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Judging: always a thorny issue!

Don Wieden's columns always make me sit up and think, indeed so do conversations with him; but then Don is one of those people who speaks from the very gut, and for that I admire him. Those of us who voice our opinions clearly, have to be prepared to suffer for doing so, but at least we can live with our own conscience.

Don's column of August 11th concerned the subject of judging. In this he describes his own substantial experience with a particular breed, and the dismay he felt when turned down by the Kennel Club to award his first set of tickets in it. Don is not alone, there must be many of us out there who have had similar experiences, myself included.

Of course there are people who will snatch at any opportunity to award CCs in a 'new' breed, but there are others of us who would in any event only consider accepting if we truly thought we understood the breed sufficiently well to do so. In my own case I have been turned down to award CCs in two breeds with which I feel genuinely familiar.

In both cases I have passed the required judging examinations, and have judged the breeds several times at Championship and breed club shows abroad. In addition to Open Show breed classes here, I usually get a generous smattering of these dogs when I judge varieties; in one breed I have judged at a club Open Show, and in the other a 'Top Dog' event. For both breeds I am on an A3 list of a breed club. I have attended numerous seminars, and have even been a speaker at some. I award CCs in two related breeds, and travel frequently to the homeland of these dogs so that I may learn more about them. Personally, I feel I have done my homework sufficiently well.

As Don has indicated in his own column, when one is awaiting acceptance of a ticket appointment, other appointments have to be declined. Hence, if eventually turned down, in the meanwhile one has invariably lost additional classes which would have been valuable in playing 'the numbers game', so as to meet relevant UK judging criteria.

The point I am leading to here, is that if in Britain we may now be in a position of judging foreign domiciled dogs, surely judging experience abroad should count for something in this country. Looking at it from the other viewpoint, we could now find ourselves in another country going over British dogs that might well have been entered under us at a Championship event here.

It is perhaps also worth mentioning that, when abroad, I also know I am not alone in being overly aware that many 'foreign' judges have pitifully limited experience of the breeds to which they are awarding CACs and CACIBs.

As it is, when assessing someone's ability to award CCs in a breed for the first time, overseas judging engagements are not taken into consideration by The Kennel Club. The KC does take breed club recommendations into account (though does not always agree with them), but I don't know of any clubs that take account of overseas judging appointments when compiling their lists.

Surely it is now time to change, and to open our horizons a little wider. Shouldn't we be thinking more deeply about people's in-depth experience in a breed, rather than simply counting up the number of dogs judged in this country?

It's a horrible thought, but fifteen or twenty years down the road, many current multi-breed judges may have gone to their happy hunting grounds, or simply be 'past it'. By then, those of us who give tickets in just one or two breeds may never have had the opportunity to progress further; and dedicated, enthusiastic and potentially good newer judges, may simply never have reached an A list. What then of dog shows? Will they, too, be heading for their happy hunting grounds?

I could easily continue this entire column writing about this subject, for I have so many anecdotal images I could describe. However, I know that many of you expect me to be writing at least something with a little historical or perhaps foreign perspective, so let me now take you back to the centre of the judging ring almost a hundred years ago.

It was in 1901 that Hugh Dalziel wrote about 'Judges and Judging' and said that the judge used to be looked upon with respectful awe, 'a man compact of knowledge in all things canine, and guided by a wise discretion, an unerriing wisdom, and an inflexibility of judgement'. There was, however, also 'the puzzled judge', one who, 'like a nervous student under examination, discovers that he has forgotten all he thought he knew when at home, and finds himself unable to resolve the problem, and distinguish between the proportionate merits of the dogs before him'.

It would seem that then, like now, there were judges of all calibres, and just as mixed in their attitudes toward their task. It makes me smile as I read some of the comments written those many years ago, for one can so very easily look around the centre of the rings today to see some seemingly very familiar personalities.

There was the 'fascinating' judge, dressed up to the hilt regardless of expense (nothing wrong with that I hasten to add!), but who smirked and smiled between concerted attempts to look grave and learned. His self-certainty that he was the most competent of all possible judges enabled him to minuet through the farce with light toes and a lighter mind. He would whirl in and out of the dogs dextrously, prancing and pirouetting round the ring like a dancing master. At last, gracefully he would disappear, with a satisfied smirk on his feeble face. Such could be described as 'a Turveydrop of a dog judge'.

There was also the judge who was ignorant of the first principles necessary to guide him in the work he had undertaken but who, nonetheless, assumed a learned look, trying to appear as if absorbed in judicial consideration of the dogs presented before him.

There was yet another kind of judge; one who was also a breeder and exhibitor. This was an excellent combination of qualities, frequently not found amongst judges of that era. Provided that he possessed the natural faculty of keen discrimination regarding the merits of dogs, and that he had a firm and righteous mind, he would command the esteem and confidence of all.

So, there we must leave the subject for today, in the hope that this short article has prompted thought. So much good work is now being done with regard to the training of judges, and this is to be commended. Surely, then, the judging of dogs should not simply become a game of numbers, nor indeed of politics. Those of us who have spent time as club secretaries are in a prime position to see how cleverly this game can be played, even if only by mentally noting those people who simply push for judging appointments. All too frequently one finds a truly novice judge accepting multiple breeds at Open level, a far cry from the days when one became as conversant as possible with one breed before accepting even a second. But now I really must stop my ramblings, though my mind will continue to ramble on in silence for a long time yet. Perhaps yours will too!

Dogs - This article has been reproduced courtesy of Juliette Cunliffe

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