LR: Welcome to Pure Dog Talk, THE podcast on pure bred dogs. I’m your host, Laura Reeves. Today, we’re going to talk some more about ring craft, and we’re going to find out how to see what it is a judge wants to find in the dogs that are being shown in his ring. So, learning to really watch a judge, how to understand what a judge is looking for, and in what way you can present your dog to best meet that judge’s mental picture of the breed. This is invaluable and it’s one of the skills that enable professional handlers to be successful on a regular basis. It gives you a tremendous edge in competition, and it provides really, your best chance to improve your win-loss ratio, if you know what it is the judge wants, and you have the ability to provide that to him in the dog that you’re presenting. Now, part of this is being able to dispassionately evaluate your own dog, and the other dogs in the ring. But it’s a whole lot easier to learn if you’re own dog isn’t the one up that’s up for critique, you know, when you start doing this. So, I recommend that you practice this skill so you learn this skill in a breed that you’re not involved with, ok. So, make it a point at every dog show to read the standard of one new breed. So, look at your judging schedule, find a breed that has a significant entry, and then print the standard out, read the standard, print the standard and then go watch the breed. I think it’s probably easier if you choose a breed in your own group, or that is more sort of physically similar to the breed that you already own, that you could start with that, and then you could move on to different groups and different breeds as you get more comfortable, and begin to develop the ability to really see what a judge wants in an exhibit. For example, I wouldn’t say that you should trying to evaluate the judging of Bull Dogs if you come from Golden Retrievers. So, that kind of thing is a little easier to learn on a dog that’s similar in style to what you’re familiar with. So, watch a judge examine a breed, and have your standard in your hand. And I’m gonna use, say for example, Spinone Italiano, ok? This is a breed with a number of very specific traits that establish breed type. And if the judge doesn’t take the time to really feel the dog’s divergent head plates, to find the break at the 11th vertebrae, and to follow that top line down to the 30-degree crew, of then I know that this judge is going to liable to reward what I would think of as a more generic dog. And this can change somewhat how I present the dog, in the pieces of the dog that I have to show that I emphasize, kind of depending on what the virtues of the dog are. So, just for example, I see a judge examine Spinone in a generic way. I might be less concerned about making sure the dog doesn’t use their ears, for example, on the free stack. Because the standard clearly says that the ears have minimal erectile power, and so we don’t want to have a dog with the ears on top of the head. But, if the judge is viewing this in a more generic way, they might not appreciate that small aspect. I might even brush-up the hair that’s above that break at the 11th vertebrae on the top line, because if the judge is looking at this as a generic sporting dog, they may not appreciate that there is supposed to be a break in the dog’s back right there. And you know what? Everything’s a gamble. But the better observer that you become, the more your odds improve, and that’s just fact. As you watch judges in multiple breeds, you’ll observe that where a judge puts his hands on the dog during the exam, tells you pretty clearly what it is that’s important in his decision making, ok? If he, very carefully for example, feels every dog between the front legs, he’s probably looking for post-sternum, and how much post-sternum the dog has. He’s looking at the brisk and maybe the depth of the body, and these are things that are going to be important to the judge. If he comes up and measures the dog against his leg, he’s trying to make sure that the dog meets a height standard in that breed. If he goes down the exam and really spans the loin, and measures the loin with his hand, clearly, he’s making a point that this is something important to him. And if you’re showing a dog that you happen to know is a little bit long in the loin, the judge is telling you that he knows it too, and that’s a good thing to know, right? We also have to understand that we can’t read minds. We can’t always know what a judge is thinking. And what we think they’re looking might not be right, but at the same time, our understanding of various structural components might be different than the judges. And depending on particular cases, we might have either a better, or a worse understanding of those structural components, so that’s important to keep in mind as well. I’ve often thought that the best judges really can judges really can judge blindfolded. They have a very thorough and a very correct exam and it tells them the confirmation, the head planes, basic outline and attitude of the dog. Watching the dog move, should really only confirm what your hands have already told you. So, here’s a case study, this happened just recently at a dog show: I was covering a Staffordshire Bull Terrier for a handler friend of mine. Now this is a breed that I’ve read the breed standard, I finished a dog in this breed, so sort of a tiny bit of knowledge being dangerous, right? I have a clue, but certainly I’m in no way something I would consider and expert in this breed. So, we’re talking now about watching the judge and the ring craft of making your dog meet that judge’s ideal. The dog was being shown to a judge from overseas, entirely, never even heard of this guy, never seen him, got no clue. So, I had a little bit of an opportunity to watch his judging, but very little, mostly the small 1 and 2 classes that were ahead of me. As it happened, the dog that I was showing won the open dog class, and there had been you know, 1/2 a dozen dogs there, so a little bit more to look at and evaluate from. And by observing what else was in the ring in the class, and in the previous couple classes, and also observing how the judge conducted his examine, I decided that this was a dog that was very different in style than the rest of the dogs. It had more bone, more substance, more body, really different head style. And the dogs wanted the dogs presented directly head-on, with head and expression, being his primary, if not actually probably his sole decision making factor. So, that’s what I did. Now, this guy could definitely won an Academy Award for keeping a straight face as he was deciding between his dogs. But, I did notice that he paused and he came back to look at my dog’s head when I was able to get kind of a little animation and expression, by tossing a little bit of bait in front of him. So, I said ok, hey, he likes this and I kept pushing the head and showing that expression. Ok, so I had my hands on the collar, and I’m literally holding the dogs head, saying see, here it is, it’s beautiful. And you’re showcasing those virtues to the judge that he’s perceived, you know, he’s seeing these as virtues, and you’re trying to make sure that his focus doesn’t go off of those virtues in the dog that you’re presenting to him. And this dog went winner’s dog with very little contest, and by watching the judges and the bitches, and seeing some of the specials around ring side, I told this handler friend of mine that had, by that point, come to the ring, that the dog could very easily win the breed, and this judgement was based on several different considerations. One of those in a ring, and I use this example a lot, but basically in a ring full of apples, in other words all the dogs basically looked sort of alike in style. The judge put up a cumquat, ok, he put up a dog who was very different in style. And there were only more apples, there were maybe Fuji’s versus golden delicious, but there were only apples, and there was no other, if you will, cumquat, no other dog that was similar in style than the dog that I was showing. And the second think that the dog had a chance to go breed from the classes, is that just the knowledge that judges from Great Britain and from FCI countries have absolutely no problem, no prejudice about placing a class animal over a champion for best of breed. It’s very common practice in other countries, as all of the dogs, whether they’re champions or class dogs, compete together for challenge certificates, and then on for best of breed. And the third thing was just sort of a gut feeling, and I don’t know that I can say there was anything that made me believe this, other than just watching the fellow judge, was I believed that based on what I observed, that the judge would continue to judge true to form. And he wouldn’t suddenly change his mind mid-way through the bitch classes, which, I’ve seen that happen too. So, anyway, he didn’t, he didn’t change his mind, and the dog did go on to win best of breed, and this was a major, a big deal at a specialty and that sort of thing. And so, the point of the exercise here is that you can get an understanding of your chances of success, and what the judge wants to see, and then give it to them. Judge wants head and expression, for the love of all that’s holy, do not turn it sideways, aim it at the judge, show him the head. Ok, so that’s the first thing we’re gonna talk about. And then, another thing to keep your eye on as you’re watching the judging, has a lot to do again with how you present the dog to the judge. Does the judge approach the dog in an appropriate manner for it’s breed, alright, and for the breeds typical temperament? In other words, sort of that soft, cooing approach, and direct eye contact, and goochie, goochie, goo that’s general suitable for a toy dog, is typically going to cause a very strong working dog to, as we say, get his back up. They’re gonna stand up, they’re going to think that person is weird. And no one, me least of all, no one would recommend that a judge stare down or make really strong direct eye contact with like an Akita or Black Russian Terrier. These are strong dogs, and that level of direct eye contact is a challenge to them, and that’s just not something that is recommended. So, watching how a judge interacts with a dog on the exam, gives your important information about how to show your dog to a judge. If you have a hesitant or an insecure dog, observing the judge’s approach to the exam, gives you a chance to proof the dog, for a judge that’s say, heavy-handed, or too hesitant, or wearing flappy clothes, or whatever it is that you might perceive as being a problem for your dog. So, proofing your dog for various examine styles, particularly a dog that isn’t 100% steady, is gonna make for a much more pleasant and successful experience for everybody, you and the dog, and the judge. Now we talked a little bit about this in our problem-solving podcast, but we’re gonna go a little more in-depth here and kind of dial in on this. If you are watching your judge and you see that this individual may be a little bit rough on a mouth exam, maybe leans kind of physically over the dog, or in some shape, form, or fashion is intimidating to a young, or an inexperienced dog, then you’ve got your work cut out for you. You know what you need to do, this is part of why you come early to the dog show and watch. So, have a dog show buddy replicate that judge’s exam outside the ring, alright? And you can provide encouragement and praise and food rewards and repetition to build the dog’s confidence. And if the dog breaks the stack, you don’t give it a harsh correction, that just reinforces that someone coming towards them causes bad things to happen. If the dog breaks or backs away, whatever the situation, just stop, just stop. Your proofer will back up and you’re going to start over again, even if you have to brake the exam proofing into multiple pieces. So, start with your proofer just walking towards the dog, touching the head back, and moving past it. You can even make it a game with your friends, and I’ve done this. You make a conga line kind of with people, right. And each person comes up, touches the dog on the head and the back, and moves past, and it’s just this continuous flow of people, while you are holding onto the dog, holding its stack, you’re projecting confidence, you may be stroking the dog a little bit. No cooing at it, right, no trying to be its ok poopsie, because all that does is tell the dog that it’s not ok. So, you’re strong and confident, gentle hands on the collar and on the dog’s head, and the dog will eventually with this process, it will relax at that point, and you could on to having each person, say, check the bite and then pat the head, and pat the back, and repeat your conga line again. After each of your successes, you can release the dog from his stand/stay, praise him, give him a treat and start over again. The goal on this entire process, the whole conga line, the proofing, the whole part of this is that it should be BORING. The dog says, this? Again? Please, right? I got this, no problem, the dog is relaxed, the dog thinks it’s tedious and stupid. At that point, you have a dog that’s going to be pretty well proofed for various things that can happen. Now, if you observe a hesitant judge, for example, someone who is obviously lacking confidence with the breed, and I see this most often in dogs that are sort of big, tough working breeds, but, it happens in a lot of breeds. There’s frankly very little that you can do to proof a dog for that, but you need to be aware of it, and you need to put some extra effort into insuring that your dog is confident in you, ok? And that you have everything under control, and he doesn’t need to step in as, if you will, protector. And this means that your job is to concentrate on keeping your hands firmly on the collar, but relaxed in your demeanor, and you’re not tightening your grip on the dog, ok? As soon as you tighten up your hands on the dog’s neck and collar, you’re telling that dog with your body language, that something scary is about to happen. You really, really, really need to concentrate on just keeping your hands relaxed, keeping yourself relaxed, you project the confidence. If you’re worried, or you’re nervous that the dog’s gonna react inappropriately, the way the dog feels that is that you are fearful, that you are scared. And if the dog thinks you’re scared, he’s gonna think he should protect you from whatever it is that’s coming toward him. And I have seen, seriously, perfectly level headed, solid dogs, get very guardy when an insecure handler, and an insecure judge bring this dog, the dog says, main there’s a lot of crazy vibe going on here, and the dog is concerned. And so, a dog will occasionally growl or behave inappropriately in a situation like that. Your job then as the handler is to be confident, to give that dog your confidence and your strength. Ok, so we also have judges that we think of, or at least I think of them, as crooners. They want to coochie coo the cute puppy or the young dog, that you have just, just barely managed to get set up, and you’re holding it together like pleeeease. And then the judge says ohhh aren’t you cute, and the dog goes blahhhh, it loses its mind. And then at a certain point you just have to relax and you let your puppy wiggle, and its ok. Keeping the experience positive is way more important than having your young dog or your inexperienced dog standing there like a statue. So, most judges really are great about their awareness with their attire. But there’s days you’ve got a hat day, and somebody needs a sun hat, it’s pouring down rain and you’re outside, and the wind is blowing and the judge has a raincoat that’s flapping, that can create a concern for a lot of dogs frankly. So, this is the sort of proofing that you really want to have done since the dog was a baby, in order for it to be successful. We dragged towels, and flapping stuff, all over and around the puppies, gently obviously when their babies, from an early age so that they’re not fazed by anything flipping and flying in their face. You know the CGC testing requires a dog to be unconcerned about an open umbrella, that’s a really great place to start if you haven’t done some of the work ahead of time. If the dog that you’re working with doesn’t have this sort of grounding, right, these sort of back ground of having a lot of proofing done with them as a puppy, you can practice walking through the show grounds, and just walk by the flapping tents or the flapping signs. And if the dog jumps, or is fearful, just stop. Don’t react to the behavior, don’t ohhh poor baby are you scared, mommy will hug you. All that does is reinforce that there’s something for the dog to fear. Just stand there, let the dog figure it out on its own. I mean, obviously, you’re not going to let the dog get hurt, but just watch this flapping tent until the dog relaxes, and at least stands quietly. Once he’s still, you can just give him a nice gentle pat, and a good boy, and then move on. Seriously, personally, I have used this process to take a dog who was particularly unsocialized to the point of hitting the ground, you know if a tent flapped he would literally go to the ground. And we worked him through it, and did exactly this process, and eventually I was able to show him successfully with no problem, underneath screaming jets next to an Air Force base. So, it can be done. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes a lot of patience, but the counter-conditioning that we’re talking about here will work wonders on your dog. So, there you have it. Next dog show, take a breed standard with you and watch the breed. Watch a judge for as long as you can. Enjoy that learning process, and then try and apply that to your dog, to your own dog. Remember to use your hands quietly to make a point, the next time you’re in the ring. Your dog has a great head, hey, make sure the dog judge can see your dog’s great head. Don’t wave your hand with bait in front of the dog’s face if you’re trying to showcase it, get behind the dog and show the dog’s head. There you go. Til next time, this has been Pure Dog Talk.
As always, if you have any questions or input, we’d love to hear from you. The show notes and links to resources on today’s topic are available at puredogtalk.com. Drop us a note in the comments or email to Laura at puredogtalk.com. Remember guys, this podcast if for you so if you want to know something, give me a holler, we’ll do podcast for you. If you wouldn’t mind, you could help me out here, take a couple minutes to visit iTunes and give us a review. This will help share the love with others out there in the sport. This has been Pure Dog Talk with your host, Laura Reeves. We hope you can join us next time as we continue the journey to success with your purebred dog.