As registrations of purebred dogs and participation at dog shows decline, an odd new debate has developed. To some in the fancy, breeders who become AKC judges have become controversial. That criticism comes from owners or breeders who compete against dogs bred by breeder-judges and felt the breeder-judge somehow has an advantage. By definition, breeders who become judges are experienced and established in their breed. They also have a lot to offer the fancy. A judge’s opinion should be looked upon as just that — their opinion. Wouldn’t you prefer the opinion of a judge who knows your breed from the whelping box to the Best in Show ring?
Full disclosure. We are current Breeders of Merit, having bred since 1987 and still actively breeding. Cathy is an AKC judge; Mike judges at matches and works as a ring steward. Cathy used to handle our dogs, but for more than a decade we’ve used a terrific professional handler with great success. So, we are, therefore, biased at every level and impartial at none.
By definition, the AKC demands breeding experience, 12 years in fact, before a person can begin the process of becoming an AKC judge. There are different requirements for handlers. Over the years the road to becoming a judge has always, with some exceptions, been paved with breeding or handling experience. The premise was that these experiences ensured that the new judge had a pool of knowledge that would help them become a good judge. These judges understood their breed standards and what it takes to produce excellent dogs.
Where’s the Respect?
Today we see more and more examples of exhibitors arguing with judges. Instead of talking to the judge to understand the results, many file complaints with AKC representatives, showing little regard for judges when their dogs do not win. Judges used to be respected in the same way that teachers used to be respected. Many respected successful judges in the past continued to be top breeders. There was no question that they knew what they were doing as they judged in the ring. Most of these judges were also very generous with their time to explain why they judged the way they did when asked by an exhibitor. Why? Because they were also mentors, and they respected the exhibitors just as they hoped they would be respected.
Breeders as Mentors
Good breeders are also great mentors for the people to whom they have sold a dog, whether a show dog or a pet. They stay in touch with their new owner families, recruit new show homes where possible and understand that there are no dumb questions from new members to the fancy. They understand that the future of the sport is dependent upon a growing pool of new dog owners and exhibitors.
Yet the sport is struggling and breeders are disappearing. With more than a half-million new registrations each year with the AKC, more than 5,000 dog clubs with an estimated 150,000 members, there are less than 10,000 AKC Breeders of Merit in the whole country. Where do we think the dogs are going to come from to support dog shows and registrations?
Unfortunately, the trend has been that once a person becomes a judge, they tend to stop breeding. The AKC has rules that are designed to limit the perception of a conflict of interest for a judge, yet some judges use this as a reason to stop breeding. This does not advance the sport of purebred dogs. Judges should keep breeding and by doing so, stay current on changes in breeds and continue to mentor new exhibitors in the sport. When a judge stops breeding, all of us lose a huge reservoir of experience, knowledge, and advancement of their breed and the sport in general.
The AKC Can Help
The AKC should encourage judges to keep breeding and stay in the game as much as possible. While many judges were once breeders, times change and breed standards evolve. To become an AKC Breeder of Merit, a breeder must have been involved with AKC events for five years, earned at least four conformation, performance or companion event titles, be a member of an AKC parent club, certify that health screens are performed on their breeding stock and demonstrate a commitment to ensuring that 100 percent of the puppies produced are AKC-registered. The AKC could consider giving special consideration for Breeders of Merit who become AKC judges. This group has demonstrated that they are committed to the advancement of the sport of purebred dogs.
It is not enough to just be an AKC judge. We all need to mentor, develop and encourage newcomers to the sport if we expect to have a sport in 10 years. We’re in the best position to do all of that as breeders; producing dogs that meet breed standards and placing great dogs with new owners who will be the life blood of our sport’s future.
From the September 2013 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Purchase the September 2013 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine.