by   David Hancock

The Value of Crufts - and its False Reputation
At the end of the second week in March, the canine clans come together, eager to compete for cups at Crufts, regarded across the nation as the dog show for the exhibition of pedigree dogs. Television cameras will dwell on the grave and protracted deliberations of the appointed judges. Fawning commentators will speculate enthusiastically on the judges' putative thought processes, overlooking their contrived self-importance. Breed fanciers will wait impatiently for their weighty decisions - so vital in future breeding programmes, dog trading and dog food advertising. Nearby, row upon row of benched dogs , bored out of their minds, will be waiting even more impatiently, too loyal to question the wisdom of man in conducting such a bizarre activity. Sadly the word bizarre might also be applied to many of the judges' placements! For these judges, at the most prestigious dog show in Europe, have no measureable qualifications to carry out their appointed task and make their decisions wholly subjectively.

I believe that it is entirely fair to say that the officially-appointed judges at Kennel Club-licensed dog shows are: chosen by their chums, never comprehensively trained or closely monitored, never required to justify their selections and are placing dogs, with worrying regularity, that actually breach the blueprint for that breed. They quite often judge dogs bred by them; the weaker of them put up well-known winners for fear of being criticised. Judges have also long been accused of favouring entries by members of the committee behind that particular show. As long ago as 1871, at the major show of that year, adverse comment was made on the fact that committee members won nearly a quarter of the prize money. Satirists may lampoon ice-skating judges who raise scoreboards illustrating their marking, but dog show judges are not even required to award marks; they have become all but unchallengeable.

Precision by Points

 In the early part of the last century however, the word picture for each breed of dog or breed standard was accompanied by a scale of points. This allowed physical features to be judged against an allocated number of points. In this way, the Rough Collie could be awarded up to 10 points for the neck and shoulders but as many as 20 points for the coat whilst other points could vary (e.g. up to 10 points for the hindquarters and 15 for the head and expression). The Old English Sheepdog could be awarded up to 20 points for body, loins and hindquarters and only 15 for coat and 5 for head. The Alsatian Wolfdog could get up to 20 points for ‘nature and expression’, but only 7 for each of hind and forequarters. Every dog could therefore be rated out of 100 points against the same scale of points as rival entries in that breed. Some breeds could not be "commended" unless the exhibit scored over 60. Some could have points deducted for undesirable features such as white nails, toes and feet (minus 10 points). Some could attract up to 95 "negative" points, at least one 100! Theoretically such a breed could score zero. The allocation of points to physical features can be questioned, but at least a judge had to be precise in the decisions taken on the day.

‘Wouldn’t work at Crufts!’ today's pedigree dog fanciers might claim. But what do the judges at that most prestigious of shows think of the dogs arrayed before them, dogs that have had to qualify under other KC-approved judges if they are to appear there? Here are some of the judges's comments from Crufts shows: Cardigan Corgis (1995) - "...too many lack the drive and follow through that are a must in the working dog. They would not last on the hill pastures which they used to work and the old farmers would give them short shrift." Norwegian Buhunds (1995) - "It saddens me to see this happen to a breed I have owned and loved for the last twenty years." Such comments are not unusual, these are some judges' remarks from the year before: Bearded Collies - "I was deeply disappointed with the quality in the lower classes"; Old English Sheepdogs - "Overall the quality was poor". In 2008, the Pembroke Corgi judge wrote: “…I feel the breed is at a low point. Twenty years ago, one could easily end up with a line-up of even type, classically headed Pembrokes…Heads now vary enormously.” The Smooth Collie judge wrote: “Movement in general was not as I would have wished. There were very few with the correct bend of stifle, thus inhibiting their hind action. A couple exhibited a high-stepping front action, and very few produced the graceful flowing action required…” The Bouvier des Flandres judge wrote: “Main fault was poor movement, caused often by upright shoulders and some were moving too close behind.”

Lack of Quality in Depth

 The next year, 2009, the Australian Shepherd judge wrote: “Many dogs were out of condition with little muscle tone and rather overweight.” A year later, in 2010, the Bernese Mountain Dog judge wrote: “Placements were lost due to poor movement, incorrect set and carriage of the tail, too much length in the loin region and confusion between substance and carrying too much weight.” The Border Collie judge warned: “…breeders should address movement as in quite a number of exhibits movement was not good.” The Rough Collie judge reported that: ”Unfortunately the quality in depth was sadly lacking in some classes…I was sad to see one or two that looked completely alien and totally lacking in breed type.” Crufts is the only dog show in which the entry has first to qualify! But, then, the judge of Old English Sheepdogs at this show commented: “…quite a few had light eyes, poor underjaws, poorer constructed rears to the point of very little deviation from thigh to hocks…Toplines in many I found totally wrong.” Even sadder, was this judge’s closing comment in this critique: “I am led to believe that some exhibitors were complaining that I moved the dogs too much; surely this can’t be right, after all, this breed was bred to drive sheep to the market many miles away…”

In 2011, the Briards’ judge wrote: “Unfortunately, such movement is not often seen these days, with short stepping strides and shuffling rear action prevailing. This is a result of poorer construction than desired.” The Old English Sheepdog judge wrote: “Movement is a concern as many cannot move soundly and with drive, cow-hocked can also be seen on the move and standing. We are getting quite a few dogs that have little or no muscle on the rear thighs. This breed should be able to work all day, many would not last for long free running.” The Shetland Sheepdog judge wrote: “…there were very few dogs who pushed from their hocks…” The Pyrenean Mountain Dog judge wrote: “…the general impression from a lot of the entry was of dogs moving too close behind and despite standing straight at the front, many seemed to move too wide or cross their front legs when coming towards me…let’s hope we can improve movement in the coming years.” The Bernese Mountain Dog judge wrote: “Upper arms are a source of concern, several could have been longer and some better angulated and some fore-chests lacked development while some toplines could have been straighter and firmer.” All these exhibits had to qualify for Crufts under KC-appointed judges. Is the system producing sound dogs?

Crufts Dogs Bred From

 In 2012, the Australian Shepherd judge noted: “A couple of numerically large did lack depth of quality and the real type that gives this breed its very definite identity.” One of the German Shepherd Dog entry tried to bite the judge and was banished from the ring. The Finnish Lapphund judge wrote: “Mouths in some dogs were a major issue, with overshot, undershot and uneven bites – and these were not youngsters whose mouths may improve as they get older. I feel that breeders must look more deeply into the background of their breeding stock…” The Shetland Sheepdog judge stated: “…there were a number of exhibits which appeared too cobby due to upright shoulder angulations and shortness in back, which was made more apparent when asked to move…” Then in 2013, the Judge of the Rough Collie (dogs) reported: “…there are still problems with movement and weak pasterns but I do believe this is environmental not hereditary.” So, that’s all right then! The dogs that qualify for Crufts get bred from. Owners boast when their dog appears at Crufts.  

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 truly comprehensive training for dog show judges, with really testing 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. Would a marking system, based on a scale of points produce a more accountable, much more precise measurement of an exhibit’s worth – or just slow down the judging? But if the present mark-less routine is not producing sound dogs, in the correct order of merit, should it not be rethought?

Qualifying the Judges
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-dog-show 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 twenty 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 has been sustained discontent over how judges at dog shows are appointed and whether they should be formally trained and pass examinations for such a task. There are formal qualifications for judges on offer, but the Kennel Club has so far declined to develop them to the highest level justified by their role in the pedigree dog world – and their effect on dog breeding. In the United States, there is a Senior Conformation Judges Association Education Institute that runs very comprehensive courses even for senior American Kennel Club judges. Our own Kennel Club heard over 30 complaints against judges approved by them in just one year; seventeen of them alleged lack of knowledge or, worse, disregard of the written breed blueprint or standard.     

Breadth of Knowledge
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, 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.

Bishop William Stubbs, writing in the last century, gave us these apt lines: "What cause for judgments so malign? A brief reflection solves the mystery…" A very brief reflection reveals the cause of malign judgments in the rings at pedigree dog shows: untrained, unqualified, unsupervised judges acting out a charade with far too many unworthy entries. Further reflection suggests obvious remedies: a marking system is called for - as our knowledgeable ancestors decreed; examinations for judges are urgently needed and 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 decade of 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!  
Judgemental Decisions
“I have known men, some of them long departed, who could judge anything on four legs; they possessed a flair. If one of them, who had never judged dogs in his lifetime, were to be wafted back and put into the Corgi ring he would know nothing at all of the breed points, but I guarantee he would know unsoundness when he saw it – which is more than can be said for many of today’s aspirants. He would be quick to recognize ‘quality’ and ‘style’…How many exhibits in the ring today can really be said to boast these two indefinable attributes?”
From The Welsh Corgi by Charles Lister-Kaye, Popular Dogs, 1968. 

I have written of the concern, expressed in 1993, when a judge was approved by the Kennel Club as being authorised by them to judge every single one of the breeds for which KC championship certificates were then on offer, 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, function and breed idiosyncrasies. But what do the judges themselves think of other judges? Here are two critiques by judges at Crufts, our premier show-dog event. Firstly: "I was VERY disappointed in the quality...How do they qualify?" and secondly on a different breed: "I did frankly wonder how some of the dogs there had even managed to win a 1st prize!...the lowering of the general quality of the hounds coming into the ring is only a long continuation of the process that respected senior all-rounders and our own experienced breed specialists have been warning us about for years..."

Judging is Subjective

 In a "discussion document" published by the Kennel Club in 1993 entitled The Exhibition of Dogs, it is stated that: "Everyone is aware that judging of dogs is subjective and opinions regarding merit of a particular animal vary...It is necessary therefore to consider whether...A system of formal testing prior to a judge being passed for Championship Show Status awarding Challenge Certificates should be instituted." Our championship shows attract 100,000 entries a year, although these are now falling. Crufts attracts around 20,000 "top" dogs, as well as over 80,000 visitors from some 50 countries. Its global appeal is gratifying. But behind the glitter is a clear need for a review of standards, both in dogs and judges. Clearly the association in the public mind between quality, dog show wins and Crufts itself is not justified. If you believe the dog show judges themselves there is a lack of quality in our pedigree breeds of dog, together with suspect temperament. Successful show dogs are likely to be bred from the most. The most prolific winners are extensively bred from – without any mandatory health checks being imposed on them. If the best of these is earning the kind of comments spelt out above, what must the worst be like? And they are ending up in the pet market. Be careful when you are buying your next pedigree sheepdog!