Judging to improve the standard

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HJ van der Merwe

Of how many judges would we, after they have departed from us, proclaim:  "Green be the turf above thee, Friend of my better days; None knew thee but to love thee, Nor named thee but to praise"? [ON THE DEATH OF JOSEPH RODMAN DRAKE, by Fitz-Green Halleck].  Not many, to be sure.  But why?

 The following discussion does not stem from the fact that I have a rod in pickle for some judge or another, but rather I would that it could serve as some incentive, or at least some food for thought, regarding the policy adopted by breed clubs by which judges are given appointments. 

 There are three types of judges; the specialist judge who knows only one or two breeds, the group judge who usually started off as a specialist judge but has qualified to judge all the breeds in one group, and the all-rounder who, most likely, started off as a specialist judge and then a group judge as well, but graduated to being capable of judging all breeds.  A case can be made out for or against any one of these categories.

 No judge probably can know all breeds perfectly, and this is why many specialist breeders do not like some all-rounders, holding that a little learning (about their breed) is a dangerous thing.  The variety judge, usually has a good eye for a dog, and will judge the dog on soundness and the over-all appearance.  The specialist judge often judges on a breed's finer points. Such a judge may look for black pigmentation, dark eyes, fine wrinkle, etc., and in so doing he may miss the overall quality of the dog.  This is a generalization and not necessarily holds true for every man Jack of them.  Both types of judges are, however, equally important for the good of breeds as a whole.

 To my mind, not to mince matters, and from a judge's point of view, it would seem to be the correct practise to appoint specialist judges to officiate at specialist shows.  Then at least one has the opportunity to get an informed opinion.  This is especially true of

match meetings.  Since KUSA has adopted the qualifying scheme for judges, would it be unfair to expect specialist clubs to favour those learner judges among them who are partaking in this scheme, above "outsiders"?  Is it not true that new brooms sweep clean?  With regard to specialist clubs' championship shows, wouldn't the same hold true?  Shouldn't specialist clubs assist their members, who are trying to become judges of their specific breed, in doing just that?  Surely, it sticks in the throat to witness specialist clubs inviting learner judges from other breeds while there are learner judges among their own ranks desperately awaiting appointments?! 

With regard to group shows one could sing exactly the same tune: let all-rounders judge the grand challenges, but do try and appoint those judges who are partaking in the qualifying scheme!  How else will they ever qualify?

 After this is said and done, and to balance the scale, one should bear in mind that we are dealing with humans - and humans have different values and different principles, if any at all.  From a specialist breeder's vantage, I sincerely hope that judges, in general, would mind their p's and q's even more diligently than before.  They are in the limelight and ex officio lay themselves open to scrutiny and criticism.  Where an all-rounder can be forgiven for not knowing the finer details of a particular breed when he or she is (incorrectly, I would say), appointed to judge at a specialist show, the specialist judge has no excuse, except perhaps inexperience (and then only if he/she is a learner judge).  The danger inherent to adopting a policy of appointing only specialist judges to officiate at specialist shows, is that the judging of the classes becomes a d‚nouement that culminates in the final placing being nothing less than an open sesame - the judge thus ensuring, or at least hoping to ensure, that the person whose dog he gives top honours (being a judge himself) will do likewise at the next show where it will be his turn to judge.

 Therefore, the point being made here is that specialist clubs ought to privilege their own members who are partaking in the qualifying scheme above persons from other breed clubs.  On the other hand, these specialist judges ought to refrain from approaching judging with nonchalance and ensue it purely to play Christmas Father or such like.  The sole motive ought to be to improve the breed and therefore to give credit only to those SPECIMENS (in the ring) that have credit due, and not to the HANDLER who may have a reputation of having dogs of high quality  - whether it be you or myself.  The judge is compelled to hold the scales even and ought to regard each appointment as a very great privilege, uplifting each show to a magnum opus - whence he can look back and evaluate the good he has done in uplifting the standard of his breed (by awarding first places and top honours ONLY where it is due) rather than, and there's the rub,  counting the opportunities he has collected by having favoured certain exhibitors who have in their power to get him more appointments, or allow him a mating, or award him a "thank-you"-prize at the next show, etc.  If these likes are my friends then I would echo Marshal Villars' plead when he took leave of Louis XIV, saying:  "Defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies." [BARTLETT'S, p 338].

 Surely, we are not showing with the SOLE purpose of winning tickets, are we?  We are showing to collect tickets, as surely as companies pursue the purpose of making a profit - but as companies cannot make a profit if they do not either fulfil a need in the market place and produce the goods they advertise, in like manner we can only win tickets by producing quality stock, which implies the improvement of the general standard of our breed.

 I believe one should rather be resolved to get more kicks than halfpence, and yet remain true to oneself, than tread under foot all that is noble and honourable, and in so doing, while diligently feathering one's own nest, create, with one fell swoop, a pell-mell among exhibitors who cannot understand how it is possible that certain obvious deformities can "escape" the eye of an honourable judge (for they are all honourable men - to be sure), while the surpassing excellence of another specimen is evidently overlooked.   Surely this is ground enough to get anyone's monkey up, and because it is inherent to human nature, when once bitten, to be twice shy, specialist clubs needn't look very far for the reason why the number of exhibitors tend to diminish: it is becoming much too expensive to attend a show where one is regarded as riff-raff from the Backveld (whether from the Backveld or not) - at such shows it would seem that, if you do win something, it could only be a windfall.  Yet, on the other hand, it is my firm conviction, and I would like to enjoin those whose good specimens were / are overlooked, and who thus experience shows and judging (with some exceptions, of course), that the wheel is turning and will continue turning as long as we stick to our guns and parry the thrust of this onslaught - sooner or later people come to get fed up with the scratching of backs to and fro, and the winds change direction - but we HAVE to be there to stave off the bad influences, even if we do loose one or two battles; nothing venture, nothing have!   

 To resolve this problematic situation it could be advised that, with regard to selecting judges for open shows, breed clubs' priority ought to lie with the learner judges within their own breed; regarding championship shows, these clubs, in an honest effort to maintain a fine balance, should try to insist that the judge appointed to judge their breed at all-breed clubs, should, at least every other year, be an outstanding all-rounder : for the top dogs in any breed are those which are capable of winning equally under the specialist judge and the all-rounder. 

 A word to the wise, be it judge or exhibitor: I am convinced that the wish expressed here is not restricted to old-timers and professional exhibitors/breeders alone, but carries as much weight (if not more) among novices; therefore, and I apply this to myself as well, let the following be also our approach: "Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time." [A PSALM OF LIFE, Henry W Longfellow].