Our thoughts on Judging
Our thoughts on judging
Colour. "Any shade of gold or cream" .
(Although this is written in the first person both of us are looking for the same thing when judging although we do naturally have our own individual emphasis on breed points and some individual variations in judging procedure)
Some personal thoughts on judging Goldens
As a judge what am I looking for when judging Goldens?
It is easy to say type, conformation, movement and of course quality and that is true but for many this needs some further explanation. The way I mean to tackle this is to have you imagine a good size class of Goldens coming into the ring to be judged and to talk through what happens then in my mind and what procedures are used to come to a fair judgement on the relative merits of the dogs in the class.
Enter the gladiators! This is the first opportunity. Look at the dogs as they enter the ring, look at them relaxed rather than posed. Some may catch your eye. They may do this because they present a balanced and therefore pleasing picture - I will go into balance etc later on. I remember a show in Sweden when after seeing the dogs (and in this instance I do mean males) come into the ring I turned to my ring steward and secretary and said “ Do you see the dog second from the end? If he has teeth and testicles that is my winner”. This was greeted with a little bit of disbelief but he was the winner. Even on a first look what did I see that made him stand out? I could see breed type in his wholly typical outline and balance and he held it all together as he moved into the ring.
Two very important things there, which do need expansion. I'll start with breed type. Obviously a good Golden Retriever must look like a Golden Retriever - breed type. This to my mind has two vital components. In all judging you come into the ring armed with your knowledge of the breed and with the breed standard. Both are very important, but here I have to give my view that the breed standard has to be reinforced by a good in-depth experience of the breed as an owner and breeder. It must be difficult to judge if you do not have the built in “eye for a dog” that comes from living with good examples of the breed. I do not personally think that the first time a judge has a Challenge Certificate in their hand should be when they hand it out - they should have demonstrated their judging ability by winning a few before they judge at top level. If you breed and show dogs you exercise judgement every day, what dog to show, which dog to use on which bitch, which pup to run on, when to end the running on period etc etc. If you have shown that you are a good judge as evidenced by your show results then you may well make a good judge of other people's dogs. OK, now back to the main plot, but there will be many asides in this piece! Breed type lies very much in two areas, remember I write only of the show ring here, I do wonder at judges who allege that they can identify working ability from what they see in a show ring “Looks as if he could work all day” is an example of this. A Golden should have the right outline and balance to be a typical Golden. Your eye and experience will tell you this. Also most importantly type lies in the head. If you can think of looking only at the dog's head, then could it only be a Golden? Or could it be a Labrador or a Duck Toller or a Rottweiler? The head shape, size, proportions and very importantly expression must be such that you know you are looking at a Golden. If the dog departs from these it cannot have good breed type. The first part of the Breed Standard is General Appearance it says “Symmetrical, balanced, active, powerful, level mover, sound with kindly expression” The kindly expression is thus given a prime position. The head shape and the position and colour of the eye all have to be considered. If the eye is pale the expression is no longer kindly, if the eye rims are pale, if they are wrongly set in the head, if there is no chiselling around the eye area of the head, if the head is coarse then in all of these cases the dog lacks some breed type.
Now overall balance, your experienced eye will tell you this - or rather it should tell you this! It is noticeable that a lot of newer owners of the breed have got their eye in for balance from seeing over- long dogs being given awards in the show ring by inexperienced judges and then these exhibits being praised in critiques for their balance. When these newer owners come to judge they consolidate this misconception of correct balance. Joan Tudor put it very well when she said that for a Golden to be balanced the length from its withers to the root of its tail should be the same measurement as from the withers to the ground. Also the height from the withers to the elbow should be the same as the height from the elbow to the ground. I include an illustration here, which shows this concept of balance.
As you will see a balanced dog fits into a square with the horizontals being the length from withers to the root of the tail and the verticals being the height from the withers to the ground. This balance can also be seen in profile movement, and going back to general appearance the Golden should be a level mover - this means holding its balance and outline as it moves.
So far the dogs have come into the ring but a lot has happened in the judges mind - or should have!
Generally in the UK when all exhibits are in the ring the handlers will set up their dogs. Some top and tail, others free show. A matter of choice for the handler, for their job is to present the dog in its best light. Which method they use will also depend on the temperament of handler and dog. Your job as a judge is to select the best dogs, so the way in which they are shown is immaterial. I stand a good distance from the dogs I am looking at, for this first individual appraisal is all to do with outline and what it can tell you. It may even be helpful as an exercise to look through half-closed eyes so that you see in effect a silhouette of the dog and do not get confused as some do by non-essentials like shades of colour. The outline of the dog will show you its overall balance (that word again, but it cannot be said too often), its proportions of length of neck, of leg, of body depth, of height of hock. It will also give you a good idea of what you can expect to find on hands on examination in the layback of shoulder, angle of upper arm, bend of stifle, angulation of the croup, tail set etc. This all requires experience and concentration, but takes a lot longer to write about it than it takes to do.
Now the dogs should be moved round the ring - if the surface is suitable! Do not move too many dogs at a time round the ring .Let us assume that the ring is big enough and the surface is not slippery and that the class is not a puppy class (for pups may just romp around and tell you very little!) What I see here is once again the balance of the dog, but it also tells me whether the static picture was the result of clever handling or of the dog's construction. Does the topline hold level, is the throat clean, does the dog's coat roll about because of layers of fat, does the tail come straight off the back as it should, does the dog fall away at the croup, does the dog move smoothly and fluently in other words does it present the picture I expect and hope for? So by this time a lot of facts have been gathered and the judge probably has a good idea by now of the dogs from which his or her final selection will be made.
Now we move on to the "hands on" individual assessment and here again another illustration could be of some help. We already have a good idea of angulation, but sometimes skilful trimming and presentation can deceive the eye. To give an example of the eye deceiving, I can remember going over a dog that won very well and looked to have a good angulation to the upper arm. In fact a prominent breastbone created the outline and the upper arm was less than well angulated.
The handler is now setting up the dog in front of the judge. What I normally do at this stage is to look at the dog from the front, checking straightness of front, tightness of elbows to the body and that there is no slackness of the pasterns. All is well so I move to the rear of the dog and look at it from behind, check that the hocks are firm and parallel, that there is a good width across the quarters. Perhaps the handler is being very careful in positioning the hocks, if this is to try to disguise a tendency to cow hocks then a little pressure on the rump when going over the dog will show that up as will movement going away.
Move now so that you see the dog in profile and reassess balance etc visually. Then I go to the dog's head and assess it, with a lot of emphasis on the expression. Here the judge covers the bite, normal scissor bite being what is wanted. Ear set is also to my mind linked to the Golden look and expression, ears should frame off the face nicely and should be well set on. Particularly unwelcome to me is the heavy, low set and houndy type of ear. I then run my hand down the neck, which hopefully is of good length, to the highest point of the shoulder blade, I then place my other hand on the point of shoulder and with the rear of the elbow joint as the other point of reference assess the angulation and length of the shoulder blade and the upper arm. Other judges have other methods, this is the one I use, I also place my hand palm up on the plane created by the inward slope of the upper arm, which also tells me something of the forechest and depth of brisket. Hands are then run down the body towards the hind quarters checking firmness of topline and spring of rib, also how far back the ribs are carried. Muscular tone and condition, excess weight, presence of undercoat and coat condition are also covered. Now to check the couplings, they should be short (the width of a man's palm would be good), the loin should be well muscled. Hands then go down the hind legs covering bend of stifle, development of the second thigh and (often apparently overlooked) the width of the thigh. Test the height and firmness of the hocks. Remember that the breed standard makes a big point here calling cowhocks “highly undesirable”. I then hold the end of the tail and check that it is set on correctly, that is level with the back, that the croup is correctly angled. At this point I always look down the back of the dog towards the head. This is a most instructive angle of view, not only of the body properties, but it more rapidly than any other view will show up poorly angulated shoulders. You should see a smooth gradation from the body through the withers into the neck. Poor shoulders give a “blocky” appearance. Step back take a final view of the dog in profile then ask the handler to move the dog.
Personally I am moving away from the triangle method of assessing movement - principally because so few exhibitors execute it well enough to give the judge a good view of profile movement. I think that so much information is gained from seeing a dog moving in profile that some care should be taken to see it properly. So for me at this point in my judging career I want to see a dog move away from me and back towards me - and I really do want to see straight away and back again. Then I want to have a good look at movement in profile, either by asking the dog to go round the ring or to watch it take a wide sweep back to its place at the end of the line.
The object of movement is to take the body from one point to another. This should ideally be by the most mechanically efficient method without surplus and unnecessary movement. The stride should be as described in the breed standard “long and free”, so we look for good extension in front and good drive from the rear - the reward for good angulation front and rear and good muscular condition.
Look for the level topline, the reward for good balance, and for tail carriage being held on the move. If movement does not look effortless, fluent and level then it falls short of the ideal. I like to see good proud head carriage when a dog moves. I do not like proud tail carriage. I do not believe that the fastest mover is the best mover - many exhibitors seem to think that it is a race!
Remember that this is a personal view but also that it is one born of a lot of experience and interest.
I, having seen all the dogs, now have a final look at the class as a whole, again for me I do not stand over the dogs to do this part, but get to a distance where I am seeing the whole dog. I may move them all round again or may leave this until I have pulled out my final selection. I may or may not “short list” depending on the size of the class and the depth of quality. If you do short list always pull out at least six if you have to place the first four - it is disheartening for someone to be the only one unrewarded. Let us say that I am down to my last four. At this point I like to move them round once more before confirming the places. Then be advised to be very positive in indicating the places of the dogs. I got a piece of advice, more years ago than I care to admit to, which was I believe very wise. It goes like this - judges are as fallible as the next person, if you judge you will sometimes make mistakes, but make them quickly!!! Nothing looks so bad as the judge who spends ages coming to a decision, moves and moves the dogs, checks and rechecks their shoulder placement and then half an hour later gets it so wrong.
The final bit is very simple; you place the dog you consider best in the first place then the next best second and so on down the line. I have not so far spoken of quality but when you judge you must keep in mind that this is the sine qua non of a top class animal. So difficult to define but to the experienced eye quality leaps out at you and at the end of the day when judging at Championship shows you do hope to finish up with a Golden of “such outstanding merit as to be worthy of the title of Champion”.
Finally I firmly believe that it is a privilege to judge other people's dogs and that it is something to be done with integrity. The judge should judge only the dog and that such extraneous matters as the ownership, breeding, friends etc should have no part in the decisions. As I say it is a privilege and it is also something to enjoy.