Bo Bengtson At Large: "Worst Judges in the World"

Experienced dog folk have said for years: You’re either a good judge of dogs or you’re not, and no amount of education and testing is going to make much difference.

By Bo Bengtson | September 1, 2012

At a recent show a group of judges were discussing, as so often happens, all the bad judging we see at dog shows everywhere. (Did you think only exhibitors are concerned about that subject? Trust me, judges talk about this as much as anyone else, although of course almost all of us believe we ourselves are not part of the problem.) This happened to be a very international gathering of people, with widely different backgrounds but a lot of experience from judging around the world. What was interesting to me was how they all agreed about where the worst judges in the world come from.

Not to be indiscreet, but a couple of countries in South America and Western Europe were singled out as particular problem spots; I won’t be more specific than that. Everyone agreed that AKC judges are a mixed bag — our best judges are probably better than most, our worst more awful, and the average pretty similar to everywhere else. Because AKC has more than 3,000 approved judges, it’s no wonder if we hit both extremes, I guess.

My point here is that according to these experts, there was absolutely no correlation between the judges’ education and approval system in each country, and the quality of its judges. This just goes to prove what experienced dog folk have said for years: You’re either a good judge of dogs or you’re not, and no amount of education and testing is going to make much difference. If that makes a mockery of the ambitious procedure AKC employs in order to approve dog show judges, so be it.

For example, look at Canada and Australia for a comparison. Both have many more all-breed judges than we do, in spite of smaller populations and fewer dogs, which must reasonably mean that it’s much more difficult to get to that level in the US — but does anyone really believe that our judges in general are that much better than our friends up north or down under? That would be the height of arrogance and simply isn’t true.

(Based on the latest available figures, AKC had 22 all-breed judges, Canada had 123 and Australia at least 250. This means there’s roughly one all-rounder dog show judge for every 13 million US citizens, one for every 250,000 Canadians, and one for every 90,000 in Australia.)

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating because it’s important: We in the US have a slower, more complicated and demanding procedure for approving judges than almost anywhere else, yet it doesn’t result in better judges than we would have otherwise. Almost nobody reaches AKC all-breed status until they are in their senior years, and a large number of talented judges simply can’t be bothered to go through with the paperwork required to progress all the way to all-breed status. Meanwhile, foreigners laugh at us because we "can’t judge all breeds” the way they do — regardless of the fact that many AKC judges have much broader, deeper and longer experience than most others.

Aren’t we making it unnecessarily difficult for judges to become approved for multiple groups and all breeds? Once you’ve proved that you can manage a ring and judge your own breed in a satisfactory manner, wouldn’t it make sense to approve judges for more breeds simply by testing them on the applicable breed standards?

If we do that, our judges will still be as good as they are now, I promise. They may even be the best in the world.


From the September 2012 issue of Dogs In Review magazine. Purchase the September 2012 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs In Review magazine.


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