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Face Judging in Australia

this article by: Jan E Irving

first published Top Dog Journal issue 52
. Over the years there has been a constant muttering of concern about "face judging"; gosh I've been the recipient of it favourably and unfavourably if the breed standard is to be believed! It does occur.
Why?

I think with a few years regular exhibiting under my belt now in a number of fields and talking to others who exhibit inanimate items as well as other livestock, face judging is really a "cop out". Many say it is because judges lack the courage of their convictions, but I would be inclined to say in most cases I care to analyze it is probably more likely that the judge lacks the courage to admit they don't know either the breed or the breed standard. And is there any real need for a judge to be thoroughly familiar with any one breed standard?
The structure of dog showing in Australia is such that the system favours an "all rounder" judge, one who can tackle more than one group with a good number who can handle the Best in Show awards as over half of this country's affiliates would be country based. Country based affiliates are an important part of the dog world. They ensure nearly all dog owners have a local show. They attract metropolitan exhibitors out of the urban rabbit warren. Yet still only attract entries where group dedicated judges are not required but multi appointments can be successfully completed in one day. Another very attractive perk of being a multi group judge is the chance of being invited to judge at an overseas venue - a honeyed carrot to many who aspire to judge.
So why do people aspire to judge dogs? Watching and listening ringside at a breed championship recently when exhibitors were excused and the ardent nonsense spoken and denigration of the judge I can only imagine people aspire to judge to demonstrate their tough hides. A very few people who aspire to judge truly love dogs and are interested in breed development, progress, and general care and husbandry. The vast majority would seem to see judging as the next step in the ladder of a perceived hierarchy; others would have to fall into Bernard Shaw's teacher category of "He who can, does. He who cannot teaches" except in point of fact in the dog world it is more precise to say "He who can breeds and or exhibits. He who cannot aspires to judge." Some seem to see it as a ticket to a free lunch and free travel. Many, lots really, enjoy greatly the monetary rewards. So to have regular appointments, and in the Shaw category, retain many friendships and contacts, the aspiring judge once licenced for one group, aspires to more groups. And so we develop a plethora of all rounder judges to service the needs of this country's affiliates and improve their curriculum vitae for possible overseas appointments. Well that is the way I read the desire to learn to judge as it occurs in the dog world; it is a simplistic approach perhaps but I am not one to believe in attributing long and complicated psychological processes to all and sundry.
So why do some judges "face judge"? I said earlier it would seem to transpire that they are not familiar with the breed or with the breed standard. I hold to that still and one only has to look at any canine publication in any country, including Australia, where there are a number of advertisements promoting dogs and you will see there are hundreds in the dog world who believe this is so too! And the thought is endorsed by those companies supplying their magazines gratis to judges. The majority of advertisements placed to advertise the success of a dog feature the handler in the photo too. The placing of advertisements in overseas publications by Australian owners using photos that display their dog and handler has also brought fruition - if the breed standard is to be believed. The action of a "face judge" placing a well known exhibitor at the head of the line up may, of course, be inadvertent in what an unassured judge believes to be a tight line up, and time is pressing there must surely be safety in placing a familiar although not necessarily known face, to the head of the line up.
Another well known quotation is "Familiarity breeds contempt "[Publilius Syrus quoted by Aesop]; and this would seem to be particularly true of dogs regularly featured in publications, judges just fail to see and penalize glaring conformational problems and very poor breed type - which is described in the written word in the breed standard. Find this hard to believe, well why is it that a consistent all breeds best in show awardee rarely wins consistently under a breeder, or non-breeder specialist? The first, the breeder could be said to be biased to a different interpretation of the breed standard but surely the non-breeder specialist should be a little more objective and true to the breed and its breed standard.
On judging, a side line to the above paragraph, I don't believe in fault judging, it plays no role in a good breeding programme, so I cannot see it playing a good role in the show ring. However, faults must be recognized and not condoned if they detract from breed type or soundness and health of the dog or the breed. Poor topline detracts from breed type and soundness of the individual and of the breed if that individual is bred from. Poor colour or markings, usually the icing on the cake of an individual as delineated by the breed standard and will contribute to a variance from the breed standard in future individuals if bred from. A judge, like most breeders, has only a few individuals to choose from he must weigh up the pros AND cons of what is before him; and in the system we accept we must accept his decision as final. I am only grateful that few who judge and ignore the breed standard breed my breed. The clause adopted in most ANKC
standards from the UK Bull Terrier breed standard "Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree" is a superb statement.
So how do we as a nation overcome "face judging"? A few points that can be implemented without changing the structure are given for consideration further on. The abandonment of handlers as occurred many, many years ago in the poultry world and more recently in the fibre goat world will only encourage extremes of type in kennels so judges can still recognize a particular line. The original dog shows in the UK were held along these lines in any case when dogs were shipped by rail and benched by attendants, and this occured in Australia also. To emphasis my point that it does not work see how many modern breeds have been evolved from this practice - the Cocker and the Field Spaniels have split for example.
Judges, lift your game so you can truly help a breed survive this century and enjoy life into the next! Become more familiar with the breed's breed standard and also the breed's standard of quality in relation to that breed standard in your state, in Australia and where reasonable around the world. Do not constantly condone poor conformation or bad conformation. Do not condone exaggerations or glamourous coats that would prove impractical for the work the breed evolved to do or pretends to do still. Do realize a good dog in type and conformation is a jolly difficult subject to photograph as it represents three dimensions, the photo two. Don't just look at photos of winners, get out your breed standard and analyze the photo - a chat on the phone may give you some "answers" but not the truth of the matter. You must THINK, and think for yourself. Protect your own reputation by thinking and analyzing, then judging becomes easier and you are less intimidated by aggressive exhibitors as you can answer clearly, concisely, and accurately. Don't be fooled by those who challenge you or even have the stupidity or ignorance to misquote the standard at you. If you can't remember the exact phraseology be honest and say so but if you know the breed standard discuss at least its intention and the use of the dog for its ancestral work. Exhibitors all this applies to you too. It is of absolutely no advantage to you as an owner or breeder to misrepresent a standard to make it fit your specimen. There is little of sense or practicality written about breeding but one thing stands out, bad type begets bad type. Please honour your breed's heritage by trying to breed to the breed standard, not demanding alterations to suit you dog's "faults" or manipulating interpretations. A sloping pastern refers to the view from the profile of the dog, it does not condone a cabriole front. =
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