Time for a Discussion.... How do you look at dogs?


  • June 27, 2019
  • by Michelle Scott

From the June 2019 Issue of  ShowSight. Click to subscribe

We’re having an interesting discussion and would love your thoughts! As a judge I look at dogs differently than I do as a breeder. I find as a breeder that I can put more emphasis on things that I don’t want to live with. For instance I hate light eyes in my Poodles. It’s just a fault in the breed standard but it’s not something I want to live with. When I’m judging I will look at the whole dog and if it’s the better dog but has light eyes then it would still get the win. Same with bad feet. Ewww.

Do you look at dogs the same as a judge and breeder or do you find there’s a difference?

Elizabeth Hugo Milam takes it a step further: “As breeders we have choices that we don’t have as judges. We can only judge what is in front of us in the ring. As breeders we have a much broader range of choices. Yes. A time or five I’ve had to stop myself from announcing to ringside “Of course I see it too (fill in the blank…) but despite this fault, this dog is still the best in the class”. And often they are dogs I wouldn’t entertain breeding to.” Our Executive Editor Joe McGinnis adds another point: “I’m always concerned when I hear breeder/judges projecting future development into their decisions, for example ‘That puppy had <lightish eyes, too much nose, whatever> but I know by a year it’ll improve.’ Well, I’m glad to hear it, but that’s down the line. You really shouldn’t muddy your evaluation; you must judge the dog on the day. I think sometimes breeders forget.”

Let’s talk about judges a little more. Lately I’ve seen a number of posts complaining about “judges” this and “judges” that, so I think it’s a good time to bring a dose of reality to the conversation.

Who are these “judges” so many seem to take relish in bashing? These “judges” are dog people, either current or former breeders and owners. They have dedicated their lives to the art and sport of purebred dogs. They have held newborn puppies in their hands and helped breathe life into them and they’ve openly wept and railed that their old dogs don’t live long enough.

They are you and me.

Stop dividing the sport into “us” and “them”! We are all in this together. People new to the sport (that was all of us at one point!) think they have all the answers but many of us that have been in it for a very long time know that while we may not know everything, we do have experience and we’re willing to help. So, stop putting “judges” in a separate category—we’re still just dog people. We really are all in this together.

I was recently talking to someone and they said they had had a nice weekend at the dog show and had no complaints about the judging. I laughingly said “Wow! That’s a switch. What happened?” They replied that it had to do with something I’d said to them in a previous conversation. They had been complaining about the judging and I had said “The judges are all doing the best they can.” So they went to the show last weekend and watched the judging—and found that, indeed, the judges all seemed to be looking for the best dog. It totally changed their perspective.

I performed an experiment today—thanks, Francois Bernier, for the suggestion. We were wondering how long cords would take to become saturated on their own (without squeezing the water into them). I felt we needed some controls so I added a tress of brushed coat to a bowl of water and a couple of loose cords to a bowl of water. I used cold tap water in all of the bowls. Within half an hour the bound cords and the brushed coat were well saturated, within an hour and a quarter they are submerged. The loose cords are only partially wet after an hour and a half.

So back to pre-conceived notions…If you go to the shows thinking all judges are corrupt then it will color everything you see and you will fulfill your perspective—whether that’s what really happened or not, it will be your truth.

We need a different narrative.

Next time you go to a show, go with an open mind, look at the judges as fellow dog enthusiasts, watch them go over the dogs, try to figure out what they’re looking for in each breed, look for the consistencies. You’re not going to like or agree with everything the judge does in the ring—and that’s okay! We all have slightly different interpretations of the breed standards and where we put our priorities—and frankly, sometimes many of us would like to go back and rejudge a class or two once we’ve had a chance to reflect on it, but we learn and hope it makes us better judges in the long run. When a judge stops learning their judging career is over. 

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