An area of importance, but referred to seldom in improving training programs, is understanding the requirements of the exercise being taught. The performance of an instructor’s handlers, especially those that desire to exhibit, is dependent on the instructor’s knowledge of the various requirements and their pitfalls. It wasn’t long ago when we exhibited our own dogs and were dependent on our instructor’s knowledge. I was indeed fortunate that my instructor was also a competent judge. When handed a score card from his ring, believe me, you earned it and isn’t that as it should be? To be sure, he was unpopular with those that sought scores over 195 and Hi-of-Day. I often wondered why he performed such a thankless job. Older and wiser now, I too perform this thankless job and find the benefits more than compensate the effort.
In reading the AKC Rules and Regulations before each judging assignment, I marvel at my forgotten knowledge or that taken for granted. In judging I verify the need of better handler preparation and understanding of these rules. I experience the heartache that poor handling produces and the genuine pleasure in witnessing a fine working dog and handler. I feel disgust and shame for any display of poor sportsmanship and the pride of others accepting defeat graciously, knowing they will have better days. I find in selecting the better handler and dog and those following in proper order, it is necessary to be consistent, using all the guidelines noted in the AKC Rules booklet. I comprehend the importance of the heel pattern and the value of positions taken by the judge in relation to the exhibitors for all exercises. Yet, with all my judging preparation, there are times when I am still in doubt. On these occasions, I refer to the AKC Booklet for the authority to make my decision. After scores are read and trophies awarded, I have the opportunity to renew old friendships, acquire new ones and support my handlers who are exhibiting. The experience of learning was again present this day and hopefully, I will share my findings with many training classes to come. If you have judged, continue to do so and bear in mind, what gives your scores respect is your knowledge and enforcement of the AKC Rules involved.
Do not confuse judging with training. Our responsibility as instructors is to demand an unsurpassable degree of effort based on each individual’s ability, rather than the ideal handler. Many times I have heard judges express grave concern over the apparent disregard of instructors to prepare their handlers for the requirements of the ring. This is true to some extent, but the instructor’s attention lies with 100% of his class, not the 5% that will exhibit. I would not encourage the average handler out of a novice class to exhibit his dog without advanced work. My interest is not in how fast the handler can exhibit, but how much can he improve in order to show his dog in a manner that brings credit to himself and the breed he exhibits. I make it a point to invite handlers who continually find fault and express dissatisfaction with their judges, to judge my class graduations. Many decline this invitation, stating they are not qualified to judge, and as a result keep future opinions to themselves. The few who accept my challenge find it to be a difficult and revealing experience. Judges with little or no experience are no detriment to my graduating classes, in that all handlers achieving qualifying scores win awards.
Handlers provided the opportunity to judge should become better handlers and certainly more tolerant and understanding of their judges to come.
Most handlers enjoy exhibiting at practice matches under new judges, especially those that train, as it presents an opportunity to seek advice and hopefully solutions. Many dog clubs provide a clinic ring at their matches for the purpose of giving handlers the chance to work on a particular problem with a qualified instructor. However, entering practice matches, be it as judge or handler, is of little value unless you apply the knowledge gained for future matches and shows. In closing may I add, be sure to keep records of dates, places, assignments and the club sponsoring AKC sanctioned matches and licenses trials in which you had an active role. Who knows, some day you may wish to apply to the American Kennel Club for judging approval and this information will be most helpful.
©1975 J. R. Kenner