126 THE DOUBLE VALUE OF SHOW CRITIQUES
THE DOUBLE VALUE OF SHOW CRITIQUES
If any recognised breed of dog is to progress then the accurate awarding of prizes is vital to the improvement of the breed. Winning dogs get bred from; but unworthy winners being bred from can harm the breed. For newcomers, the judge's placings represent an order of merit; the judge's subsequent critique should provide guidance on what was good and what was not so good about the entry. Of course the act of judging has to involve subjective assessment. The writing of a critique by a judge should indicate why the decisions made were made. Every judge should be able to justify his actions in print. Sadly, all too many published critiques tell you more about the judge than they do about the dogs exhibited under that person. That is of very little value to the breed concerned.
I am not at all surprised that show entries are falling. An exhibitor, paying an entry fee, has an absolute right to have a competent judge assessing their entry AND to be able to read a written justification of the judge's placings subsequently. A critique from the appointed judge should be part of the contract between the show secretary or committee and the judge. Unless a full and comprehensive critique is submitted by the judge then that person has not fulfilled their obligation to those paying good money to enter under him or her. The writing of a detailed critique should be the way a judge earns a future appointment. It doesn't have to be an erudite essay from an English graduate; but it should be a clear expression of the reasons why decisions were made, and, ideally, a view on the state of the breed, as exemplified by the entry.
A detailed critique can, not surprisingly, tell you quite a lot about a judge. A dishonest judge contradicts himself; an incompetent judge can reveal himself. Ignorance and incompetence go hand in hand, an ignorant judge is unlikely to be competent. Ignorance is not bliss when future breeding stock is being recommended. No mature judge expects unanimous approval; some exhibitors are blind to the failings of their own stock. But any judge who openly and freely explains his thinking deserves respect, if not agreement. Judges, however, who display their own ignorance in their critiques, are not a rare species. Some clearly do not understand the breed standard and some, even worse, haven't studied it. Unless a judge is guided by the breed standard then his decisions are worthless.
Breed standards are changed every year, with KC approval, but until the words are changed officially, they represent the only guidance a judge can truly rely on. The breed standard of the Bullmastiff does not describe the breed as a 'head-breed' and does not suggest that the head of the exhibit should be judged with more emphasis than any other part of the dog's anatomy. Here are some references to Bullmastiff heads by judges in their post-show critiques:
The breed standard of the Bullmastiff makes just one reference to bone in its wording: the forelegs are expected to be 'well boned'. The 'general appearance' section demands a dog that is not cumbersome; the hindquarters must not be cumbersome. The 'characteristics' section demands a dog that is active. There are no words in the breed standard to demand heavy bone, great bone, outstanding bone (whatever that is!) or substantial bone. But 'bone-headed' judges rush to find it! Here are some extracts from critiques:
The breed is expected to be powerful; racehorses are powerful but they don't display 'outstanding bone'. There seems to be confusion here, amongst judges that is, about strength, power and endurance; it does not reside in heavy bone. To breed dogs with bone heavier than nature intended is asking for trouble, as the statistics on hip and elbow dysplasia, cervical vertebral malformation and osteochondrosis sadly reveal. If the prototypal Bullmastiffs didn't display heavy bone and if the breed standard doesn't authorize it, in whose name are judges seeking it when judging the breed?
But then you find words in a judge's report which actually contradict the breed standard! One judge, in admiring his favoured dog, wrote: "...we see the old type, deeply-set, menacing eye (which seems to become rare these days)". But the standard does not demand 'deeply-set menacing eyes'; this judge could only have been pursuing his own private mandate and not judging to the standard, which he was appointed to do. Another judge reported, of the winner of his class, "I would have preferred a clear coat". A suitable reply to that comment would be: It's not a matter of your preferences, the breed standard demands a coat colour 'pure and clear'. Judges cannot modify the breed standard on the day they judge.
Breed type is a very precious commodity; it is protected by breeders and judges. If judges treat it lightly then the future of the breed is threatened. Judges can contribute a great deal to the breed, not only in their placements but also in their show reports, so that guidance is given to the less knowledgeable. No judge should ever be appointed unless he or she is going to contribute to the breed. Every judge appointed should be instructed that with the appointment comes the requirement to publish a comprehensive critique justifying their decisions. And it should be published in a timely way; as Benjamin Franklin once observed: "All complain for want of Memory, few of their Judgement".
Every critique when read should lead to the reader saying: "Ah! That's why he chose the winning dogs." A critique when read should never lead to the reader saying: "But what actually made the judge decide to place the exhibits in the order he did?" Far too many critiques reveal the judge's prejudices, together with disregard for those who appointed them, discourtesy towards those who exhibited under them and, worst of all, disrespect for the breed standard. A critique should be a respectful analysis earning our admiration. We all want judges we admire. Post-show critiques have yet to earn the merit they should receive; they tell us a great deal about the entry and quite a lot about the writer!