The Last Word on Judges

In the past few months I've been writing a lot about AKC judges. Let me sum things up and make a few simple suggestions for how we — or, rather, AKC — might improve the situation.

By Bo Bengtson | Posted: May 19, 2014 11 a.m. PST

In the past few months I’ve been writing a lot about AKC judges. Actually, I’ve been writing a lot more than I ever planned to about that particular subject. There are several reasons for this. First, having good judges is obviously crucial for the survival and well-being of dog shows and therefore worth writing about. Second, it’s clear from the response that there’s a great deal of interest in what’s happening to AKC judges. Nothing else that I have written has generated so many comments, letters and calls — not just from exhibitors and club officials, but from the judges themselves. Finally, it’s evident that we are fast approaching a dog show crisis because there are far too few multi-Group judges and all-rounders to deal with the more than 1 million entries that AKC all-breed shows attract each year.

Therefore, before I get back to the other fascinating aspects of our sport, let me sum things up and make a few simple suggestions for how we — or, rather, AKC — might improve the situation.

AKC Breed Judges
Nearly half of all AKC judges are approved to judge one or two breeds. There are only 22 judges approved to judge all seven AKC Groups. Photo Isabelle Francais.

The past year has been a learning process for me as a judge. If I’m a little more cynical now than I used to be, and less interested in officiating at AKC shows, that should not surprise anyone who read my two previous articles in Dogs in Review: "The Judges Approval System” (January 2014, p. 80) and "More on the AKC Judges Approval System” (March 2014, p. 92).

Read "The Judges Approval System">>

Read "More on the AKC Judges Approval System">>

I wrote the first one to show what could happen to an AKC judge who innocently accepts an "invitation to advance” and was completely floored by the reaction from other judges. They proved that mine was not an unusual case at all: Countless other judges — including many of the top names in the business — recounted similar depressing, insulting, irrational and/or downright surreal experiences when applying for more breeds. The difference was that I was willing to talk about my situation; many others were not, and I followed through with the lengthy appeals process, culminating in a meeting with the AKC Board appeals committee in New York during Westminster week. A lot of credit is due my attorney, Barry Golob, of the Washington, D.C., law firm Cozen O’Connor, without whose support I don’t think I would have been able to stay the course.


There May Be a Change

Here’s the good news: I believe there will soon be a change for the better. Perhaps I’m too optimistic, but this is partly due to what I learned during the meeting with AKC’s Appeals board committee, and partly because of questions that I’m told will be asked of the Board nominees before elections at the AKC Delegates meeting, which takes place a few days after I write this. Exactly what has been going on with the judges’ approval process in the past is not clear, but my impression is that the Board was simply too busy with other matters to deal hands-on with the approval of judges. Meanwhile, without anyone in a responsible position being really aware of it, the situation deteriorated so seriously that we now are facing a crisis.

(My own meeting at AKC, for the record, could not have been more cordial, and resulted in the appeal being upheld. Whether I will continue AKC judging is doubtful, however, for many reasons that are not important to this story.)

Is it really justified to talk about a dog show crisis? I think so. The figures speak a clear language. It is my sincere hope that everyone involved — which includes pretty much all those of us who go to dog shows, especially those responsible for approving judges for more breeds — is aware of the facts. Gathering the following data involved a lot of work, but it’s useful information.

According to AKC’s own data, more than 1,400 all-breed shows are held each year: exactly 1,437 in both 2012 and 2011. (I don’t have final 2013 figures yet, but there was no major change.) There were also a couple thousand specialty shows and 150 to 160 Group shows, but let’s leave them out of the computation for now. The all-breed shows attracted a total of 1,159,299 entries in 2012 and 1,173,394 in 2011.

This means there were 806 dogs at the average AKC all-breed show in 2012 and 816 in 2011. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that with entries of that size, breed numbers are mostly going to be small, so it’s necessary for the clubs to hire judges who are approved for multiple Groups in order to balance the expenses. This is especially important during multi-show weekends. If you can judge all Hounds and Sporting breeds one day, and all Working and Herding the next, you are going to be a lot more cost-effective than someone who can "only” judge a few breeds in a couple of Groups. The result is that the relatively few judges approved for multiple Groups will be overworked, and some shows may even have to be canceled because they can’t afford to pay the judges’ expenses. Already some club officials say they only continue to exist thanks to imported Canadian judges, who are much more likely to be approved for all breeds than AKC’s own.


Statistics on Judges

A Comparison of Judges, Shows and Registrations

Country All-Rounders All-Breed Shows Registrations



Not known

Not known



Not known

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United States








In September 2011, Dogs in Review published a detailed analysis of how many judges AKC had, how many of them judged one or more Groups, etc. 


Read "AKC Judges: Facts and Figures">>

The figures, which I had spent many hours compiling, may have changed slightly since then, but it’s still the most comprehensive study of AKC judges that exists as far as I know. According to that year’s AKC Judges Directory, we had 3,189 conformation judges, of whom nearly half (43 percent or 1,386) were approved for just one or two breeds. Most of them had remained with just these breeds for several years and were obviously not planning on expanding their repertoire. Of the remaining judges, less than half (791) were approved for at least one Group, 397 for two Groups, 82 for three, 52 for four, 20 for five, four for six Groups, and a total of 22 AKC judges were approved to judge all seven Groups. I doubt those figures have changed much since 2011. In fact, the 2013 AKC Judges Directory lists 21, not 22, judges as approved for all breeds, and the number approved for three or more Groups is exactly the same as two years earlier. Also, at least six or seven of the 21 all-rounders are no longer judging, and several others are cutting down on their assignments.

It does not necessarily follow that we should copy what foreign clubs do, but the following figures put the US situation into stark contrast. As mentioned, we have 21 AKC all-rounder judges, 1,400-plus annual all-breed shows, more than 1,100,000 entries and reportedly around 500,000 registrations last year. Complete data for Canada (121 all-rounder judges) and Australia (288 all-rounders) are not available, but both countries have far fewer dogs than the US. Some other examples from FCI’s website: Croatia had 12 all-rounder judges, held 31 annual shows and registered fewer than 11,000 dogs in the most recent year for which figures are available. Finland had 16 all-rounders, 43 shows and 52,000 registrations; Italy had 28 all-rounders, 111 shows and 120,000 registrations; Mexico had 28 all-rounders, 152 shows and 34,000 registrations; Portugal had 11 all-rounders, 33 shows and 19,000 registrations; Russia had 73 all-rounders, just over 1,000 shows and 302,000 registrations; Sweden had 14 all-rounders, 38 shows and 53,000 registrations; and Uruguay had 11 all-rounders, 22 shows and 79,000 registrations. Of course conditions vary greatly and total entry figures for each country are not available, but there’s no question that we have a disproportionately low number of all-rounders in the US.


Three-Year Provisional Judges

It must be clear to any thinking person that a large number of new multi-Group and all-breed AKC judges has to be approved more or less immediately. How that can be achieved without a lowering of the standard of judging is the big question. AKC’s response has been to allow judges who are approved for 80 percent of the entries in a Group to apply for that entire Group on a temporary basis for three years. (Note: not 80 percent of the breeds but of the entries in a Group, a figure that’s not easy to tabulate.) The applicant must pass an open-book test and pay the $25 application fee per breed. If the judge after three years has failed to gain approval for the balance of the breeds in the Group, his or her Group judge status is removed.

This is complicated, not nearly far-reaching enough and will be expensive for the judges. One judge told me he would have to pay $25 for each of 14 low-entry breeds to get temporary Group status; then he would have to pay the same amount again when applying for permanent status for each breed, and if he is not approved on the first try for all 14 breeds — which few judges are — he would have to pay a third time for another appeal. We’re talking about $1,000 in just breed application fees!

My suggestion for a solution is a lot simpler and much more far-reaching. Here goes: Double the number of breeds and Groups that all regularly approved judges who are willing to expand their number of breeds may apply for. (Not everyone wants to do so, of course, which is OK.) It sounds drastic but is necessary, and there are hundreds of judges with a lot of experience that is not utilized to full advantage. If someone can judge two breeds in a satisfactory manner, chances are they can deal with four — if they want to. If you are comfortable judging half a Group, you are probably able to cope with the other breeds in that Group, also, and if you are approved for one Group and willing to take on more breeds, you should soon be able to judge another Group — or three, or four, or seven, depending on how far you want to go.

All that should be required for judges who are already regularly approved for at least one breed is that they must pass a written test that demonstrates they know the breed standard for each additional breed. That’s the bottom line — familiarity with the breed standard. I can’t imagine anything more important and basic than judges taking the time to study the breed standard. There’s no guarantee that this will make them good judges — but it’s a start, and I don’t see any other way to increase the number of judges as fast as necessary.

How the breed standard tests should be conducted can be discussed. It seems logical to hold them at shows, under the supervision of AKC field reps, if an area that’s suitable for test-taking is available. The great thing is that we already have at least a couple thousand regularly approved and mostly under-used AKC judges who must be encouraged to apply for more breeds without delay. The need for more new first-time judges isn’t nearly as great as for the current judges to expand their repertoire. If you can think of a simpler and more efficient way to do so, I’d love to hear about it.

I am as surprised as anyone to find myself looking for a way to increase the number of AKC multi-Group and all-breed judges. Those of us who care about the finer points of judging may cringe at the idea of more judges approved for ever more breeds, and greater superficiality in judging may be expected. How else could we maintain an active dog sport in the US, with its many small- to medium-sized shows, other than obtaining a much larger number of judges than we have today?

Finally, in response to those who ask about my future AKC judging: Over the past year, other opportunities that may not be compatible with AKC judging have opened up. (I will definitely continue to judge overseas when possible.) That’s for AKC to decide.


From the May 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.


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Jinnie   Lilburn, Georgia

1/4/2015 9:34:31 AM

Since the groups are more about presentation and the "show" part of the dog show it is less important than breed judging. I liked Mr. Gladstone's proposal earlier in the year that the Group judge be chosen from the breed judges on the day who have a prescribed number of approvals in that group. It will put the emphasis back on the breed judging and still allow for the glamour of the groups.

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