Buying a New Van, Doggie Style

DSC_0003 (2)You know how it goes.  Your dog show van needs new tires.  You look around at the ads in the local paper and decide the new tires will cost more than your van payment used to be.  While you’re looking at the tires, you notice your van has a variety of nicks, chips and prominent door dings.  You recognize the crease in the right rear quarter panel where your easy-up took flight that January in Palm Springs, and the dent on the front driver side door where you banged into that pole in the parking lot at your national.  Standing there staring at your war wagon you reminisce about the fun you’ve had showing your dogs over the years and how good your special is doing this year.

It becomes apparent that you really need a new van.  You decide to see what’s out there and ask people who log similar mileage year after year on the circuits what they like.  No matter what they may tell you, you can’t quite shake the notion that Fords have always been good to you, have always been dependable and they are just so safe.  Not safe in your odds of surviving a high speed crash, but safe as in comfortable, predictable, easy to choose.  You would never feel stupid choosing a Ford.  Maybe you’ve read testing data in consumer publications that indicate Fords lack the durability and quality of another brand, but damn it, it’s a Ford and that’s really all you have to know.  You have been driving for more than half your life and you don’t need to know more about vans.  It’s been good enough for you all those years, except that one time when you got a Chevy.  It lasted for years, the paint held up great and it was easier on gas.  When you went to trade it in on your current Ford van you did notice it held it’s value better, but you knew you’d never feel bad driving a Ford. 

Funny how similar today’s dog show judging is to buying that van.  Dog show judges definately prefer Fords.  Only they call them Doug, Bill, Amy, Clint, Woody…you get the idea.  Or maybe they prefer that owner who sends gifts with their latest win shot or the club president who offers them a coveted assignment in the future.  But can you blame the judge, after all these people have never done them wrong.  There is a comfort in picking the well known faces.  You will not be criticized by your friends, who also prefer Fords, and any criticism you might hear whispered about your  judging is just sour grapes.  After all just look at your record.

Well, you know what?  Many of us have looked at the record and here is what we see.  Too many judges picking Fords time and time again.  Certainly handlers couldn’t make a living showing dogs not fitting the standard, but is every dog a well know handler shows a BIS caliber animal?  Would some of these same judges pick the same dogs if an unknown was showing them?  Many exhibitors think not.  If you watch the judging at most shows these days, you see German Shepherds shown like Pointers, shown like Setters, shown like Poodles.  The generic presentation style of many breeds by their handlers reflect the style that it takes to catch the judge’s eye. DSC_0159

I remember a couple of years ago seeing a handler with a winning Mastiff slap the dog on his copious rump as he turned. When the dog returned to the judge he would leave his feet and spin.  This was kind of a trademark for this dog/handler team and made them easy to identify.  Soon you saw many, many handlers doing the same with their large breed dogs.  Turn and slap your Boxer, turn and slap your Bouvier, turn and slap your Sheepdog.  All that turning and slapping worked.  Dogs shown like this won.  Never mind that the Mastiff standard states:  “A combination of grandeur and good nature, courage and docility. Dignity, rather than gaiety, is the Mastiff’s correct demeanor. Judges should not condone shyness or viciousness. Conversely, judges should also beware of putting a premium on showiness.”  Suddenly large heavy breeds had to be sparky like toy dogs.  

You see judges giving a basic, cursory exam to every breed they judge.  Their hands physically touch the dog but if you really watch there is no attention paid to the areas of a dog that indicate how well it fits the particular standard.  Do the the patellas of Bichons seem to be flexible and well made.  Are the shoulders in a Kerry blue well laid back as the standard calls for or are they up in the dogs neck making him showy but incorrect.  You see the judge glance at each handler – amateur or professional – as if to orient themselves.  “Have I seen you before?”, “Have I picked you before?”, “Do you drive a Ford?”  If there seems to be recognition, the decision is made and everyone can relax.  If nobody is familiar real chaos ensues.  You can see many judges struggle to wade through even a modest entry. 

If  judges believe all they need to know is what they had to know to pass the writen judges’ exam and get off provisional status nobody is well served.  If the judge chooses not to seek out more breed knowledge on their own, the jumping Mastiff will always prevail, provided he has a recognizable handler.  This renders the judge ill-equiped to do his job and many worthy animals are overlooked.  With a lack of knowledge comes a lack of confidence.  That’s where the comfort of picking the well known face comes into play.  Or perhaps lacking initiative to seek out more knowledge in Viszlas one judge chose to take the easy way out and ask the previous day’s judge what she picked.  Fortunately, the judge who did this was reported and suspended.  She is back judging now and from her current record you can see she has opted not for more study, but for more time spent reading the ads in magazines so well known handlers will be easier for her to recognize all by herself.   

Judges’ picks directly influence the development of a breed.  If dogs that exhibit more extreme characteristics for their breed are consistantly chosen, breeders make changes in their lines to reflect the trends.  You can see this in the legginess of today’s Westys and the over-groomed, more level toplines of the Glen of Imaals.  It is up to breeders who should have a vast knowledge of their chosen breed to send dogs to the ring, with well known handlers or not, who exhibit typiness and correct conformation.  Parent breed clubs should lobby the AKC Judges’ Institute to require more followup education for every judge in every breed he/she is licensed to judge.  And exhibitors should refuse to support shows who consistently hire judges who do a substandard job of adjudicating the dogs brought before them.

DSC_0037aWhen you buy that Ford van because you always have, even though imperical data indicates there are better options out there, you appear foolish. A judge picking a dog because that handler “always brings me a good one”, makes the judge look dishonest, can potentially have far reaching consequences on breed development, and disrespects the quality exhibits that are sure to be missed.  Judges need to increase their breed knowledge in order to possess the confidence to choose the better dog no matter who’s holding the lead.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s