Dog shows: choos­ing win­ners is a chal­lenge

Bray People - - LIFESTYLE - PETE WEDDERBURN An­i­mal Doctor

THE Agri­cul­tural Show is a tra­di­tional part of the Ir­ish ru­ral cal­en­dar. When I was asked to judge the Dogs Sec­tion at the Gorey Agri­cul­tural Show, I was de­lighted at the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence a day of the best of coun­try life. I live in Bray, a sub­ur­ban town which is too close to Dublin to have a strong ru­ral iden­tity. I looked for­ward to the ex­pe­ri­ence of a day amongst horses, cattle and sheep, with sand­wiches, cups of tea and home pro­duce as re­fresh­ments.

Com­ing from Scot­land, I’ve been go­ing to Agri­cul­tural Shows since I was a child. The big­gest was the Royal High­land Show, which is held near Ed­in­burgh ev­ery sum­mer. My fam­ily made it an an­nual ex­cur­sion. At the age of eight, I re­mem­ber en­ter­ing our fam­ily cat in the Pets Sec­tion, and I was thrilled when he won a rosette as a run­ner up. On an­other oc­ca­sion, one of our back­yard ducks won first prize, a vic­tory that was so ex­cit­ing that my fa­ther framed the cer­tifi­cate and hung it on the wall.

As I set off to the Dog Show, these mem­o­ries re­minded me of the sig­nif­i­cance of my judg­ing choices. To me, it’s just a pass­ing de­ci­sion, made, of course, after care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion. To the owner of the pet, it’s a ma­jor judge­ment that may be re­mem­bered for many years.

I had been asked to judge the Dog Show partly be­cause my vet­eri­nary prac­tice will soon be set­ting up a clinic in Gorey, but the use­ful­ness of the role as a re­la­tion­ship builder is de­bat­able. As a judge, you make one per­son very happy when you give them first place, while you make twenty peo­ple very un­happy be­cause you don’t recog­nise the adorable qual­i­ties of their pet. That sort of ra­tio isn’t a great out­come for your pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings.

Dog judg­ing is an in­ter­est­ing skill. At the high­est level, in the pedi­gree dog show ring, judges have a spe­cific task: to choose the an­i­mal that most closely rep­re­sents the Breed Stan­dard, which is the writ­ten de­scrip­tion of a par­tic­u­lar breed. So if a Labrador’s head is too small, or a Pug’s legs are too long, they are off the list. It’s very dif­fer­ent when judg­ing at an agri­cul­tural show: there are no spe­cific guide­lines for judges.

Choos­ing a win­ning dog at such shows is very much based on per­sonal pref­er­ence, and for me, that means choos­ing the health­i­est, hap­pi­est, best-be­haved dog.

I have some per­sonal judg­ing guide­lines. Any dog that growls at me or tries to bite me is au­to­mat­i­cally out. Dogs with mat­ted fur are out. An­i­mals that are so terrified that they don’t want to be there are out. Pup­pies that are too young to be fully vac­ci­nated (and so they are risk­ing pick­ing up a se­ri­ous vi­ral in­fec­tion) are out. Dogs that have se­ri­ous med­i­cal is­sues (such as sore skin, in­fected ears, or weepy eyes) are out. An­i­mals that are over­weight or obese are out. I sus­pect this type of judg­ing comes from my vet­eri­nary back­ground: I know what a healthy an­i­mal is, and that’s the type of dog that I want to win.

So how do I choose a win­ner? Dogs that are calm, friendly and con­tented, with an air of quiet con­fi­dence, are in. An­i­mals with glossy, shiny coats that have been well groomed are in. Bright, clear eyes are in. An­i­mals that have a healthy con­for­ma­tion are in: that means hav­ing well pro­por­tioned bod­ies, with good mus­cu­la­ture, easy breath­ing and a bal­anced, ath­letic gait as they move.

There’s a sim­ple judg­ing rou­tine. There were up to twenty dogs in each class. First, they walked around me in the ring, in a wide cir­cle, giv­ing me an overview of the group. Then I lifted each dog in turn onto the ta­ble, ex­am­in­ing them closely while talk­ing to the owner.

I made notes for each one, work­ing out a men­tal score out of ten. Then after ex­am­in­ing them all, I look through my list of the high­est scores, com­ing to a con­clu­sion for first, sec­ond and third in each class.

The dog judg­ing started at 2pm, with the Best Puppy Dog. I had twelve classes to judge, from Terriers to Sheep­dogs to “Dog Han­dled by Child”. You can imag­ine: an av­er­age of ten dogs, times twelve classes, makes 120 dogs (although many of them were in mul­ti­ple classes). If I just gave each dog two min­utes of my time, that’s four hours. It’s dif­fi­cult to give each an­i­mal suf­fi­cient at­ten­tion to make them feel val­ued, but not spend­ing too much time with them to al­low on­look­ers to get bored with watch­ing.

It wasn’t easy mak­ing the judge­ments. I knew when I’d got it right when there was a rip­ple of en­thu­si­as­tic ap­plause. When my choice was greeted by a dull si­lence, I was left feel­ing that my opin­ion was an un­com­fort­able mi­nor­ity.

The eas­i­est class to judge, by a long way, was “The Dog The Judge Would Like to Take Home”. This is un­con­testable: no­body could pos­si­bly tell me that I should have cho­sen a dif­fer­ent one, since it’s such a per­sonal choice (a lovely Lurcher won my heart that day).

I was im­pressed by the qual­ity of the dogs: there are so many adored, well-kept, healthy an­i­mals. I would have liked to give ev­ery dog a prize, but that’s not the way it works.

To ev­ery­one who did win: con­grat­u­la­tions. You have mag­nif­i­cent pets and I en­joyed meet­ing them. To those who didn’t win: you also have mag­nif­i­cent pets, but sadly, it just wasn’t your turn this year. Come back in 2017!

Choos­ing the “best” dog isn’t easy

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