Did you read Steven Seymour’s recent article about how judges are treated in the United Kingdom? If not, please do: go to http://www.bestinshowdaily.com/blog/an-undeniable-fear-to-speak-up/. Obviously it’s not just in America that there’s widespread discontent with how judges are allowed to progress and become approved for more breeds. The difference mostly is one of scale: There are less than 30 all-breed championship shows each year in Great Britain, and even though they are much bigger than our shows it’s obviously easier to get a handle on the judging situation over there than in the U.S. With more than 1,400 small or medium-sized AKC all-breed shows every year it’s not an enviable job to deal with the logistics of who should (and shouldn’t) be allowed to judge what breeds. The numbers are daunting — over a million entries per year! — but that’s no excuse for the way things are handled today.
It doesn’t seem that I can get away from the subject of judges, even when I try. Whenever I go to a dog show, judges come up and tell me how badly they have been treated by AKC. Early on I suspected that they must be exaggerating, because the stories were pretty awful, but having seen some of what’s going on up close I don’t doubt any more. (See my previous articles for specific examples.) Several people have suggested that “AKC eats its own” or that “AKC really hates judges,” and although I don’t think that’s true, there’s obviously a problem that needs to be addressed.
Will there be a change? With so many judges, including some of the biggest names in the sport, objecting to how they have been treated by AKC, it’s reasonable to expect that things MUST improve, but I’m not so sure any longer. As Jay Phinizy pointed out in his letter, the ultimate responsibility for judges approval rests with the AKC Board, and as long as they are not willing to deal with this difficult subject and keep delegating their duties to an obviously overwhelmed AKC Staff, the current situation will persist. Jay used to be an AKC Board member, and what he says is worth listening to.
My last stab at making a difference in this sorry subject will be to copy all the appalling emails and letters I have received from judges who feel they have been badly treated by AKC, delete the names to protect the innocent, and forward the whole pile to someone I think may be sympathetic at AKC. If that doesn’t help, nothing will.
Full disclosure: I will not be judging AKC shows in the future, and my opinions may be colored by the latest twist in what someone called the “soap opera” of my own dealings with AKC. Sure, there have been high ups and low downs, and some of them are probably my own doing. After AKC finally, after nearly a year’s back-and-forth wrangling, upheld my appeal and approved me for Group judging, it must have seemed ungrateful to tell them I was going to get involved in a dog magazine, which of course precludes AKC judging, so perhaps the sudden turn-around should not have been a surprise. I have asked to be allowed to resign in a civilized manner, but I doubt that small favor will be granted. Someone described most judges’ interaction with AKC as resembling that of a kid at school in the days when you could be smacked with a ruler, and that’s right on the money. If I didn’t already know what other judges have told me about being treated as a suspect or criminal, I certainly do now.
It doesn’t make much difference in the end, I guess, except I have now officially joined the many whom AKC for no good reason has managed to offend. Being my own boss and publishing my own magazine will be a lot more satisfying in the long run than judging AKC shows. I will continue to judge overseas on occasion and won’t have to worry about the small indignities that AKC judges are subjected to whenever they are at a dog show: I can talk to whomever I want, clap for whichever dog I want, help whoever I want by holding or even showing their dog… Judges aren’t allowed to do any of that.
TOO MANY BREEDS?
Different subject, but of course related in so far as this at least partly concerns dog shows and judging. Do we have too many dog breeds? Or is it a good thing that there are so many more breeds today than there used to be? It’s a far cry from the old days when any family wanting to get a dog almost routinely got a Cocker or Poodle puppy. Now there is a seemingly endless variety of exotic breeds with unpronounceable names to choose from.
The American Kennel Club currently fully recognizes 177 different breeds. That’s a lot, especially compared with the past: In 1946 Westminster featured 96 breeds, in 1985 the AKC Centennial show had 130. (These figures are based on AKC’s definition of “breed” versus “variety,” by which e.g. all Dachshunds are one breed, all Poodles one breed, etc., with the different coats and sizes simply constituting “varieties” of the breed.)
The speed with which “new” breeds have been added has increased dramatically in recent years. Of the 27 new breeds that AKC has recognized in the past decade, 19 were added in just the last five years. And there are another 65 breeds waiting in the wings, in what AKC calls its Foundation Stock Service, which basically means that although AKC does not consider these breeds ready for regular registration and show competition, they are monitored for possible full recognition in the future. The first step to this is acceptance into the Miscellaneous class at AKC shows, following “clear and categorical proof that a substantial, sustained nationwide interest and activity in the breed exists.” You may already have seen e.g. some Azawakhs, Bergamasco, Lagottos, Norrbottenspets and Pumis in the the Miscellaneous classes at AKC shows, but chances are you are less familiar with the breeds who are still in the FSS, such as, for instance, the American Leopard Dog, Boerboel, Braque du Bourbonnais, Caucasian Ovcharka, Czechoslovakian Vlcak, Danish-Swedish Farmdog, Hamiltonstövare, Kai Ken and Kishu Ken, Perro de Presa Canario, Rafeiro do Alentejo, Russian Toy, Stabyhoun, and Tornjak. I doubt that even many AKC judges are familiar with most of these.
What the figures above are pointing to is the possibility, even likelihood, that in the not too distant future we may have something like 250 breeds at our shows — almost twice as many as just thirty years ago. We will definitely need to increase the number of Groups, and if show entries keep dropping there will be very small breed entries at most shows, with a correspondingly greater emphasis on Group and Best in Show judging than now. Also, since we have hardly any judges who are officially AKC authorized to judge all breeds, the future dog show scene is likely to be rather chaotic unless there’s a major change in AKC’s approval policy for judges.
Just recently I looked at the Morris & Essex Kennel Club catalog from 1955. There were “only” 2,397 dogs entered that year, but since the number of breeds was limited to 69 the average breed entry was more than 37 dogs. That’s many more than at any show today, in fact more than at a lot of specialties for even popular breeds now.
HOW OTHERS DO IT
It’s interesting to compare how other countries deal with “new” breeds. The Kennel Club in the UK offers Challenge Certificates (three of which make a champion) for 156 breeds, or 147 if you deduct those that would be considered “varieties” in the U.S. (for instance, the six Dachshunds). In their closest equivalent of our Miscellaneous class, the British offer some semi-established “new” breeds their own classes on occasion, but CCs are not available, so they cannot become champions.
The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), which governs canine affairs in most of Europe, Asia and South America, recognizes far more breeds than either the British or the American kennel clubs. If I counted correctly there are currently a total of 344 recognized FCI breeds, not including e.g. nine Dachshund varieties and four Poodle sizes, the latter further divided into different color classes, all with their own “Best of Breed” winner. No wonder FCI shows have ten Groups, compared to seven in the English-speaking countries, and some of the FCI Group competitions can still look like an endless parade when more than 40 different breeds file into the ring — especially when you don’t know what half of them are.
Ca de Bestiar. Ciobanesc Romanesc Carpatin. Alpenländische Dachsbracke. Jämthund. Ariégeois. Bosanski Ostrodlaki Gonic Barak. Hygenhund. Aïdi. Hellinikos Ichnilatis. Schapendoes. Bayrischer Gebirgsschweisshund. Kishu. Coban Köpegi. Anglo-Français de Petite Vénerie. I bet most Americans don’t know much about any of these breeds, and there are dozens more you’ve probably never heard of. It has been suggested that FCI must recognize the various native breeds from its member countries simply for diplomatic reasons, regardless of whether they have an international following. That’s only partly true: As in the U.S. and U.K. a breed can be recognized in its own country without yet being eligible to compete for the top championship award, which in FCI competition is the CACIB. It is also a fact, however, that even judges who are approved for all breeds will have a hard time recognizing all the 344 breeds that may appear at FCI shows, let alone know their finer points.
I once talked to a very famous international FCI judge who regularly officiates at the top shows in Europe. When I asked him how he dealt with all these breeds, and what did he do if he honestly didn’t recognize some breed coming into a Group competition, he just smiled and said “I keep a very straight face and try to LOOK like I know what I’m doing…”
Not that this admission wouldn’t ring true for some AKC judges as well, in spite of our much fewer breeds, but it was an interesting and probably honest assessment of what is an almost impossible situation. It takes years to learn the finer points of just one breed (and some seemingly never learn, but that’s a different story), a lifetime to become an expert on all the breeds AKC currently recognizes — so does that mean it takes TWO lifetimes to learn all you need to know about all those FCI breeds?
Exactly how much you need to know about a breed to be qualified to judge it at an official dog show is a subject that’s worthy of its own article. For now, let’s just state that it’s obviously very, very difficult for anyone to become a real expert on more than a few breeds — yet every national kennel club in the world keeps adding more and more breeds to their registers.
WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?
Where do they all come from? Are they really so different that they merit to be different breeds? When the “new” Coonhound breeds were added to the AKC Hound group a couple of years ago there were many who felt the differences between some of them (American English Coonhound, Bluetick Coonhound, Plott, Redbone Coonhound and Treeing Walker Coonhound) were just not substantial enough to merit the “breed” (as opposed to “variety”) designation. But just talk to the fanciers of these breeds and you’ll find that they are very serious about the distinguishing marks of their breeds.
The thing is you can never tell what breed you’ll fall in love with. As absurd and unnecessary as it may seem to some of us that there should be so many “new” breeds, there are obviously people out there who care greatly about them — or they wouldn’t exist in the first place.
I’m the same way myself. Do we really need both a Finnish Lapphund and a Swedish Lapphund, you ask? Of course we do, and as a native Swede I’m disappointed that “my” version of the Lapphund isn’t better known internationally. And what about the Jämthund, which is basically a Swedish version of the Norwegian Elkhound? It’s pretty much unknown outside its own country but was responsible for nearly 2,000 registrations over there last year. (And it’s a wonderful breed, I assure you: a little taller and rangier than its Norwegian cousin, more laid-back but very dignified, a great hunter and extremely handsome.)
One of the most fascinating aspects of dogs, in fact, is the large variety that exists within the species. Exactly what’s a breed and what isn’t can be discussed, but there’s no question that the vast array of shapes, types and temperaments, sizes, coats and colors means that there’s a breed that fits nearly everyone. That’s clearly something to celebrate.
P.S. If you want to see what the breeds in AKC’s Miscellaneous or Foundation Stock Service look like, go to http://www.akc.org/breeds/miscellaneous_class.cfm and http://www.akc.org/breeds/fss_breeds.cfm.
FCI’s website http://www.fci.be/nomenclature.aspx lists all the recognized breeds but has no illustrations. However, Wikipedia has photos of most of both the rare and the more established breeds.