Opening Space

Judging the Judges...The Good Old Days

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Seeing how strongly we all feel about the people who judge our dogs it was just a matter of time until someone came up with the idea of “judging the judges.”

If you go to the Internet and click on you will find what’s obviously a serious attempt to rate the quality of conformation judging at AKC shows, with nearly 800 judges given ratings from a maximum of 5.0 points all the way down to 1.0.

I’m sure there will be almost as much of an outcry against this concept from the judges as there is already an interest in it from many serious exhibitors. Judges are used to passing a verdict over others, not accustomed to being rated themselves — especially not by the very people who are usually subjected to their opinions.

The opportunity for abuse is obvious at first glance: a judge doesn’t like your dog, so you go to the web site and give that judge a big, fat zero — right? Not so easy. The panel of “Expert Judge Evaluators” has to qualify in order to vote: you must have at least 10 years’ experience showing dogs you bred; handled at least 10 class dogs to their championships; taken at least 10 Group placements; and must have been going to at least 50 shows per year for the last few years. (Exceptions will be made in special cases, such as when an exhibitor shows a breed which very rarely takes a Group placement.) Furthermore, the names of the panel members and their credentials are listed on the web site: that takes some guts and is bound to ensure that the panelists are honest about their credentials and try their utmost to be fair.

The average rating for the 776 judges graded was 3.06 points. The top 83 judges were rated from 4.5 to 5.0 points; 53 scored between 1.00 and 1.49 points; the overwhelming majority somewhere in between. Discounting those who were rated by only a handful of voters (obviously fewer votes means a less reliable grade), a small group of obviously very popular judges stood out at the top, as well as an equally distinct group at the other end of the scale. I’m not going to tell you any names, but let’s just say that the results were not particularly surprising — and reading the exhibitors’ comments about some of these judges made me say “Ouch!” out loud several times...

What you think of all this will probably depend on who you are. As a judge, I have serious reservations about an official “rating” of judges; as an exhibitor I think this is long overdue and may have the potential to improve the judges’ performance. I would like to see the grades refined so that judges are rated in different categories: ring procedure, fairness, diplomacy, actual breed knowledge, etc. But then, of course, you get into the question of what the most important characteristics in a judge are, and then we’re off on yet another debate...

The Good Old Days

Almost everyone will tell you the old days were the good ones, so much better than anything that’s happening now. I’ve been there myself, like pretty much anyone who’s been around for a while: it’s so easy to see the past in a rose-colored glow simply because we were younger then and everything was new and fresh. It doesn’t mean that things really were better in those days, though, objectively speaking.

Whenever I hear someone bemoaning the past I try to remember that what we’re experiencing now ARE the “good old days” for some rosy-cheeked kid who’s just discovering the wonders of dog shows — or at least they will be when he or she looks back on them. Objectively, this isn’t a bad time to be involved in dogs at all, and don’t let anyone tell you that everything was so wonderful in the past either.

For a little perspective, here’s a comment from more than 80 years ago:

“The increased number of shows may appeal to the ‘pot hunter’ and those anxious to make mediocre dogs champions, but to one who is really keen on the improvement of the dog world in general … it must be admitted that the majority of shows … have not been up to the standard, with a chaos prevailing in the awards that left much to be desired… Why do the kennel clubs allow such mediocre judges to pass on all breeds? Recent awards made in the various Groups and final line-up for Best in Show have certainly proved that ‘all is not gold that glitters’…”

That was Charles G. Hopton writing in Dogdom magazine way back in 1924. Here’s another quote:

“The judging situation as it exists today in the United States … simply cannot last … and the common sense of the average American fancier will put this matter right, and that without delay, as the fancy here is suffering.”

So said J. Willoughby Mitchell in the very same 1924 issue of Dogdom, giving a pretty clear indication that even then there were people who felt that things were going to hell in a handbasket. Both Hopton and Mitchell were Westminster Best in Show judges and obviously well respected in their day.

As I write this I’m getting ready to set off for the AKC/Eukanuba events in Long Beach. I will withhold judgment of this event until I’ve experienced this year’s edition, but let me ask you this: At what time in the past would a dog food company have cared enough to invite, and pay for, 40 top dogs, from 40 different countries, to come to be judged in one place in the United States? The World Challenge is just one small part of a show which I hope will be able to stand on its own legs as a unique event — one which I think would thoroughly impress any dog fancier from the past!

Have fun with your dogs, wherever you are!

                                                                                         Bo Bengtson, Editor-at-Large


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Cameron   Indianapolis, IN

1/19/2008 9:16:07 AM

Every sport has its bemoaners........look at the broohahaha over the cover on Golf Digest and the whole thing with Tiger. Our sport is a wonderful one, and even after 35 years I love it as much as I did as a kid. There is good and bad in everything, and the big thing people seem to forget is we are in it for the LOVE OF THE DOGS THEMSELVES. And if you cant remember that then get out of our sport we don't want you in it anyway. Everyone has had a bad weekend it is just how you take it......there is always another weekend to do it all over again

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