This past summer I had the pleasure of judging a good-sized entry of one of our Non-Sporting breeds that, with a one class exception, was made up of dogs of fine quality. The exception, oddly enough, was the Open Dog class, which, while notably large, just didn’t stand up to what had preceded it. The dog that eventually was given the nod for first place was not completely without some merit, mind you, but just not in the same league as the previous class winners. I moved the entire Winners class together, and then, starting down with the Junior Puppy, moved each class winner individually. Winners Dog came from the Bred-by-Exhibitor class, with Reserve going to the Junior Puppy.
A friend had been sitting outside my ring observing the judging and during a break said, “I could tell you were looking for something to beat the Open Dog with.” The next class was entering the ring, so I didn’t have time to respond to my friend, but I did think about his comment then and a number of times later.
I guess the reason his remark kept coming back to mind is that trying to find something to “beat” the Open Dog was as far away from what I had done and in fact totally contrary to my approach to judging. I certainly can’t speak on behalf of everyone who judges, but I am more than confident that while there may well be those who begin judging a class by eliminating the least desirable dog or dogs, there are at least as many, if not more, who begin by pulling out the most representative of the lot and from those select the one (or two) with the most of the best. I include myself with the latter.
Some might not see a difference between the two approaches because it would be assumed that in both scenarios the lesser dogs would be eliminated and the better moved on forward. Perhaps, perhaps not.
In order to eliminate a dog from consideration, there must be something apparent that the observer does not like. Thus the approach is negative — what do I not like about this dog? Of course, there will be things that we would change on just about any dog, but, and this is an extremely important but, that flaw could be attached to the best dog in the ring.
I can’t say I am an advocate of the average written or verbal critique because they take much time away from the job at hand, and that job is to acknowledge and put in descending order the entry that stands before the judge.
That said, there is a time and place when the occasional well-constructed critique can have far greater impact and educational value than a list of faults and virtues. Such is a classic written in 1888 by Charles Mason, considered by many to be one of the true judging greats of the 19th century.
It was written after he had passed on a huge entry of Smooth Fox Terriers at an important show. ‘Lucifer,’ Mason’s Best of Breed dog at that event, was a leading winner of the day and was owned by the influential August Belmont. Mason’s critique reads, in part, as follows:
“Skull of excellent formation … cheeks showing slight fullness. Muzzle clearly cut, neat, and strong in lower jaw, but showing slight weakness an inch or so from the eyes. Ears of exquisite formation, perfect in carriage and position, and of sterling quality. Teeth sound and level.
“We now come to the dog’s one and only defect — his eyes. In size, position and formation they are as nearly perfect as we expect to ever find, but in color they are without exception the worst that we have ever seen in a noted first prize winner. In nine cases out of 10, eyes like Lucifer’s would utterly destroy the character of the dog’s face; and it is a strong point in his favor that notwithstanding his great drawback he still shows intense and unmistakable character. Neck formed on beautiful lines. Shoulder long, clean, sloping and well laid back … An active, strong, well-built, racy looking terrier showing much character and lovely quality. He is undoubtedly the best Fox Terrier dog that has been exhibited in America.”
What a gift to be able to maintain one’s objectivity in light of a fault that is so glaring — “the worst that we have ever seen.” However, when Mason balanced that blatant fault against the dog’s many virtues, he could not deny the win! It is important that both breeders and judges ask themselves whether they all could be as objective.
It must be said, however, that this is a different time, and the judging is much different. The sport, or game of purebred dogs, if you will, in its golden years was very much the breeder’s game, so dogs of exemplary type were held in the highest of regard. Today our sport is very much an exhibitor’s game in which charisma and “sound” movement reign supreme. This is not to say the latter can’t also possess the virtues of the former, but now it is “nice if you can have both.” And don’t try it without the latter.
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