Different opinions and the danger of numbers by Andrew Brace

Created: 12/02/2014

Different opinions and the danger of numbers by Andrew Brace

The judging of purebred dogs revolves around one basic principle: the judge of the day places the dogs in front of him in order of merit based on each individual’s closeness to its breed Standard. That should be the only consideration, yet unfortunately all too often we see other factors clouding the issue. We see dogs winning unfairly because they may have an advantage of one kind or another, be that of breeding, ownership or winning record. Likewise we see dogs losing unfairly for similar reasons. While some dogs may pile up CCs because judges feel obliged to follow form, we also see some judges (particularly political breed judges in the main) who delight in demoting the reigning champion in favour of mediocrity for reasons that are clearly questionable.
  Breed Standards were originally drawn up by the breeds’ founding fathers as a written description of the ideal adult specimen in any given breed. In the majority of breeds, the requirement for physical attributes tended to be function-related; very few breed Standards were designed purely around aesthetic qualities as even the toy breeds tended more often than not to be miniaturised examples of essentially functional breeds.
  Over the years they may have been streamlined and tweaked a little, but for the most part breed Standards remain unaltered, yet there can be no denying that many breeds have changed dramatically in their physical appearance, and these changes go beyond the superficial aspect of just more sophisticated grooming and presentation. More often than not breeds change gradually for a variety of reasons, and the changes may be almost imperceptible as they happen over a period of time. Breeds often go through phases when fashion dictates a longer neck, a shorter muzzle, a shorter back, more angulated rear or whatever and in time the basic perceived template of the breed is altered as different styles emerge.
  One of the expressions that irritates me most these days is ‘old fashioned’ which is often used in a derogatory sense, yet what is referred to as being ‘old fashioned’ is often merely ‘correct’. One of the problems with judging is that judges develop surrounded by the dogs of their time and their appreciation of the breed Standard is obviously coloured by those dogs. That is perfectly logical and of course judging is by definition evaluating the dogs that are put in front of you, but to judge effectively you need to understand that some breeds may have drifted away from classic breed type and recognise that fact.
  To quote Di Johnson, "these days people have a desire to judge more than they have a desire to learn”. Learning about a breed involves intense study of how it has evolved through history, what the original breed Standard described, why the physical component parts of the breed should be as required, and what constitutes classic type. The problem is that this classic type may not be present in the majority of dogs and this is where judges can come unstuck. When faced with 20 dogs, 19 being of one ‘type’  and one that is definitely different, it takes a very courageous, self-confident and knowledgeable judge to say that the one is correct and the others less so. Sadly those qualities are not present in all judges, so they will take the easy option and presume that the majority are correct and the ‘odd man out’ is wrong. This can account for outstanding dogs being missed simply because they do not look like the majority.
  In view of the fact that fashions change, faults can become endemic in a breed which become so commonplace that they eventually are accepted as the norm. Anne Rogers Clark had a wonderful expression for this kind of shortcoming as being ‘the drag of a breed’. Annie also felt, very wisely, that when these ‘drags’ appeared they should be heavily penalised for the good of the breed and when dogs were shown that were correct in those areas they should be very positively rewarded.
  As an example let’s look at a breed that requires a medium size, oval shaped eye set obliquely which contributes greatly to its expression. If a large number of dogs begin to appear that have big, round, forward-placed eyes, the true expression of the breed is lost and the dog immediately looks a little ‘off type’. Mrs Clark would have come down very heavily on the bug-eyed specimens that didn’t look at her right, and had any dogs she could find with correct eyes and expression at the top of the line, all things being equal of course.
  Some judges religiously read through the breed Standard before they judge a breed, no matter how often they have done so. It serves as a great refresher and can remind us of points that may have just drifted into our sub-conscious. Other judges never bother because they feel that they know what they like and reading a Standard might just confuse them.
  The important thing is that dogs are judged to their breed Standard. More and more as I travel around I am being faced with entries in breeds where the majority of dogs have drifted away from classic type and this always makes judging more of a challenge. It is depressing to see faults that are commonplace when not always can dogs of the really correct type be found. However when one does appear it requires great intestinal fortitude for a judge to go out on a limb.
  Such a situation occurred to me recently when judging in the Philippines. Throughout the 12 shows there was a numerically strong entry of Pomeranians but I soon realised that the majority of the dogs shown failed in several areas. Lots of the dogs had ultra-short, blocky forefaces with large eyes (thus removing any suggestion of a foxy outline and expression), short legs and incorrect coats which were generally dramatically over-trimmed. However in the junior dog class I had a one year old that really excited me, yet few of the others in the large entry matched him for balance and general type. He had the head proportions and expression I was looking for, the correct length of leg for ideal balance and the desired coat texture. Furthermore he was not obviously barbered and had a coat texture that still maintained the softness that should be seen in a Pom’s outline. He handled well on the table, being firm bodied and beautifully groomed, and his movement was true, brisk and buoyant. The more I studied him the more correct I realised he was. He was my BOB winner and I later placed him at the top of a good group ahead of a very pleasing young Siberian Husky male. For me he was an outstanding example of breed type and deserved to be recognised as such.
  Of course some readers may take issue with these thoughts and claim that judging is simply a matter of opinion. As Nigel Aubrey-Jones often said, "some things are a matter of opinion; other things are a matter of fact”.