|Canine Judging - by Sanjaya Saran|
|The importance of judging, or selecting, or evaluating should be of paramount importance to most serious breeders of dogs. How else would they have any indication as to whether the stock that they were developing or the direction they were going in, was in fact correct in the general consensus? It is only by competitive showing, and the winning of awards and distinctions, that a breeder is able to appreciate where his or her efforts are leading to. Despite this, judges are almost invariably the object of criticism and denigration and very rarely of praise. Canine judging never fails to arouse great passion and controversy. Knocking of judges by all and sundry has become endemic, and yet nobody has made too much of an effort to study the subject, and try and improve both the acceptance of the results with an equanimity and the spirit in which it is given. There are judging courses and seminar, but the efficacy of these have not been proven as most are conducted by those who already have had some experience in judging. Talks and articles on judging usually amount to individuals stating how they judge, and their seeking to justify their method as the best possible without really making any effort to compare their own techniques with those of others, and without trying to evolve from observations, credible principles of judging.
Undoubtedly, you cannot measure the quality of a dog, like you can measure the dimensions of an object with a scale, but surely there has to be a more scientific way of evaluating canine stock. In Boxers in particular, the German Club, which is considered the "parent" club, did try and set out a measurement criteria, however, these do not seem to be sacrosanct as is evidenced by the great variations in type world wide. It appears that every region has its own interpretation of the Standards laid out, and there is an obvious diversity in the thinking of breeders which is evidenced by the so called different types of Boxers that people talk about. Perhaps, if more breeders read and considered all the old literature available, they would be able to glean what the founding fathers of the breed were aiming for. It is absolutely inexcusable, that a man made breed such as the Boxer has such a variation of type worldwide.
In good judging, I find three attributes of the dog are taken into account.
1) What the dog appears overall?
2) What exceptional qualities are visible?
3) Are there any technical disqualifications which are clearly identified in the Breed Standard?
The appreciation of a dog in conformation, is like art, and is not an intellectual exercise but an emotional one, which may be pleasurable, depressing, moving or horrifying. It is the feelings, emotions and moods looking at a dog, which should form the basis of the evaluation of a dog. Good judging is done more by more by the heart than head, with the ability to feel the quality and not just technically evaluate it. It is the buzz, the tingle, and other indescribable thoughts which one experiences on seeing a good dog which is at the heart of judging.
More often than not it is difficult to verbalize these feelings and emotions, and not all judges are blessed with this verbal facility. Some unfortunately are endowed with an ability of intolerable verbosity which has often driven serious enthusiasts to tears! A judge, who finds it difficult to express feelings and emotions about a dog succinctly, should not feel he is alone, but rather should realize that there are many others in the same predicament and therefore still be firm in his convictions when judging.
Some experienced judges, have overcome this with practice, which adds so much value to their comments and all judges should strive to achieve this. Unfortunately, a lot of judging today does not require a judge to give written critiques, so, in my opinion, the entire purpose of judging is lost, as the exhibitor does not get an evaluation on which he can reference for his future breeding programme.
Besides evolving the feelings, emotions and moods, there are other things which the dog will convey.
a) The breeder/exhibitor's interpretation of the standard.
b) The presentation, to highlight the best points of the dog, which includes handling and grooming.
c) Any obvious disqualifications.
In my opinion, I think the judge should go according to this hierarchy. Overall balance is of prime importance. There is no point in having excellent components if they just do not fit together. Similarly, a badly presented dog or badly groomed dog is a great injustice to the dog and disrespect to the judge and the viewers.
It would be argued that the technical evaluation should take precedence in judging over the artistic whole. However, I have observed that those lacking in the technical prerequisites would generally be lacking on the artistic whole. It is much easier to develop or breed a technically correct component than to develop or breed a well balanced artistic whole. It is in exceptional cases that a well balanced dog has to be rejected because of major technical problems other than obvious disqualifications such as colour of the coat or eyes, for example.
Now the question comes of why, in my opinion, an all-rounder should be called sometimes, and why at times people should not go under certain judges.
At times, many negative approaches are adopted within the judging process. I will, only comment on those, that in my opinion are the significant ones.
1) Overvalued ideas.
2) Failure to see the whole picture.
3) Critical rather than a constructive approach.
4) Consideration given to other efforts rather than the evaluating the dog.
This is a term borrowed from psychiatry and well describes a common failing which arises as a consequence of a judge having an idea which he or she currently wishes to promote as being very important. Invariably, the idea is valid but when held in great fervour, the judge becomes too preoccupied or obsessed with it that he neglects all other aspects. This is one of the reasons why some judges are avoided by some exhibitors.
A judge can be of the opinion that long forearms are essential in Boxers, and will spend most of the time looking for this instead of getting on with the task of judging.
A judge may be obsessed with the tilt of the nose on the end of the muzzle and just look for that and invariably, judges who are human after all, may have a colour preference, and look for only merit in dogs of that colour.
Failure to see the whole picture
This is where I think an all-rounder has the advantage over a breed expert. A fundamental principle established by Gestalt theory is that "The whole is not the sum of its parts". This is best explained by a couple of examples. When one appreciates the beauty of a building structure, the architectural qualities it possesses are not there in the individual bricks it is made of. It is only when they are put together as a structure that the whole acquires aesthetic qualities of its own. Similarly, a tune is not just a sequence of notes. When played together they produce a tune, the quality of which is not present in the individual notes. It is invariably the case that the qualities of the whole transcend the attributes of its components.
The same principle should apply to a dog. When seen as a whole, as an entity in itself, it should have qualities which far transcend the parts of which it is made. Regrettably, in canine judging, realisation of this fact is sometimes sadly lacking. It appears that some judges look upon dogs as if they are just a collection of assemblies of different parts. From their comments they seem to dissect the dog and closely scrutinise the different parts rather than respond to the picture as a whole. To an extent, the German system is like this, but later on, I will comment on the difference between the German system and what we presently see in conformation shows in many parts of the world.
The system of judging the whole as a pastiche of parts is so common and widespread a practice most times that we have learned to accept it as an established way of judging. How often does one hear judges comment at great length on the "wonderful head" or "the placement of shoulders" rather than what really attracted them to the dog as a whole? These comments would be quite acceptable, valid, and useful to the audience for improving their breeding, but must not be the main criteria of judging! They can only be secondary comments after the dog has evaluated as a whole. If a dog is an object of art, it is the creation of the breeder through which he or she endeavours to communicate to people at large, a personal interpretation of the Breed Standard, and that is the main and primary thing that the judge should looking for and evaluate. That can only be done if the judge sees the dog as a whole, as an entity in itself, and not as a collection of different parts and pieces.
There is another way of looking at the same issue which gives it a different slant. In all art forms, certain media are used for the production of a piece of art. In painting it is the canvas, paints and brushes; in music it is either the voice or a musical instrument; and in dance it is the use of the body and dress. But these are just the media which the artist uses to express himself. What the artist conveys could be described as "the message". It is obvious that the true value of the artistic work is the message and the medium is no more than the vehicle employed to convey the message. The dog that is being exhibited is only the vehicle by which the breeder or exhibitor is demonstrating his interpretation and understanding of the Breed Standard. Essentially, the judge tells the breeder or exhibitor whether he agrees with this interpretation. Of course, a single opinion may be discounted, but if there are a slew of opinions with similar conclusions, the breeder or exhibitor should to do a major rethink on his interpretation of the Standard. Needless to say, there will always be some mavericks who will cock a snook at these opinions and do exactly as they please, and this at times does not bode well for the breed as sometimes such people have been able to attain undue influence in the show ring, by means which I would not term very ethical, and thereby influence the direction of the breed.
I have noticed that more often than not, most good judges work intuitively and at times they have never analyzed their method or developed a system of judging. Unfortunately, intuitive behaviour is not transferable or capable of further growth by rational thought, and that, at times is, the pity of canine judging today. Of course, recognizing a winning dog is an innate talent, a God given gift, yet at times, I feel that the experienced judges should make greater efforts to educate and transfer this knowledge to their apprentices, rather than bask in the knowledge that the crowds applaud their decisions and at times make so called "popular" decisions by which they achieve the plaudits of the crowd.
Constructive or Over-critical
The modern view of testing in education is to find out what a candidate knows rather than what he does not. If a similar approach is taken in dog judging, it should be to find out what is good in the dog and not what is wrong. Many judges work on the premise that judging means finding out what is wrong and the best dog is the one with the least faults. Comments from such judges can hardly be constructive.
The most important belief in psychology is that people learn or change their behaviour, only when rewarded; and if that be the case, emphasis must be on identifying good features and on constructive advice on how to overcome shortcomings.
Even on rare occasions when criticism is warranted it could be done very politely and in a constructive manner. I am sure that many potentially good dog lovers have been lost because of ill-advised comments of judges. Judging should be looked upon as an agreeable exercise where the judge's sole function is appreciation of the dog he is asked to evaluate.
Efforts put in by breeder or exhibitor
Some judges feel that in their marking they should include the effort on the part of the breeder or exhibitor and the time spent in the breed (the "paying your dues" syndrome). I find it hard to justify this approach and if this is a consideration, then why not a host of other things such as the money spent on breeding stock, the amount that they had to travel to shows, and the regular maintenance costs of their breeding or exhibiting?
Although I have stressed what in my opinion is important, the criteria by which a dog ought to be properly judged, this by no means implies that there should be rules for what judges should like or dislike. Judging is, and always will remain, a subjective exercise. This is why we have more judges in major shows so that different interests are fully represented.
However, what is suggested is the need for agreement on what judges should take into consideration when judging and the parameters described should form the basis for it.
A good example of what matters in judging exists in ice skating as we so often see on television. Judges are asked to mark on "technical merit" and "artistic interpretation". If judges were allowed to mark on any aspect of ice skating they considered important, then it is quite possible that one judge who believed in the choice of music as the most important thing would mark wholly or largely on the music chosen. Any judge who considers the choice of dress by the skaters as most important will mark more on this entirely different issue.
Such absurdities abound at times in dog judging. Marking is assessed according to rules made by the individual judge, entirely personal and exclusive of his/her, or marking is based on the judge's current fads, prejudices and overvalued ideas. Despite the Boxer being known as a "head" breed, there is a marked divergence in head construction from different regions in the world. You have people talking of the "American" Boxer type, the "English" Boxer type, the "European" Boxer type when in fact there is only a single breed which is THE BOXER!
Given a consensus on what should count in marking and weighting it would help entrants to know what was expected of them and the results would be more consistent and fairer.
Other issues in Judging
There are a few remaining issues that need to be considered. These are:
1) How should judges decide major awards?
A major problem can arise in major shows where the total entries run into thousands. It would appear to be very difficult, if not impossible to pick one dog as the best of the lot.
If the judges pick a particular breed, there will be a score of other dogs of that breed which could be considered as equally good; and viewers might ask why choose a particular breed when there are dozens of equally good dogs in other breeds.
I have found that, to overcome this dilemma, judges on occasions choose a totally "way out" dog for the top award which more often than not does not represent the total entry nor does it possess the highest merit. The lame excuse made by the judges tends to be that it is we, the viewers, who are incapable of understanding the dogs of their choice. This just will not do. In my opinion it is the most arrogant statement that one could make.
I believe that judges sometimes feel that they will be judged by the awards they give and on some occasions, to appear "with it" they choose a winning dog that may be winning as a result of connections and a huge publicity campaign, and by and large this would be the least controversial decision.
However, it must be said that it is a formidable if not impossible task to choose one dog as the best from an entry of thousands.
Should Breed Specialists only be chosen as judges for particular breeds?
Theoretically it should make no difference as a good judge can appreciate and evaluate a good dog whether it be a toy or a hound. But having said that some dog breeds such as the Boxer are relatively more technical and it might be preferable though not essential, to have a judge who is a breed specialist.
Quite often judges who have never done certain breeds make comments which show their lack of knowledge in that breed and that greatly diminishes the judge's credibility.
However, there is an exception when you get a German accredited judge who judges according to the essentialities of a show as defined by the founders of the breed.. Most of us forget that all dog shows originated as a part of an agricultural show, and the heart, the essence, was to judge breeding excellence and capability. Therefore, besides the current exhibit, its progeny if any, its pedigree, the ability of the pedigree to produce consistently, is also considered. In the absence of these, it is unfair to ask judges attuned to such ideology and procedure to judge to what they consider a mere "beauty" contest, because they are not supposed to get "tingled" when they see a dog, not supposed to let emotions abound, but just clinically dissect the ability, the attributes, of the exhibit to procreate the ideals of the founders of the breed.
Should judges be Breeders and should they also be current Exhibitors?
If we wish to improve the standard of judging, it would be best if such conditions were stipulated. If judges, who are not breeding and are not current exhibitors, continue to act as judges for years to come, they might adopt outdated ideas when the breed has moved on since they were exhibitors. I would think that some judges would not agree with this view, and that has been impressed upon me on many occasions, but then, this is my opinion. I would like to emphasize at this time that I am not in favour of continual changes in Breed Standards. It appears that when influential breeders do not agree with the Breed Standards, they have the ability to change the Standards to match what they are "able" or at times, choose to breed!
How can judges be made to improve their standards?
The only way judges will change their ways and methods would be for us to reward them for their effort and expertise. This means giving an entry to a judge who, in your opinion will make a fair evaluation of your dog, and denying your entry to a judge, who, in your opinion will not be able to do so.
|A bit about the author...|
|Sanjaya Saran, whose affix/suffix is Westfeldon, first exhibited in 1961 at the Retriever Club of India show, in Bombay. He got his first Boxer in 1970, and has had them ever since. He started breeding them in 1975. His great successes have been the "classic" Boxer bitch, Westfeldon Purty Girl, who was one of the rare Boxers to make it as a champion because of the absence of any flash, and Westfeldon Pluma who went
Best in Show All Breeds at the 99th BPKC (2002)show in Mumbai under Boxer specialist and All Breed judge Miles Gunther (Guntop Boxers) of Australia. He has owned and bred many champions.
|Ind. Ch. Westfeldon Purty Girl||Ind. Ch. Westfeldon Pluma going Best in Show|
|For more on Westfeldon Boxers, go here...