408 JUDGING THE SPORTING TERRIER
JUDGING THE SPORTING TERRIER
"From their institution at Newcastle in 1858 there has been a growing feeling of dissatisfaction with the awards of the judges. Animals which have been successful under one set of judges in obtaining a first prize, have been altogether overlooked by another, not even obtaining a commendation, though in equally good condition at both places, and often with the same or nearly the same competitors." No, these words were not written this year by a disappointed exhibitor at Crufts. They were written by the esteemed "Stonehenge" in 1878. He went on to state that single judging requires "some length of education" and to recommend a scale of points for each breed being judged.
In 1896, the wire-haired Fox Terrier was judged to a scale of points with these relative values: Head and ears 15, neck 5, shoulders and chest 15, back and loin 10, hindquarters 5, stern 5, legs and feet 20, coat 10 and what was termed ‘symmetry and character’ 15, giving a total of 100. For a working terrier I would prefer 50 for movement, which always indicates soundness, 20 for front assembly including the jaw, 20 for rear assembly and 10 for the weatherproof quality of the coat. Nearly every working terrier expert would, perhaps rightly, disagree! But if you are going to judge precisely, you need a technique, ideally including a set sequence, a regular routine. I use one so that each exhibit gets the same examination. Mine starts with an overall impression of the whole entry, especially on the move, mentally grading them relatively. Then I look at stance, which sadly can relate to ring-training, but I do not allow exhibits to be strung up on throat-throttling bootlace leads. Then I go from head shape and strength to jaw construction, eyes and nose, set of ears, head carriage, neck, set of shoulders, depth of chest, body-coupling, topline, stifles and hocks, wear on pads, temperament and coat texture. But how they move decides my winners. I try hard not to judge on faults and to reward merit. I rate the European system of grading, in which each exhibit is allotted a firm grade; but a list of points for each physical feature does encourage thoroughness.
Writing in 1897, Hugh Dalziel recalls being told by S.E.Shirley when president of the Kennel Club that..."Life's too short for the practice of judging by points". This surprised Dalziel as it came from a man who had "most precisely laid down the absolute numerical value of each point in the breed of Collie" in an article. Dalziel himself argued that each judge was an instructor, with every award he makes acting as a lesson. I think that that is very apt. He supported judging to a scale of points, describing any other system as "too loose". There is probably some truth in that. In his valuable three volume work entitled "British Dogs", Dalziel writes, perceptively: "What should be indelibly fixed on the minds of all concerned is that the judge's influence does not end, but really begins, with the distribution of prizes"...We have all seen the produce of unworthy champions and the long term harm done in breeds by newcomers chasing prize-winning but poor quality stock.
But what should 'working appeal' be based on? The original working Fox Terriers were barrel-chested and featured a fairly straight stifle and hock; the longer tibia and well-bent hock of the show ring terrier of today is not much use underground. But an even bigger difference lies in the shoulder angulation and depth of chest. Show Fox Terriers feature without exception upright shoulders and slab-sided but deep chests; neither of these physical attributes help an earth-dog. Nor does the short back of the pedigree Fox Terrier, which reduces flexibility and overall suppleness. It does however produce a more compact-looking showy type of dog; upright shoulders can give an exhibit more presence in the ring. But straight shoulders cause imbalance between the fore and hindquarters. It affects the position of the elbow, leading to weaving, toeing out, tied at elbow, and the opposite, out at elbow. Judges should look out for ‘pounding’, where the dog’s foot meets the ground prematurely.
The craze for long heads in show terriers, exemplified most clearly in the Smooth Fox Terrier, is rooted in the misguided belief that length gives power. You also hear the expression: "plenty of heart room", which is strange when the heart doesn't actually change size when the dog is exerting itself. Plenty of lung room is desirable, especially in terriers which run with the hounds. But it is rib-space which gives a dog lung room, not depth of chest. I have heard terrier show judges fault a very muscular terrier, used to hard exercise, for being 'loaded at the shoulders' when the fortunate dog had developed muscle which projected on the outside of its shoulders. Any individual accepting a judging appointment should question their own capability and 'eye for a dog' before proceeding.
proportions or wordy descriptions of anatomical features. But balance, symmetry, correct proportions and physical soundness really do affect function and therefore performance in a hunting animal. Terrier show judges may prefer to judge entirely by eye and experience, but is this enough?
Dissatisfaction with the ability of dog show judges is not new, as these words illustrate: "The general public, those who take any interest in dogs, are confident that the actual judging for Best in Show may be a farce. They feel, in the first place, that the person appointed is quite often not qualified to make the decision..." No, these are not the words of an anti-dogshow journalist or a bitter exhibitor with an unplaced entry. They are the words of RH Smythe, a veterinary surgeon who bred, reared and exhibited dogs of almost every known breed, in his much-respected book Judging Dogs. The fact that it was written thirty years ago gives it even more validity, for few would disagree that dog show judges were far better then. As a counter to this, it could be argued that this is but one comment on the imprecise art of judging dogs on their appearance, made some time ago. But for years there have been mixed feelings about ‘beauty-shows for working dogs’. I understand that in Japan, in order to judge one breed, the Shiba Inu, it is necessary to be a member of the breed chapter for five years, a judge's assistant for at least two years, a judge's trainee for at least three years, to attend the judge's course at least twice and pass an examination. Even then an indefinite further period has to be served as an Associate Judge before fully qualifying. Small wonder that the specimens of this breed that I see at shows seem to be a great credit to their breeders, their breed and to their country of origin.
Hound-show judging at shows such as Peterborough and Honiton is conducted with two judges in the ring, who discuss the entry before them. This must increase competence, reduce corruption and encourage confidence. Conformation is judged, mainly by eye; a hands-on examination is not considered necessary unlike KC-licensed shows. Masters of Foxhounds do care what their hounds look like. Newton Rycroft, a greatly respected authority on working scenthounds has written: "Conformation will always be important, but perhaps we look at this importance from the wrong angle. What we need I think is not so much fantastic physical beauty, which may or may not have nose and voice, but a certain standard of working conformation BELOW which hounds must not fall." That should be a message for terrier exhibitors too.
But hound judges don’t always make sound terrier judges. Writing in Hounds Magazine twenty years ago, terrierman ‘Daergi’ recorded the view: “Now we come to our terrier show in the summer season and our huntsman is asked to judge terriers at the neighbouring H.S. Club’s show. Not being in the swing of things with regards to terrier shows he is blissfully unaware of the keen rivalry that surrounds these events. He stands in the middle of the ring and tries to judge terriers as he would hounds, (which is probably the same as Lester Piggot judging Shetland ponies), not one terrier is spanned…mouths are not looked at and general conformation which can be hidden by various coats is not discovered…A good judge can make or break a show, please choose yours carefully.” He could have added that hound-show judges are not expected to place hands on an exhibit or to examine feet. This was once justified to me by one MFH with the explanation that no hound would ever be entered with unsound feet!
In Shooting Times, in December 1981, working terrier expert Dan Russell was writing: “It is probably a very good thing that terrier show have become so popular and have attracted so many people who keep their dogs solely as pets, but this should not blind us to the fact that the terrier was evolved as a worker and that his conformation should be suitable for his job. If we lose sight of this, Heaven knows what shapes and sizes we may see in the ring in the future.” He would not have admired the entry at today’s KC terrier shows or indeed at some working terrier shows. He didn’t like bull terrier crosses, bulky black Patterdales or ‘daddy-longlegs’ only favoured because they were ‘spannable’. A flexible spine will always be more valuable to a terrier than a narrow chest.
In his informative The Book of All Terriers, Howell Book House, New York, 1971, John Marvin makes a key point for judges when examining the terrier’s feet: “…a long-legged Terrier, when digging, throws the earth under his body and through his spread back legs. The short-legged breeds are different. Because of their low station, these breeds cannot throw earth under their bodies…Rather, they throw the earth sideways so that the low-slung body may pass through. In order to accomplish this it is necessary that the feet turn out slightly to guide the earth sideways of the body…Actually, feet pointing straight ahead on a short-legged breed are not correct and should be faulted although most judges do not look with disfavor on feet pointing straight ahead.” Terriers, whether short or longer-legged were designed to dig! They must always be judged as terriers.
Over a century ago, the respected writer on terriers, Rawdon Lee, in his book The Fox Terrier, of 1890, recorded: “Some judges – men, too, who bear a deservedly high reputation as such, will put a terrier out of the prize list if it be even a trifle crooked on his fore legs or slightly heavy at the shoulders; whilst another dog, narrow behind and weak in loins, to my idea a far more serious failing, is considered pretty well all right so long as its fore legs are set on like rulers. As a fact, there are judges who have recently gone to extremes in awarding honours to these so-called ‘narrow-fronted’ terriers. Such have been produced at a sacrifice of power and strength. Most of these very narrow- chested dogs move stiffly, are too flat in the ribs, they are deficient in breathing and heart room, and can never be able to do a week’s hard work in the country…” Sadly, we still live with these faults today; once a show ring fad becomes popular, it soon becomes acceptable. Soundness gives way to rosette-chasing and working structure gets forgotten. Such terriers cease to be sporting dogs and their owners cease to be custodians of their breed but mere wallet-fillers.
Henry Webb, in his quaintly titled "Dogs, their points, whims, instincts and peculiarities" of 1882, made a key point on judges when he wrote that exhibitors should remember..."that by entering their dogs for competition they tacitly approve the appointment of the judges;" And he's right - what really is the point of showing your dog under a judge you don't respect? If he places your dog, do you withdraw? In his "Prize Dogs", over seventy years ago, Theo Marples was writing that "The prevailing mistake which exhibitors make is thinking that their geese are swans, or, in other words, thinking their dogs better than they really are." It is this fundamental flaw which not only brings dogs into the ring which have no right to be there but also leads to the quite shocking unsporting behaviour which we have all witnessed at shows.
Winning at a cost to your precious breed seems irrational; why fancy that breed if you don’t respect its function? That win-at-all costs attitude affects reaction to the judge’s rulings too. The standard of sportsmanship at some terrier shows is disappointing; if you enter your terrier under any judge you automatically commit your exhibit to his or her decisions. We should all welcome what the Whig politician Edmund Burke called in 1794, “the cold neutrality of an impartial judge”. No terrier judge should have to carry out his show ring duties wearing running shoes, with the engine of his nearby car constantly running! Terrier shows are for sportsmen, not aimed at disgruntled grown-up children, and can be a way of identifying future breeding stock, as well as being a great day out. At the end of the day, we all take the best dog home.
“I consider that judges at dog shows have the whole success of a breed in their care. Incompetent, and still worse, prejudiced judging, does incalculable harm. Many a man is afraid of offending his friends, and to such a man I would say, ‘Don’t risk it; stay outside.’ Others desire to please all the exhibitors, and to such a man I would also say, ‘Don’t risk it; stay outside. You are aiming at the impossible’…Many men, with an excellent knowledge of a dog, have not the ‘judging ability’, and I see no reason why they should be ashamed of it…”
“As I was an exhibitor of Irish Terriers at Ayr yesterday, and as I was very much disappointed with the awards, I feel it is a duty to demand an explanation from you for acting in the manner you did…As for Gifford – had it not been that his chain was in Mr Lumsden’s left hand, he would not have been looked at, as no man who knows anything about an Irish Terrier would look at him…Either you know nothing about an Irish Terrier, or, if you do, it was evident that it was the owner and not the dog that got the prize.”
“Who the man with the white waistcoat was who offered a bribe of a fiver to one of the judges at Crufts?”
“…it is only to be expected that some disappointed exhibitors would cavil at the decisions, however the prizes might be awarded; but they should remember that all cannot win, and that by entering their dogs for competition they tacitly approve the appointment of the judges; if they approve not, they should not enter, they are not bound so to do; but having once entered their dogs and submitted them to competition, we think they are duty bound to be satisfied with the decisions, unless any flagrant act of injustice could be proved.”