The Role of the Judge in the Selection Process

By Patricia V. Trotter

To become a more aware and proficient breeder, seek out the opinions of the judges you respect and take them to heart.

That breeders and judges must work together in a mutual ongoing effort to improve our breeds was the main message of the analysis of the breeder-judge relationship in my June column. What is the exact role that judges serve in the successful selection of breeding stock? How to achieve a working relationship with the judges you show your dog to merits further discussion.

The first element of successfully utilizing the quality judges in your breeding program is to seek the opinion rather than the win. Of course, everyone wants to win; no one intentionally enters a dog in hopes of losing. What is important is to recognize that a knowledgeable opinion from a world-class judge is much more important than another win. Judges sometimes see things you have missed. Their observations, if utilized properly, can provide a giant step in helping you advance to the next generation. As long as the win is all that you seek, you are not utilizing the most vital assets that shows provide.

Finding the Best Judges

The opinions of the best judges -whether they are all-rounders, multibreed judges or breed specialists -should be the ones that weigh heavily in your basic decisions in your selection process. Most all-rounders seek dogs that are well-made and honest - dogs that have the correct structure so vital to your breeding program. Because most of them were former handlers, they appreciate dogs that would have once been successful show dogs on the end of their own lead. They want sound, athletic dogs with dependable temperaments and correct running gear. They will not only evaluate your stock as it satisfies correct breed type, they will assess it for its general conformation.

Furthermore, their value to you is enhanced because it is more than a one-time fix. Such excellent judges' opinions can provide you with a long-term overview on how your breeding program is progressing. Sometimes they will remark on the strength of a given stud dog and his prepotency in stamping his progeny, thus alerting you to your own needs. Because they see dogs all over the country on a regular basis weekend after weekend, they may very well have a better overview of your breed than you do!

The expert breeder-judge also has a productive role to serve in evaluating your breeding stock. Because these judges are very exact in their expectations for the nuances of breed type, they encourage you to breed dogs that exemplify the essence of type in head, expression, proportion and functional character. They appreciate your dog not only for its outstanding qualities, but for its potential contribution to the entire breed as well.

How do you know when a judge's opinions can make positive contributions to your breeding program? Obviously, the premier judges whose respected reputations make them household names in our fancy come to mind. But so do judges who have spent a quiet lifetime studying a lesser number of breeds in greater depth. Judges who have bred quality dogs themselves understand the needs of breeders. You can find out who some of these people are by attending a focused event, such as the great terrier extravaganza at Montgomery County, and watching their expertise in presiding over their breeds.

Learning to study judges who grade stock in breeds other than your own and concentrating on their decisions help you determine which judges' opinions to value. Because your own breed biases are not part of the equation, it facilitates your ability to evaluate the competence of the judge. Keeping in mind that certain elements cannot be properly evaluated from ringside, you should be able to follow the good judges with some degree of order. Once you have mastered this skill, you will know which judges' opinions to seek.

If your definition of a good judge is one who puts you up and a bad judge is one who does not, this system will never work for you; go ahead and seek your wins and forget the value of a truly wise opinion. However, if you are genuinely interested in utilizing the experts who are out there and honestly seeking their opinions, it will assist you in producing better dogs. And this process is what validates dog shows.

Coping With Dangerous Times

It is important that you always remember that judges can only judge what is presented to them, and even the best of them are forced to put up mediocre dogs more often than not. In fact, breeds can go through metamorphoses where the dogs are very average indeed. And because of this, inflated records are put on dogs being campaigned. The fancy in general becomes accustomed to very average dogs that are groomed, trimmed, conditioned and presented to the nines! Although this is great sport and great theater, none of it is of any benefit to the gene pool. These times are even more trying for breeders than they are for judges, for where does one go to improve the gene pool?

Such times can take their toll on a specific dog of correct type who appears to be the "odd one out" when compared to the others in the ring. Breeders may lose heart and wonder why they strive so hard to produce the classic dog of correct type when it is not being appreciated. Some breeders may become satisfied to breed dogs able to win, rather than those that are correct. This is a dangerous occurrence for the breed!

If you breed exceptional dogs that are correct and meet the standard and they are taking their losses, will you be patient enough to hang in there until a greater understanding of breed type becomes widespread amongst the judges? Do you know the difference between classic, correct, functional (working) type in your breed and the generic yet sound and honest average dog groomed and shown to the nth degree? If you do not, it is all the more reason to seek opinions rather than wins and to benefit from the expertise of those judges who do know the difference.

How good judges can contribute so much more than wins to the growth of the breeder is of great interest. Consider a scenario in which a relatively new breeder, with maybe 10 years in dogs, brings three animals to a gifted judge. The first is a puppy in the 6-to-9-Month class, then an open entry, followed by a specials bitch. Although all three have the same fault, the judge awards winners and the breed to the breeder because they are the best examples there on the day. While pictures are being taken, the exhibitor chats about the fact that the class animals are down from the specials bitch. This excellent judge takes advantage of this golden opportunity to educate the breeder by warning about the fault so that it does not "become set in the line."

The bad news is that the thrill of the win is couched with a caution signal from the judge as the breeder becomes aware that a certain fault is becoming a true problem. The good news is that the dogs are of good quality and the breeder is alerted that there is one area of concern that very much needs attention.

Such situations can support breeders' efforts to improve their stock. A breeder who does not get angry at the "messenger" and who takes the message to heart thereby becomes more aware and proficient. Succeeding generations are living proof that superior judges are truly breeders' best friends.

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.