Is Breed Type becoming Extinct?
Almost all long-time active participants in the sport of pure-bred dogs will tell you that it is “Type” that distinguishes one breed from another and makes it unique. While observing a dog in the stack it should be apparent that a dog has the correct type for that breed and in movement, it should also display those characteristics that make it unique from other breeds.
Long time judges that went through the extensive process of adding breeds at a much slower pace than many of today’s judges will tell you that learning and developing the understanding of each breed’s unique type and qualities were essential in the learning process of acquiring additional breeds.
Most of our highly respected judges from the past and in the present always tell you to find type first in your exhibits and then prioritize each animals’ virtues and place them accordingly. It was a common statement that a good moving dog can be found at any local shelter or roaming the streets, but a truly great dog exhibits extreme type first and if built correctly it should move properly.
Today the common words heard are that judging today is either too generic or too political. Why is that? Is it a lack of knowledge on both the judges and the breeders in recognizing correct type or does it go even deeper?
As someone who has been involved in our sport for many years, I would just like to share my own observations and opinions of what is happening in our sport regarding breed specific type.
According to the Golden anniversary edition of the The Complete AKC Dog Book published in 1979, there were 133 recognized breeds and varieties spread across the six Groups. Twenty-six Sporting, 23 Hounds, 32 Working, 23 Terrier, 17 Toy and 12 Non-Sporting, later the largest of these the Working Group would be split to create todays Herding Group.
Here in 2020, a little over 40 years later, I calculate 198 recognized breeds and varieties with 32 Sporting, 32 Hounds, 31 Working, 31 Terriers, 21 Toys, 21 Non-Sporting, and 30 Herding. We also have 11 breeds in the Miscellaneous Class and an additional 68 recognized FSS breeds. That brings the AKC recognized total to 277 breeds while the FCI has well over 300 breeds being recognized.
Obviously being able to not only distinguish the different breeds and to identify the correct breed type is a difficult task for any judge.
At some point during the 1980’s the American Kennel Club requested that all of the parent clubs review and reformat their breed standards into a more uniform style. Prior to this request many of the standards went back many years and some were very specific and unique while some were rather short and open to greater interpretation.
No less than 1/3 of all breed standards in 1979 assigned a point scale to various parts of their standards. In some cases, the point scale was a simple guide breaking down a rating of importance to specific areas of the breed and in others it was very specific assigning points to various parts such as eyes, ears, muzzle, topline and so on. These point scales served a purpose in alerting breeders and judges to the areas the framers of the breed standard felt were most important in distinguishing them one from another. In fact, two of the Hound breeds, the Irish Wolfhound and the Scottish Deerhound, have an “order of importance” written right into their standard. When reviewing the standards today you will find that only 17 breeds assign a point value of importance in their standards along with the Wolfhound and Deerhound breeds that kept the order of importance.
What that means is that less than 10% of the recognized breeds give judges a quick reference to areas of importance within their respective breed standards.
I would say that most fanciers understand that there are breeds that are known as “head breeds” while there are also some known for other unique traits. One example would be the Brittany. In the standard from 1977, 40% of the total was assigned to the running gear, 25% to the head and 35% to the body while the revised standard of 1990 there is no emphasis on any one part of the standard.
In some cases, breeds did not make changes to the standard requested by the AKC. Some examples of those would be the Airedale Terrier, last revised in 1959, the Border Terrier 1950, and the Cairn Terrier all the way back to 1938.
Most breed standards were revised in one way or another with some adding DQ’s and some removing them while others have had more than one revision over the last 40 years. If you read the AKC secretary’s page, it is not uncommon to see proposed standard changes on a regular basis.
You may wonder “what does all this have to with breed type?” Remember the standard is the “blueprint” for the breed and a revision is a little like an automaker coming out with a new model with some modification in style, body and parts.
When the founders of the breed wrote the original standard, they were describing their “ideal” representative of what they created the breed to accomplish, you know it as “Form and Function”. One must wonder when a breed makes changes to the standard is it being done to accommodate the breeders or those movers and shakers within the breed to make the “Blueprint” more in line with what they are producing and not what was intended when the original standard was written.
When the original standards were written the breeders had very significant reasons for almost all parts that make up the whole dog with areas of significant importance. Each part serves a purpose. The size and type of eyes, ears, and nose play very significant roles for many breeds. While in others the running gear and depth of chest, play a very important role in that breed’s ability to do its job. Even tails are extremely important and one area most often ignored by today’s judges and breeders.
In his book The Pointer and his Predecessors An Illustrated History of the Pointing Dog from the Earliest Times by William Arkwright, published in 1906, in the chapter on the Characteristics of the Pointer he writes; “The Tail of the pointer must be moderately short, with thick bone at the root, very gradually tapering to a fine point. It must be covered thickly with smooth glossy hair, and must be carried straight, on a level with the back the ‘pot-hook’ curve being very objectionable. When questing it is wantoned and lashed without ceasing, but when pointing it is held rigid, either quite straight or with a slight ‘pump-handle’ curve.
There is nothing for a Pointer more necessary than a tail of the right shape, of the right length, of the right carriage, and of the right covering. It is more convincing warranty of pure blood and high breeding than reams of written pedigree. There is a saying about the pedigree being carried on the back, but in this case, it is told by the tail. The head is invaluable for showing the character of a dog, but for a certificate of blue-blood apply the other end!”
The Arkwright book is a rare collector’s item and considered one of the best books on the history of the Pointing breeds ever written. In the above-mentioned description, while the breeders place a great emphasis on the head and other parts of the breed, they felt it was the tail that was the true sign of blue–blood pedigree. If you compare today’s standard for the breed it reads. “Tail—Heavier at the root, tapering to a fine point. Length no greater than to the hock. A tail longer than this or docked must be penalized. Carried without curl, and not more than 20 degrees above the line of the back; never carried between the legs. A little further down in the standard under Gait the tail moving from side to side rhythmically with the pace.”
Almost all Pointer breeders long for the specific “Bee Sting” tail and proper carriage and side to side motion. Yet all too often this very specific description is ignored in the ring.
This is just one example of the importance of a specific area of a standard that is often overlooked or misunderstood by judges that do not study breed type. The standard also says not carried more than 20 degrees above the line of the back.
Tails are a problem in many breeds and until judges pay attention to those that don’t adhere to the standard, breeders will continue to ignore them. In my own breed, the Vizsla, our standard reads: “Tail set just below the level of the croup, thicker at the root and docked one-third off.” Ideally, it should reach to the back of the stifle joint and when moving it should be carried at or near horizontal, not vertically or curled over the back, nor between the legs. Unfortunately, high tail carriage is also accepted in my breed and many others.
Many people say, “Tails are not that big of an issue.” Wrong! Framers of the breed have reasons for each description. Think of it as the headlights or taillight on your car. If they were aimed at the sky would you be able to see the road? Would the person following you be able to see that you were in front of them when you were coming to a stop?
It is the same with each part of a standard. Proportions are another area of confusion for many judges and breeders. Do you know what is Square? Rectangular? Slightly longer than tall? Ten is to nine and so on?
How about length of back and length of loin? Do you know where the back ends and where the loin begins? Or length of leg and depth of body? Size is another area that varies greatly from breed to breed. In those breeds that have a disqualification for size or weight judges need to pay attention. Too often a good dog is put at the end of the line or ignored because a judge thought it too big or small in a breed with a DQ. If the judge thinks this is a deserving dog, he or she must measure it and if it is within standard place it accordingly or disqualify it from the ring. A 13″ outstanding Shetland Sheepdog is just as deserving as the one just under 16″ both specimens deserve equal consideration as long as both fit within the parameters set by the standard.
Toplines in every breed serve a specific purpose and, in most cases, they are referenced as level, or a slight slope, while others are unique to their breed. The gentle “S” curve of the Whippet or the American Foxhound which calls for, “loins broad and slightly arched with defects being very long or swayed or roached back or flat or narrow loins.” The Borzoi is another example with “the back rising a little at the loin in a graceful curve.” There are many breeds with unique toplines called for in the standard. It is very important for judges and breeders to pay attention to the details.
Many breeds are specific about heads and in many cases, they are the “hallmark” of the breed. For example, the “one-piece head of the Flat—Coated Retriever”, the blunt wedge and expression of the Shetland Sheepdog, the massive short faced head of the Bulldog which also under proportions is stated, “the circumference of the skull in front of the ears should measure at least the height of the dog at the shoulders.” The different heads, ears and expression of the Corgis. The brick–on–brick description of the Setters. Again, these are just a few of the examples that distinguish breeds from one another.
While we are on heads, we should mention the bite. There are 68 breeds that call for full dentition which requires the judges to examine the fronts and side of the bite. There are another eleven breeds that require the judge to open the mouth completely to check dentition. Five breeds just require a thumb examination while two breeds, the Chinese Crested and the Xoloitzcuintli, have a different requirement for the hairless and coated varieties.
All breeds have some type of description of the coat and again this is extremely important in the form and function for many breeds. There is a reason for a single coat, a double coat, a wire coat, the length and shape of coats and how much grooming and trimming is permitted under the standard. Today in the show ring many exhibits are bathed and groomed so often the true texture or natural fall of the coat is hard to evaluate, but that does not change the need for the coat as called for in the standard and it should come into the decision making especially in those breeds that have very specific definitions in their standards.
When learning about the various breeds some of the breeds’ educational materials will offer an acronym to help judges remember certain things. Examples would be the Sussex Spaniel, the four L’s; Long, Low, Level and Liver. Or the Neapolitan Mastiff with the W.H.A.M. method; Wrinkles, Head and Mass. The Dogue De Bordeaux uses H.E.A.R.T; Head, Expression, Athletic, Wrinkles, Trots like a lion. Labrador Retriever; Head, Coat and Tail.
Different breeds have very specific grooming requirements regarding coats and trims and the judges and exhibitors need to pay attention to these. There are many exhibitors that take grooming to extremes way beyond what is called for and permitted in the standard. I am not aware of any standard that call for “pretty” and says it should win because it is just groomed to look so pretty.
As you can see there is a great deal of material in every breed standard that is very specific and in others very vague. First and foremost, it is the responsibility of the breeders to pay attention to the standard and try to breed according to the standard and not toward a current “fad”. Many of the Parent Clubs have put together illustrated standards to assist judges in identifying breed type and breed specific traits. Many of these are excellent reference guides for judges and I know on a personal note I review those in my possession regularly. On occasion a judge and an exhibitor may have a conversation on the exhibitor’s breed. I have often been surprised when in a discussion I have pulled out the illustrated standard that I had with me only to have the exhibitor say that they had never seen one on their breed. This is just one example of why breeders must learn to talk to each other and to mentor and discuss the breed with newcomers so they can understand the importance of breed specific traits as called for in the standard.
When it comes to gait remember all breeds have a purpose and a specific gait for that breed. Learn what they are. Bulldogs don’t move like German Shepherds and Fox Terriers don’t move like Pointers, while a Borzoi won’t move like Miniature Pinschers or Labrador Retrievers. Be sure to apply the proper gait to the breed being judged.
A message to some of the parent clubs would be to try to expand some of the points in their standards to clarify those areas that are particularly lacking in specificity.
In closing, breed type matters. If you are a judge, breeder, or exhibitor you should be able to recognize each breed and its unique qualities. To do any less is to continue to reward a “pretty or showy” specimen that is “Generic” and will eventually look like an “All-American” breed.
Just my opinion.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T and Common Sense
At times it appears to me that everywhere I turn there seems to be a general lack of Civility and Respect between people in just about every area of our lives. I often wonder why that is and just where did this trend begin.
Growing up in America as a member of the baby boomer generation I am full of many fond memories of my youth. At school we all learned how to read and write, we learned math, history, spelling, social studies, geography and many other subjects. At home as well as in our neighborhoods we also learned many other things such as;
While many of my generation were growing up TV and radio were expanding, and our country started to change. We lived through the Cold War with bomb shelters and the drills that accompanied them, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, Draft dodging, the space race and saw the first man walk on the moon, the burning of bras and draft cards, The introduction of the birth control pill, free love and hippy movements and of course the counter culture of drugs. We had political unrest, race riots, the threat of communism, Watergate and a world about to explode with technology that would forever change the landscape not only in America but all over the world.
Our world today appears to be in constant chaos. One only needs to look at what is happening in our own country to see that mankind and America are heading down a dangerous path. As I remember during my childhood the Political parties of both the Democrats and the Republicans sought to find the common ground and compromises that only required “common sense” and results to benefit our country and the greater good.
It seems to me that today the extreme views of those both on the left and the right are slowly dividing not only our country but families and friendships along with them. I believe that there are probably about 10-15% of Americans that fit in the extreme category on either side of the political spectrum with about 70% of our country fitting somewhere in the middle. I think that most people may lean to the right or the left but, they agree on more subjects than they are opposed to. If it were up to me, I would create a third political party in America simply called the “Common Sense Party”, where that 70% could use common goals and reason to solve the issues we face as a country.
It has always been my opinion that our sport is a scaled down version of America. We have people of all races, nationalities, religious beliefs, social, economic and ethnic groups. We have people of all ages, sexual orientation, as well as educational and professional backgrounds. We are a melting pot of people with a common interest in our sport of pure-bred dogs.
Also, like America I think that as a sport we may also be heading down a destructive path. A path that without some changes may lead to an end of the sport as we know it. Let’s look at some of those areas:
As a country, might we be headed toward another civil war. Is the world we live in headed toward destruction? What about our sport? Will it still exist in 5-10-20 years?
On the positive side our sport is truly international, and we have dog lovers all over the world exhibiting. Is it possible that some day in the future we will all compete under one system? Who knows?
I admit I miss the golden age of dog shows the early 70’s and 80’s where we were a truly family sport where the weekend was two days to look forward to and not the rat race of the 4-5 day circuits of today. A time when judges and exhibitors would talk, listen and share without having their integrity questioned. Where fellow exhibitors stayed till the end to laugh, to learn, to share and to create great friendships. What do you think?
Presentation: It Does Make a Difference
I was reading the critique of a local restaurant the other day in my local paper. The critic was talking about the food, the prices, the décor and what made it unique. When evaluating the entrées there was a specific mention of the “Presentation” of the meal itself.
Being curious I looked up presentation in food evaluation. The description I found was that “Presentation is the art of modifying, processing, arranging, or decorating food to enhance its aesthetic appeal.”
The definition brought me back to an experience I had several years ago while living in Memphis, Tennessee. I had the opportunity to be a part of a team that was cooking in the world famous “Memphis in May” Barbecue contest. During the competition I learned just how important “presentation” was involved in the over-all scoring of the team. I was surprised to learn that if any of the sauce itself dripped onto the plate it was a DQ for the dish. There have also been times when I have watched one of those Chef Shows on cable TV and again the presentation of the food carried a very high value in the evaluation process.
You are probably wondering what does this have to do with dog shows?
Just look at the definition “The art of modifying, processing, and arranging to enhance its aesthetic appeal.” Is this not what we all do when showing our dogs.
Just like food we start with the main ingredient our dogs. Then through a variety of ways we work toward presenting that dog in the best possible way to appeal to the judge.
The first part comes through raising happy, healthy, sound animals with good temperaments. Hopefully we follow that up with training, and conditioning building strong muscles and a very good basic physical specimen.
Once our exhibit has the basics solved, we move on to the other phases. Enhancing virtues and minimizing faults in the eyes of the judge. So, I guess you could say we only want the judge to see the good parts and hope we can fool them from seeing the not so good parts. This can and is done in many ways.
Let’s start with a coated breed. Coated breeds can offer you blessings as well as difficulties in the presentation phase. If you are blessed with a dog with enough coat in quantity and texture you may have hit the jackpot. Coat can be used to create many illusions to the judge that fails to search the coat to see what is under it. Some examples would be a dog that when standing naturally is east and west in front or maybe cow-hocked in the rear. A skillful groomer can use scissors and other techniques to make it appear that when the dog is stopped and standing naturally, he appears to be truly perfect. Hopefully a skilled judge feels through the coat to find the faults or is good enough to pay attention to the pads of the feet to pick it up while the dog is in motion. Likewise, an animal lacking in neck can be enhanced through stripping out coat or even clipping it at the withers and having the neck hair lay over it to make it appear much longer than it is. Toplines can be altered through numerous approaches to make them appear not what they really are so the judge must use his hands and his eyes to get a true evaluation. Even though the coated breeds are often a lot of work a skilled person knows how to use that coat to their advantage.
Keeping the nails trimmed properly is another important part of the puzzle. There are times when the nails are so long you can hear them clicking on the mats on the down and back and in some cases this can lead to making the feet themselves look very bad.
Many people use special shampoos, chalk, hair dye and other substances to alter or enhance the animal under their care. The secret to this is being sure it’s done correctly and does not come off onto the hands of the judge or leave white spots on the mats or even a big puff of smoke when the dog shakes out inside the ring. Foreign substance found in the coat gives the judge the right to immediately excuse the dog from the ring. All judges will tell you two things they hate are dirty dogs and dogs that when they are examining them have a bunch of gunk in the coat that comes off in their hands.
If you have a smooth coated animal, you don’t have as many opportunities, but you can still do things to be sure you know what you need to do to make your dog look its best. Start by being sure you are stacking your dog properly to present a picture to the judge of the balance and type of your dog. How you hold the head, and the tail, being sure the front is set properly under the dog and the rear is not over stretched or under stretched make a difference in what appears to the judge. Also being sure the topline is being shown properly for that breed is equally important.
Everyone needs to learn how to properly show the bite and should make sure the dogs’ teeth are clean and look white and healthy. When practicing showing the bite remember your showing it to the judge not looking at it yourself so don’t block their view with your head.
Assuming you have done all the correct things regarding health, coat care, and proper set up the most critical part of the equation is next.
How should I move my dog?
Obviously, all dogs have some type of movement described in their individual standard. Learning the different gaits and how to recognize and understand them
One of the better books out there to talk about gait is Dogsteps by the late Rachel Page Elliot. Page Elliott was one of America’s most respected authorities on dog gait. She presented lectures and videos to audiences all over the world and through her books and videos many people have gained a better understanding of the Natural Gaits, The Walk, The Amble, The Pace, The Trot, Hackney Gaiting, The suspension or “Flying Trot” the Cantor and The Gallop. The book will also help you to understand that good performance is the test of good structure.
Hopefully, in preparing your exhibit for the show ring you understand the proper gait for your breed. Assuming your dog has the proper gait style the next most important part of the equation is the tempo or speed in which you exhibit.
How fast or slow you move your animal has a great deal to do with the overall presentation to the judge. While in movement the judge is evaluating many different things not just reach and drive. The are looking at toplines, tail carriage, head carriage, rolling of the body and so on.
I am a proponent of the saying “Speed Kills”. Normal canine movement can show numerous faulty actions such as “Crabbing”, Crossing over in the front or rear, Weaving, Moving close, Cow hocks, paddling, knitting and purling, tied at the elbows, or out at the elbows, as well as other faults that can be minimized or as in most cases maximized by the speed at which they are shown as well as the placement of the lead and the control exerted by the handler.
In most cases dog are raced around the ring because for whatever reason people think it looks showy, flashy and gives the appearance of good reach and drive. Often what racing does is throw off the top line and make it look like the animal is working very hard to go nowhere fast. On the down and back it often causes the exhibit to appear to crab or sidewind and in some cases cause the dog to be pulling to side and throw the front or rear out of rhythm. As the handler or presenter, it is your job to practice showing your exhibit on a loose lead at the speed which makes him or her look their very best. Again, know the proper gait and preferred speed for your breed and adapt accordingly. Good judges know proper movement and try to evaluate the whole dog while in motion. In evaluating movement, they are also assessing if the dog has the proper structure and ability to do the job for which he is bred.
Hopefully if you are serious about the presentation of your exhibit you will do your homework and do all the little things that make a big difference. Remember presentation is the art of creating an enhancing aesthetic appeal it can and often does make a difference it the outcome.
Officiating and Instant replay
I am one of those baby boomer kids that grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in a working-class neighborhood in the Polish section of Cleveland, Ohio. My father was a decorated World War II veteran that served in the European theater under Eisenhower. Following the war in 1946 Mom and Dad got married and over the next 50 plus years they raised 5 children born in 1951, 54, 60, 63, & 66. When I was young Dad worked two jobs and my mother was a typical stay at home mom. We lived upstairs above my grandparents in a small apartment filled with love.
It was a great time to be a kid. We didn’t have much, but we never really gave it much thought.
Mom and dad were good Catholics (in fact two of my aunts were nuns) so we were sentenced to 12 years of Catholic School and had a pretty normal childhood. What I remember most about growing up was that almost all my friends and the other kids in the neighborhood were always outside playing some type of sports or getting into mischief. On most days’ baseball, touch and tackle football, basketball, kickball, and whatever else we could play with the number of kids available occupied our free time. My brother and I had paper routes to earn spending money and we walked everywhere except for those times when we would take a bus to go fishing on Lake Erie or downtown to attend a Cleveland Indians game when you could buy a general admission ticket for $.75.
I remember that when I joined the little league, the team that I wanted to play for had tryouts and you had to earn your place on the team. I was not a natural athlete and had to work hard in order to make the team roster. There were no guarantees of playing time, but you practiced a lot and in my case on a rare occasion I got into a game or two. Just like with almost all sports competition we had umpires, some good, some bad, and most were just volunteers trying their best. There were obviously moments with arguments over calls but when the game was over, we lined up and shook hands with the other team and went home or for ice cream after a win. In professional sports now I believe hockey is the only sport that still lines up and shakes hands with the opponent following every game.
When we would play sandlot style sports with our friends, we figured out ways to officiate in our own way and it pretty much worked without too many fisticuffs. Usually it was the biggest kid or the one that brought the equipment that won the disputes, but we had fun.
In those days, we only had three TV channels (and most of us only had black and white) no internet, or video games. We did have pinball and bowling and they were great to play against your friends especially in the cold winter months. In our neighborhood sports were just one of the better outlets for most of us. We followed our favorite local teams, the Cleveland Indians and Browns, Cleveland Baron’s Hockey, wrestling, and Ohio State football either on the radio or through the newspapers. As a kid life was good. TV began expanding, we would catch an occasional sports event on TV. The World Series, College football’s game of the week, the Olympics and of course ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Being able to watch live sports was not like today where you have it 24/7/365 on cable. It was a treat especially when officials made those critical calls that at times had a major impact on the outcome of the games. It was a hoot to watch Billy Martin and Earl Weaver argue with the umpires spitting, kicking up dirt and complaining about a call, or watching Woody Hayes have a sideline temper tantrum and Bobby Knight throwing chairs across the court. Following the tantrums, the crowd would erupt when the officials would flag them or eject them from the game. When we got to high school organized football, Basketball, Baseball, Track, and other sports introduced us to paid, well trained and sanctioned officials’ which also often-made disputed calls. We learned to understand that these people were human and trying their best, and even if they were wrong the call was final, so you better accept it.
Through the year’s technology continued improving and now when you watch a sporting event, especially a college or professional one, there are numerous cameras spread around throughout the venue giving us every possible angle to see the plays. With all these cameras and angles many sports adopted “instant replay.” Challenges to human calls made by the officials were now added to the landscape. Just look at this past year’s Kentucky Derby where the winner was Disqualified for interference. In those sports that have adopted it the reviews allow for the overturning of the call on the field. As a result, many of the officials in those sports also have review committees that evaluate them and can fine, suspend and even terminate them if they do not perform up to an acceptable standard. I just read in the paper where there is a debate in major league baseball about having a computerized robot serve behind the plate to call balls and strikes. Are we all so hung up on winning and losing that we have lost sight of the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play? > The human element has always been a part of our sports culture. Officials are human; they make instant split-second decisions based on what they see and how they interpret the rules. Don’t take this the wrong way but I do see the value in the replay system in some sports and I think it does work especially in the major sports. But there are a lot of sports where implementing it would forever change those sports. Gymnastics, figure skating, competitive cheer and dance are just examples of events where the judge’s interpretation of the event is significant, and they score accordingly. The scoring by judges has long been an area of controversy in the international sports world and was especially talked about during the cold war years. But the great thing about sports is that with all its warts and imperfections it still thrives all over the world.
Here in the sport of pure-bred dogs officiating also has always been and will always be an area of controversy. It is not only in the conformation world but also in every type of competitive events from obedience, agility, flyball, dock diving, and any other competition where there is a person or person’s doing the judging or evaluating. Some obedience judges are known to be more lenient than others, Similarly for agility and other venues. Every aspect has rules and guidelines, but the judges all can apply them as they see fit within the established rules.
In the conformation world, the judges also are officiating within a set of guidelines. They are interpreting the written standard for the breed and how, at that moment and under those conditions, they see the exhibits in front of them. There is a lot that goes into that judge processing what they see and feel in the ring and between the competitors in each class. The judge does not have the ability to see the exhibit in an environment like a back yard where the dog without a lead looks fantastic and moves like a dream. Or standing in a perfect natural pose without any outside help. He or she makes the decision based on a limited time frame in which the human counterpart the handler presents the exhibit to him hopefully to its best advantage.
Having stood in the middle for the past 34 years I can tell you that is not always a simple task. I believe all judges try to do the very best job they can. We unfortunately do not have the use of an instant replay or even the time it would take to go back and review what we have seen presented to us. Even if we did have instant replay how would it help? How many cameras would we need? How many angles would we see? Could the camera pick up things like dentition, eye shape and color, muscle tone, coat color and texture, and so many other things that are included in the standard for the breed?
Often, judges will ask someone to move their dog again sometimes because they can see that the handler does not have the best control and they are not seeing what their hands have told them to expect. At the same time what judges see in the stack is not being presented properly. There are so many variables in the judging process and all judges have their own views, preferences, and various levels of how much importance is placed on the different areas of the standard.
Like the officials in the sports world, dog judges are also subjected to training and evaluation by the American Kennel Club. Some judges are outstanding in some breeds and lacking in others, while some are above average and some below average in all the breeds, they officiate in. But one thing all judges and any type of official have in common is that they are all human, and no human is perfect.
When exhibiting please remember that judges are human beings making “at that moment” decisions. Those choices have been formed through their training and interpretation. You may not agree and maybe that video you took with your phone will support your view or that of the judge but, either way, the decision is final, and we must accept it and move on. I, for one, could not imagine using instant replay in our sport.
I understand the frustration of exhibitors. You have spent your time, money and hours of training and conditioning preparing for your moments in the ring and you’re not happy with the outcome. But you are no different than the gymnast, figure skater, Drill Team, Cheer Team, or any person that competes. All competitors train, travel, exert time and expense to compete in what they enjoy. Have you ever looked at how much time and money many individuals spend to just compete in some amateur and Olympic events? Or how many hours high school, college, amateur and professional teams spend in training and practice? Even with all that practice not all teams reach a high level of success and it’s not for lack of trying.
If you’re one of those exhibitors that simply cannot enjoy our sport for what it is than maybe its time to look for something else. But, if you can accept your wins and losses, learn to be objective, practice to improve your dogs and your skills you will be able to enjoy a sport filled with many friends and great experiences. Special moments between you and that dog that is hopefully your best friend are very exciting. Remember that no matter what the outcome of the day your dog loves you unconditionally and that alone makes it all worthwhile.
Walter Sommerfelt of Lenoir City, TN has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs since acquiring his first Old English Sheepdog in 1972. He is a former professional handler as well as a breeder, and exhibitor of breeds in all seven groups, most notably Vizslas, OES, Pointers, Bearded Collies and Weimaraners. Judging since 1985 he is approved for All Sporting, Working, and Herding breeds and groups, Junior Showmanship and Best in Show and has had the honor of judging on four different continents.
Mr. Sommerfelt has judged many of the most prestigious shows in the United States including the herding group at the 2014 Westminster Dog Show in New York City where he has judged on three separate occasions.
Mr. Sommerfelt was the founder and chairman for the St. Jude Showcase of Dogs from 1993 until 2009, a unique event showcasing the world of purebred dogs. This special event was the largest collection of various dog events in one location, featuring an AKC all Breed Dog Show, AKC Obedience and Rally Trials, AKC Agility trials, (prior to AKC adding agility NADAC trials ) One of the largest Fly ball tournaments in the U.S.A., Herding and go to ground demonstrations, A main stage featuring performances by Canines from Television and the Movies, Freestyle, Demos by drug and various therapy dogs, A full room of booths for meet the breeds, over 50 AKC judges seminars annually, Lure coursing, A fun Zone for Children, and other dog related fun activities for the general public and their dogs. Over the years the event not only raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the world-renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, but also raised awareness of the many activities for people with their dogs as well establishing a voice for dog people in the Memphis area with regard to legislation. Many aspects of today’s AKC Royal Canin show can be traced back to the St. Jude event.
Along with Carol his wife of 36 years they have bred well over 90 AKC Champions including Group, Best in Show and Specialty Winners, dual Champions and multiple performance titled dogs.
During the past 40 years Mr. Sommerfelt has been active in a number of dog clubs and is currently the President of the Tennessee Valley Kennel Club. He is recipient of the AKC outstanding Sportsmanship Award and is also a career agent and financial planning specialist with Nationwide Insurance. The Sommerfelts’ have two grown children, both former Junior Handlers and they are still active breeders and exhibitors of the Vizsla breed.
Not too long ago I was having a conversation with someone that has been in our sport for a little less than five years. During our conversation, I was asked “What are some of the differences between AKC shows and those in other countries?” This was a good question and after our discussion and later in the day I thought further about the question and it recalled the often-mentioned question in social media posts about the judges providing critiques and similar questions as to
Like a great number of judges, I have had the honor to officiate at numerous shows outside of the United States and under rules very different than those of the AKC. The privilege of being invited is always appreciated and the opportunity to see, evaluate and experience the dogs and the various cultures around the world have been wonderful and amazing learning experiences.
One thing that all countries and systems have in common is their love of the sport of pure-bred dogs. Another is they are all very passionate about their dogs and like all of us the exhibitors want to win.
One of the biggest differences I have experienced outside the AKC method of judging is that in many countries the judge does give some type of evaluation to each exhibit he may award. The evaluations may be detailed and written or a very simple verbal one-word evaluation. The judge will evaluate the dogs with some variation of the following rating, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, or poor. One thing I learned the hard way about this system is that if the judge does not say “Excellent” the dog does not win any points. The very first time I judged out of the country I was doing a specialty and awarded the points to a dog and I said “very good” which in my opinion was an accurate description of the dog in front of me. The exhibit was exactly that in my opinion, above average in many ways with a few areas for improvement but very much deserving of the win. I quickly learned that by not saying “Excellent” this very worthy specimen would not receive any points for the win. I was devastated! I also learned a very valuable lesson that day, “be sure you understand the system before you walk into the ring”. When judging outside of the AKC system most countries use different systems and procedures. Often in numerous cases the breed standards themselves may differ from country to country so it is important to review the individual standard for the breed in the country in which you will be officiating.
Many countries and I believe all FCI countries use a rating system whereby the winning dog must be rated excellent to receive the points or certificate. For me this is a very difficult application to understand and apply fairly in the evaluation process of judging dogs. In my over 34 years of judging I have seen many, many, good to very good specimens of their breed. Something I am sure many judges will agree with me on is there are very, very, few dogs that in my opinion reach the level of near perfection and a rating
When I think about the early history of our sport not only here in the States but also around the globe, I believe there was a time when “Excellent” was indeed the proper term. When you look back at the early history of our sport the shows started as a way for the breeders and stockmen of the times to get together for the comparison and evaluation of their breeding stock. At that time these people were truly trying to improve their stock while learning from one another. Those early shows were not as defined by classes, breed, groups, and Best in Show at the same level they are today.
The early shows were smaller but there were larger entries in specific breeds so rating the winner as excellent was probably accurate for those times. However, times change and sometimes people are not willing to change with them.
The very word “excellent” to me describes superiority, first-class, the best of the best, perfection, and so on. When I put that in the context of judging dogs, I would say it means extremely close to exemplifying the standard for the breed. I wonder how many exhibits really fit that category? Understanding the term “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” I am sure it will vary amongst all of us.
What I do believe is that there are a great number of specimens that most agree are in the Very Good and Good categories and display the proper type, soundness and presentation to showcase their breed to a high standard. As judges we often see exhibits that are truly above average and very deserving of their wins and going on to become Champions. These specimens on any given day can compete in the show ring while also contributing to the future of the breed in a breeding program. Most of the time they have numerous virtues as called for in the standard, but many also have an area or two of weaknesses that needs improvement. After all, as breeders we should be working toward the perfect example of our breed, and correcting these faults is part of the process of achieving our goals.
I think that rating a dog good to very good by any judge would make most breeders and exhibitors happy. I also believe it is a more honest evaluation of the specimens being presented. When I have asked “why must they be rated excellent to get the points?” the reply is usually “that’s just the way it’s always been”. I think the FCI and those countries that use this evaluation are not doing the breeders especially the newer ones any favors. Think about it. If you were new to the sport and were just told your dog was “excellent” would you find it necessary to try to improve on it? Would you expect to win all the time? After all Excellent is the best of the best. Or would you rather get an honest and fair evaluation of your exhibit? What will the reaction be when at the next show the judge just says “Good” for the same exhibit? Which judge was right?
In most of the countries I have visited overall sportsmanship is outstanding and most judges and fellow exhibitors are treated with respect and honor. On the very rare occasion when I have witnessed an unhappy exhibitor it is when they do not hear the word “excellent” when evaluating their dog. In a few cases I have had the handler just take the dog and leave the ring because they were unhappy with a rating of good or very good and therefore understood they would not be winning any points. If the rating system was accurate and the winners could still receive the points without needing to be rated excellent many a breeder or exhibitor might look closer at their dogs and their individual breeding program and work toward improvement.
I cannot imagine how today’s AKC exhibitors and handlers would react if the judge had to say “excellent” to be awarded the points and they heard good or very good from the judge. Wow! Just imagine the reactions on the internet and Facebook being stated about the judges.
As judges there are rare occasions (thankfully very few) that the judge may withhold first place, winners or reserve or even the breed. These situations are difficult judgement calls that must be made at that moment and dictated by what they see in front of them. In some case an immature exhibit or a poorly groomed and out of condition specimen may be presented and although on that day may not deserve the win it is possible that at a later date with maturity and hard work along with proper conditioning it may develop into a
There are also those occasions when the exhibit is just having a bad day. I had a class of two sporting dogs earlier this year in which I withheld the first-place ribbon. Both dogs were worthy representatives of their breed but both dogs failed to ever bring their tails up from between their legs. I explained to the handlers that I was withholding first place because they were exhibiting a breed in which guns were to be shot over while working out in the field and doing the job for which they were bred. The tucked tails were signs of temperament instability and that the standard itself stated the tail should be carried a certain way while moving and never tucked. These two handlers were thankfully gracious with accepting my decision and I am sure worked hard to correct the issues with their exhibits.
We all know the judging and evaluating of our dogs is fluid. Although the standard is the same for the breed the application and understanding varies greatly not only among the breeders themselves but also the judges that evaluate them.
I do not see where requiring rating these dogs on any scale let alone using the statement “Excellent” helps anyone in the evaluation process. In theory I understand that the term may be appointed to signify that the judge believes it to be the best that day and deserving. But I also think a “good” or “very good” sends the same message.
I am sure what I have written here may not be taken as I intend it by some of my many friends and fellow judges that are from within the FCI system. I am just trying to share my own thoughts on the message the word “Excellent” sends to the exhibitor. As I stated earlier there will still be that special exhibit that comes along every so often that deserves that accolade, but I do believe Good to very Good more adequately describes what we see in the ring on a regular basis. What do you think?