Judges’ Contracts

A guide for choosing and paying judges.

When Del Valle Dog Club made the big change in 2013 from a day of hosting independent specialties to a day of designated specialties, we assumed the contracts of almost 100 judges. These were the contracts the individual specialty clubs had previously used with their specialty judges. To remind you, a designated specialty was once called a “specialty held in conjunction with an all breed show.”

Some specialty contracts reflected the wisdom of the specialty show committee and were as I might have written them myself. Others clearly showed that the specialty club committee had absolutely no idea of what to pay their judge; what was standard in the industry, so to speak.

Some clubs were paying their Sweepstakes judge; another issued an open invitation to an overseas judge to spend up to $2,500 (for an anticipated entry of 50 dogs); another offered up to $1,000 to a California resident judge. Very few clubs had thought to restrict their specialty judge as to time or distance. Several clubs had judges who had judged their breed at a major show in the state within three months of our shows. While in accordance with AKC Rules, this was well outside of our club’s 200-mile and 30-day restriction. Seeing too much of any judge will affect the entry in a negative way, which is why we use this restriction.


Guidelines for Paying Judges

Aside from the cost of the showgrounds, the judges’ panel is a club’s greatest expense. I firmly believe that no matter how beautiful the showgrounds are or how accommodating the venue is to exhibitors, unless the judging panel is attractive, many exhibitors will go elsewhere. The challenge is to build the most interesting judging panel possible but stay within a budget. Some 35 years ago when I began as a show chairman, I was told $3 per dog should be the budget for the judging panel. Today I would be happy to come in at $5 per dog.

Interestingly, years ago Dr. M. Josephine Deubler, Show Chairman of both Bucks County Kennel Club and Montgomery County Kennel Club shows, offered each judge a flat $600. Take it or leave it. Since it was a plum assignment to judge either show, it didn’t seem to deter judges from accepting her invitation. It was an interesting concept.

There are many different scenarios and circumstances, and I don’t presume to speak for all club show chairmen, but this is how we’ve done it all these years, and it’s worked out reasonably well. Hopefully this can serve as a guideline for those volunteers assuming the show chairman job for the first time and not knowing where to start!


Sweepstakes Judges

Judging a Specialty Sweepstakes seems to have replaced the almost-forgotten sanctioned match. These are opportunities for aspiring judges to gain hands-on experience in a breed. It is considered an honor to be invited to judge a Sweepstakes. While it is customary for Sweepstakes judges to pay their own way to the show, they are accorded all the courtesies offered an approved judge.

We send a written contract to the Sweepstakes judge, and it clearly states there is no monetary reimbursement. It also tells the Sweepstakes judge that our Hospitality Chairman will be in touch to assist them with their travel plans. We will provide ground transportation to and from the airport, assistance with hotel reservations so they may get our lower negotiated room rate, a parking pass if driving and an invitation to lunch, as well as morning and afternoon hospitality.


Provisional (or Permit) Judges

A new provisional judge is offered $4 per dog, and based on the entry in that breed from the previous year, we offer a minimum amount guaranteed. For instance, if there were 60 Boxers last year, then the offer would be $4 per dog entered, with a minimum guarantee of $250. We would also offer one night at the host hotel and ground transportation to and from our local airport. Or if that provisional judge has a full day of judging, based on the previous year when there were 150 Labradors as an example, the offer would be coach class airfare, one night hotel and ground transportation to and from the airport at this end.

I believe that well-known breeder-exhibitors attaining provisional status in their breed will probably out-draw another judge whose likes and dislikes are a matter of record. There is no reason to expect new provisional judges to go begging for reimbursement, particularly when they are quite likely to draw very well.

A judge, provisional or fully approved, who doesn’t yet have the Group but who can anticipate a full day of judging can expect to be offered coach class airfare, one or two nights at a hotel, a meal allowance and ground transportation at our end.

When the judge has approval for a Group, then it is customary to reimburse for travel expenses, plus pay a judging fee. Please remember this is a generalization and none of what follows is a rule. Judges may charge whatever they think they’re worth, but the show-giving club is under no obligation to hire a judge whom they deem too expensive to use.

Approval for one Group generally means a fee of $100 to $200, for two Groups $250, and three Groups $300. Judges with all-breed status generally charge $500 per day. The fact remains a judge can only adjudicate 175 dogs in a day, so clubs need to determine what their particular budgets can handle.

AKC Delegate judges are not permitted to charge a judging fee, but a delegate judge may ask the club to donate what might have been the judging fee to a charity of the judge’s choice.


Time and Distance Restrictions

Our club asks for a moratorium on the breeds and Groups assigned a judge in the six months prior to our show in the state of California, as well as the states that touch California: Oregon, Nevada and Arizona.

It is customary for clubs in the West to put these restrictions on their invited judges. It is not customary in many other parts of the country, and I firmly believe the lack of restrictions is one of the causes of diminishing entries. According to a detailed analysis by Bob Christensen, President of MB-F, Inc., posted on www.infodog.com, all of us in the purebred dog world should have cause for concern. AKC registrations continue to decline, so there is no surprise that the number of dogs being exhibited and the average total entry at dog shows continues to fall. We have too many dog shows splitting a diminishing number of exhibits.

If you are intent on increasing the entry at your dog show, you must offer a judging panel that can’t be found in a neighboring state three months before your shows.

Many smaller shows make the mistake of hiring local judges thinking they can’t afford to bring in a judge from a distance. While airfares have crept up, there are many routes across this country that are relatively inexpensive. And if the airfare is purchased at the appropriate time, the cost is not of great concern. The difference will be that the judge not seen in your area in a while will attract more exhibitors than the local judge or the one seen too often in your area. One exception is the local judge with new breeds, so be the first to hire them!


Increase Entries with a TSE

For the smaller club looking to increase entries, have a look at last year’s entries and see which breeds drew decent numbers. As an example, if the Golden Retriever entry had good numbers, think about how you might increase the Golden entry next year. Check the online AKC searchable judges directory for a newly approved provisional judge. Before contacting him, look at “past assignments,” and if he hasn’t judged in your area in the past six months, then look at “future assignments.” If there are none in the areas you’re concerned with, then email that judge to ask if he’s available on your date and if the restriction of six months in the states that affect you would be a problem, and then make a monetary offer. Make the offer based on my formula of $4 per dog, a minimum amount guaranteed, plus one night hotel and ground transportation to and from the airport. You might be surprised at how many judges would leap at the opportunity to come.

Once you’ve secured an interesting judge, then contact the local Golden Retriever club. Tell them whom you’ve hired to judge Goldens and ask if they might consider a trophy-supported entry at your show. If the club is interested, you can also give them the opportunity of sponsoring a Puppy and Veteran Sweepstakes. Remember, it takes three years for exhibitors to realize there is always a major in Goldens at your show. As long as you’re careful about who judges Goldens each year, in the future they might bring their specialty to your weekend.  


CLARIFICATION. In my April column, I wrote about the different types of specialties and included information about Trophy-Supported Entries (TSE.) By this inclusion I may have implied that a TSE is a type of specialty, and it is not. It is simply as the name implies, a supported entry. A TSE is sponsored by a breed specialty club and held in conjunction with an all-breed show, but it is not a specialty.


From the June 2015 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.


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Where is the future of dog shows headed?


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