Importance of the Judges
by   David Hancock

“Clever people soon fancied there was ‘money in’ the showing of so-called sporting dogs; and the show type strayed farther and farther from the lines of the old working pointer, until it touched the bottom about 1880, when the show-men, ignorant of the first principles of the pointer, could actually believe and applaud a writer who dared to sum him up thus:- ‘How can I better describe him than by saying he should be formed to a great extent on the model of the foxhound.’ (The Dog, Idstone, p.118). But by this time, Shows had multiplied like fever-rash – dog-showing had become a commercial profession – and doubtless the admixture of alien blood, alloying the gold, was found necessary to a dog that had to bear the constant strain of the show-bench. But what was the Kennel Club doing all that time, may be asked! Nothing, absolutely nothing.”

William Arkwright in his The Pointer and his Predecessors, 1906.

“To judge a breed by working-type standards involves a deep knowledge of its particular purpose in the canine world, be it to follow a line of scent and tenderly retrieve game, or to point and set the position of game unseen, or to face and set a fox or badger in his den, or to match the speed and nimbleness of a hare until it escapes from sight. Each of these functions requires and calls for special physical and mental faculties with which the appropriate breed is naturally endowed.”Those wise observations by H. Edwards Clarke in his book The Greyhound of fifty years ago, should be engraved on the thinking of not just sight-hound judges but those who appoint them. Fitness for function may be a new Kennel Club cry but, in the world of the sporting dog, it has always been the ultimate judgement. Top quality judging is essential for the sound future of the English dog.

The sight-hound breeds at dog shows are not always the best ‘showers’; most of them resent such immodest blatant exhibitionism, as they might see it, preferring activity and expecting to be judged on performance not pushiness. Judges who know such breeds usually acknowledge this, although many lurcher judges at country shows lack the experience to see past this group-reluctance to perform artificially. Assessing any breed of dog in a ring is always going to be a combination of judgement, ideally objective, knowledge, and a technique. Sadly far too many judges that I see appear to base their decisions on 'gut-feeling' or by taking a shine to a particular dog on the day, or concentrating on fad breed points.

But what do the judges at that most prestigious of shows think of the dogs arrayed before them, dogs which have had to qualify under other KC-approved judges to appear there. In 2010, the Old English Sheepdog judge at Crufts commented: "...all four top honours went to dogs from or bred in Canada, Germany, Russia and Spain, does this not say something about the breed here in the UK? One or two other things concerned me about this lovely breed, quite a few had light eyes, poor under-jaws, poorer-constructed rears to the point of very little deviation from thigh to hocks...Top-lines in many I found totally wrong..." The Whippet judge at this show concluded: "I am concerned that over-angulated hind-quarters seem to becoming more prevalent, too long from the point of the stifle to the hock. Not only does this spoil the balanced and symmetrical outline but is a serious fault as far as the functional capability of the Whippet is concerned." The English Setter judge reported: "I was disappointed to find that there seemed to be a lot of setters with long loins...breeders please take care. I also thought a lot of exhibits were not as well-muscled as they should be, with flabby soft rear ends and no second thigh muscle. An English Setter is a gundog..." For fundamental faults such as these to even appear at such a show tells you a great deal about the knowledge of anatomy of breeders, and indeed in the judges that qualified such flawed dogs for this top show, and this is extremely worrying.  

When I first went to KC-approved championship dog shows over fifty years ago, the judges of hounds were often from the hunting field, men who knew the demands of the chase on scent-hounds. In the 21st century this is rare and in time, as the Hunting Act restricts experience, hounds at such shows are going to be judged by people with no knowledge of the field use of the hounds before them. This could be disastrous for the breeding of functional hounds. You only have to look at judges’s critiques in the last few years to see the falling away of standards in this Group of show dogs. The judge at The Basset Hound Club’s 2011 June show stated that, as in most places around the world, the front assembly in the breed is not correctly assembled, with short upper and fore-arms, leading to short-stepping. Such a fault is serious in a hunting dog relying on stamina to succeed. The judge at the Bloodhound Club’s show in that same month, and an ex-working trial owner, lamented the loss of true head shape in the breed, faulting the narrow muzzles on view at the show. Recent show judges' critiques make a number of points for me: Crufts 2001 -"Poor shoulder angulation with short upper arms is still a problem. This was often coupled with heavy shoulders and over-angulated hindquarters resulting in lack of hind power..."  Crufts is the showcase for the pure-bred dog; it is depressing to think that dogs with such faults actually qualified for Crufts under Kennel Club-approved judges

The annual Crufts Dog Show displays our gundogs, not the types that work best but each breed and its beau ideal. As I have previously stressed, it claims to exhibit 'the best of the very best'. As I have written earlier, on the 2012 event, the judges's critiques from recent shows hardly support that however. More concerning however are the remarks made by the judges at Crufts 2011 on construction and therefore movement: Labrador Retrievers – “Quite a few dogs that presented a glorious outline standing but reminded me more of a ‘Robin Reliant’ on the move as they crossed their legs coming or were almost single-tracking going away. In front movement much of this can be put down to shortness and straightness of the upper arm.” Worrying comments from the 2010 show’s judges include these: Cocker Spaniel dogs: “…I can only conclude…some had achieved qualification merely by virtue of being present.” Flat-coated Retriever dogs: “I was really worried about the front movement in the younger classes, they were all over the place with pinning front gait or else flicking out from the pasterns” and bitches: “I am worried that some of the hind movement was not positive, with the hocks having no power, also some of the front movement was not the best I have seen and this was not solely due to lack of exercise.”  English Setters: “…a lot of exhibits were not as well-muscled as they should be, with flabby, soft rear ends and no second thigh muscle. An English Setter is a gundog and needs the exercise that will give them the required ‘well muscled’ hindquarters required in the standard.”

Any pedigree Parson Russell dog which is less than 13" at the shoulder does not meet the requirements of the official KC breed standard. This means that the best working Jack Russell in the whole country could not win in the KC show ring entirely on grounds of size. Is that the best way to judge sporting terriers? I'm not surprised to read the judge's critique a few years ago from a National Terrier Championship show which stated: "I'd hoped to find more of the West Country original Parson types but sadly, there were few who looked like them. We seem to be moving towards a modern day PJRT which wasn't at all what was intended when the club was revived some ten years ago." Another judge at a different show gave this report: "I was disappointed with the quality of my entry, too many had heavy cheeks, absolutely foreign to the Standard."  At Crufts a few years back, the Lakeland Terrier judge used these words in his show report: "On the whole the standard of Lakelands at this show were (sic) not of a very high standard, some nice ones, some not so nice, and some absolute rubbish." I do hope those working Lakeland terrier-men who resort to show dog blood occasionally choose wisely! The myth of the association between pedigree and quality is surely finally acknowledged by sportsmen of all styles.

At a Scottish KC Championship show a year or so ago, the judge recorded: "When recognition of the PJRT took place I was under the impression that we were going to preserve the look of this old type of working terrier, it now seems that some breeders with no knowledge of, or regard for, the traditional type are determined, with the help of judges with no breed type experience, to change completely the character and look of the breed." That, in comparatively few words, sums up very aptly what happens to terrier breeds in the KC show rings. The only reason why we have working terriers to breed from nowadays is that countrymen who were real terrier-men kept their heads over many years and ignored the financial allure of the KC show rings.

Of course there are plenty of judges' critiques full of praise for all breeds. But if there are doubts about the quality of the judges as assessors, can such praise withstand scrutiny? The sooner the Kennel Club introduces formal training for dog show judges, with examinations to confirm this training , the better for quality control at our dog shows and, more importantly, for quality assurance in our future pedigree stock.
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.

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 fifty years ago gives it even more validity, for few would disagree that dog show judges were far better then.

Considerable concern was expressed in 1993 when a judge was approved by the Kennel Club as being authorised by them to judge every single breed for which KC challenge certificates were then on offer, i.e. 137 different breeds. A number of distinguished breed specialists have expressed worries over whether one person could, with the competence needed, judge across such a wide variety of size, shape, texture of coat, colour, head, gait and breed idiosyncrasies. How many hound-show judges would be happy to judge toy breeds? How many lurcher and terrier judges would feel competent to judge bulldogs and bloodhounds? Would a gundog field trial judge be approved to officiate at a sheepdog trial? This is not the way to induce confidence in dog show judges.

In the October 1994 issue of the Kennel Gazette, the house-magazine of the KC, an executive of the Kennel Club, rather strangely, wrote: "Why do the adherents of our sport (sic) want to judge?...Perhaps those seeking these positions should examine their motives...But surely the whole show scene is basically dedicated to the improvement of dogs, the best stock for the future of breeds being identified by competent, adequately trained and selected judges. Is their motivation linked to the improvement of dogs? That is the question that must be asked." Surely that is a question the Kennel Club must ask itself! Do they not realise that they are in charge? What are their plans for producing "competent and adequately trained judges"? The Kennel Club once approved 738 new judges in one year, solely on recommendation. Is this really the best way to improve dogs and ensure that the best stock is identified for future breeding programmes?

It is abundantly clear from the critiques of the  Crufts judges themselves that poor quality dogs are qualifying for that top event. It is equally clear that behind the glitz and glamour of Crufts itself lies a sham: unqualified judges pompously deliberating over unimpressive exhibits. How on earth can such a situation possibly contribute to the improvement of pedigree dogs? The man in the street is being misled and television journalists are promoting that deceit. As our knowledgeable ancestors decreed; searching, far more demanding examinations for judges are urgently needed and mandatory basic training simply must be introduced before any tyro-judge is let loose. It is not unknown for a Crufts winner to sire 100 litters, perhaps 500 pups. If the comments of last year's Crufts judges are anything to go by, don't touch one with a barge pole. At least the quality of the dog food goes up every year!

“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…”
Herbert Compton writing in his The Twentieth Century Dog, Grant Richards, 1904.

 “Who the man with the white waistcoat was who offered a bribe of a fiver to one of the judges at Crufts?”
from ‘Things we want to know’, The British Fancier, February, 1892.

 “…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.”
From Dogs: Their Points, Whims, Instincts and Peculiarities, edited by Henry Webb, published by Dean & Son, 1883.