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Type versus Standard

This January 2009 article by AKC Judge E. Katie Gammill on “Preferred Breed Type” made the rounds on Facebook this morning, but I think it deserves some thought and discussion beyond a Facebook Status update.

I’ve only been on the Cardigan conformation scene for four years now, but that’s certainly been long enough to see in action just exactly what Ms. Gammill is talking about in her article.  A ringful of mediocre dogs, with one obvious standout who gets passed over because it looks different from the others.  The true shame, to me, is that this is not just observed in judging by the all-arounders, it’s almost expected of them.

Gammill:  “Observing other breeds, she remarks on the lack of neck, restricted front movement and the lack of rear follow through; we discuss “gay tails” and breed type variances. We watch faulty movement and see coats dragging the ground. Weak pasterns and sickle hocks complete the picture. She wonders what causes this to happen to functional dogs in such a short time. It seems the correct dogs have fallen victim to what one may refer to as the “Perfection of Mediocrity”.

Boy-oh-boy does that sentence apply perfectly to a lot of Cardigans in the ring today!!  Yet time and again you’ll see just such dogs awarded because they are big and flashy, lack any one single glaring fault, and they are “dripping in breed type.”

Gammill:  “A respected dog person of long standing approached me with this statement while at a seminar. “A judge CAN NOT GO WRONG by putting up winners conforming to the majority of the type of dogs in the ring on a given day.” My response was “Surely not!” 

This makes me wonder about the judging thought process.  One of two things has to be at work, here.  Either the judges who are choosing conformity are not familiar enough with the breed standard to know the difference, or they are more concerned with others’ opinions of their judging than in adhering to that standard.  If it is the first, then I have to disagree with Ms. Gammill’s assertion that “Judges Education is NOT at fault.”  To be honest, I think I’d prefer that the problem be one of education, because then it is more easily fixed.

If the second issue is more at the heart of the problem, then whom exactly is the conforming judge trying to impress?  Is it the other judges who are putting up type over form?  Or is it the breeders/exhibitors who are in the ring with those mediocre but “typey” dogs?  And are those exhibitors showing those dogs because they know they can win based on seeing similarly mediocre dogs rewarded, or are they the ones whose education is lacking?  At some point I think the entire issue becomes something of a Chicken vs. Egg circular debate.

Gammill:  “When judges say, “This must be what the breeders want as the ring is flooded with this type” it is detrimental to any breed. It IS NOT about “what breeders want.” Breeders and judges have a responsibility to breed and judge to standard.

Succinctly put, and so very, very true.


I couldn’t agree more.

So:  what can we, as a lone and lowly breeder/exhibitor do?  After all, the judge has the ultimate authority in the ring, and short of an act of congress, his decision will not be overturned, right?

While that’s true, and while there is little to be done about a single day’s judging, I do think there are things that we can do if we are prepared to think and act in the long term.

  • KNOW YOUR BREED STANDARD.  This sounds like kind of a “no shit!” sort of no-brainer, but if asked can you rattle off what your standard says about the head, the topline, the movement, what the serious faults vs. disqualifications are?  Unless you have a photographic memory, you probably don’t remember all of those things after reviewing the standard once or twice.  So read it more often!  Take it out every couple of weeks, pick a section or two, review it thoroughly a couple of times, and then look at your dogs and apply it to them.  Will every dog in your house conform perfectly to the standard for whatever feature you’re reviewing that day?  Of course not.  The perfect dog has yet to be born.  The fact that your dog has faults is not a cause for shame; not understanding and being aware of what those faults are is.  So read and re-read and RE-READ your standard.  If you’re expecting the judge in the ring to know and understand it, then you darn well better too.
  • TALK TO THE JUDGE.  This can be a very difficult thing for an exhibitor to do, especially in the immediate aftermath of what one feels is a poor judging decision.  But in the case of an egregious error I do think that it is important.  Goodness knows there are some judges out there who are in it for the sake of their egos, but I’m still optimistic enough to believe that the majority of judges want to do a good job.  Having said that, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about it.  First, take a deep breath and make sure your objections are based on the standard and not on your feelings at having lost to a dog you think is inferior to yours.  If you can point to a particular section in the standard that backs up your position, and can discuss that in a professional, non-emotional manner, then wait until the judge is finished with his/her assignment and then ask if you can speak with him/her.  Calmly state your position, be specific, and whatever the judge says in response, calmly thank the judge for his/her time and leave it at that.  Their verbal response to you isn’t important.  What they do with the information down the line is.
  • WORK WITH JUDGES EDUCATION.  While not everyone has the time and ability to serve on the national club’s Judges Ed committee, you can help them do their job.  When you see or experience a judge who has done a poor job interpreting the breed standard or, worse yet, has misinterpreted it altogether, let the committee know!  (And don’t wait until you yourself are the victim of incorrect judging; indeed, an accounting of the event from someone with no self-interest in the situation is that much more persuasive.)  Again, remove your emotions from the equation as much as possible.  Send the committee chair a letter and again, be specific.  Tell them when and where the show was, and be succinct in describing what you feel the judge did that was in error, referring to the standard to show how it supports your position.  Is your lone letter going to produce sweeping changes in the AKC’s approval of judges?  No.  But if more and more exhibitors do this, and go about it in the right way, then the voice of many can be a catalyst for change.
  • BE INVOLVED WITH YOUR LOCAL ALL-BREED CLUB.  Simply put, if it weren’t for local all-breed clubs, we wouldn’t have dog shows.  Many, many exhibitors enter and show dogs, but how many of those people are club members at home who actually work behind the scenes to pull one or more shows a year together?  Yes, clubs can be dens of drama and discord, and we all have things we’d like to do other than attend meetings and work on committees and count how many stewards we need and order tents and oh god who will work the pick-a-poop raffle…  The fact is, if SOMEONE doesn’t do these things, we stop having dog shows.  Period.  So get involved.  Join the club’s show committee.  Don’t like who the club usually hires for judges?  Be a part of the group who makes the hiring decisions.  If you don’t want to put in any work, stop criticizing those who do it.
  • VOTE WITH YOUR PURSE.  Yes, the effect of one person standing alone is negligible, but the more people who boycott a judge and refuse to give him/her an entry, the less likely clubs are to hire that person who diminishes the bottom line.

These issues are not specific to the Cardigan Welsh Corgi; they are endemic to the sport of showing dogs.  But while supremely frustrating and seemingly insurmountable, let’s not throw in the towel.  Nothing is accomplished by the person who picks up his toys and heads home in disgust, vowing to leave the sport and never darken a ring gate again.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and figure out what part each of us can play in a solution to the problems we know exist.