Who best to judge my dog: a specialist  or a generalist?

HJ van der Merwe (Mervander Bulldogs)

“A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity.”

Baltasar Gracian, the Spanish Jesuit and baroque prose writer & philosopher (1601 – 1658)


1.       Introduction

Someone once said, “my goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am.”  The bond between Man and dog goes back to the mists of earliest history as does the human yearning to continuously strive towards improving that which we hold dear, be it our pigeons, horses or dogs.  The human spirit’s need for self-cleansing and self-improving, manifests in our endeavours to improve the world around us – albeit not always very successfully.

As breeders –dare I say, lovers – of the English Bulldog, we are driven by this same need to attain that allusive “perfect” Bulldog; that one dog or bitch which will personify the ideal we’ve set ourselves as breeders, namely the Breed Standard.

It is when this noble goal of ours gets tainted by cancerous devices such as greed, egoism and that fatal disease, called “kennel blindness”, that we lose sight of why we set out to be breeders in the first place.  We owe it to ourselves and to our dogs to stay true to this course for, as Baltasar Gracian, the Spanish Jesuit and baroque prose writer & philosopher (1601 – 1658) so aptly put it: “A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity.”

It is a very sad day indeed when we allow our personal agendas to override the breeders’ promise, whether spoken, written or implied, that I come into the life of my dog and meddle with his/her breeding for a singular purpose only, namely to ensure that its offspring are better specimens than their parents were.

 If we, as breeders of the English Bulldog, could stay true to this course, then I believe we can step up to the mirror and there, face-to-face with ourselves, declare:  “to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”  From Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, English poet & playwright (1564 – 1616).

Because we are but human and therefor per definition fallible, we employ certain measures of governance, certain metrics of control to enable us to gauge the degree to which we are in fact achieving this goal we set ourselves.  The most important such measure is certainly the dog show:

The basic purpose of dog shows is to facilitate the evaluation of breeding stock for use in producing the next generations.”  – About Dog Shows, The Westminister Kennel Club web page.


2.       Specialty (breed) judge or all-rounder?

Deciding on which show and under which judge to enter ones carefully bred English Bulldogs is no light matter.  Indeed, it does not only have a reputational nor only a financial implication, but in fact impacts directly on the genetic future of the breed as a whole.  If we take the opinion of dog show judges as seriously as we take our breeding programmes themselves, then surely it is a matter of utmost importance who we allow to judge our dogs.  As David Star Jordan, the   American Ichthyologist, educator & Eugenicist (1851 to 1931), said in The Philosophy of Despair: “wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.”

The dog breeding and showing fraternity in South Africa is a vibrant though tiny community of breeders, exhibitors and judges.  The majority of judges, who are available to judge the English Bulldogs locally, are by and large well known to all of us who’ve been involved with this magnificent breed for most our lives.  In my experience I have found there to be three categories of judges: (a) those who understand and successfully apply the breed standard when judging; (b) those who try to apply the breed standard in their judging but fail to lesser or greater degree; and (c) those who allow out-side or alternate sources or even ideas to over-ride the requirements of the breed standard and thereby skewing their judgement.

We at Mervander have a proven track record of encouraging and continuously supporting those from group (a), of assisting as far as we can with the education of those from group (b), and of avoiding exposing our dogs to those of group (c).  The reality of the matter is that should an all-round judge fall in group (b), there is an excuse of “generalist” that can be tabled, but not so if it happened to be a specialist (breed) judge.  Such judges have it in their power to cause major damage to the reputation of the breed and to well-established breeding programmes.  Do not blame me if I am then found to be slightly apprehensive of exposing my dogs to judgement of that kind.

Those of us who’ve been around the block a number of times, would whole-heartedly agree with the observation of Westfeldon Kennels’ Sanjaya Saran, who has been exhibiting since 1961: “When seen as a whole, as an entity in itself, [the dog] 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….. This is where I think an all-rounder has the advantage over a breed expert…..”

Judging of dogs is a far more responsible “job” than breeding dogs, for in giving judgement you are endorsing or denying endorsement of a breeders’ ability to produce dogs that personify the essence of the breed standard.  Others will allow that judgement, that endorsement or rejection, to guide their selection of breeding stock, to steer their own breeding programmes and to put more or less emphasis on particular traits within the breed which they assume the judge approved or disapproved.

Therefore, as breeders who have been part of the establishment of the English Bulldog in South Africa for many years, we have a responsibility to uphold the breed standard and how it is meant to manifest in our breeding programmes.

“How can judges be made to improve their [judging] 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.” Canine Judging, Sanjaya Saran (Westfeldon Kennels, India).


3.       Conclusion

In my long career (since 1949) as breeder, exhibitor and judge of English Bulldogs, I have learnt one lesson above all others: “character is doing the right thing even when it costs more than you want to pay.”  [Michael Josephson, American law professor & attorney (b. 1942)]

If I am accused of giving more support to all-rounder judges than to breed judges in the recent past, it would do my accusers good to put aside their accusative mind-sets for a while, to afford themselves a few minutes of honesty and defogged vision, and to analyse the facts for what they are.  We are allowing far too many judgements that are detrimental to our dear breed and not coming to the fore to rectify the situation.  Now, more than ever, it is our responsibility as breeders, no, in fact it is our duty, to remind those who take it upon themselves to pass judgement on our dogs, that “to give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” Douglas Adams, English writer, humourist & dramatist (1952 – 2001).