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Old Dog, New Tricks: The AKC Judges’ Institute

Patrick Guilfoyle, who spent several decades immersed in the sport of dogs before a self-imposed absence beginning some 20 years ago, continues with part two of his “Aspiring Judge’s Journal,” his off-beat and passionate account of returning to the fold and the sometimes arduous journey to become an AKC judge.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Be afraid of the 163-page spiral bound “Basic Judges’ Institute” workbook. Be afraid of the reps’ observation report. That observation report is your report card as an AKC judge! It contains words like “marginal” and “does not meet expectations.” Scary terms. As a new judge applicant, I’m to be subjected to the “final interview.” What happens if I don’t do well in the final interview? I just know that if I flunk I’m going to be dragged through the streets behind an AKC-approved ox cart. I just know it. That “marginal” word, that’s not good. “Does not meet expectations,” even worse. Muhahaha…

I’ve been forced to go back to the classroom to learn how to be a dog judge. Photo by Jupiterimages © www.photos.com, a division of Getty Images.

I find this scary stuff. It’s scary that I’m going to be judged by an AKC executive field representative, people. I’m going be judged, and this rep will determine that, “Yes, he met expectations,” or “Meh, he’s “marginal” or “He doesn’t meet expectations.” Then I’ll be sent home behind the ox cart.

I’m going to be judged by the AKC not once, not twice, but three times. They’re going to judge my judging. (Bo Bengtson wrote about judging the judges here.) That’s right. While I’m judging you, I’m going to be judged. It’s not the type of judging we’re all used to. It’s not going to be about the dogs, mind you. There’s not going to be any of that, “This is his first show, sorry he’s not lead-broken yet.” Nope. No excuses. You don’t get a do-over. There will be no, “Oh well, tomorrow’s another dog show.” It’s going to be about, how’s my ring procedure? Did I give clear directions? Did I control double handling? How about my attention to key points of the breed standard? Judged. Graded. How were my general skills? Did I handle protests correctly? Did I appropriately use the wicket? How was my demeanor? Did I seem nervous? Ya think?!?

Initially I didn’t want to take this class, this required “Basic Judges’ Institute.” I didn’t think that I needed to go. Just how hard can judging be, anyway? But I’m task-driven, and the institute is a prerequisite on my road to becoming a judge. Lucky for me when I started this process of applying to judge, one of the American Kennel Club’s scheduled institutes was just weeks away. I dutifully sent my $175 with my application. Two weeks before the institute, I was in a motorcycle accident and broke a few bones. I was mending, but by no means mended. But, as I explained to my wife, Pippi, I needed to go. (Yes, Pippi is the name that my wife is known by, and no, she’s not a Standard Poodle.) If I didn’t go to this institute, which was 45 minutes away from our door in Pomona, Calif., I would have to wait until the one scheduled in August in Mississippi or November in Virginia Beach. I feel fortunate to have been able to suck it up and make the one close to home.

Getting an Education
Here’s my overall take-away from the institute. Do you remember my last paragraph? The part where I said, “I didn’t think that I needed to go. Just how hard can judging be, anyway?” Well, I discovered that I am a long, long way from “I used to be the king of the world,” which was my status in my own mind. The institute is about learning the job of judging, plain and simple. It’s not about who you are in dogs or who you used to be. It’s about the mechanics of being a dog judge. It’s your Ph.D. in counting to four. It’s a lot to learn.

The institute was conducted by one of the AKC judging department’s kahunas, Tim Thomas. He must have been either a teacher or a preacher in his civilian pre-AKC life. He was good. There was a cross-section of the dog world represented at the institute: hopefuls, judges who are already approved, some who have already applied and had their names published in the Gazette. There was even a former handler who has been approved for a complete Group.

Thomas allowed everybody’s ideas, questions and prejudices into the room. It made for a lively and personal give and take. I think that Thomas allowed those interactions between the participants for a lot of reasons, one being that he has a sense of humor, thank God. Mostly he allowed the discussion and questions throughout due to the fact that there was a whole lot of pretty dry information to cover in a short amount of time. So he allowed camaraderie to develop among the participants through the give and take.

Using the workbook and a corresponding PowerPoint slide show, we went point by point through everything we need to know to judge, from the paperwork needed to apply to where you sign your judge’s book and everything, and I mean everything, in between. That’s a lot to cover between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. with an hour break for lunch. The lunch sort of sucked, but then I’m a snob about lots of things. Food is just one of them.

This is uncharted territory for me, but frankly I’m sick to death of the AKC being everyone’s punching bag. Am I wrong, or does it seem like the kennel club can’t catch a break? The criticism seems virtually endless and mostly unjustified. What’s it like to be assailed from every side, all the time? I think that it retards creative solutions to whatever problems confront AKC. That constant negativity keeps people inside that proverbial box. It’s started to piss me off. So, here’s something that they are getting right, people: “The Judges Education Institute for Aspiring and Newly Approved Judges.”

Yeah, yeah, it’s $175. Yeah, lots of people think they don’t need to take the course, myself included. Yeah, yeah, some think that since they were already approved to judge, they shouldn’t have to spend the time or the money to fulfill this requirement. The truth is – and won’t this make me popular – I think all judges, regardless of how long they’ve been judging, or how fancy they think they are, need to take this course, or at least a refined version of it. I’m rule boy now. I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid!

Seriously, though, I’ve had an opportunity to watch a few judges after getting an education on procedure, and believe you me, lots and lots of judges could use a Judging 1.0 retread. But more on that next time.

Reading through the workbook that everyone was given, which by the way is like an inch thick, is no easy task. It’s obvious that this is what our litigious society has wrought. The rules are tedious. If somebody has sued AKC or threatened a lawsuit from participating at a dog show, its cause was covered in the institute, or that thousand-page workbook, as a rule from the desk of the AKC. It’s all about conflict resolution and conflict avoidance. The rules are a safety net for the judges, the clubs, the superintendents and the AKC. The rules related to judging have become a twisted version of the Latin legal expression nunc pro tunc, which means “now for then.” This is what happens now, because that happened then. We’re not always privy to why the AKC rules that govern the dog shows are what they are. But we can usually, with common sense, figure out why things are the way they are, or even who did what and why there’s a rule as the result.

TGFI
I knew the whole grand champion thing had happened, but I didn’t understand it. I tried to get updated by a friend who should know, and who will remain anonymous and clueless all at the same time. I mean honestly, my friend’s explanation was way, way off the mark. TGFI. I just came up with that acronym. It stands for “Thank God For Institute.” (You’re welcome.) If it weren’t for the institute, I wouldn’t understand the grand champion thing. It makes perfect sense to me now who is qualified and how I’ll mark my judge’s book in the case of grand champions. Why there is a grand champion title is still a matter of some confusion for me, but that’s a different article.

Here’s another TGFI moment. Double entries. In our normal dog show world, double entries are when you’re specialing a dog or looking for majors and you double-enter the dog. You enter it at one set of shows and also at another. Then you decide which shows to go to when you find out what the entry is. Right? Did you know that it could also mean that you enter multiple classes on the same day, at the same show, with the same dog? No, I didn’t know that, and no, I can’t see why one would do that either, especially considering how expensive show entries are.

But you have to know this to be a judge, so here goes. You can, in theory, enter, let’s say, the 12-to-18 class and also that weird new Amateur-Owner-Handler one, with the same dog. The rule is that as long as the dog doesn’t get beat, the judge has to continue judging the dog. Stay with me here folks. There’s going to be a test. No, really, there’s going to be a test.

Once the double-entered dog has been adjudicated in one class, it must continue to compete in the other class(es) in which it’s entered, as long as it is not defeated. In our hypothetical example, if the dog won the 12-to-18 class, then it would have to be shown in the Amateur-Owner-Handler class to compete in that class as well. It can’t just be satisfied with its one blue ribbon and decide not to show in the second class.

However, it could be absent from the 12-to-18, but show up for the later Amateur-Owner-Handler class, and the judge would have to judge the dog in that class. If the dog wins the AOH class, it would be eligible to compete in the Winners class. Got it? Once the dog is defeated in any class, though, it is not eligible to compete for Winners. Whew! I hope I got that right.

I still have a long way to go before I’ll have fulfilled all the requirements to apply for judging approval. In the interim, and to hedge my bets, I’m applying for the AKC Visa credit card. And changing my car insurance to the AKC-approved insurance company. And getting AKC’s dog health insurance for all of my dogs. I’m buying the tote bag, the coffee tumbler and the “I Brake For Dog Shows” bumper sticker. I’ll be easy to spot at the dog shows where I’m scheduled to ring steward. I’ll be the guy who is AKC-branded.

My momma didn’t raise no fool.

Next up: Ring Stewarding For Dummies.

The details of AKC’s current judging approval process can be found here.

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Comments
  • Bonnie Linnell Clarke June 14, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    Comical, but on the money. There is a lot to be learned at the AKC Institutes! I love them!

  • Rita Rice June 15, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    As a long time exhibitor, it’s easy to think you understand judging -but there are many details that all need to be respected to keep the process safe, smooth, and efficient. The Judges Institute is the start of that process -and where I learned just how much I didn’t know. It’s also a huge part of my comfort in the ring -for almost every situation that occurs, I think, “I learned that!”

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