Success in Show Dogs: Words to Our New Judges

Success in Show Dogs 


In a recent conversation with one of our newer judges I was asked just how important I felt ring procedure is to good judging. On the one hand, I think establishing good procedural habits is very important in that once established, committed to memory and consistently used, they become rote, relieving the judge’s mind to concentrate on the essence of good judging — finding the best dogs.

Having to decide in the moment where to put the dog so that it is not later missed, where in the ring all the dogs should stand, how to divide classes and a thousand other things are distractions. Even the least-forgetful mind should not have to be burdened with making those decisions while the dogs are made to wait before being correctly placed. 


On the other hand, if I were pressed to make a choice between the judge whose greatest asset was his ring procedure and another who never failed to come up with the best dogs – well, there’s no contest. Anyone can put dogs in a straight line. It takes knowledge and talent to get a job of judging done correctly.


As far as the average exhibitor goes, I don’t think he or she is even remotely concerned with how the judge goes about finding the right dogs just as long as the right dogs are found and rewarded accordingly. (We won’t even bother discussing the exhibitor who believes the only right choice is his dog!) The judge could stand on his head to get the job done as far as the exhibitor is concerned. Granted, textbook ring procedure looks good, but one does have to stop and ponder just how great a contribution a judge’s looking good actually contributes to good judging.


Here in the United States we once had a judge who arranged his classes in Xs, Ts and reverse Zs. Bizarre as his ring procedure was he was hailed as a gifted judge (Xs, Ts and Zs notwithstanding). The dogs that emerged victorious in the end were always the best ones. 


Ring procedure

In most cases what is being talked about should actually be called ring procedure because it’s actually about all the observable things a judge does while he is in the ring. Ring procedure includes an array of characteristics like always arriving on time, proper attire (for the day’s circumstances), marking the judge’s book properly, arranging and moving the dogs in the ring in a sensible manner, examining the dogs in an appropriate manner and finishing one’s assignment on time.

These are all things that can be taught to the new judge very quickly and, in the scheme of things, has little or nothing to do with having even the slightest knowledge of dogs. They are the mechanics of judging.


Again, this is not to entirely dismiss their value particularly in the case of newer judges. Deciding in advance where the dogs will be placed in the ring, how cuts will be made, how the judge’s book should be marked and where to point one’s toe while taking the win pictures does save time. 


The time saved can then be spent by those lacking real knowledge in trying to remember, for example, which of the 20 Siberian Huskies in the ring is currently the top winner in the breed at last count, which of them is most influentially owned and so forth. The more knowledgeable fellow who has done his homework and nailed down his ring procedure so that it all takes place without stopping to think about it can use his time on the fine points of judging Siberian type.


Another practice that is lumped under the heading of judging procedure is what is generally referred to as breed-specific examination. That is, putting one’s hands or fingers in the places that will help determine if certain characteristics are present. Breed-specific examination is not massage therapy, however. The knowledgeable Pekingese judge holds and lifts the dog slightly off the table in both hands to check the size and shape of the dog’s rib cage, test the weight of the dog, and determine how the weight is distributed (the good Peke is a heavy-fronted dog). The less knowledgeable individual will pick the dog up because he’s seen someone else do the same thing.


The experienced Labrador Retriever judge lifts the tail of the dog to see if the hair wraps the tail completely. Proper wrapping tells the judge this retrieving breed’s tail is well protected. The less knowledgeable judge lifts the tail, and I leave to the imagination what is being observed. 


Poking, prodding and endlessly massaging a dog, even in the most accepted manner, means little if final placements don’t confirm it was knowledge that put the judge’s hands on the dog in the first place.

Another valuable part of ring procedure is developing a method by which the judge separates the best dogs from the lesser competition. A good many experienced judges feel as I do, that what the judge does can be an educational experience for all who are present both in and out of the ring.

Whither thou goest?

Reducing a class of 20 to a much handier and observable 10 after the individual examinations gives the observer the opportunity to see which 10 of the 20 entries the judge feels come closer to his interpretation of the standard. It does not seem reasonable at that point that a judge can still be giving equal consideration to all 20 of the dogs in the class. Nor does it make sense for endless comparisons of dogs the judge is considering for a final placement with dogs that are clearly out of the picture. 

Additional observation of the 10 remaining can then be easily made; moving those that stand foremost in consideration forward draws an even clearer picture of what the judge is after. Final arrangement of the top four in descending order give the observer the final picture.


As much as a judge dreads the class that has no standouts, we are often faced with the class made up of dogs that have no disqualifying or major faults but are cursed with the greatest fault of them all — mediocrity. The new judge struggles long and hard to come out with the right answer when in fact there is no right answer. A half-dozen judges forced to decide in which order the dogs should be placed could well come up with a half-dozen different configurations.


The new judge will have to, at some point, decide how he or she is going to handle this eventuality because it will come along — more frequently than not. The method I use that helps is to imagine that the six standing before me are the last remaining six in the world of their breed, and it is up to me to choose the ones that I will use to recreate the breed. Perhaps this may not be the most scientific way of going about the problem, but it does beat standing around and pondering for forever and a day!


A judge should never compromise his given time by wasting it on dogs that have proven they are no longer in competition. This robs the outstanding dogs of the time they should be given to making fine-line decisions.


It is a serious mistake to think that the longer a judge ponders a decision the more apt he is to be correct. It leads to confusion on the part of the judge and marks the judge as indecisive. Should a judge find himself caught in the dilemma of indecision I most sincerely recommend purchasing a copy of an excellent book entitled Blink (The Power of Thinking Without Thinking), by Malcolm Gladwell. The book has nothing to do with dog judging and at the same time has everything to do with dog judging. 


Finally, here’s a word of caution in regard to advice given the new judge by fanciers of the working dog breeds. Some advocates of breeds that were created to perform a given task demand that the breed be judged entirely upon their ability to perform those tasks. Those of us who judge are not capable of deciding in the conformation ring whether or not a dog is capable of performing the task for which the breed was created. The most we are able to do is determine how closely a dog conforms to a standard which by the way it is written describes a dog that is able to perform the given task. We judge on theory alone. All we can do is follow the checkpoints that tell us when present the dog may perform adequately. No one, other than the individual observing the dog performing its given task, can say how well the dog is doing so or if it is doing so at all.

From the August 2012 issue of Dogs In Review magazine. Purchase the August 2012 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs In Review magazine.

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