Are Breeders and Judges From Different Planets?

By Patricia V. Trotter

Just as an art critic evaluates a canvas, a judge must assess a dog's success or failure in upholding artistic standards.

The breeder-judge relationship is an interesting continuing theme that needs further analysis to be fully appreciated. If one is an architect, is the other a building inspector? If one designs art, is the other an art critic? If one is a writer, is the other a reviewer? If one is a gourmet chef, is the other a gourmand? If one is a creator, is the other a destroyer?

The answers may be yes, the answers may be no, or the answers may fall somewhere between the two! Sometimes the relationship seems so complex that one wonders if breeders and judges are often on the same wavelength. Yet we readily acknowledge that when they are, the entire breed benefits. In my April column, I discussed how some of the educational tools that are available to us today, and that are likely to be available in the future, aim to help all of us to agree on an exact definition of functional basic type while recognizing that individuals may sort their priorities differently. One such tool would be the work resulting from the recently formed Breeders' Education Committee.

Overcompensating
Perhaps the problem could be more readily solved if breeders would present dogs of like type to the judges, which would allow for more apparent consistency in judging as well as in breeding. One of the many problems facing judges in the ring today is the "piecemeal" dog that results from breedings where well-meaning breeders seek to correct a fault by overcompensating.

For example, a small, compact bitch with the correct length and depth of rib cage is bred to a huge dog with a long loin and an insufficient, short rib cage in hopes of some magic blending of traits to produce a "happy medium." Instead of a litter combining the hoped-for merger of the traits, the resulting puppies are piecemeal dogs with the faults of each parent. What went wrong?

Or take a case in which a dog who comes at you true but with very little side gait, resulting from an incorrect straight-front assembly, is bred to a very elastic bitch with lots of angles and very little control of her front end. The breeder desires to produce puppies that move true in front and also cover plenty of ground from the side. Alas! All the puppies have no control of their front end and are all over the place like their dam. Furthermore, they cover even less ground than their rather short-strided sire, resulting in the worst of both parents. What went wrong? How do these things happen?

Piecemeal dogs are the result of breeding two dogs that are not of like type. Because the breeder has ignored the wise adage to "breed like to like," the progeny are uncoordinated and unable to function in the proper athletic manner for the breed in question. Perhaps they have disproportionate length of bones with angles of one kind at one end and angles of another kind at the other end. They are out of sync and not pleasing to the judge, even if they please the breeder. And this is perhaps the most important contribution the judge can make to the breeder: to send the message that piecemeal dogs are not in the best interest of the breed, no matter how attractive and pretty they may be.

Evaluating Judges
One of the most important considerations in evaluating judges is the contribution they can make to your breeding program. That contribution is why collective opinions are important, and all the more so if they occur in excellent competition and under world-class judges who understand the needs of the breed. These judges can guide you because of their demands for a smooth-working functional animal and their appreciation for the essence of breed type. Such judges are able to appreciate a quality lone entry in a breed just as much as a dog whose attributes make it stand out in a huge class. This is because they have honed their skills at evaluating as well as their skills at comparing. These are the true connoisseurs of the judging community who have the most valuable contributions to make to your breeding program. You should appreciate and utilize their decisions accordingly in assessing your breeding stock.

Your own personal interpretation of the worth of any judge's opinion is confused by two obstacles: First and foremost always is the subjective factor that makes you look at your own dogs through rose-colored glasses while looking at the breeding stock of others through a jaded lens. Each and every breeder must come to terms with their own version of kennel blindness in their own way. Failure to keep this bias under control can ruin your breeding program.

Second, when you appraise a judge's performance it is of vital importance that you factor in the difference between judging as an observer from ringside and judging from within the ring. If there are 20 dogs in the class, the ringside observer has time to zero in on the five dogs of quality and can spend the entire duration of the class studying them. The judge must give each of the 20 entries an appropriate share of the class time and thus has less time to study the select individuals. Perhaps the judge misses that moment the ringsider sees when the select dog looks its very best, and sees the dog only when it is not cooperating at all with the handler. Furthermore, the judge's close examination may reveal both virtues and faults not evident to those at ringside. As a breeder you should study all aspects of each and every animal in depth and under all circumstances before deciding to put that animal into the gene pool.

As the building inspector to the breeder's architecture, it is the judge's responsibility to respond to unsound conditions in the foundation of an animal. Just as an art critic evaluates a classic canvas, the judge must react to an artwork's failure to uphold the standards of artistic expertise. Just as the reviewer of the written word does, the judge must correctly assess prose that does not flow. Just as the gourmand sampling the work of the haute cuisine chef does, the judge must react realistically when the latest recipe does not satisfy delicate taste buds.

Does this then make the judge the destroyer of the creator's work? Indeed not; it makes the judge the protector of the creator's work! By providing proper guidance, judges who correctly evaluate breeding stock are truly as much guardians of a breed as are breeders who correctly evaluate breeding stock.

However, because of the time and circumstances involved with "in ring" judging, there is room for a greater margin of error in judging decisions than in breeding decisions. When a judge makes a selection in the ring, the judge and others live with that individual decision on a short-term basis. When a breeder makes a decision, the breeder and the breed's gene pool live with that decision forever!

Therefore it is in the best interest of the breeder and the judge to work together in the breeding and judging of dogs. Such cooperation will produce the best of all worlds: judges who are the ultimate breeders and breeders who are the ultimate judges.

Patricia V. Trotter is a longtime breeder of Norwegian Elkhounds, and is approved to judge more than 20 breeds, as well as Junior Showmanship. She is the author of Born to Win.

AKC GAZETTE articles are selected for their general interest and entertainment values. Authors' views do not necessarily represent the policies of the American Kennel Club, nor does their publication constitute an endorsement by the AKC.