The new AKC judging approval process that went into effect on March 1, 2012, includes some very interesting points that are, in my opinion, improvements over the previous process. Whether they will in fact make a noticeable difference in how well judges carry out their assignments – that is, whether or not we’ll get better judges – remains to be seen. In the next few weeks, we’ll review some of the changes to the process and I’ll talk to some judges, and possibly some exhibitors as well, to see what they think.

In the meantime, there’s one aspect of the new approval process that I think is long overdue. As of March 1, parent clubs can hire any individual they choose to judge their National Specialty or a regional specialty. That’s right… I said “any individual.” That means anyone, not just folks who are already approved judges.

Remember why dog shows started in the first place? More than a century ago, in villages and districts and towns across Great Britain and parts of Europe, people who had dogs that coursed rabbits for supper, herded the flocks from field to field, flushed birds for hunters to shoot and bring home to their families, and rid the farm of rats and other vermin, brought their dogs together to compare them, to assess which had a preponderance of characteristics that would allow them to best do their jobs, and, in turn, which had the traits that would be valuable when passed on to future generations of dogs that would course, hunt, flush, rat, guard and perform other useful tasks.

Eventually fanciers began bringing their dogs together in more formal settings, and they began to select individuals to assess them who were knowledgeable about their kinds of dogs. They called it “evaluating breeding stock.” Although we may forget it today far more often than we remember it, that’s the purpose of a dog show: to evaluate breeding stock. At no show is it more important than at the National Specialty.

It’s unfortunate that oftentimes the people most qualified to offer an opinion on a breed decide never to judge. Some people just aren’t interested in judging dogs in the ring. Some people have occupations that disqualify them from judging. Some people’s lives are occupied with other passions. People who have a great deal of knowledge and experience about a breed often pursue judging, but many do not, for a variety of reasons. Still, having their opinions about our breeding stock would be useful.

So parent clubs can now hire anyone to judge their national or regional specialties, and I believe that this new rule provides a brilliant pool of breeders, handlers and exhibitors to evaluate breeding stock at each breed’s most significant venue.

I can envision in my mind how interesting it would be to see experienced people in many different breeds evaluate a big entry. This is true in my own two breeds – Cairns and Poodles – but in other breeds as well. I can imagine how terrific it would be to watch Dan Kiedrowski judge Wires or Miniature Schnauzers or Norwich at Montgomery. Who wouldn’t love to see Damara Bolte do the Basenji National? If you love English Cockers, watching Kate Romanski do the National would be such an education. I envision watching Bobby Fisher do the Irish Terrier National, Jere Marder doing Old English, Luke Ehricht doing Shih Tzu or Moe Miyagawa doing Dobermans. I’d be fascinated to watch Cliff Steele judge Beardies, or Lesley Boyes do Kerries, or Linda Pitts do Cockers, or Stan Flowers do Foxhounds. It would be amazing to see Ernesto Lara or Maripi Wooldridge or Gabriel Rangel judge Airedales, or Tommy O do Siberians. I would give my eye teeth to watch Wendell Sammet, or Tim Brazier, or Janet Reed of Foxmore Toy Poodles, judge at Poodle Club of America. I would grab a chair and a catalog, and not leave ringside until every dog had been judged if Betty Marcum or Bill McFadden judged the Cairn National.

Oh, the list could go on and on, and I don’t know one-tenth of the people who would be ideal candidates for this task. There are people in every breed that those of us “outside” those breeds aren’t familiar with, whose opinions are so valuable.

The guidelines for this new allowance say that “any eligible individuals including, but not limited to, professional handlers may be approved on a case-by-case basis” to judge for the parent club. They must be 21 years of age and “should be knowledgeable, with success in breeding/exhibiting/handling in the breed for 15 years or more.” People selected to judge on this basis will be required to take a procedure and anatomy test prior to judging.

Every breed has iconic members who for one reason or another elect not to pursue judging approval from AKC, but whose opinions on our breeding stock are as valuable as gold. I do hope parent clubs will take advantage of this new opportunity.