A View from Both Sides of the Ring

By Wayne Peterson


I’m on my way to the dog show when suddenly the blur of another van speeds past my windshield. “You blank, blank maniac” I think to myself. Glancing at the clock I realize I have under-estimated the time, and need to get moving or I could miss judging. Like any die-hard exhibitor, I begin flying down the expressway at 75mph until another van, just cruising along in the left lane, slows me down and boxes me in. “You blank blank idiot, did you get your license in your breakfast cereal?” I think to myself. I finely make it to the show and the judge places my beautiful dog reserve. What could that blank, blank judge be thinking?

The natural progression from breeder-owner-handler to judge has  become yet another learning experience. The following are just a few of the many insights I have come to learn.

The barometer we as exhibitors appear to use when evaluating a judge seems to be our dog’s placement. Just like we evaluate other drivers; the ones that go faster then us are maniacs, and the ones that are slower are idiots.

There can only be consistency in judging if there is consistency in the entry. Quality judging only comes from an entry of quality dogs.

You just went winners after the judge moved your dog down and back, or sent the winners class around the ring. Did you win because your dog was good moving? Perhaps, or maybe it was just procedural. In the winners class the judge must move the dog they are going to select to ensure it isn’t lame.

When a judge has the privilege of evaluating quality dogs there are still trade offs. The beautiful headed dog with great presence and side gait, but could have a better rear. The big statuesque dog with outstanding color that commands attention, but the head planes are off and his eye is slightly round. Then there is the smooth polished dog with a good back, correct eye and beautiful expression, but a bad front and a bit round in the back-skull. All have excellence, but all have faults that add up to more then a few flaws. All may deserve to, but only one can win.

Judges may have classes where they discover two, three, or even four high quality dogs in the class. Unfortunately, the exhibitors whose dogs place second, third and fourth usually think the judge doesn’t like their dogs. Or in a class of mediocrity the winner may mistakenly believe the judge thinks of the dog as a quality dog.

As much as ones judging focuses on virtues, lack of virtue and faults do come into play.

It is easy to put up a QUALITY dog that is trained, in good condition, correct weight, coat, and is groomed and bathed. It is just as frustrating for the judge, as it is for the exhibitor, if a QUALITY dog’s performance is so poor it hinders it from winning. A dog that is DIRTY, under or overweight, out of coat, has sores or calluses, has scars that are more than honorable or very long un-kept nails will rarely win. The impression the judge is left with is less than positive, not to mention the residue which maybe left on his or her hands.

You learn who your real friends are. If they chose to show to you and they lose, and nothing changes, then they are your real friends.

I believe most judges are passionate about their job. Judges want to be proud of the dogs they select. Within the privacy of their own minds, a good judge whether they admit it or not, will review, reassesses, and possibly change their mind about some of their judging decisions.

The exhibitors say the problem with the sport is poor judging, and that the judges lack education and knowledge of the standard. I hear from judges the problem with the sport is a lack of quality and general mediocrity within the breeds. The breeders and exhibitors lack mentors and education. Perhaps there’s truth on both sides?

Although we are all talking the same language of “dog,” interpretations of the language seem to extend beyond a different dialect. Some people speak of fronts referring to legs, pasterns and feet. Then others may be referring to upper arm and shoulders, yet others are referring to neck-set and or fore-chests. And then there are some of us that define fronts as the collection of all the prior.

To my ears, the word sound or soundness is the most misused word in dogs. To my knowledge, it is not in the content of any breed standard. Yet, many people mistakenly refer to soundness as being synonymous with movement. Buildings and tables are sound, but they do not move. Webster defines soundness as sturdy, whole, complete, without defect. We have all seen unremarkable dogs which are balanced, with a straight front and straight rear that are sound standing. These dogs may or may not converge on the down and back and almost always lack reach and drive when viewed from the side.

What if ALL Great Dane breeders, exhibitors and handlers spoke as much of balance, symmetry and proportions as they do “type”? And then if ALL Great Dane judges spoke as much of “type” as much as they do balance, symmetry and proportions? Would there be a positive impact on the quality of the breed and judging?

I have come to believe the breeder-judges are the guardians of our breed.

I hear about the lack of quality in the judging of our dogs. I then have to wonder why are the same” bad judges” hired over and over again?

My concluding statement may be of most interest. Yes there is politics in judging dogs.
Like the candidates on a ballot a judge has no control over which dogs are shown to him or her, and a judge is thrilled when there’s a good one.

Good luck at the shows, and remember the left lane is for passing.


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