Facts and Figures on BIS and All-Breed Judges

AKC Facts and Figures, Part 3: A look at the backgrounds of AKC BIS and all-breed judges.

By | September 19, 2011

BIS judges
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Best in Show Judges

I was curious to look at the background of the Best in Show judges, so picked a random 200 shows held during late 2010 for closer analysis. At 15 of these conformation dog shows the judge was not on AKC’s list of Group judges, which means they were foreign visitors, usually from Canada. (As a side note, and this could be the subject for a whole other article, we in the US have far fewer foreign judges officiating, especially at top level, than almost any other country.)

At the remaining 185 conformation dog shows, a large majority (124) had their Best in Show winner chosen by judges who were approved for less than half the Groups (38 for one Group, 48 for two, 38 for three), while 24 shows had a BIS judge who was approved for four Groups, 13 had a judge with five Groups, one with six and 23 shows had a Best in Show judge who was approved for all seven AKC dog Groups.

Put another way, it would also be correct to say that of a sample 200 AKC all-breed shows, only 23 (or 11.5 percent) had their BIS winner determined by an AKC judge who was approved to judge all dog breeds.

Does it help or hurt when the BIS judge is not approved for "your” Group? In other words, if you have a Miniature Pinscher, would you rather compete for BIS under a judge who’s only approved for, say, Hounds or Herding than one who is a Toy dog specialist? I guess it depends on your priorities, but you may be relieved to find that in the majority of cases (105 shows) the AKC judges awarded the top spot to a dog belonging to a Group they were approved to judge.

That still leaves 80 BIS wins awarded by AKC judges who were not approved to judge the Group from which their winner came — which, at the very least, begs the question of how valid the all-breed wins really are. (For the record, the judges who were approved for only one Group almost never awarded BIS to a show dog from that Group; once a judge was approved for two Groups the chances that his or her winner would come from one of these Groups increased dramatically, and when a judge had three Groups most of their winners came from one of their "own” Groups.)

Intelligent thinkers in the past, such as Ellsworth Gamble in the US and Raymond Oppenheimer in England, always maintained that judging Best in Show was the least important assignment of the day, and also the easiest one, provided that breed and Group judges had done their job right. It’s a point worth considering.


The All-Breed Judges

Let’s look a little closer at the small, elite group of AKC judges who are approved for all, or most, breeds. Almost all these are people I know and respect, and it is my sincere hope that the following information, consisting mostly of facts available to anyone with access to the AKC Judges Directory, will not be considered impertinent, intrusive or in any way hurtful.

As mentioned earlier, the 2011 directory lists only 22 judges as approved to judge all dog breeds. That’s an exceptionally low number compared with almost any other country: Canada, at last count, had 123 all-breed judges, Australia more than 250, in spite of much smaller canine and human populations than the US.

"You would expect a large group of up-and-coming judges to be knocking on the door, waiting to become approved for all breeds. That is not the case. In the last decade only eight all-rounder judges were approved, and where the next generation will come from is anyone’s guess."

Some FCI countries — especially those in Eastern Europe, it seems — appear to produce scores of new all-rounder judges every year, many of them of such a young age that one wonders how they could possibly have had time to gain the necessary experience. (Recent examples include a 26-year-old Russian who started judging at age 20 and already has at least 50 breeds, and a 22-year-old Australian who is approved for one Group and well on the way to a second.)

Age is a matter that’s not supposed to be discussed in polite society, but it must be said that a majority of AKC all-rounders are no longer in the first flush of youth, and many are far less active than they used to be. Some are by their own admission over 90, and even the youngest two or three must be in their 60s. (This is difficult to believe based on their youthful appearance, but must be a fact, unless they were teenagers when first approved as AKC judges.)

The attrition is further compounded by the fact that three of the all-breed judges are no longer permitted by AKC to take on a full load of entries; a fourth has officially retired since the AKC Judges Directory was compiled, and another half-dozen appear to be on the verge of doing the same, accepting just a few, or no, assignments in recent years. In fact, of the 22 all-breed judges listed only about a dozen are still fully active.

You would expect a large group of up-and-coming judges to be knocking on the door, waiting to become approved for all dog breeds. That is not the case. In the last decade only eight all-rounder judges were approved, and where the next generation will come from is anyone’s guess.

Only four judges are listed as approved for six Groups in the 2011 directory, which was reportedly compiled in October 2010; in the 10 months since then one of those judges has died, while none of the three others had added more breeds to their repertoire when I checked the Internet directory in mid July, 2011.

Not much change could be noted for the 19 judges listed in the AKC Judges Directory as approved for five Groups either: one was no longer on the list, so has presumably retired; one had progressed from provisional to regular status for one Group; and two had added one new provisional Group each in the past 10 months.

Summing up the changes in the status of the 45 top AKC judges, based on the number of Groups approved, from October 2010 to July 2011: two had added a new provisional Group, one moved from provisional to regular in one Group. That’s it. And that’s balanced by the fact that at least three judges had stopped judging entirely.


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