DANELINKS.COM                                                                                                                                        8.1.05 

  Reprinted with permission of the author.

In Case You’re Interested

By Dr. Daniel Fleitas
Charlotte
, North Carolina

Do Judges Make Mistakes?
 

Although the policy from the American Kennel Club states that the decision of a judge is final, this should not be construed to imply that the decision of a judge is infallible.  True, there may be some judges who consider themselves gods, not to be challenged or questioned, but the reality is that every—and I do mean every—judge makes mistakes in judgment at different times in his or her adjudication history.   This is true whether the judge is a provisional in a breed or whether the judge is one of those “gods” known as all-rounders.

Some judges realize, after the fact, that they selected the wrong dog for breed, winners, or, etc.  But once the book has been marked and ribbons handed out, there is no reconsideration.  Judges also may learn the error of their judgment when confronted by questioning exhibitors at the conclusion of a judging assignment.  Yes, on occasion judges learn something about a breed they have just judged that they had never been aware of.  Sometimes, a fellow judge sitting ringside may be the party who enlightens the judge in the ring by pointing out some facet of the evaluation that the presiding judge may have misinterpreted, misapplied, or overlooked.  Even AKC Representatives may be the agents who help a judge learn that he or she misjudged a class or a breed.   In any case, errors do occur though probably less often than one might think.

Of course, every questioning of a judge’s selections does not indicate that an error has occurred.  Many exhibitors and handlers believe that their dog is deserving of a win because of all the effort they put into preparing and presenting the exhibit.  They care not that another competing dog is superior in conformation even if not as well groomed or as professionally presented.  They may also feel that the judge has erred in not pointing to their highly advertised dog, one for which the owners may have shelled out thousands of dollars to the dog publications over the past year or two.  However,  complaints and questioning of a judge’s perception do not necessarily translate to poor judging on the judge’s part.

I can look back on some judging decisions I made over the years which I regretted either immediately after finishing the assignment or a few days or weeks later when I saw either the same dog I awarded a win to, or another dog which I did not reward.  My original breed was Shetland Sheepdogs.  Twenty years later I still remember a couple of assignments which I feel I may have misjudged.  One was an assignment, a major as I recall, where my Best of Breed was a dog which had the most beautiful head (in a breed where head planes and muzzle are important).  I was torn between that dog and another special which also had a nice (though not exquisite) head.  However, this latter dog (the one whose head was quite good but not great) exhibited superb movement in reach and drive.  Perhaps because I was never able to own a Sheltie with the exquisite head of my Best of Breed winner, I chose to  place too much emphasis on that head feature while neglecting the dog’s  faulty, stilted movement.  I went overboard on one perspective of Sheltie type (head), ignoring poor (I might even admit—atrocious) movement on the part of my Breed winner!  The other dog with the good head and superb movement should have been my Best of Breed.  And I reached this conclusion almost immediately after having picked the dog with the superb head.

Another regret and possible error came in one of my early Siberian Husky assignments—again, a major at a time when the breed was drawing entries of 60-70 dogs at some of the  all-breed shows in the early 1980’s.  I had judged the breed early in the week during the 7-day Tarheel Circuit in North Carolina.  For my Winners Bitch I picked a dog which, at least at the time, seemed like the best in her sex.  The person handling the dog was a total unknown to me, whereas there were several well-known breeders and professional handlers also competing.  Unlike the situation I described in the previous paragraph (the Sheltie assignment), I did not immediately regret my choice this day (on Winners Bitch).

However, a few days later on the same circuit, I was observing the judging of more or less the same large bitch classes by another judge.  The bitch I had given the win to earlier in the week looked somewhat ordinary now.  On the other hand, there was a lovely bitch competing this day which was clearly the crème de la crème among the bitches.  Surely this bitch had not been in my ring a few days earlier I thought.  After the bitch received her very deserving Winners Bitch win, I walked over to the breeder/handler and asked if the bitch had been shown to me at the show earlier in the week.  She had!  How could I have overlooked her!  Naturally, there is the old saying about judging dogs “on the day”—that is, a dog that looks great one day may be down the next day.  But I don’t think this lovely bitch could have been that far “down” the day I judged.  I must have goofed—there seems no other explanation.

On the other hand, there was a show up in the Northeast where I was judging the Working Group.  I knew before the assignment that there was a top-winning Komondor in that part of the country, and I wondered if the dog would be in competition.  I was curious to see what others evidently felt was a superior example of this somewhat rare breed.   I was not doing the breed that day, but when I judged the Group, there was a Komondor in competition which I guessed must have been that top-winning dog.  Except that the individual handling the dog was not the handler who had been campaigning that dog.  No problem—one judges the dogs, not the handlers.  But when the Komondor was gaited, it seemed to be just going through the motions, plodding ponderously and very slowly as if movement was an unwanted chore.  The standard for the Komondor states that gait is “light, leisurely and balanced… takes long strides, is very agile and light on his feet.”  Not this dog—at least not with this person handling him (it turned out to be the owner—the handler who normally showed him was busy in another ring).  After the Group, one judge sitting ringside asked me how I overlooked the Komondor in the Group placings (I think it won the Group the previous day).  I explained my reasoning.  This was one case where I felt I had not made a mistake despite what the ringside may have thought.

There was another decision about which I  felt at loose ends at a large show in Texas where I was judging Dobes.  At the Best of Breed competition, in came a bitch, one of the all-time top-winning bitches in breed history.  But there was also another specials bitch which was an excellent specimen (the male specials were really not up to the quality of these two bitches).  When I gaited the top-winning bitch, I was surprised and perplexed at the same time.  This bitch was already racking up win after win, Groups and Bests in Show—under nearly all the well-known names in the judging world.  But what I saw was the best side movement I have every seen in a Doberman coupled with a noticeably poor front!  My other specials bitch was a much better overall mover as well as a good typey Dobie bitch.  Still, I felt that I wanted to reward the first bitch’s side movement (in a breed where movement is a problem) so I went with the big winner who had that “to die for” side movement.  This breed assignment is one I remember well though I am not certain if I remember it with regret or with some doubt about which way one should go when the decision boils down to two excellent typey dogs, one with a very desirable hard-to-get feature (side movement) but with less-than-excellent front movement, the other dog with good type and movement but not spectacular in any important respect.

Do judges make mistakes?  Sometimes they do, hopefully not often.  And sometimes the decision is not a mistake but the result of a dilemma which might be remembered as such rather than as a mistake to regret.   Then, too,  what might sometimes look like a mistake from ringside is really a correct choice on the judge’s part.  Judging is not as easy as it may appear. 


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