all been there when the great winner takes Best in Show one day, only to be defeated in its breed the next, often under a dog judge who was watching BIS the previous day. Whatever that is, and I’m sure there may be many different words for it, it isn’t lack of guts.

Of course, when you read the beautiful ads for the top dogs it’s often difficult to avoid the impression that these dogs are almost invincible, and that you would have to be a moron not to realize how great they are. Indeed, most of these dogs wouldn’t be where they are unless a sufficiently large number of people thought they really are superior… but very few of them are in fact “unbeatable.”

What is different, I think, is that those dogs which are occasionally beaten in the breed by less famous competitors usually make up for it by winning a much bigger percentage than the rest in Group and Best in Show competition. We may not want to believe it, but perhaps there really is an intrinsic difference between judging at the Breed level and comparing one breed to another, just as Rick Beauchamp wrote in the March issue of Dogs in Review (“So What About Consistent Judging?”).

Anyway, you need to know that it’s not nearly as impossible as you may have been told that your dog will defeat that famous winner one day. If you’ve got a good dog and present it well, sooner or later some “independent” dog judge will like it well enough to put it all the way through. And later perhaps you’ll start winning so much that it’s your dog that the rest of the competition wants to beat… and then we’ll see if you are as keen on those “strength of character” judges as you used to be!

Good luck and have fun at the shows.

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