JUDGING SOUNDNESS - Task of the Judges
by   David Hancock

Competition should bring out the best dog at a dog show but can often bring out the worst in people. Since the first conformation dog show the task of the dog show judge has not always been straightforward; their comments have sometimes been deservedly hard-hitting but this can have enhanced value for the breed as a whole, even if some exhibitors prefer anodine critiques, even if damning with faint praise. The range of judges’s comments are indicated in these quotes:

“However beautiful we may breed our Collies, let us always bear in mind that they are Sheepdogs, a working breed, and let us resist the efforts of the lucre-led crew who seek to reduce the Collie to the level of a fancy breed.”

George R Krehl reporting on the 1893 Kennel Club Show in The Kennel Gazette of November, 1893.

 “Much more dangerous than the deliberately dishonest judge, because much more numerous, is the judge who lacks complete confidence in his own opinion, who is afraid of offending somebody, who hesitates to put a big winner down, or an unknown up, for fear his placings will incur hostile criticism, who gets ‘cold feet’ as soon as he enters the ring, who goes home and lies awake half the night pondering over all the mistakes  he thinks he may have made.”

From The Welsh Corgi by Charles Lister-Kaye, Popular Dogs, 1968.       

 "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 his Dogs of the British Islands of 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.

"Not many shows can afford the expense of engaging a sufficient number of judges to enable each class to be judged by a gentleman who is qualified to do so, and there are very few judges who are able to deal fairly by all breeds. The unfortunate result of this is that many varieties are unsatisfactorily placed time after time"...The view of a disgruntled Bloodhound breeder at Crufts last year? No, the words of Vero Shaw in his The Illustrated Book of the Dog of 1879. He went on to disparage judging to a scale of points, stating that..."when dogs are judged by points, one notoriously defective in one portion of its anatomy can be awarded a prize..." He overlooked of course the ability then for "negative" points to be awarded.

Too Loose a System
Writing in his British Dogs of 1897, Hugh Dalziel recalls being told by SE 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.

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, of ninety 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.

This collection of quotes and comments from the early days of dog shows brings our contemporary talking points into perspective. So often over the years we seek remedy in systems and procedures when again and again it is human frailty causing the difficulty. We must acknowledge that the desire to win brings out the darker side of human nature, that corruption is always lurking when making money is an aim but that human fallibility is proportionately more likely to lead to miscalculation than misdeed. There will always be more incompetent judges than corrupt ones. Removing the corrupt ones depends on the moral standards of those who become aware of it; reducing incompetence is the bigger problem.

Training Value
In his The Practical Guide to Showing Dogs of 1956, Captain Portman-Graham wrote: "It has for some time been advocated that a training system would be beneficial, whereby a new judge could officiate with a senior one, making his own unofficial awards for comparison later with the official ones, with discussion on his placings and advice given by the responsible judge. The time has come for this sound plan to be put into operation." Nearly forty years on, this "sound plan" might find some supporters. In his book "The Dog Business" of 1960, Douglas Appleton wrote that "There are dishonest judges; there are incompetent judges. Actually both are dishonest, for there is no honour in accepting a job you are unfit to do." I don't think I can improve on that!

I have been attending dog shows since 1947 when I worked as a teenaged kennel-boy for my local vet. I have watched the most famous British dog show judges of the last nearly fifty years in action. At various times I have been surprised to see a whole series of classes completed at championship shows without the judge once examining the feet of any exhibit. Is that not incompetence? I have watched judges "go over", with their hands, the anatomies of breeds of pastoral and sporting dogs and then put up a dog with soft muscles. A sheepdog, gundog, hound or terrier must have hard muscles to be in show condition. There is little point in placing hands on dogs if you don't know soft muscle from hard. Hard muscle apart, judges face a whole range of other dilemmas; the four varieties of the Belgian Shepherd Dog, once considered as four separate breeds, but sharing the same Standard, apart from coat texture and colour, could each produce a winner: best dog, best bitch, best puppy and best veteran, in a class for Best of Breed. Soft muscle is exposed in the shorter-haired varieties, but concealed in the longer-haired varieties, without a competent hands-on judgement - is this always given?

Show Ring Discipline
I have observed dogs being strung up on nylon cord collars to mask faulty movement. We all see the wholly undesirable habit in the ring of stuffing food in the dog's mouth so that it looks expectant and therefore alert. I saw a Tibetan Mastiff (a breed I admire) being fed constantly to deter it from attacking the other exhibits or snapping at the judge. Such a dog should have been thrown out of the ring. But the "highly rated" judge elected not just to ignore this deceit but refrained from inspecting the dog's mouth too. Dogs must never be fed in the show ring and should always be shown on a loose lead so that they reveal themselves as they are. These are far more important matters than double handling will ever be.

Writing in Dog World in December 1994, Audrey Dallison, a highly-experienced exhibitor, was advocating the appointment of "neutral official observers to watch judges as a whole, and new judges in particular." I rather like that idea. I have seen judges of high repute award prizes to a Pointer with a Hackney action, a cow-hocked Irish Wolfhound, a Bloodhound quite shockingly out-at-elbow, a Mastiff so unsound in construction it could get no power from its rear end and an endless number of dogs placed that were in clear breach of their own breed standard. Such faults are scarcely a matter of opinion or subjective judgement. There are far too many incompetent judges; why should they not be judged? There are judges too whom I know disapprove of, say, the head bestowed on the Collie by the show ring fraternity, but feel they have to judge what is before them; what truly is the classic head type of the Scottish Collie?

Minimum Standard

 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 and movement are judged, just as in 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."

In KC dog shows we regularly see exhibits that fall below a certain standard or breach their own breed standard. But how often are such entries thrown out of the ring. The judge out of misguided kindness goes "through the motions" with such dogs and surprise, surprise, the dog is entered for another show. The pursuit of excellence is a ruthless business not a game show in which everyone has to win something to go home happy. It is unwise to judge on faults; it is cruel to a breed to overlook blatant faults. Breed standards often state "the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree." But how can that be applied in particular? What are the disqualifying faults?

There would be sense in each breed standard stipulating a minimum standard of "working conformation" and listing faults which disqualify. This may be more valuable in sporting and working breeds where functional capability must always be kept in mind. The old system of "negative" points might have relevance in this context. Standards of judging have deteriorated and it is foolish to press on regardless.             

Winning at dog shows so often determines the quality of future stock and is therefore vital for the good of pedigree breeds. Hugh Dalziel was right one hundred years ago when he wrote that the judge's influence really begins not ends with the awarding of prizes and that each judge is an instructor. Having two judges in the ring would undoubtedly go a long way in countering allegations of bias or corruption. Having random anonymous monitoring of judges in addition could prevent breed standards being overlooked, ignored or defied. If judges are not themselves judged, they are being given free licence to indulge their personal whims. Judging to a scale of points, as one element - not the only one, in placing dogs, would bring a more objective dimension to decision making. The awarding of negative points would punish faults without encouraging judging on faults.

Avoiding Smugness
I agree with "Stonehenge" that single judging requires some "length of education". Unless we introduce training and examinations for judges then frankly we have not progressed in the last hundred years. Judging entirely by eye and experience alone would not be acceptable in other walks of life and I do not see why judges at dog shows should be a special case. Judging standards and well-worded breed standards represent two of the most important aspects of the Kennel Club's work. And that body has a job on its hands now if dog shows are to withstand scrutiny and retain exhibitor confidence. There is an unhealthy, unjustified and wholly undesirable smugness about judging at dog shows in the United Kingdom. It is time for change. It is time for judges to be judged too.    

It was good to read in the KC’s Annual Report of 2011/12 that the KC believes that dog show judges have a crucial role to play in improving the health and welfare of dogs. Judges are required to reward only healthy dogs in the show ring and have been given the authority to remove any dog from the ring on visible health grounds, as they see fit. For some breeds, official observers are appointed to assess judging to ensure that judges comply with these requirements. Judges also play an essential part in the KC’s online Breed Watch scheme, under which they are asked to highlight any topical issues of concern within breeds for the attention of other judges due to judge that breed. Concerns voiced have to be discussed with the breed clubs and councils by way of the breed health co-ordinators before being placed on Breed Watch. Having served on a breed committee for some years, I know that this whole scheme will rely for its success on the calibre of the people on the relevant committee. Committees are never dynamic and rarely inspired by fresh initiatives. They normally favour the status quo and a cosy life; showing dogs is their top priority not health issues. If breeds, listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the KC because of their anatomical exaggerations/deficiencies, are to be better-bred, remedial action starts in the ring with alert and honest judges discarding unsound exhibits but relies on breeders in each breed listed to put the breed’s house in order, with the Breed Club and the Breed Council taking a pro-active interest not a casual passing glance, so often the case in the past. I have argued for some years for each Breed Council to co-opt a geneticist into their ranks; all exaggerations have to be bred out not talked out!

Judge's Dilemma
 I have every sympathy however for an all-rounder-judge, not a breed specialist, when faced with a GSD in the ring, displaying a curvature of the spine, a noticeable falling-away at the croup and one rear pastern resting wholly on the ground, as weirdly accepted as desirable in this once-impressive breed. Does this judge despatch the exhibit from the ring as 'unsound', (as it clearly is) or condone misguided fashion at the expense of the breed's future? The dog could be a champion! It would have been bred and trained to 'stand' in the ring in this entirely unnatural posture, one not normal for any other breed and not part of this breed's past, as every archive image reveals. It is surely doubly regrettable when a breed is handicapped by its own fanciers. When such a dog appears at Crufts, the general public see on TV a handicapped dog, with the handicaps approved indirectly by the KC. Situations such as this simply have to be terminated! Every show ring judge simply has to assess the entry as dogs first and exhibits second; health and soundness matter so much more than casually-perpetuated breed points!