In the Ring

Rick Beauchamp on the in’s — and out’s — of judging procedure.

By | Posted: Tue Jan 4 00:00:00 PST 2005

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The experienced Labrador Retriever judge lifts the tail of the dog to see if the hair wraps the tail completely. Proper wrapping tells the judge this retrieving breed's tail is well protected. The less knowledgeable judge lifts the tail, and I leave to the imagination what is being observed.  Poking and prodding a dog, even in the most accepted manner, means little if final placements don't confirm it was knowledge that put the judge's hands on the dog in the first place.

There is a part of judging procedure that can only come through practical experience. It is the ability to see faults and qualities in context. Experience allows a judge to be familiar with the idiosyncrasies of development, or the lack of it, in a breed. Experience tells the judge when concessions should be made and when they can't be made.

In breeds that have attained a high level of quality there is little reason for being anything other than extremely demanding when evaluating them. As breeds develop and improve over the years it should become increasingly more difficult for an individual dog to be considered a great of its breed. Some might think that breed development should bring more good ones to the ring. I can't argue thatmore good ones perhaps, but of the many good, only few can be considered truly outstanding in the breeds that have achieved top-level status.

Take Wire Fox Terriers, for instance. "Good" is not quite enough. There have been many greats shown at American dog shows through the years and the bar is set very high. The newer breeds have not reached that level of development. A "good" Toy Fox Terrier can do well in that there are no extraordinary dogs of the breed to compare to. However, it can only be hoped that time and good breeding will change that situation.

In the early stages of a breed's development even extreme divergence from the ideal might have to be acceptable because of overall lack of quality in the breed. But as the breed improves, the quirks and shortcomings are eliminated, and what was once as good as could be found is no longer competitive.

When breeds are in their early stages of development there is always a wide range of both style and soundness. Much will have to be forgiven in the judges' and breeders' attempts to channel the breed along to the ideal described by the standard. But what specifically should be forgiven and what should be emphasized?

If we are to bother having a breed at all, surely our primary concern should be that an individual looks like its breed. I fully understand the concern of those who hold performance as a working breed's most important characteristic. There are many "looks" in a performance breed's spectrum. But there is really no way in the show ring for a judge to determine a dog's ability to perform. The judge can only evaluate conformation, and hope that the standard is written intelligently enough to describe the conformation of a dog that would be successful at its given task.

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