Judging the Dog on the Day

By Bill Stebbins

Reprinted with permission from Dogs in Review and author Bill Stebbins, from the December 2015 issue of Dogs in Review magazine.

How often have you heard a judge use the phrase, "judging the dog on the day”? The meaning is basically that dogs show better on some days than they do others. Before I started judging, I considered this comment to be a cop-out by a judge who might have "missed” the best dog that day and this was as good a rationale as any. However, as I approach a quarter century of judging, I have found that there is merit to this statement. Over the years, I have had many top-ranked dogs in my ring. Some days they win; other days they don’t. However, the structure of the dog has not changed from one show to the other. So, why the apparent discrepancy or lack of consistency in the decision-making process?

The classic example I can offer is from a Great Dane specialty that I judged a few years ago. There was a large entry (4 or 5 points for both sexes). I awarded Winners Dog to a lovely brindle. The next day was an all-breed show that I attended as a spectator. A friend of mine (also a breeder-judge) was officiating. At the time the AKC still had an in-ring observer program. An observer was in the ring with my friend. Just as judging began, a woman came up to me and said I had been pointed out to her and wondered if I would mind doing some ringside mentoring with her. She had tried to be in the ring with the judge, but only one observer was allowed. I gladly agreed to give her my opinions. When we got to WD, the ring had exactly the same dogs as I had selected on the previous day (funny how breeder-judges often agree). I told the lady that yesterday I had given the brindle WD, but if I were judging today, I would award WD to the Open fawn and give the brindle RWD. A few minutes later that was exactly what happened. From one day to the next the showmanship and demeanor of the brindle had weakened, whereas the fawn looked better.

Obviously this is a matter of ring presence rather than structure, but I do believe that great ring presence is essential for a dog to really stand out. At different times and in different areas of the country, we can have some pretty intense competition. We have any number of owners and handlers who are gifted in the presentation of a dog. Listen to the commentators at Westminster or any of the other televised shows. You often hear them say things like, "He’s really putting on a show tonight,” "It’s who wants it the most,” "The judge can’t help but consider him,” etc.

Of course a superior dog should not lose to a far lesser specimen simply on the merits of showmanship. I, however, have always believed that a dog show is for show dogs. On a personal note, I will tell you that one of the best dogs I ever bred had absolutely no ring presence. We always prided ourselves on the showmanship of our dogs, but this guy had to be checked for a pulse. The very essence of the Great Dane is the great majesty it exhibits in the ring. Without this factor, they are missing one of the core traits of this magnificent breed.

So if your dog wins points on one day and doesn’t get out of the classes the next, it sometimes is not the "idiot judge” (however, sometimes it is).