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Dr. Robert Smith

First for a lot of reasons that will, I hope, become apparent as this response goes on, let me congratulate you for your wisdom, insight and courage in posing this question. For the moment however, I would like to make the point that this question is only a small part of a much larger question that all of us involved in dogs need to be asking ourselves, namely, "How can we all -exhibitors, handlers, breeders, superintendents and the AKC-improve dog shows?" But that as I'm sure you will agree, is a question far too broad in scope for present purposes.

For now, then, on to the question at hand. Good judging, like good government is everybody's business. Exhibitors, like breeders, handlers, AKC and judges, themselves, have a role to play in ensuring that we get the best judging possible.

Now, let me make it clear before going any further that I do not totally agree with all the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the state of judging in the United States today. True, judging is far from perfect there are far too many incompetents passing judgment on our dogs. And, yes, I suppose there are even a few judges whose honesty and integrity might not bear too close scrutiny. But my memory in dogs goes back a few years, and I can tell you that judging incompetence and questionable honesty were not invented in the 1970's and 80's.

So my first advice to exhibitors, if they are seriously desirous of improving judging, is to learn to competently evaluate the judging they're presently getting. Simply stated, but how is this to be accomplished? I do have several suggestions, and I hope that others responding to your question will provide additional ones.

There is an old saving in obedience circles to the effect that if you want to train a dog, first you have to be smarter than the dog. Put into the context of the present discussion, that means that if you want to improve-or even to evaluate-the judging of your breed, you have to know more about that breed than the judges. You must know the history, purpose~ evolution, allowable type(s) and the standard of your breed as thoroughly as humanly possible. My guess is that when you have attained this great depth and scope of knowledge, you will be amazed at how smart some of the very judges you might have at one time criticized have become.

As one who, along with my wife, has made serious efforts over the years to become knowledgeable in various breeds, I can tell you that this learning process is never easy, and is, indeed, sometimes nearly impossible. The availability of printed material, educational opportunities, etc. is woefully inadequate in some breeds. But a good place to start is with the national and regional breed clubs. Are you a member? If not join. Do they have educational materials available for members-and for prospective judges of the breed? If so, is it adequate? If it is not available or not adequate, then you must join with like-minded members to see that such material is provided and is of the highest possible quality. Then, you must use it yourself and participate in the effort to make it available to others- both breed fanciers and judges and/or prospective judges of the breed. Incidentally, the American Kennel Club is presently engaged in a most commendable effort to push this concept among breed clubs.

Seminars, slide presentations that can be mailed, illustrated standard pamphlets and articles in breed and all-breed magazines are but a few of the ways that such material can be disseminated. But the important point is that they must be promoted to judges and prospective judges. Most of us are willing to learn-even thirsty for as much knowledge as we can get but we have to know where it is before we can make use of it

While on the subject of clubs, don't forget the all-breed clubs. Again, you need to participate as fully as possible in these. There are two reasons for this. First you can learn a great deal about your own breed by interacting with knowledgeable breeders and exhibitors of other breeds. Second, this is a good place to start and/or continue the process of disseminating the breed club material. All-breed clubs can hold seminars, for example, that will reach more people than a specialty club might

The second major step is to learn to be objecctive about your breed and, more importantly, about your own dogs. Again, this is not an easy task, but if you're going to evaluate and train others, you must be able to see your own dogs as others see them.

Nor is it sufficient simply to be objective. Breeders and exhibitors must make every effort to show only the very best of their respective breeds-specimens which are of correct type and soundness. Judges, after all, can only judge what exhibitors bring to them. And, while I would agree that we judges should be more merciless in withholding awards, in the real world, that isn't likely to happen. The result all too often, is that a judge is faced with a ring full of inferior specimens and winds up putting points (possibly-God forbid-even majors) on an inferior dog. This is where our inferior champions come from, and many of these go on to be "specialed' to the chagrin of serious breeders and to the disgust of serious judges.

Not only must breeders become more discriminating in what they show, but they must also become more selective, honest and fair in what they sell as show quality animals. How many times have we all had the experience of looking at an obviously inferior, pet-quality dog only to be told by its proud owner that he bought it from (Famous Name) kennels for (astronomical price)$$$? The the poor soul can't understand why the dog can't get a point much less finish. And he will probably wind up blaming "politics" and/or incompetent or crooked judges to everyone who will listen (and who in the dog fancy won't listen to those kinds of comments?).

Another suggestion I would make is for every exhibitor who has been in dogs for five years or more to avail himself of the opportunity periodically to judge a match show. If you have not tried it you will be surprised at the degree to which getting a different perspective will change your attitude and the way you evaluate judges.

Finally, I would make the point that if we wait until people become judges to start educating them, we are missing the boat In dogs as in life, itself, there is no substitute for early education. Those who miss that early education can never catch up to those who get it So, if we want better judging, let us not concentrate exclusively on trying to educate the judges (though let's not ignore them either). Remember that tomorrow's judges are out there today showing, breeding and handling dogs. So, let's start at the beginning and try to encourage everyone in the fancy-breeders, exhibitors and handlers as well as judges-to learn as much as possible about as many breeds as possible. If we take this approach, I will be willing to bet that we'll see a drastic improvement in the quality of judging in an amazingly short time.

In closing, let me thank you, Sara, for giving me the opportunity to share a few of my thoughts on this subject with you and your readers. I hope you got a good response to this question and that you will continue to explore similar topics in the future.


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