The “Absolutes”: When you absolutely, positively must judge a fault

From the AKC Gazette:

Thou Shalt Not.

How much attention is paid to the strongly worded admonitions we find in many of our breed standards? Do we, as judges, truly, conscientiously, and consistently adhere to these written words? Or might we say to ourselves, “But, it doesn’t show from ringside”?

As we gain greater depths of knowledge, we begin to understand that strong statements are inserted into breed standards for a reason. And if we judge by the standards as we have affirmed that we will do, we do not hesitate to penalize the offending condition as is required.

The problem for some of us is to understand why a feature that is “to be heavily penalized” in one breed is only a “fault” in another. If we take the time to dig out the roots of a breed’s history, we may gain understanding.

We find a scale of penalties or faults listed in some of the standards—beginning with “undesirable” or “objectionable,” proceeding to “defects,” “faults,” “bad faults,” and “serious faults,” and then ascending to “to be penalized to the extent of the deviation,” “heavily penalized,” “severely penalized,” “removed from competition,” “ineligible for showing,” “disbarred from competition,” and—finally—“to be disqualified.” That’s quite a wide range of negatives.

None of us want to be labeled as a “fault judge.” We want to believe that we have progressed to the level of judging from a positive point of view. But there are those days when we struggle to find something positive about a particular entry. We pray that, after watching it around the ring, a dog will have an acceptable expression or correct dentition because it doesn’t have anything else to recommend it. To compound our agony, it will be shown by a little old lady in tennis shoes or a sweet-faced child. Don’t struggle with it. Judge it by the standard, give it the ribbon it deserves (if any), and be prepared to discuss it later—if asked, and if the exhibitor is willing to bring it back.

It is your responsibility to sort the grades of negatives according to your own scale. What is a fault to be severely penalized in my eyes may not be the same in yours. Our personal experience with a breed may well determine what we prize and what we condemn. I prefer the breed standards which are written to tell you what the dog is or should be and may even tell you why. For me, that is far more helpful than the ascending or descending list of negative descriptions. doberman

I also believe that the absolutes set forth in the breed standards are to be taken very seriously. By absolutes, I mean those strong directives which go beyond the list of negative adjectives.

There are clearly stated prohibitions regarding temperament, coat length, coat color, condition of coat, and sizes of dogs, all of which specifically or implicitly call for action by the judge.

The standards for the following breeds are examples of these prohibitions that are clearly and unequivocally stated—although not labeled Disqualifications.

Irish Wolfhound “The minimum height and weight of dogs should be 32 inches and 120 pounds; of bitches 30 inches and 105 pounds. … Anything below this should be debarred from competition.”

Doberman Pinscher “The judge shall dismiss from the ring any shy or vicious Doberman.”

Giant Schnauzer “The judge shall dismiss from the ring any shy or vicious Giant Schnauzer.”

Neapolitan Mastiff “The absence of massiveness is to be so severely penalized as to eliminate from competition.”

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel “No trimming of the dog is permitted. Specimens where the coat has been altered by trimming, clipping, or by artificial means shall be so severely penalized as to be effectively eliminated from competition.” … and … “Bad temper, shyness, and meanness are not to be tolerated and are to be so severely penalized as to effectively remove the specimen from competition.”


Many of our breed standards assign the responsibility to the judge to evaluate and penalize faults to the extent of the deviation from the breed standard. It is a serious responsibility.

Despite the negativity involved in identifying faults, we all deserve to have at one time or another that exhilarating experience of standing in a ring full of superlative dogs with at least two good dogs for every placing available. It leaves us on a “high,” which makes us smile broadly at the time, and smile again and again at the wonderful memory.

These are the memories that keep us in the ring and judging. —H.L.J.

Helen Lee James has bred, shown, and judged in both obedience and conformation for many years. Her five children grew up participating the sport of dogs. “They are all better people because they were raised in the sport,” she says. “The dogs taught them a huge lesson in valuing life.”

For another column from Mrs. James, click here.