Judging Purebred Dogs | The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

dog sitting with decorations

Judging Purebred Dogs | As we enter the first months of 2022, let’s take a minute or two to reflect on the world of purebred dogs and the sport that we all profess to love! It is imperative that we look ahead to our involvement and ask ourselves what we can do to be a better ambassador for our breed, the American Kennel Club, and the fancy in general.

Many of us wear multiple hats in our lives. For example, in addition to judging purebred dogs since 1999, I am currently the Vice President of the CCSPCA in Fresno, California. We have a monumental task of attempting to find forever homes for tens of thousands of unwanted dogs and cats each year! Unfortunately, many wind up being euthanized. Education here is key in teaching each generation about responsible dog ownership and stopping the cycle of indiscriminate breeding! Change hats, and I become a committed advocate for the purposeful breeding and preservation of purebred dogs. This goes far beyond the sport of showing dogs. It goes to the very existence of our breeds and the original purpose for which they were bred!

As with almost everything today, it becomes an “us versus them” scenario and solutions rarely come to fruition because not enough people are willing to step across the aisle, get involved, and help to educate. Often, reputable breeders are demonized as being the root of the problem! We must do our part to dispel this myth to avoid unrealistic government bans and restrictions that could decimate our sport. Get involved! Are you willing?

Toy breeds comprise an ever-growing segment of dog shows. More and more fanciers are flocking to the Toy Group and, honestly, competition for a Group placement in any part of the country is intense, with many worthy exhibits exiting the ring without a ribbon. Judges coming from other Groups face new challenges evaluating Toy breeds. The American Kennel Club National Owner-Handled Series has provided judges who are permit or approved for at least one breed in the Toy Group or an entire Group to judge the NOHS Groups and Best in Show. It is a wonderful learning experience for the judge, but he or she must be vigilant in learning correct examination techniques of a Toy dog before the assignment! This applies to Bred-By-Exhibitor and Puppy Group judging as well. Show Chairmen must confirm the judges desire to judge a particular Group before the assignment is approved by AKC and is published.

It is imperative that a Toy judge is light-handed. “Knowing” hands can gently feel without poking, prodding or being intrusive! The table is the place to evaluate the fine points within a breed, but toplines must be evaluated on the ground and on the go-around! Bites and teeth can be a bone of contention between judges and exhibitors of Toy breeds. Judges must follow each parent club and AKC directive regarding the proper way to evaluate a Toy mouth! Many a worthy exhibit has been negatively impacted by a careless examination. Inexcusable!

Sportsmanship at dog shows is in desperate need of resurrection. True competition is a cornerstone of our sport. To all judges, handlers, photographers, superintendents, exhibitors, and vendors; there is plenty of room for all of us in dog shows! No one has ever advanced themselves by ridiculing their colleagues. (At least not for long!) The original purpose of dog shows was to evaluate breeding stock and that objective should remain today. Given the current political climate in our country and the divisive rhetoric coming from all directions, let’s all strive to be the individuals that make our sport great. Have respect for one another, admire quality and talent, congratulate one another, and keep personal attacks out of our sport!

And finally, I recently attended a series of shows in an attempt to finish my young dog. There has always been two schools of thought regarding judges showing their own dogs, and the perceptions and biases that might be created. Without getting into that controversy, I am certain, after that cluster of shows, that I walked away with a renewed respect for the owner-handler! It had been over 25 years since I had entered a ring as an exhibitor. Literally, I was a nervous wreck; I was sweating profusely through my sport coat in 60-degree weather and did a mediocre job at best of showcasing my dog’s attributes! Friends and colleagues watching ringside would certainly confirm my account. I came away from the experience of those four days with the sincere belief that all judges should be required to change hats and “become the exhibitor” from time to time, to reconnect with the beginnings we all share!