PDT: Today we’re going to be talking to a person who’s easily considered one of the legends of the judging community and resident from our neighbor to the North, British Columbia. Welcome to Pure Dog Talk Virginia Lyne
VL: Thank you for inviting me
PDT: We’re happy to have you with us today. We want to talk a little bit about some of the changes that you’ve seen, you started judging what year?
VL: 1969. Three more years it will be 50 year of judging
PDT: Alright so you bring such a beautiful scope of watching the changes in the sport of purebred dogs, and we want to talk about some of that and maybe some in the future.
VL: Well when I started in ’69 it was sort of a result of youthful childhood addiction to dog shows where I would arrive first thing in the morning, and I would watch one judge, judge the entire dog show, 160-170 dogs and I’d watch every group and every best right through. So, I think that’s where you learn the fascination with all breeds, and that’s one of the things that I’m not sure we have retained, that people judging are fascinated about all dogs. They love their breed and maybe the cousin of their breed, but their actual involvement of some of the rare and unusual and different groups in breeds they don’t get and it takes them a long time to absorb that. But the judging process then, becoming approved to judge, we actually had to sit and have oral exams with a committee who asked us to discuss what a certain breed looked like, and they would ask questions about particular breeds that we were applying for. We did get our breeds much faster in Canada than in the States. So, from that perspective there has been quite a significant change and we’re on another curve right now, we’ve gone from quite slow in the United States, quite challenging process of education in order to judge to a much more fee and accessible, and I think people are coming perhaps to acquire judging a large number of breeds that they don’t have much hands-on familiarity with. Because I judge always, I can’t do it any other way, from what I believe is an assessment of breeding stock, not necessarily the generic show dog. And I think that that’s being unfortunately a change that has occurred in North America, Canada and US in North America where I think the more flashy, generic look to a breed can sometimes be mistaken as correct, and is to some extent the professional handlers are masters at this. They have created a look on a certain dog that is very eye appealing but not necessarily what the breed is about or what the function of the breed should demand. There’s big changes that have happened.
PDT: Right, absolutely and I love that idea of the committee.
VL: Oh this was a fascinating thing, I mean they were usually all breed judges, three, four sometimes, and you’d go to somebody’s and you would sit and be examined by this panel. After your written exams, you had exams to write and ours were all closed-book, we didn’t do these open-book exams, and we had these people, they were friendly, they weren’t out to nail you but they really wanted to know that you understood that a Sussex Spaniel was long and low, and strong head and its color was unique, and all of the breed essentials. Cuz I don’t think honestly, I don’t think judging rocket science, we don’t need to do a PhD in judging, but we do need to be fascinated by dogs, purebred dogs. What they did, how they evolved, we need to know the tracks of the breed, the things that are behind the breed in their development because we call them purebred but they’re not really. They all come back out of a number of combinations, and I think that we have to get people fascinated by that so that they can go and sit at ring side and watch any breed and be curious about what it does, how it works, and what the coat feels like, and ask questions. We are afraid sometimes to ask questions.
PDT: Ya I think that asking questions, people sometimes think it makes them look stupid.
VL: It does make them stupid when they don’t. I think that we need more accessibility to the exhibitors. I think judges need to be positively encouraging to the exhibitors by first of being pleasant and helpful in the ring and not feeling like you’re there because you don’t want to be there, and grumpy about it, but because you have that desire that somebody has a really good experience with their dog, and I think that also judges should be commenting on the reasons behind their placements. I put this dog in 1st place over dog #2 because of better eye shape, darker color, a little firmer top hind. I really liked in dog #2 good feet, good bone, lovely coat texture, because of the breeds fur purpose and function, I’m going to feel that this one thing is more important than another. So, the exhibitors go out, it’s like a mini-critique, and the exhibitors go out feeling I understand. Cuz I think half the time it’s a deep mystery as to how the heck this happened that I won 2nd and she won 1st, and I don’t get it. We could help the to get it, and I believe we could see them breeding better dogs, which is the goal of the whole thing and I’m not seeing that happening. I’m seeing a lot of dogs where I say in my little head I run this: why did you spend $30 to bring this dog to a dog show. Do you look around and see what’s in the ring competing with you? And I think the judges could help that process, I think we might, in my dream of dreams, we might end up with a slightly better quality of dogs being shown.
PDT: I completely understand what you’re saying. I’ve always loved the ideas of critiques. So then question becomes, because I have seen people do an excellent job of it and Bill Shelton is one
VL: Bill’s very excellent
PDT: And then I see other folks and I’ve had this happen to me, where they make a critique that might not be on target
VL: That’s judges’ education, and I think that’s the fear and apprehension that a lot of judges have because their knowledge is not sufficiently in depth to feel comfortable. I mean we all have breeds that we’re much more comfortable judging than others, I mean I can do breeds like Labradors, and Corgi’s and English Spaniels standing on my head. But some of the rarer breeds, you need to learn the subtleties before you open your mouth, and talk to the exhibitors. I think there’s an opportunity for you to ask an exhibitor in the ring: I’m interested in your breed, whether you are concerned about missing pre-molar teeth, is this a concern in your breed. That standard doesn’t identify, so you get a little bit of a feedback of the exhibitors, well there should be more interaction back and forth, but I know the AKC is concerned about possible confrontation, and I think when judges get defenses and that reflects perhaps lack of knowledge. Judges get concerned about somebody that might be angry and they don’t know how to handle it, I guess being an ex-school teacher I’m accustom working with the teenager so I can cope with that. Don’t mess with me, don’t mess with me kids! But I think I’m not sure that it’s a process that is going to happen. We do have a lot of seminars going on, judges are attending, and they’re learning and I hope they’re learning correctly. We also need to train our presenters at these seminars because some of them are not comfortable with what they’re presenting and they need to do some work on dog anatomy because they do not understand shoulder laid backs, and stifles. And there was one situation in a seminar where somebody asked well how much bend of stifle do you want? And she sort of looked puzzled and said I’m sorry, I don’t know what a stifle is. Now you have situations like this.
PDT: So I think maybe we can talk about just education of the general fancy.
VL: I think our exhibitors need to, I guess when my root was suggesting that it could happen in the ring to some extent, but you can’t do judges or exhibitors education in the ring. But, I think our exhibitors do, many of them are fabulous, they have their breed absolutely perfect, they understand. They have an obligation to educate the people they sell their puppies to and to help them to understand why certain things are important in that breed if they’re going to go on to become a breeder. The other part of judges’ education of course is that it’s incredibly expensive. I just had a conversation before we came down to do this discussion, with a new AKC all breed judge who is incredibly organized, he’s got every record that he’s every kept, and he said, I have a PhD, basic undergrad masters PhD, it cost me $210,000, I have completed my AKC all breed, it cost me $900,000 and I attended (I’ve forgotten how many) but he said 9,000 or something seminars that he attended at his expense and he kept every record. His expense was $900,000
PDT: That’s insanity
VL: That’ what I thought. I mean he of course included the expenses involved in getting, but you have to go, I mean if you’re coming to Florida to attend seminars in Orlando and you live in Vancouver or something in British Columbia, or even Vancouver Washington you have to fly from the West Coast. The expenses here are phenomenal but they have fabulous seminars, I mean they are putting on an extremely good set of seminars here. So, judges’ education requires deep pockets for the judges.
PDT: Absolutely. I know there’s some plans afoot to help lower some of those costs and I know AKC is working on this.
VL: Yes, they are
PDT: And I think that’s awesome, I think that’s really fabulous. I think it’s an answer to a very specific need, but how do you feel about judges need to be able to get their hands on actual live animals?
VL: Critically important. You can’t discuss coat texture, you can’t discuss proportion really validly, and the placement of ear and shape of eye. They need to handle and put their hands, and that’s where the exhibitors need to make the contribution, they’ve got to be prepared to come in with their dogs. By and large we have found that. I have coordinated in my home town area for the last 24 years, a judge’s study group and we meet weekly in the Fall and Spring, talk about a breed, look at a breed, discuss rules, this sort of thing. It’s a mish-mash of stuff that’s educational but every year we put on a 2-day seminar. This year we had Halloween weekend, we brought in an AKC Rep from Texas, Sue Vroom who’s a brilliant educator, absolutely brilliant educator, we brought her in to talk about the role of the judge in the sport of dogs. Like an umbrella over the whole seminar, what is it that the judge has an obligation and responsibility to do? To give to the sport, to look after the exhibitor, to encourage good quality, to do good judging, to be knowledgeable about your breeds and she spent a lot of time inspiring people in that conversation. And then we did some breed comparisons and I love comparisons for teaching. I think when there’s similarities in relationships between breeds, you put them together and we did the Lagotto and the Spanish Water Dog. We had eight Lagottos from the Island and vicinity, we had seven Spanish Water Dogs that had been brought from Calgary Alberta, driven by one of the original owners of Spanish Water Dogs in Canada. She brought in the AKC Judges Education Coordinator from Connecticut, for the Lagotto we had the Judges Education Coordinator from Arizona. We presented to 62 Canadian judges, the majority of whom were all breed. We did comparison of the two breeds so people got the difference in the height, proportion, feel of coat, look of head, it was absolutely brilliant, and the appreciation of course for the quality of the education was very high. I think when you can put two breeds together you get it. The other combination we did was interesting, we picked a Pointer which Sue Vroom did the presentation on as having handled many of those, and we put a Dalmatian. Structurally very interesting combination, and of course historically whether you approved or not, the Pointer did contribute to dealing with the uric acid problem. So, we had combination that was interesting to see, and again we had a presenter, Meg Calia came in and the Dalmatian’s very knowledgeable, and I think comparisons are so helpful. Get the difference between a Lhasa Apso and a Shih Tzu, get you hands-on. You need to see and feel.
PDT: It’s not just the difference in a bow
VL: Not just the difference in a bow, exactly. And then you know your Norwich and your Norfolk, and there’s Welsh and your Lakeland
PDT: German Wire Haired Pointer and Wire Haired Pointing Griffon
VL: Exactly, exactly. And I think that kind of education is the better way to go.
PDT: So as a recommendation, that’s a wonderful idea for judge’s study groups in the US
VL: There is a resistance to it I believe in the United States for some reason, ya I’m not quite sure, but it doesn’t seem to happen in my opinion as often as it could. I mean I would put English Cockers, English Springers, and the Cocker Spaniel and American Cocker, put them together as a trio and talk Spaniels. Or, if you wanted to put all the Flushing Spaniels together, you know put your Clumbers, put your Sussex, put your Welsh, put the English Springer, there’s a combination.
PDT: Continental Versatile Pointing Dogs, Wire Haired Griff’s, Spinone, like that.
VL: Exactly, and make a group. One of the most interesting groupings I had seen, I attended a seminar in New York that when DGA was putting them on, where Bob and Polly Smith presented all of the Hounds. We had the English Fox Hound, the American Fox Hound, the Harrier, the two Beagles, we had the Treeing Walker, the Bluetick, and I think we had a Redbone Plott as well, I mean absolute, I mean you just lined them up in row
VL: And you knew that was a “wow, wow” learning experience. More so than just looking at them one at a time, for me.
PDT: Right. Right, and I think that judges are able to, I mean that’s almost like you have a Hound group so you can educate, about is this a better Treeing Walker than the 15″ Beagle, and why?
PDT: I think that’s the component, and I want to touch back on one of the things you said earlier that exhibitors leave the ring with a mystery, and a critique helps some of that. And I really believe that’s the source of so much of the angst, you know you really hit in on the truth there, because so many times the owner/handlers are mad at the professional handler, everybody’s mad at the judge because they can’t figure out what’s going on.
VL: Well the owner/handers don’t, and I understand why, do not necessarily see why they’re being defeated by handlers, and become resentful as a result of it. I know I have a reputation for paying not much attention who’s on the lead, and I think that I would encourage that as a healthier way to go. But if you’re not sure of yourself, if you’re not totally comfortable, you don’t want to look stupid and you sort of say this handler usually has good dogs, it would probably safer if I use this dog, and I do know that tape runs through some people’s heads. But for me, judging has always been a passion, I just love it.
PDT: Ok, so one final question and that is, we’ve talked about the wonderful study groups for the judges and I think that’s a great idea. And do you have any other ideas in your perfect world as you say, any other ideas for going forward? Because we do see so much conflict in our sport right now, and from your perspective, from your history.
VL: I wish I could say we need to lighten up a little bit in this sport, it’s just a dog show. Tomorrow is another day, you will have another shot at it, it’s not the end of the world. If you can take something from the experience and learn from it, maybe bath your dog before you bring it to the ring, I’ve had some of those, maybe be a little more knowledgeable, learn a little more about how to trim to make the best of the shape of your dog. If it’s a trimmed breed, get somebody to show you your dog so you, as an exhibitor if you’re going to be in there doing it, have a chance to know what your dog looks like in the ring. Get somebody else to take the dog down and back for you so you can understand where he’s maybe toeing-in in front, or he’s flipping a pass turn and you don’t necessarily see that when you’re on the end of the lead, so get somebody else to show you what that dog looks like. Take him around. I’m very much a side-view of the dog because I believe what you see from the side is a big message about structure and balance and proportion, and I get more out of that than I do, just a dog standing still and being stared at. I think that exhibitors do need to take more responsibility for learning about that. That can learn from the professionals, they know how to put it down, they know how to make that dog show well, and I think that is important that we do that. But I do think we need to lighten up a little bit and not get quite so angry with each other. We’re all inclined to be a little bit too intense sometimes about it. These are our dogs, we love them, they do become extensions of our ego unfortunately, and when you reject my dog you reject me and we need to lose that concept, this is our dog. We do love it. I love this one story and I can finish with it: a very dear friend judge of mine and who’s now retired, said she always tries to find something positive about every dog that she examines. She said we’d go down the line and she said nice head, really good bone on this dog, good feet, and she’ll come to a certain exhibit, and she said: Darlin’ your mother loves you! And moves on. And that is sort of the definition of, and I laugh at there are dogs where you look at and you say “darlin’ your mother loves you” and that’s all that matters! And the other thing is you know the dog you take in to the ring is the same dog you take out of the ring. What the judge has done hasn’t changed the dog in the slightest. If you still love and care for, and believe that your dog is correct, go find another judge in another day and you’ll do fine. It’s not the end of the world.
PDT: I always tell my handling students, it’s not world peace people.
VL: It is not world peace, and it should be joy you know? It should be joy, you should love it but there’s a lot that sometimes makes us intense.
PDT: Thank you so much Ginny
VL: My pleasure, I can always talk
PDT: You bring such a grace and dignity, and I appreciate that so much.
VL: Thanks Laura
PDT: 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 is for you, so if you want to know something, give me a holler, we’ll do a 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.