New learning resources for judges

By: Sheila Atter


New learning resources for judges

Recently I have been asked on a few occasions if I will sit ringside with a judge and mentor them on my breed. It is a practice that is a required part of judges’ training in some countries and can be a very valuable experience both for the student judge and for the mentor. While obviously not replacing actual hands-on experience, observing from the ringside does give excellent opportunities for learning more about a breed.

We have been promised that the new judge training scheme will be rolled out shortly, and it is obvious that an enormous amount of thought must have been put into improving the training of our judges. We have to wait and see what changes will be made, but I do hope that there will be some provision for mentoring to be considered as an integral part of the scheme. At present training is almost entirely seminar based, with just the addition of having the required numbers for that breed. Counting numbers is very obviously flawed. Setting aside the fact that some breeds have unrealistically high requirements, playing the numbers game is dependent on a judge getting enough appointments in the first place, which more or less automatically means that those with the right connections can rack up their numbers pretty easily, while those less fortunate have to struggle, expending huge amounts of both time and money in the process.


Correct placement

There are two other major flaws. Firstly there is no requirement to count the number of different dogs judged. Ten dogs, judged ten times, are equal to 100 exhibits on a judging questionnaire. Secondly, there is no check on whether the dogs judged have actually been placed in what most knowledgeable observers would consider to be the correct order – and sadly if a dog is awarded first place enough times others start to consider that it must be a good specimen, even if it actually has major faults or totally lacks breed type.

Seminars have their uses, and over the years I have been asked to deliver breed specific presentations on a number of occasions, and at different levels. Experience has taught me that there are some people who are very good at passing seminars and others who, no matter how good their grasp of a subject, lack the ability to put this down on paper and consequently are more likely to fail. Not only is this disappointing for the student – and indeed for the tutor – but it can mean that potentially good judges fall by the wayside.

Those that seem to sail through every seminar they attend also come in two categories. There are those who already have a good grasp of breed specifics, probably through having already judged a reasonable number, and it is always pleasing to see these people do well and progress further up the judging ladder. Then there are those who have a lot of experience judging many different breeds, and consequently find it relatively easy to recognise the nuances of breed type. They, too, are an asset to any breed’s judging list. Among those likely to fail are not only those who have the knowledge and understanding but lack the ability to condense that knowledge into the required format, but also those whose ambition perhaps outstrips their knowledge and experience. Often they think that they come into the category of experienced judges who just need to brush up on a few breed specifics in order to add their names to yet another judging list, but they are often sadly deluded.

Having a breed that is numerically small and has recently achieved CC status, I have to admit that my cynical head finds it somewhat amusing that so many people, often from other groups, who have never shown the slightest interest in the breed before, are suddenly desperate to judge us, obviously thinking that this will be an easy route to other breeds in the terrier group. It is not that easy. I am constantly amazed at how many of those who have ambitions to judge any breed, let alone one that they have never even watched in the show ring, seem not to realise that a good knowledge of basic construction and sound movement is a prerequisite to becoming a competent judge.


Playing safe

Having passed all the required seminars, and perhaps obtained a CC appointment, does that make the person concerned a good judge? It’s one thing placing five carefully selected dogs in order in a classroom situation, quite another being faced with a big class in the show ring. All too often we see the novice judge playing safe. That’s the big winner so it has to win; Mrs Boggs usually does well, so that’s second placed sorted; that one was placed well last week so I’ll give it third. This is at least better than the first timer who feels that they have to make their mark and knock the big winner, simply because it is just that. It takes courage to put a well known dog down the line because it is having an off day, but doing so just because they can is the mark of a very poor and foolish judge.

One of those that I was mentoring recently lives in Canada, and it was very interesting to learn from him that the Canadian Kennel Club requires all judges to undertake regular continuing professional development training in order to retain their judge’s licence. This is something I feel is essential. At the moment, the KC only requires a judge to undertake a refresher course if it is a long time since their last CC appointment, but surely this is not enough? I know the argument is that there are only 52 weekends in a year, and a busy judge just doesn’t have the time to repeat seminars that they passed some years ago, but is that really an acceptable excuse?

The KC has recently introduced an excellent resource – an online examination that needs to be passed by any German Shepherd Dog judge before further appointments can be accepted. Surely it would be possible to do the same for other breeds and topics. An obvious one would be the recognition of stenotic nares in the brachycephalic breeds, and the necessity for judges to penalise these. Maybe something along these lines is already in preparation and it will eventually become a requirement for those judging such breeds to have passed this examination in future. While there can never be any real alternative to having hands-on quality animals, the advantage of any online training course is that it can be done at any time by anyone. There is no excuse for not doing it. Constraints of time or money don’t apply, and by completing several online courses successfully the novice can gain confidence, while the experienced judge can use such courses as a quick refresher – something that is never a bad idea.

Let’s hope that the new judging programme will be rolled out fairly soon, and that when it does come breed clubs, JDP organisers and the judges themselves, both experienced and novice, will work together to ensure that in future our judges’ education is of the very best.