Fault judging versus faulty judging 

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HJ van der Merwe

As we near the closure of the millennium, we at Mervander are paging back through the past decade and longer. In this exercise, we are trying to be true to the words of Wilson Mizner (1876-1933) in The Misanthrope: "One should look long and carefully at oneself before one considers judging others". Like a certain sauce, there were the sweet and the sour moments and often it is quite impossible to surgically remove the one from the other. Such is dog breeding and dog showing; yea, and such is life…

First, some introspection: for us the 1990’s are gone with the wind. We can say, though, that as far as our show-going conduct was concerned, we never shouted at nor degraded any exhibitors, regardless of whether they were for us or against us. Appointed placing of dogs by judges, whether we were pleased or abhorred by the decisions, were gladly taken up, never storming out of the ring because our exhibit was placed second instead of first. We never practised nor condoned any backbiting or scandalising.

Retrospectively, wouldn’t it have been wonderful if we could have seen our judges judging the right side of the lead at all times? It was no strange sight, especially in the resent past, to see dogs out of condition or even lame, termed "bad movers", to walk away with the laurels at championship shows. There was a time when no judge would have thought of putting up a Bulldog with entropion, a cripple dog, or one with the hind legs as wide or even wider apart than the forelegs. Nowadays, if you ask how on earth it could be possible that such faults and deviations from the official standard can be overlooked, the reply comes very abruptly: "I’m not doing fault judging." This would seem to prove one thing: many of us do not know what ‘fault judging’ is!

What is the purpose of the judge in the show ring? Like in any democratic set-up, the breeders have delegated their responsibility to measure their dogs to the official breed standard, to a group of people called ‘judges’. This judge, therefore, having been granted the privilege to judge the handiwork of the breeders and trainers, has a grave responsibility to bear in mind the seriousness of the job at hand. The judge has to contemplate and fully understand what impact his/her decisions in the ring can have, not only in the ring, but especially out of the ring. The judge has to adjudge the dog’s overall conformity with the standard, and any fault that would be emphasised by close-up, hands-on judging of the specimen, has to be measured against the dog’s impression as a whole – as prescribed by the closing paragraphs of the official standard. The seriousness of the fault, seen against the wholeness of the specimen, should determine the severity of the penalty awarded for such a deviation from the standard.

It should therefore be obvious that if a pear-shaped dog (wider in the shoulders than the hips) is not pear-shaped, it is a major deviation from the standard and at the same time distracts severely from the overall impression of the dog as a representative specimen of its breed worth receiving a placing at a breed show. In the same vane, a dog that is so cripple that anyone seeing it moving can pick it up, has a fault of a degree that severely compromises its balance as a whole specimen. By allowing these deviations to not only pass by, but to even award first prizes to such specimens, does not only harm the rest of the specimens that are without such fault(s), it endangers the integrity of the breed, its breeders and the application of the standard as a blue-print to strive towards, as well.

The judge’s responsibility does not end with the obvious, though. Because the judge does hands-on judging, opening the mouth, pulling the ears, feeling the testicles, lifting up the feet, inspecting the eyes and skin, the judge has to take such finding into consideration as well. Dog breeders and showers who exhibit their specimens at shows are most likely going to breed with those specimens. Many of them are influenced by the judges’ opinions of their dogs – for breed judges are supposed to be ‘experts’ at interpreting the standard and applying it to live specimens of the breed! The judge has the responsibility to judge each specimen not only on what is obvious to the spectator (from afar), but what the judge discovers while examining the dog up close and personal, as well. Why do judges get their hands dirty by touching show specimens (not all exhibitors wash and powder their dogs prior to entering the ring)? Why do they open dogs’ mouths and run the risk of being bitten? Why do they bend their backs and knees to examine dogs standing on the ground, running the risk of lower-back pain? Why, indeed? Surely, when ignoring the findings of close inspection, judges could just as well get themselves some ringside seats, let the dogs walk their triangles, and award prizes accordingly!

The judge has the responsibility to judge the specimen’s conformity to the breed standard while taking into account the WHOLE dog – that includes such features as alignment of jaws; complete set of testicles; absence of haw and entropion in the eyes; no loose soft pallet; no slipped patella; no sickle hocks; correct eye, nose and feet pigmentation, etc – in short, any genetically transferable trait that may compromise the soundness of this man-made breed. It is the judge’s responsibility to identify faults in a dog and weigh them up against the dog’s embodiment of the standard as a whole.

Thus, by identifying the faults and awarding the correct penalty to each, you are not ‘fault judging’, to the contrary, you are doing your job!

Failing to properly determine the over-all quality of a show dog, taking into consideration the type and degree of deviations it has as far as the standard is concerned, is not fault judging but FAULTY judging!

The act of judging should not be taken lightly – like a parliamentarian, you are representing the breeders who expect a certain degree of knowledge and aptness from you as a judge. Do not let us lose our faith in our judges as we have lost our faith in the majority of our parliamentarians…

If we at Mervander had to express a wish for the new millennium, it would surely be that the ‘hobby’ should be put back into dog showing and ‘integrity’ put back into judging…

In parting, when judging dogs (like judging anything else in live), do remember these words from Sam Rayburn (1882-1961): "Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one."