The Future of AKC Judging

AKC Facts and Figures, Part 4: The Future of AKC Judging

By | September 19, 2011

All-breed judges by country

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The Future of AKC Judging

When I started compiling the figures for this article, I planned to leave my own opinions out of it: The figures would speak for themselves. With the above details at hand it is impossible not to be concerned for the future of conformation dog shows in America, however. An ever-expanding number of shows attract ever-decreasing entries, necessitating clubs to hire judges who are able to tackle as many dog breeds and Groups as possible.

Yet while the number of new judges approved appears to be greater than ever, just a small percentage of them graduate to Group status. The lack of judges with AKC approval to pass over a wide variety of breeds has also had a negative impact on US judges’ ability to compete on the "international market” with the hundreds of foreign judges who, often in spite of more limited dog experience than their US counterparts, are approved by their kennel clubs to judge all breeds.

"We're often told that American judges suffer from a case of 'all-rounderitis' and want to judge as many breeds as possible — but that is obviously not true."

It is clear that AKC must take drastic steps to encourage judges to add more dog breeds and Groups to their list. Many are reluctant to spend the considerable time and money (estimated to be at least $10,000 per Group) necessary to complete an approval process which has been described as "complicated, long-winded, often irrelevant and sometimes downright embarrassing.”

Judges who have a few breeds should be approved for double that number based on straightforward tests on knowledge of breed history and dog breed standards; those with half a Group should quickly be allowed to start judging that whole Group, and those with multiple Groups should be advanced to all-breed status in short order.

The good news is that change is in the wind. You may have heard of the Judges Approval Committee, chaired by Dr. Robert D. Smith, which recently submitted its proposal for improvements in the approval process. It will be dealt with by the AKC Board of Directors in the near future.

For those who proscribe restraint when it comes to judges’ approval, the above may sound like anathema. I still feel new applicants should be vetted carefully for their first breeds, probably more so than is currently the case, but it’s obvious that the rules must be simplified to allow those who are approved for a few breeds to expand that number more easily.

Another suggestion is to distinguish between A and B level in expertise. The basic knowledge required at most average AKC dog shows isn’t that difficult to acquire and would qualify a judge for the B-level, while A-level status would be reserved for true breed experts of great experience.

Almost any good dog person should be able to become a decent B-level judge for a substantial number of breeds after about a decade’s judging experience, but I doubt there are more than a dozen A-level judges in most dog breeds. However, I don’t think this idea would be acceptable to the American Kennel Club or popular with most of the judges.

A parting thought: did you know that some countries’ kennel clubs pay their prospective judges’ expenses in attempting to lure them to start judging more breeds? I can’t imagine a better way for AKC to invest some of the annual profit that the club, according to the annual financial report, is still making.


Bo Bengtson is founder, past publisher and Editor-at-Large for Dogs in Review. He is approved by AKC to judge 14 breeds in the Sporting, Hound and Toy Groups; he is also approved by FCI to judge 40 breeds in five different Groups, as well as all-breed Best in Show. He has been approved by the Kennel Club (UK) to award Challenge Certificates for seven breeds in the Hound and Utility Groups. He is not planning on becoming an all-breeds judge.

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