by   David Hancock

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.
That fundamental point should be borne in mind when considering the words used in the Bullmastiff show critiques set out below. The words quoted do not reveal dishonesty, ignorance or incompetence; but they are not much help to a tyro in the breed, striving to learn and increase their own breed expertise. The words selected should be measured against the breed standard, which warts and all, is the bible for the breed, until such time as its wording is changed, with the necessary full consent of the Kennel Club. Personal interpretations of the word picture provided by the standard can vary from intentional misconstruing and deliberate misreading, usually to favour a fault in an individual's stock, to a simple failure to understand the dictionary meaning of words. But no breed standard will ever be word-perfect.

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:
"...lack of stop. This is the most important feature on the head of the Bullmastiff..."   Apart from literally meaning that a lack of stop is important, which was not the writer's intention, the standard purely states: Pronounced stop. Nowhere does it state that the stop is the most important feature of the Bullmastiff's head and this judge simply  has no authority to issue such a purely personal view.
"...lovely head"; ...beautiful head"; "...good head"; "...lovely skull"; "...scores well in head"; "...good-headed"; "...I liked his head"; "...pleasing head"; "...first class head features"; "...quite typical in head features"; "...scoring well in head"; "...bully head"; "...nice head"; "...good skull"; "...super head"; "...liked her head"; "...pleased on head".   Of what possible value to a newcomer to the breed is such a lack of precision? Apart from being quite meaningless, do such comments offer any insight into why the judge found a particular head admirable? Who can benefit from such totally inadequate descriptions? Certainly not the exhibitors who paid good money to have their dogs assessed by the appointed judge.

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:
"...He had the best bone of the puppies I was considering"; "...Outstanding bone"; "...great bone"; "...well-off for bone"; "...good bone"; "...super bone"; "...well boned"; "...good bone throughout"; "...she is very heavily boned"; "...with plenty of bone"; "...could have more bone for his size"; "...terrific bone"; "...lovely bone"; "...with adequate bone".  I'm glad about the latter, for surely the exhibit would have fallen over without it! But these judges were NOT judging to the breed standard, they were copycatting. Most animals with heavy bone are cumbersome and lack activity, two features undesired in the standard.

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?
Of what possible value for the future of the dogs in question and the breed itself are these remarks in judges's critiques? "...fair front, reasonable hindquarters, movement fair"; "...movement could be more positive both ends"; "...nice shoulder placement"; "...She has an excellent headpiece"; "...Pleasing clear appearance"; "...pleased on forehand"; "...quite nice feet"; "...fraction longer in underjaw but nice skull"; and "...reasonable head with dark eyes and good mouth". What advice do these words pass on to breed fanciers or even to the subject dogs' owners? What do these words amount to?

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.
Finally, how can any judge reward a wrinkled head, in repose, or a short-muzzled, as defined in the standard, exhibit? Both are in breach of the breed standard. Fault judging is not wise, but faults which affect breed-type are surely sufficient for a dog to be unplaced. Do we really want Bullmastiffs with Shar-Pei faces and the skin problems which accompany the condition? Do we really want pug-mastiffs with jaws which create dentition difficulties and so often result in soft palate? It is really not good enough for judges to wriggle out of their responsibilities with comments in their critiques, on winning dogs, such as: "Rather more wrinkle than I would have liked" or "Muzzle shorter than desirable, but an otherwise strong head".

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!