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(We Used to Call It "Making a Statement!")

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by Richard G. Beauchamp

Isn’t the Internet a marvelous development? Even those of us not born into the computer age have to admit to the wonderful job the magic box is doing in uniting the world. Within minutes of having received some news (or gossip!) from friends in Australia, which came to them by way of their contact in Argentina, I pass it along to a pal in South Africa. And all this for $19.95 a month! (We won’t talk about the several thousand dollars it took us to get "Internet access.") The only thing these new fangled computers and the world wide access they bring us can’t do, however, is personalize contributors to the information highway. Contributors, with a few notable exceptions, are simply "names" or in some cases a cleverly contrived series of letters representing an "e-mail address." Thus it becomes the receiver’s responsibility to separate the wheat from the chaff, the value from the clutter. Unfortunately, we are apt tofind as much trash being disseminated (more?) as information of value.

That is why I was so delighted to follow the recent "thread" (see, I too am learning computer lingo) initiated by Tim Hutchings from the U.K. Delighted, not only because the topic he wrote about has such importance but because Hutchings himself has the the credentials and experience with which to back up what he says. I can only assume any Boxer enthusiast who has done any homework at all is aware of his great success in the breeding department and as publisher of the very well done Boxer Quarterly magazine. What Tim addressed that so fascinated me was the issue of consistency in judging. The issue and the responses it engendered put me in mind of those marvelous conversations we used to have around the crates at benched shows so long ago here in the U.S. That was before benched shows were eliminated and it became the fashion to leave (in or out of a huff) immediately after one did/didn’t win exactly what was expected. Tim’s posting gave good reasons as to why it may not always be possible or entirely correct for that matter, to be consistent in making placements. However, I do worry that his excellent explanation may unintentionally undermine the value of a judge’s ability to attempt to be consistent. This ability is something I find it impossible to put anywhere but among the most important qualities a judge, or a breeder, can have. But just so our readers do not misunderstand what I mean by the word, allow me to explain consistency as it applies to both the breeder and the judge.

The Consistent Judge

I am afraid in the minds of some exhibitors a consistent judge is one who puts up their dog the first time it is shown and then forever more. Some of a more generous bent may accept not winning with the same dog every time they show under a given judge, but this does not diminish their expectation that they should win with at least one of their dogs. To some others, consistency means a judge values one part of the dog’s anatomy far above the rest. Often it’s head but it can be soundness or movement or whatever. Regardless, the judge is expected to go with that one quality regardless of what the rest of the dog looks like.

This is most definitely not what I mean by consistent judging. When I speak of consistent judging I speak of an individual who has, over the years, developed a clear cut interpretation--a mental picture--of the standard.

Anne Rogers Clark succinctly described this as developing a "template" through which she views all representatives of the breed. The template is forged through years of study and having seen many dogs of great type along the way--perhaps even the truly great one that takes all the bits and pieces of information and serves to etch that picture of perfection into something very real and very identifiable.

A judge who is equipped with this valuable tool then walks down the line knowing exactly what he or she is looking for. This is not to see where dogs differ but to see which dogs have most of those qualities that have it fit into that mental picture of the ideal. This is a judge who is able to take judging a step beyond simply separating the quality dogs from the run of the mill. Without compromising proper selection the judge can communicate to the interested what he or she believes is the most correct interpretation of the standard. This is the person that many of us travel great distances to observe and to learn from. Only recently I had such an experience. It was a national specialty show of great proportions for which I gave up a holiday with family in order to observe a judge I admire pass upon the entry. The judge concerned could not have painted a clearer picture of her ideal in the breed had she been using a palette of color and an easel. It did not take many classes to determine what the judge was after and it was just as easy to see how the dogs that followed the first place winner began to deviate from the ideal. The event and the picture created are indelibly etched into my consciousness and serve as a significant part of my own template for that breed which I myself now judge.

Again I must reiterate, it is not always possible for a judge to make a statement. Some classes contain nothing but mediocrity. Try as he might, there is absolutely no way in which the judge can create a picture of anything--he or she is hard pressed to decide any order at all. No artist is able to make a picture if he doesn’t have the tools with which to do so. Nor would the artist be able to paint well if the paints supplied available were of inferior quality and imprecise color.

This takes us back to Tim Hutching’s hypothetical class in which one dog (Exhibit 2) differs significantly in style from the best dog in the class (Exhibit 1), but has more quality than Exhibit 3. Certainly Exhibit 2 deserves to place ahead of Exhibit 3. A good judge would never put an inferior dog over one that was superior simply because it resembled one’s first placement or for that matter, whose only asset was that it was closer in style to the judge’s ideal. Judges find need to do this all the time but the judge’s ideal day (like the breeder’s ideal breeding) is the one on which there is sufficient quality so that a positive statement can be made--so that the judge can create a clearly defined picture of which dogs from the entry will in fact help take the breeder one step closer to the elusive "ideal."

I wonder if today’s judges are inclined to lose sight of this tremendous responsibility? A judge is sent into the ring to acknowledge the stock most apt to serve the best interests of the breed. There is nothing in the judging proviso that suggests a judge should be concerned with adding to or subtracting from win records.

The Consistent Breeder

I feel quite certain that you know more than one individual who has bred and shown many winners over the years. Their champion tally is impressive as are their win records. However, if you were to stop and ask yourself what specific qualities that kennel can be relied upon to consistently produce, you might well be a a total loss for an answer. But it may not be you who is missing the point. The answer just might be that there is no answer. Big Winner No. 1 was of one style and Big Winner No. 2 was of another Numbers 3, 4 and 5 were again entirely different variations of correct type.

I don’t know about you folks, but that kennel would be the last place on my list of where to look for foundation stock or for the proper stud for my bitch. The pedigrees of dogs from that kennel are solid red but the individuals bear scant similarity. Nor can they be relied upon to consistently produce much of anything outside of the what we might best call the generic show dog qualities: charisma, soundness and attractive color and markings. From where I stand a true breeder (as opposed to a kennel that breeds dogs) takes the words of the standard that describe the way a dog looks, the way it acts, the condition it is in, the subtleties of balance, eye placement, and expression and translates those words into living, breathing flesh. Just like Egyptian hieroglyphics, the breeder’s translation is a picture language. The breeder’s translation is what stands there at the end of the leash. In order to consistently reproduce this picture the breeder must also have a clear cut visualization of what he or she is trying to accomplish. If not, what is the goal? How can there be a projection of what constitutes the "ideal?" We would never have been able to translate the writings of the Egyptians if they had used a picture of the moon to illustrate the summer solstice one time and then a picture of a cat to illustrate the same thing the next time.

Some might ask, "Isn’t a list of winning dogs enough validation of one’s ability to breed quality?" This may sound a bit old fashioned, but just between thee and me, my win, my validation, comes from planning a litter that results in "that" pup. I take the pup to a show, call around those whose opinions of the breed I respect and ask what they think. If they were to say, "You’ve done it!" Well, that’s the win for me. What happens when you take the wonder pup into the ring depends on so many variables it would be impossible to list them all here--how the pup feels, what else is in the class, what the judge prefers and for that matter, which side of the bed the judge woke up on that morning.

A Dangerous Trend

Today there is a dangerous trend that I feel represents a serious threat to our pursuit of the ideal. We all know there are variations within any breed which fall to one side or the other of the ideal--the "ideal" being what most of us refer to as "correct type." I fear however that far too many are interpreting this accepted variance to mean that there is no true type; no bullseye to aim for. They seem to believe that insofar as an individual specimen has the general breed characteristics, has no disqualifying faults and is basically sound, the dog in question is just as good as the rest being shown. Success in the ring is then based entirely on an arbitrary interpretation of the standard by the judge.

Some time ago I read an article in a widely circulated dog publication that fully supports this "anything goes" school of thought. The content irresponsibly threw the door wide open to a celebration of mediocrity. The article began by pointing out that the reason for absolute consistency in type among wild animals is the result of natural selection, directly related to survival of the species. Any deviation from the required type, unless an improvement, threatens survival. So far, so good--the writer’s point was well taken. What came next however, I found rather astounding. The author’s premise is that since breeds are artificially created, there is no need for human breeders to be particularly strict in culling, because most wouldn’t be able to survive in nature anyway. That it is all simply arbitrary to begin with. Further, the author appears to believe only enough uniformity is necessary in a breed so that it can be easily distinguished from all other breeds. The resulting variation would then permit sufficient room for flexibility in determining what is acceptable. Finally, the article states that those who believe there is only one true type (and apparently veterans are most guilty in this belief) are prejudiced and incapable of appreciating other views.

Elements of Success

Needless to say, I was dumbfounded by the article. Can you imagine how this is received by those of us who have for a lifetime believed that the element of success lay in developing a line in which familial similarity is so great that no show catalog was necessary to determine the breeding? And consider the heretical thought this represents to someone who has spent a lifetime looking for the ideal specimen against which all subsequent members of a breed are compared? Fortunately I was to read another piece a short time later written by Susan B. Lennard, the St. Bernard Columnist for the American Kennel Club Gazette. The article helped me to understand just what is occurring in regard to consistency of type and the interpretation of the word type itself. Ms. Lennard refers to the standard of her breed as the definitive description of breed type and a breeder’s expression of that ideal as "style." She writes, "The extent of that expression may contribute to or deviate from aspects of the phenotype described in our standard." Ms. Lennard then goes on to say, "Style may be an adjunct to type, but it is not the same thing." I have no argument with those who ascribe to the theory that there are many expressions of that ideal which we all pursue. However, I am entirely unable to accept the premise that all expressions of type are equally valid.

In summary I might equate this discussion to the way I judge people. I have no time for those who say what it is they think I want to hear. I admire and respect the individual who has something to say and says it. I might not agree and in fact the speaker may prove to be entirely wrong but then is it not what the speaker has said that inspires me to seek the knowledge that confirms or denys his premise? 


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