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The Profound Responsibility of Judging: Reflections After WKC

By: Nancy Talbott

It has been 29 years since my first judging assignment. In March of 1993, at the Greater St. Louis GRC Specialty, I stood for the first time in the center of the ring and faced the profound responsibility of choosing the dogs that day who (in my opinion) most closely met the essence of the Golden Retriever standard.

Did I do it well? I really don’t know. I doubt it. I imagine that my nerves were on keen alert that day, and the fact that I have little recollection of it speaks to that pretty clearly. I was 37 years old, and with only 17 years in the fancy I was in way over my head, to be completely honest. But there I was. I had met the criteria at the time, applied and become “provisional”, and was pointing to dogs for championship points and the coveted purple and gold.

In a flash forward to post-Westminster 2022, I have been reflecting on what has changed for me and what remains the same in how I view the role of awarding dogs in the ring at AKC shows (or the comparable regulating body’s shows in other countries).

What has changed: my ease and comfort with both the process of running a ring and going over dogs. Deepened experience and knowledge about many breeds (the best way to really understand your own breed, besides being fluent in its history and standard, is to study others and grasp the nuances that make each unique). And in all but a few especially high profile shows, a sense of calm joy in the judging process.

What has not changed: the belief that it is my responsibility to apply the best of my knowledge about canine structure and motion, and the intricacies of each breed standard, to the animals in each class, on the day, without regard to records held or person holding the lead. Cliche? Yes. Naive? Perhaps. Are the outcomes popular? To a few people each day. And to the rest, a disappointment at best and cause for broken relationships at worst.

This, then, is the joy and heartache of judging. Three people will be happy in each breed each day (and maybe a few more at a show like Westminster or a National Specialty). Everyone else will believe that you have erred in some way. For those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves, the angst can be great. I have been thrown off my game for a time by a handful of these moments that became hurtful. And — we persevere to continue doing what we believe is right. For those who adore their breed, who are fighting to preserve the integrity of their standard and the quality of their breeding programs, there is no other option.

Every judge will make decisions that are flawed. That is impossible to avoid. Dogs previously awarded will be defeated because of an off day or a dog in better coat/condition/soundness. That is also impossible to avoid. Heads will shake, hearts will break, and unkind words may be said.

And yet every judge who believes will step into the ring the next time, having reviewed each standard again, with a commitment to doing the right thing whether popular or not. Our pool of friends grows smaller and deeper while the ocean of acquaintances grows larger. It’s just how it is when you stand in the center to choose to the best of your ability those dogs who are sound of mind and footfall, and most closely exhibit the essence of their standard on the day.

That profound and stubborn sense of responsibility remains as clear today as it was 29 years ago, battered and challenged at times, discussed endlessly, sometimes doubted on a sleepless night, but always firm when opening the judge’s book as each show begins. What a fortunate thing it is to hold that responsibility…

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Posted by on Jun 28 2022. Filed under Current Articles, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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  • August 2022