Total Number of AKC Judges and Group Judges

AKC Facts and Figures, Part 2: Total number of judges and how many judge three or more breeds.

By | September 19, 2011

Judges approved for Groups
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3,189 Conformation Judges

The first fact that could be established was just how many AKC judges there are. Adding up all the individuals listed in the directory, it appears that at the time of the book’s compilation, we had exactly 3,189 approved conformation judges. (Figures for the hundreds of judges approved exclusively for Junior Showmanship or performance events are beyond the scope of this article and could be the subject for separate research.) Obviously in the months since the directory’s publication more judges have been approved while others have retired, but it’s as close to an exact figure as it’s possible to get.

The total figure is just a little higher than expected; based on rough earlier estimates I had guessed there were approximately 3,000 conformation judges. What really surprised me was to find that almost half of all those AKC judges — 1,386 (or 43 percent) — were approved for just one or two breeds: 810 for one dog breed, 576 for two. I always assumed, and we’re often told, that American judges in general suffer from a case of "all-rounderitis” and want to judge as many dog breeds as possible — but that is obviously not true.

You may ask if perhaps many of these judges are just starting out, so the one or two breeds they have been approved for so far are just the beginning of a grand plan for multi-Group judging in the future. It doesn’t look like it, as most of those I checked further had been approved for the same one or two breeds for several years, so they are apparently content with what they have and not planning on expanding their list of breeds.

I was also surprised, and a little amused, by what some of the two-breed judges were approved for. It’s not surprising, for instance, that a Collie judge may also be approved for Shelties, and if you start with Golden Retrievers it’s not a stretch to move on to Labrador Retrievers, as many have done — but there were some oddball combinations of seemingly incompatible breeds that caught the eye.

What can you say about judges whose only two breeds of choice are the following: Mastiffs and Havanese; Brittanys and Pomeranians; Pugs and Pembroke Welsh Corgis; Collies and Shih Tzu; Papillons and Old English Sheepdogs; German Shorthaired Pointers and Yorkshire Terriers; or Black and Tan Coonhounds and Old English Sheepdogs?

Some would say it’s not smart to apply for approval to judge two completely unrelated breeds in different Groups if you’re planning a career as an American Kennel Club judge, but I found it refreshing that there are people who obviously don’t think along those lines. They apparently just want to judge the breeds they most care for and (presumably) have hands-on experience with.

With our show system, where most AKC dog shows have only a handful of entries in any given breed, these judges are seldom "cost-effective” and can’t expect to officiate very often. They are no doubt fountains of knowledge for their breeds of choice, but they are not likely to become regularly active multi-Group judges.


The Group Judges

Judges Awarding Best in Show
When you deduct the 1,386 AKC judges approved for just one or two breeds from the 3,189 total, you’re left with 1,803 judges who judge three or more breeds. That’s a large number, but less than half of these judges (791) are approved to judge one or more Groups, and in turn more than half (397) of the Group judges can judge just one single Group.

The single-Group judges still constitute a much larger group than the others: 214 judges are approved for two Groups, 82 for three, 52 for four, 20 for five and four for six Groups — which leaves a total of 22 AKC judges approved to judge all breeds. Among the Group judges are, interestingly, a couple of Canadians who have applied for and received regular AKC approval for a couple of Groups, although not for all the dog breeds they are licensed for in Canada.

We’ll return to the multi-Group judges later, but for now let’s contemplate the curious fact that even judges who are approved for just a single Group may also judge Best in Show at all-breed dog shows.

Before becoming a Group judge you of course need to be regularly approved for every single breed in that Group, but a similar requirement does not apply to BIS judging: once you have become approved for any one Group, AKC may authorize you to judge Best in Show.

In fact, it’s one of the dog sport’s least talked-about open secrets that a large number of BIS decisions are made by judges who are not approved to officiate at breed level for all, or even most, of the seven finalists. In other words, you may not be approved by AKC to award Best of Breed to the same dog you just gave Best in Show to.

How can such a state of affairs exist, you ask? It’s simply a question of supply and demand. We now have over 1,400 AKC all-breed shows every year, and it just isn’t realistic to expect the few all-breed judges to make all those BIS decisions. Therefore AKC has made the rather arbitrary decision to, on mature consideration (one hopes), allow even judges with just a single Group under their belt to hand out what many consider the highest award in dogdom.

"A large number of BIS decisions are made by judges who are not approved to officiate at breed level for all, or even most, of the seven finalists."

You may think this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs, but it’s difficult to think of an ideal solution. (Short of drastically cutting the number of shows, of course, in which case we would obviously not need so many Best in Show judges, but in the current dog show climate, that’s not likely to happen.) Different foreign kennel clubs deal with this problem in different ways, and I’m not sure you can conclusively say that one system is better than another.

It should be added that Best in Show approval is not automatic for Group judges. According to the 2011 directory there are 104 judges who do not judge Best in Show even though they are approved for one Group, and five who don’t do so although they are approved for two Groups. Whether that’s simply because these individuals do not wish to judge BIS or because AKC withheld permission for them to do so, I do not know.

The number of judges for each Group varied: 236 were approved for all Working breeds, 214 for Hounds, 212 for Toy breeds, 211 for Sporting, 198 for Non-Sporting, 196 for Herding and only 148 for Terriers. Most breeds appeared to have around 100 approved breed judges (in addition, of course, to the all-breed and Group judges), but there were wide variations.

As far as I could see, Doberman Pinschers topped the list with 315 breed judges, followed by Poodles, Collies and Shelties with just over 280 breed judges each; German Shepherd Dogs with 262; Boxers, Bulldogs, Dachshunds and Siberian Huskies with around 250 judges each; and the following between 200 to 250: Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, Afghan Hounds, Whippets, Akitas, Alaskan Malamutes, Great Danes, Rottweilers and Australian Shepherds.

Those with the fewest breed judges, who obviously have to rely mostly or entirely on Group judges, I could find were Gordon Setters (13), Irish Red and White Setters (11), Redbone Coonhounds and Bluetick Coonhounds (0), Plotts (1), English Toy Spaniels (15), Toy Manchester Terriers (0), Xoloitzcuintli (1), Icelandic Sheepdogs (5), Norwegian Buhunds (4) and Pyrenean Shepherds (13).

"Of a sample 200 AKC all-breed shows, only 23 had the BIS winner determined by an AKC judge who was approved to judge all breeds." 

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