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Owner Handlers and the Two Minute Rule

It’s one of the first things we are taught when we start showing: in general, judges will take 2 minutes per dog to judge their assignment. Later you learn that this isn’t so much a tool to estimate when you are actually going in the ring, and more a real rule, the enforcement of which is one of the main tasks of the AKC representative at the show (that and the correct marking of the judges book). If asked, the AKC will say it is really a ‘guideline’ but every provisional judge I have spoken to (who apparently have 3 minutes per dog until they become official) will tell you it feels not so much like a guideline – perhaps we should call it a ‘guiderule.’ I have wondered often where this rule came from. And not for the first time in the past few years, I have wondered who the rule actually benefits.

Don’t get me wrong – there has been more than one time when I have been standing ringside with an entry that is getting hotter and more bored by the second, that I have wondered why the judge was taking so long. I have also shown to judges that go through their entries like a house on fire. So a certain amount of consistency is welcome, especially when you have more than one breed, or agreed to help out a friend in another ring. A few incidents lately have had me circling back around to this topic especially when combined with our overall drop in entries.

It’s Not Easy Being a Judge
As much as we may hate them from time to time, I think we need to acknowledge that being a dog show judge is not for the faint of heart. The physical strain, the loss of friendships, the constant scrutiny, certainly has made me think that it is a road I do not want to travel. It is a sign of passion and dedication that we still have some brave souls that chose to go through the time and expense involved to get their judging license.

I have now reached that point in my dog show endurance where I have friends who are judges. It is an odd feeling to tell the truth, but has provided some important insight. I find it especially helpful to know judges that are not approved for my breed. By not having so much emotional baggage invested in their experience, I get to step back and view the commonalities in all dog show judging and the intricacies that are involved in the wide range of breeds in our sport.

And yet they all seem to come back to the same thing over and over – well, the thing other than their aching feet. And that is ‘I only have a little bit of time to evaluate an entry and if the exhibitor doesn’t show the dog properly, I have to go with the ones presented well – which are often with the professional handler.’ As an exhibitor then, not only do you have to make sure to show your dog to their best advantage, you have to do it quickly.

The time constraints are especially worrisome for the provisional judge. I happen to know a husband and wife currently going through their provisional assignments (so have yet to learn the secret handshake) and during the husband’s assignment one day, the wife was so worried that she tried to send someone over to warn him about his time. He had a large assignment, and I couldn’t help but think that a breeder judge with a large assignment should be taking their time as the future of our breed is on the line.

Being a Professional Handler is No Cake Walk Either
Perhaps years now as a salaried employee have jaded me somewhat and made me unaware of how some businesses work. But when broken down into essentials, much of professional dog show handling is similar to piece work – they are paid per dog. So if they do not get a dog to the ring one day, they don’t get paid for showing that dog.

This was really brought home to me one weekend this summer when I was waiting ringside with a pro that I have known for 20 years. He was traveling with a very limited staff and declared that the way the ring times had come out for his breeds at this particular show he was losing a substantial amount of money. And as our judge was falling behind, he would look at his watch and declare how much he had just lost.

At another show recently, we had a large, varied entry in Best of Breed. The judge took her time, making cuts and putting us through our paces. I did not win, but appreciated her choice (especially since it was a fellow breeder owner handler) along with the seriousness that she displayed for my breed. The next day, as we were in the ring waiting for our individual exams, one of the pros struck up a conversation with me remarking that the previous day’s judge had taken way too long and he understood complaints had been lodged against her (his assistant had stood in the day before). I informed him that I appreciated her taking her time. I let this sentiment be known to the AKC representative the following weekend as well and was relieved to hear that no official complaint had been placed.

So by knowing that the judge will be taking 2 minutes per dog, the professional handler is able to plan out their assignment, sending assistants in when necessary, asking colleagues to cover in a pinch, and all the while making sure that their clients’ entry fees are not forfeited. They maximize their client satisfaction, and ensure a healthy payday. I can certainly understand that. But it brings to bear the fact that not everyone’s motive at a show is the same, and may deviate from what is supposed to be the primary goal of conformation dog showing: ensure the future of the breed by selecting the best specimen available.

And Here’s Where I Worry
One of the jokes I like to entertain myself with is just how quickly or easily a professional handler could do my job. After all, at some point or another I have de-bugged software, constructed project plans, or overhauled business processes 5 days a week. That is a lot of practice. This argument is given often – the pro works on showing dogs up to 7 days a week. I can’t get anywhere close to that. So I have to take in a better entry. I have to know my standard and be as objective as possible in my evaluation of my kennel. Some days, the judge simply won’t like my entry. Some days I will just screw up. But I have to believe in the end game – I must have faith.

But having those friends that are judges has brought along some things that I wish I didn’t know. For instance, there is more than one AKC representative out there that was once a professional handler. Again, there are things about this that make sense. As handlers, they became intimately aware of the inner workings of show procedures. Hiring from their ranks to evaluate new judges and ensure the adherence to judging policies may simply seem expedient. But when many (if not most) of our judges were once professional handlers, and those that evaluate them are also former professional handlers, just how accommodating are these individuals towards ensuring the success of the professional – and not the success of our chosen breeds? How does my faith stand up against their financial gain?

And once again, I find myself wondering where our future will come from. I have a show home at the moment where a lovely young woman very much wants to take her dog in the ring. But she is prone to nervousness. I can accept that some people are not really cut out for showing dogs, but I want to encourage her – she is so enthusiastic! I have yet to mention to her that she really has very little time while in the ring to make an impression on the judge. I am afraid that it will crush her and she will never come back.

There is also more than one show chair out there that will probably tell me that there is nothing worse than a slow judge. Judges who take their time undoubtedly gum up the works of an efficiently run show – they delay lunches, Group judging, and facility breakdown. And I am sure bringing up the European system where they can take all day to judge one breed will solicit more than one eye roll.

But I can’t help myself – I think we should relax the ‘guideline.’ Entries are down so I think we could afford to take a little more time. We shouldn’t create such a nerve raking situation for both the judge and the new exhibitor. But more importantly, we need to focus on – and enable – the primary reason why we are doing this: the preservation of our beloved breeds.
As our breed stewards, it is our duty to ensure that the judges are choosing the best examples as often as possible. A system that is constructed to benefit any other goal, such as the economic security of a particular group, requires censure.

We are the AKC, and through our AKC delegates, we can let our voices be heard. If enough of us believe it is not in our best interest to have ex-professional handlers evaluate our future judges (especially when they come up from the breeder ranks) with a focus on meeting a schedule instead of preserving our breeds, then we can make a change. If that is not the belief of the majority, then so be it. But I would ask you to take a moment to think about it – for your breed’s sake, try to take at least 2 minutes.

Written by

  • Cindy Cooke October 12, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    Thanks for this very perceptive article.

  • Sandy Mesmer October 12, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    I wonder what would happen if we simply made the guideline 3 minutes a dog?

    • Helen Dorrance October 13, 2013 at 4:38 PM

      I think back in the early 70’s the judging guideline was 3 minutes per dog. Then somewhere along the way it became 2.5 minutes per dog and then 2 minutes per dog. I don’t remember any specific announcements but everyone seemed to know exactly when the time changed. A thought provoking article.

  • Karen Lee October 12, 2013 at 3:09 PM

    I don’t know at what point it became more important to stick tightly to a schedule than it is to pick the best overall dog of a breed, even if you have to dig a little under a more amateurish groom or presentation to find it, but that has been to the detriment of the sport here in the USA. Dog shows in Europe are THRIVING, while here in the USA they are starting to wither and die on the vine…why? I think that taking the emphasis away from the breed judging and the owner-breeder showing proudly what they own or have bred, and instead making it all about groups and BIS and “who” the celebrity is on the end of the lead have had a chilling effect on the fancy. I no longer have any idea how to encourage new people of modest means to get involved in this sport I’ve been doing for most of my life (40 years now).

    • Sybil Rowe October 13, 2013 at 9:38 AM

      I absolutely agree with you Karen. We must get back to our priorities, namely betterment of the breed. The way things are going now, people are becoming discouraged and cynical. Let’s get back to looking for that “good” dog, even if it takes a bit more time, and putting him up.

    • Tina Chermak October 14, 2013 at 3:45 PM

      Great answer. Showing dogs is truly dwindling, especially is some breeds that are
      more difficult to prepare for the ring.

  • Norma Baugh October 12, 2013 at 4:52 PM

    Great Article and food for thought. I think 3 minutes is calling it close for Judges to properly evaluate a dog in the ring. AND it is a lot to expect of new people (just as new Judges) to be able to present or judge within 3 minute timeframe. We need both new exhibitors and new judges so maybe a little more time would encourage both?

  • Michele Markoff October 12, 2013 at 5:39 PM

    Very thoughtful and well-written. Unfortunately, I suspect its conclusions will be dismissed and disregarded as are other comments about how competition is increasingly geared for the professional and financial success of paid handlers.

  • Monica Stoner October 12, 2013 at 7:39 PM

    For FCI shows, the maximum number of entries is much lower and there is no expectation of rushing. Paperwork is handled by stewards and every entry gets a critique.

  • kristiburrus
    Kristi Burrus October 12, 2013 at 8:08 PM

    If our beloved aging fancy continues in the direction it is heading we will all soon be extinct. In the current atmosphere with the emphasis on group and BIS competition is not encouraging of new exhibitors.

    Participation at the breed level seems to have decreased markedly. At least that is the case in my breed. And, it seems the day of the large kennel with a prodigious breeding program are a thing of the past. I am a relatively new breeder/exhibitor, but I am not young. If new, young people are not becoming interested in a particular breed there will be no future breeders. Hence no prospects for the professionals to show.

  • kayla
    kayla October 13, 2013 at 5:53 AM

    We’re glad to present an article that is creating constructive dialog on a topic fequently discussed at shows and in our Club meetings. BEST IN SHOW DAILY would like to remind our community that we do have a publishing policy for comments: they must be submitted with a real name & email address; they must further the conversation by offering additional points of view that educate or entertain our community by sharing authentic views; offer additional facts that enhance the value of the article; or thank the writer for a column of interest – greatly appreciated! Comments that denigrate, harass, are prejudicial, or in bad taste will not be published. BEST IN SHOW DAILY encourages our community to participate positively so we can all pursue our love of dogs and further the sport.

  • Ann Chamberlain October 13, 2013 at 8:24 AM

    Ms. Springer’s article very accurately reflects my feelings about dog shows at this point in time. I have been breeding sound, healthy dogs that are in the breed standard since 1965. I have always been a poor to terrible handler.

    I have bred and shown a number of AKC champions over the years, but now that the handlers are in the puppy class, I give up. Since I cannot compete with the professional handlers and have limited income at this point in my life, I have stopped going to AKC dog shows. They are not enjoyable, they are a chore. We used to have camraderie and enjoy each other’s company.

    I still enjoy the long days, the critiques, the friendliness of the UKC and IABCA shows. However, UKC is quickly following the AKC model and they will not get my entries either.

    Don’t forget the challenge of all the other dog activities we now have available that we did not have previously. Given a choice between an AKC dog show and a race meet, I will always be at the race meet.

    The “two-minute rule” and the ranks of professional handlers and judges that are allegedly finding the best example of the breed have contributed in large part to the changes we have seen in so many breeds. These changes have seldom improved the breed, just made them more “showy”. And then there is the “popular sire” syndrome, based solely on the show record and not health or performance. If the dog can no longer perform the task for which it was designed, it is not a functional dog. Greyhounds that cannot run, pointers that do not point, working dogs that cannot walk – these are just a few examples that immediately come to mind.

    I’ll keep on breeding quality animals that go to people who appreciate them. The dog shows can go their merry way.

    • Kimj October 15, 2013 at 6:10 PM

      For me, the bottom line is that breeders can last longer without handlers than handlers can last without breeders.

      • kayla
        kayla October 16, 2013 at 9:20 AM

        Hi Kim, thank you for writing and being a part of our community. Rhoda’s article is a discussion of how much time should be allotted to examine a dog, and not intended to create division in the fancy. Every professional handler that we know are breeders of dogs as well. They’ve put in 1000s and 1000s of hours devoted to the sport of dogs, dog health and continuing rare breeds that could disappear without their interest and involvement. Best In Show Daily believes handlers are an important part of the fancy and we should all work together to retain our sport and our dogs.

  • Deb Eldredge, D.V.M.
    Deb E October 13, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    Excellent article! I know I appreciate it when I feel the judge has taken the time to actually look at every dog – even if my dog doesn’t make the grade on that occasion. Why the big rush when many shows now end by 3 or 4 pm?

  • Sybil Rowe October 13, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    Ann, I agree with so much of what you have said. I too find that shows I used to enjoy, now make me a nervous wreck! Fun, they are not. Part of this is due, I believe, to our failing economy. Shows are drying up, fewer dogs out there, with the result that a major ,here this weekend MUST be won because heaven knows when there will be another. Fun is replaced by anxiety and an almost ruthless determination to win at all costs! This flies in the face of what we regard as good sportsmanship There is no easy solution as even if I strive to breed the very best dog I can, then, hand him over to a professional handler,( I like you, am not a good, confident handler)I am faced with the cold hard facts that the handler is largely motivated by money, often takes on more dogs than he can handle, leaving my little “star” to be dragged in at the last minute, with no prep, or handed off to a junior assistant. Truth is, no one cares as much about my dog as I do! So I am stuck with trying to do an acceptable job of showing my own dog. We will not even go into the politics of the power of the “Old boys network” i.e. judges who started out as professional handlers and therefor know everyone in the business. I am convinced that handlers and judges do work a lot to keep each other in business, for hard times, if nothing else. .
    Your other point, which I feel passionately about, is the extent to which we are seeing the trendy, fashionable dog winning more and more over that dog who conforms to his breed standard. This is true of many breeds, not just mine. This is terrible and is having a disastrous effect on our breeds. To me, one of the saddest examples is the GSD. Away with exaggerations, and back to the Standard I say!

    • Tina Chermak October 14, 2013 at 4:11 PM

      The saddest thing of all is that Professional Handlers consider showing dogs their full time job. That breeder/owner/handlers are considered only there for fun. As a breeder/owner/handler, I do not feel like I am a part of this professional job. I do observe the judges give the points to the PH over the breeder/owner/handler over and over again with the idea that they deserve the win because it is the hand that feeds the PH. I consider showing my dogs at AKC shows as MY part time job. I show my dogs so that I can say that they meet the breed standard. I want my pedigrees to be all red vs black. As my part time job or even full time job, I put in a lot of work and time into training my dogs for the ring just like the PH. It takes me an hour and half to prepare a dog of my breed for the ring. Then I have to find other breeder/owner/handlers to help me ring side to keep my dogs from looking like ragamuffins before I can take them into the ring. PH handler’s will not help me, even if I know them fairly well. Those same PH will help ring side if I hire a PH and then they are all ready and willing to jump right in and help. I don’t fault them their right to work. But, I should have that same right. It really isn’t much cheaper for me to send my dogs to a PH than it is for me to show my own dogs.

  • Judy Higgins Kasper October 13, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    Lots of good questions floated in this article and many of the same concerns I have about judging in today’s dog world. Maybe the relaxed guideline might provide for more encouragement to the up and coming dog handler NOVICE.

  • Bob Stephanos January 2, 2015 at 11:26 AM

    My opinion isn’t to fault pro handlers for adapting to AKC rules, or 2 minutes or 3 per dog, the solution is have more breed judges at shows use more local and provisionals to keep cost down,then add a couple more rings if needed. More shows finish breed judging by lunch then waiting for groups up to 3+ hours . More attention to the breed ring is warranted yet as a breeder and exhibitor for over 20 years there is no excuse for a novice not training their dog for exhibition granting them a extra minute just penalizes the well prepared.. Judges usually are patient with the puppies but get frustrated with owners who forget it’s a show not a show class…

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