Seven Secrets of Show Dog Success

Part 5: Understand the Game

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And we figured out a way to succeed in a different model. For many decades, being successful in a breed required that an owner be part of the “club” and receive the blessing of the old guard in order to do well. While we honor the many breeders and competitors of the last century who have built the world of dog shows for their efforts and the foundation they established, things are changing.

What about those judges, anyway?
As with any sport, fans love to blame the umpires, referees and judges if things don’t go the way they like. Dog shows are no different. If anything, judges get a lot of heat from the fancy because judging in the ring looks so subjective to new competitors. Once you understand how long and arduous the process is to become an AKC judge, you begin to appreciate the skills, time and talent required.

As Cathy is going through the process and now has a few breeds, we have both attended many judges’ education seminars and training. We’ve had the chance to get to know other judges and get a reality check about the world of an AKC judge.

More than one judge has talked about the fact that it took years and thousands of dollars to get to the point where they started getting regular assignments. New provisional judges get paid practically nothing, if anything. Instead, new judges fly across the country for the honor of paying their own expenses, maybe with a free meal thrown in, and hopefully an entry big enough to be observed by the AKC rep.

The next time you see a person judging at any show, much less the big ones, appreciate that they spent years in the trenches getting there. There are over 3,000 AKC judges in the country but only a few hundred have been approved to judge a Group or a Best in Show.

We developed a program to track judges who were assigned to PWDs and examined how 350 judges over four years looked at our breed in the ring. Did some judges prefer lion coat cuts over retriever? Was there a bias about curly or wavy, black, brown or white, big or small? Did judges show a preference for owner-handlers versus professional handlers? We tracked all of this because even the most rigorous breed standards allow for variations in judging and we were curious whether favoritism existed.

As a statistician, Mike was looking for those standard deviations from the norm. The result? We found that the vast majority of judges are consistent, well-versed in the standards and diligent. We noticed that the rare judge who was off course attracted the AKC representative at a show to provide advice and input about the process and didn’t last long.

After 400 shows with Ladybug alone, the law of big numbers kicked in. Over time and with enough shows every dog will get a fair chance to win. The trick is to go to enough shows. The more you show, the more you win! If you have a truly great dog your success will amplify over time. How? Judges are human and have great memories. The more Ladybug won, the more interest and buzz she created, assisted by tons of advertising.

When the great mare Zenyatta started winning, fans expected her to continue to win. She won 19 straight races before she lost, but the legend was created forever. Before she retired after Westminster 2011, Ladybug became the dog to beat in the Working Group; that’s where you want to be.

Are you thick-skinned?
Over the years we have developed great friendships and relationships with the other performers in “the circus.” With our success came positive regard that was very gratifying. However, when you begin to win with your dog do not expect only love and adulation from your fellow breeders or the fancy. Human beings have a tendency to enjoy watching someone successful fail. “Who do they think they are?”

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