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.