THIS WEEK I’d like to introduce you to another of our columnists, this time Geraldine Cove-Print. Geraldine writes a weekly column usually focussing on issues surrounding rescue but every so often she looks more widely at the show scene and gives us the benefit of her experience as an exhibitor and observer.

In a column entitled “Feeling cheated as an exhibitor” Geraldine takes a look at the role of the judge and says: “The time a judge takes to go over our dogs is often, to the exhibitor, a reflection of the care taken”.

Judges come in for a fair bit of criticism sometimes justified and sometimes only because, in the exhibitor’s view, the judge made the wrong decision by not choosing that exhibitor’s dog for top honours.

Our reader’s survey identified the importance of judging when it comes to an exhibitor making a choice about whether they will take their dog to a specific show or not and issues surrounding judges’ training etc are always political hot potatoes. However read what Geraldine had to say about her experience at a recent championship show. To me it seems that she doesn’t feel that she got value for money and at the end of the day if we don’t feel that attending a show justifies the cost of being there then we’ll simply stop going and find another hobby we feel is worth spending our hard earned pounds (dollars) on.

And just before I hand over to Geraldine it’s worth saying that the entry figures for this year’s Crufts have just been published and the good news is the entry is up, it’s the highest since 2010. There will be 21,564 dogs making 24,086 entries.

Now, over to Geraldine: “ZZZ… Ah, there’s that annoying little buzz that is the bee in my bonnet, to go along with bats in my attic and let’s not mention the ants.

“I must be nuts because after all these years I still love dog shows, not just to judge, steward or compete, sometimes just to watch. I’m a cheap date at a dog show because all I want to do is sit and observe and hopefully learn.

“I bustled off to Manchester championship show on terrier day full of enthusiasm and after coffee on arrival, I settled myself by my chosen ring.

“I was dismayed that the road to hell aka M6 had delayed me but was genuinely surprised at the speed of the judging of the breed I had chosen to watch. Never mind, I thought, I’ll see the early class winners at the end. The dog classes had now finished and that hush descended as the excitement builds over who will receive the coveted CC and reserve CC. That hush became a deadly silence and was closely followed by a sharp intake of breath worthy of my garage mechanic when the steward called only for the open and limit dog winners.

“I know very well that there is nothing in the Red Book of Kennel Club rules to say that a judge must follow a particular pattern but the established and customary practice of all unbeaten dogs returning to the ring has, in my view, plenty to commend it.

“Would judging have been held up again if one of those dogs had appeared in the ring lame for instance? I am aware that judges from foreign climes will sometimes choose this method but rarely when the entry is so large and the ringside interest so enthusiastic. From the exhibitors point of view it is a privilege to return to the ring, there may be only one judge in the middle of the ring but thronged around the outside you have judges of all levels and it’s an opportunity to let them see your dog in (we hope) good company.

“I would feel it a slight against the quality of the dogs entered if although good enough to win a class, you were deemed not good enough to compete in the challenge, the clue is in the term. From the observers point of view I felt cheated, we call our show dogs exhibits, watching a dog putting his all into showing his socks off in the breed ring is a prime example of the dictionary definition, display publicly. Can you imagine the uproar if this method of final judging was adopted at Crufts? …and after all Crufts really is just another championship show.

“At the end of judging the bitches this same judge proceeded in what we have come to view as the traditional way, all unbeaten bitches were invited back into the ring, this left the question of why had his MO changed? Was the judge imparting some message? Now, judges really can do as they want in the final analyses. There was a rather interesting case where in a pastoral group breed the judge gave the CC to the winner of open and then called for second in limit to bestow the reserve CC upon a somewhat surprised exhibitor. Experienced stewards also recognise the many quirks and oddities practiced by what appears to be a sane human being when they pin the judge badge to their chest.

“While tact may not officially be on the list of requirements for a steward I would suggest that it is probably the most valuable asset. A good steward can give encouragement to the novice judge be a font of all knowledge to the exhibitor and for the experienced judge can smooth away the problems of the day allowing concentration to remain firmly on the dogs paraded.

“There are certainly some judges who would test the patience of the job – hats off to those doughty stewards who resist rolling their eyes or sighing deeply in their presence.

“As an exhibitor we want to feel that our considerable financial outlay is going to be of some value, even if we don’t get into the winning line up we do want to feel we have had our money’s worth.

“The time a judge takes to go over our dogs is often, to the exhibitor, a reflection of the care taken. A rushed, brusque judge isn’t appreciated where an efficient and gentle judge is liked. In my opinion the late Terry Thorn had a gift for spotting a good dog the moment it entered the ring, his manner was gentle but authoritative and win or lose your dog was the focus of his attention for those two plus minutes.

“Establishing a pattern in the ring is, I believe, important. My reasoning is that the exhibitor can concentrate on their dog without worrying if the judge is going to suddenly walk backwards and up-end over their charge. If each dog is given the same square of ring and the same chance to move around that ring everyone feels they have been treated fairly.

“A judge that suddenly decides halfway through a class to change ring position is likely to spook the exhibitors, nerves travel down the lead as we all know, so it actually puts that dog at a disadvantage. It’s bad enough having to cope with uneven rings that make a simple triangle an introduction to orienteering or finding a way to stay on your pounding feet with rings that are too small for your breed necessitating in cornering like an F1 driver, without a skittish judge who wanders around the ring willy-nilly!”