Unknown to most dog show participants is the fact that judging contests are an integral part of the livestock world. Children in 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) programs start learning about judging and entering judging contests as young as 10 years of age, and continue through college for state and national judging competitions. All livestock judges go through this learning process and the people judging today, young and old, all learned along this path. There are endless websites with information on livestock judging competitions, including many that feature practice tests containing still photos and videos.
The feeling among livestock breeders is that every time you look at an animal you are judging it and mentally giving it a position in its breed. We dog show people do the same. When we see a purebred dog on the street, we automatically assess it as pet quality or potential show quality. The livestock people want to encourage and develop this judging mindset so that people grow up and mature with the tools and knowledge to systematically place animals in proper order according to what’s desired for the species and breed.
This type of judge training is glaringly missing in the world of purebred dogs. For many breeders, their only experience judging is grading their own litters and casually following what’s happening at ringside. It’s not until they get serious about wanting to judge that they perhaps judge a match or sweepstakes, and often this is not until they are in their 40s, 50s or 60s. Not only would it be advantageous to the whole sport to encourage young people to look at dogs through a judge’s eyes, but it would also be beneficial to get mature adults into the ring to participate in the judging experience well before they actually start to judge themselves.
The fact that Junior Handling classes at dog shows are so extremely well supported, and that the level of junior handling is so exemplary, shows that young people (as well as adults) can excel when given an opportunity to learn and compete. Isn’t it time the AKC gives these young people the opportunity to learn about judging and to compete with others in sorting and placing dogs correctly according to their breed standards?
The purpose of this new category of AKC events would be to acquaint people of all ages with the mental and physical aspects of judging, and the process of reading and understanding a breed standard, using analytical thinking and then applying that to sorting through a class of dogs. These actions can be applied to all breeds.
The following ideas are to test people to learn the thought processes and procedures for judging, and analyze and evaluate basic structure, not primarily the fine points of individual breeds. This could also be a revenue-generating activity for AKC and the participating clubs.
In addition, passing the Advanced Level of this series of judging classes (explained later) would entitle participants to a “component” for their AKC judging application. Clubs could also receive credit for holding these classes (the same as for holding a match or doing public service).
These classes would be given at all-breed and specialty shows. At all-breed shows, the judging classes and the breed(s) these tests are being offered for would be printed in the premium list. At a specialty only the breed being shown that day would be used for a judging class, and the class would also be listed in the premium list. People enter this class and pay an entry fee (e.g. $25) just as they enter Junior Handling classes.
Local breeders and/or handlers would be contacted to supply four dogs with handlers for these classes. The person supplying the dogs would be paid for their effort (e.g. $150), which would be covered by the entry fees participants pay. The dogs should not include very young or very old individuals. Colors may vary according to the breed standard.
A class of four dogs would be assembled. These four dogs would be of the following quality:
> One dog of very good to excellent quality
> Two dogs of average quality
> One dog of below average to poor quality
The dogs should be of such quality that most experienced dog people could easily classify them as above. They will be placed in official order the morning of the show by agreement of the experienced breeder or handler supplying the dogs and a judge licensed for that breed who is on that day’s judging panel, as well as the person conducting the class (who might be one of these two people). These two or three people will also score each dog on the score card according to various body parts, giving “Excellent,” “Good,” “Fair” or “Poor” in each category.
1. A judge, experienced breeder or other qualified person would conduct the class. All judging classes would start by going through and discussing the breed standard for the breed being judged in that event before participants see the dogs they will judge.
2. After reading the standard, the participants would be given a score card (see sample below) and enter the ring. At this point no further communication between participants would be allowed. Participants would stand in the center of the ring and watch the class of four dogs circle the ring two times. The dogs would then be stacked in a lineup and the participants would walk down the line viewing each dog from the front, side and rear.
The participants would then stand at one end of the ring and watch the first dog move down and back two times (to make sure everyone can see this movement clearly) and then watch the dog move around the ring to the end of the line. The remaining three dogs would follow the same procedure.
When all four have moved, the class is again lined up and the participants would look them over one last time, finish marking their score cards, and write down their placements 1st through 4th. Since marking the score cards may take some time, the dogs should be allowed to stand freely so participants can see them standing naturally as well as stacked.
While the score sheets are collected and graded, the official “judge” conducting the class would place the class in official order and explain their placements.
The participants who get the placements correct (the very good/excellent dog must place 1st, the below average/poor dog must place 4th, and the two average dogs must place 2nd and 3rd in either order) are then eligible for a placement in the class based on the gradings for each dog on the score sheet.
The participants with the highest number of matches to the judges’ score sheet will place 1st, the next highest number of matches place 2nd, and so on through four placements. If the grading judges each give a dog a different grade (for instance, one judge marks the tail as “excellent” and the other marks it as “good”), either answer will be considered a correct score.
IMPORTANT: Class participants would NOT handle or touch dogs until AKC comes up with liability coverage for this event. As it is now, these classes are designed so that participants do not need to touch the dogs. It would be explained that all participants must assume that the dogs all have good bites and complete dentition. Also, it would be more difficult to get people to supply dogs if they know many inexperienced participants would be touching and handling the dogs.
The following are examples of breeds to be used for the Beginner Level of Judging Classes. These are basic breeds with no extremely unusual structural requirements and their conformation is clearly visible. Examples of Beginner breeds (smooth coated): Pointers, Vizslas, Weimaraners, Beagles, Dobermans, Smooth Fox Terriers and Dalmatians.
Long or heavily coated breeds are not used as some “hands-on” examination would be required to feel for structural components. Once participants have passed the Beginners Level three times, they can move on to the Intermediate Level.
The format is exactly the same as in the Beginner Level, but the breeds have added difficulty due to their conformation. Examples of Intermediate breeds (smooth or short-coated or lightly feathered) include: Labrador Retrievers, Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, Whippets, Boxers, Great Danes, Rottweilers, Siberian Huskies, Airedales, Wire Fox Terriers, Chihuahuas, Italian Greyhounds, Boston Terriers and Pembroke Welsh Corgis.
Once participants have passed the Intermediate Level three times, they can move on to the Advanced Level. The six classes “passed” in getting to the Advanced Level must be composed of at least four different breeds.
This level differs from the previous two in that in order to pass, the participant’s placements must be correct and the participant’s score sheet gradings must match 75 percent of the judges’ gradings (as described above). Any smooth, short-coated or lightly feathered AKC breed can by used for the Advanced Level. Once a participant has passed the Advanced Level twice judging two different breeds, they receive a “Judging Component” for their next application.
When a contestant disagrees with the judges’ placements, it’s a lesson on learning that there is sometimes not complete agreement at dog shows. Try again at the next show. If contestants find their choices often match the judges’, they’re doing well. If instead they find that their choices seldom match the judges’ choices, they should find out why.
All-breed clubs can hold judging classes for more than one breed at a show. Participants can enter as many of these classes at a show as they want. Maximum number of participants per class (e.g. 10) must be determined by AKC.
There are many opportunities for growth in this field. As these competitions become established and grow more popular, classes could be made to be more difficult or have more dogs to choose from, and/or oral critiques may be incorporated as part of the scoring. This is just a first step in introducing judging as part of the dog show culture as handling is now. Young people will be better breeders and handlers with this additional knowledge of judging. The benefits down the road will, hopefully, include better and more consistent judging.
Paul Lepiane has been involved in the purebred livestock world, in addition to show dogs, since he started in 4-H in the 1960s. Over the following years he has successfully shown dogs, rabbits, pigeons, cattle, sheep and horses. He founded The Afghan Hound Review in 1974, Poodle Variety in 1977 and co-founded Dogs in Review in 1997.