I don’t think most dog people know much about what it entails to become an AKC judge. That may be just as well, because the requirements frankly don’t always inspire great confidence in what you need to know to be a judge in the US these days.
Nevertheless, as a sometimes reluctant AKC judge, initially approved in the dark, distant ages before the current paper exercises had been invented, I feel it’s my responsibility to inform the fancy of what’s going on. It’s no secret, but although I hear constant rumblings among my more active judging colleagues, very little is written about what’s required, in particular of judges who want to expand their breed registers.
A couple of years ago I succumbed, perhaps unwisely, to a suggestion that I should add a few breeds to my list. If I had known what was in store I wouldn’t have bothered, but these are mostly breeds I’ve judged at foreign shows for many years, usually in larger numbers than seen at AKC shows. It couldn’t be that big a deal, could it?
Well, jump forward many months, endless forms, interviews, ringside “observing” and “enriching components” fulfilled. I figured the worst was over when I got a letter from AKC: “We are pleased to advise you…” etc., etc. Finally! (Well, you still have to fulfill provisional assignments before being regularly approved, of course. But judging the dogs is actually the easy part.)
Not so fast, though. I had forgotten the AKC Breed Tests to be completed at home: 25 multiple choice questions per breed, with more than a single mistake in any of them delaying your application by a minimum three months. (Missing even one answer on a disqualifying fault means “no pass,” which seems fair enough.)
How hard could this be, I thought, seeing that AKC obviously expects you to do the test with the breed standard open next to you? Frankly, any teenager with access to the Internet and a search/find engine could probably complete the test at least as easily as I did, without ever having to bother about such details as knowing anything about dogs.
Take, for example, this: “The Ibizan Hound has a unique appearance due to: A. the red and white coloration; B. the large prick ears and light pigmentation; C. its substance and power; D. its exaggerated appearance.” You find the Ibizan standard on AKC’s website, search for “unique” and find “large prick ears and light pigmentation”… easy, but it’s not clear to me what this has to do with breed knowledge. That’s when I promised myself I wouldn’t feel better if I should pass, or worse if I don’t.
In fact, that teenager may have an easier time than I did, because he wouldn’t worry about some of the things I do. Take, for instance, the Basenji: “The skin of the Basenji is A. hard; B. pliant; C. stiff; D. folded.” B would seem pretty obvious — except the standard says the skin should be very pliant. Is “pliant” the same as “very pliant?” Your guess is as good as mine.
This goes on: The Golden Retriever, as per the AKC standard, is supposed to have “No white or haw visible when looking straight ahead.” In the test, the wording is “No white or haw visible,” period. Not quite the same, right? In fact, you frequently end up wondering not what’s correct when judging, but what kind of answer AKC wants … and that’s probably not ideal.
Sometimes the questions are downright funny. Whoever put together the Rhodesian Ridgeback test must have a sense of humor: How else to explain questions such as whether its tail should be “tufted at the end”? Should its coat be “long”? The color range from “black to blue-black?”
It’s all very different from the days when an old friend of mine, a famous breeder now gone, went up to AKC to ask if she could perhaps become a judge. “I think I’d like to judge Whippets,” she said. “Why don’t you just take the whole Hound Group, dear?” suggested the then-AKC president. That was that, and she was a very famous Hound Group judge for many, many years…