Bernese News 25th February 2015
The Bernese judges for Crufts for the next two years have been announced as;
Crufts 2016 - Virginia Stenner (Clashaidy)
Crufts 2017 - Jane Lamb (Bernalpen)
THE CRITIQUE DEBATE - SIMPLE HONESTY OR FAUX PAS?
There have been lots of comments online and many conversations prompted by the original
critique published for the recent Southern BMD Club Open show and the subsequent
controversy. Some have been critical of the content whilst others have been appreciative
of a more descriptive type of critique.
Whilst not wishing to cause any more upset to the exhibitor involved, the situation raises
important issues that warrant further consideration.
After the judge had been alerted by a Club official that an exhibitor was offended by
his critique [see the exhibitors comment by clicking HERE ], the judge subsequently
reaffirmed via email that his critique was "an honest opinion" but granted permission
for his critique on that exhibitor's dog, who had been placed third of three present in that
class, to be removed from the websites it had appeared on.
The topic of judging, the "post-mortem" after each show and the critique that usually follows
after each appointment is usually enthusiastically discussed by both those who were present
AND those who were not and no doubt will continue to be so. Showing and judging is eagerly
followed and analysed by breed enthusiasts.
Many breed club shows are regarded as more than "just" a show; they commonly become a
destination event for anyone who wants to spend time with the breed as well as a social
opportunity to meet friends and make new ones BUT it should never be forgotten that dog shows
were originally set up to judge dogs against their respective Breed Standard and those exhibits
with sufficient merit to be rewarded accordingly.
It is inevitable that at most shows there are likely to be exhibitors disappointed that they didn't
do as well as they had hoped. Regardless of the quality, or lack of, in any exhibit, every exhibitor
deserves the same professionalism, attention and courtesy from the judge and no one should
feel hurt or offended by the conduct of the judge, officials or organisers of the event on the day.
There is a saying that is popular amongst exhibitors which goes something like;
"No matter what happens at a show, I'm taking the best dog home".
Judges need to conduct their appraisals in an unbiased and businesslike manner and do not
have an emotional connection with the exhibits paraded before them but to forget or disregard
that the exhibitors DO have an emotional connection with their charges would be very unwise.
Many would also expect that any published critique published after the event should be
relevant and accurate in its content and not contain any unnecessarily provocative statements
or descriptions which are, or could be interpreted as unjust.
Judges should, of course, be competent, knowledgeable and perform their task with integrity,
acting within Kennel Club Rules and guidelines but there are also many variables which might
affect why one dog may not place well at one show but might win the next week at a re-match
amongst the same exhibits and that is exactly the reason why exhibitors continue to spend
their time and money entering shows and heading off up the motorways with their dogs to see
how they fare on another day under another judge! If the same dogs won at every show then
dog shows as we know them would be unviable and become a thing of the past!
The Kennel Club issues instructions to judges reminding them of the importance of their task
and, amongst other things, allows them to exclude from competition exhibits with serious defects
such as aggression, or condition(s) which adversely affects its health or welfare and also to
WITHHOLD awards if a dog fails, in the opinion of the judge, to meet the minimum quality
standards that determine if;
a) it is breed typical; and
b) it is of sufficient merit to justify the award.
With that instruction/guidance in mind it seems relevant to question how any exhibit which, in
the judge's opinion, was so lacking in merit and deemed, in that judges opinion of being unworthy
of being shown, should be rewarded with a prize?
As I have written before, whilst judges may differ in their interpretation of the Breed Standard
their varying opinions should not be so diverse to allow serious breed faults to go unnoticed
and/or un-penalised nor place too much emphasis and consequently over-penalise minor faults.
Many breed enthusiasts are concerned that too many poor quality dogs get placed at too many
shows, and whilst some judges have withheld placings it is still fairly uncommon. Both
experienced and novice judges have commented that they wouldn't feel comfortable in
withholding any award under any circumstances whilst one or two have admitted, with hindsight,
they regretted not doing so. Judging is an ongoing process whereby everyone begins as a
novice and as judges gain experience the most talented judges continually evolve their skills
to become even better at what they do.
The Kennel Club instructs judges to write a critique and forward it to the dog press for publication
after every Championship show judging appointment. It is a great disappointment for the
exhibitors who took part and the others who weren't there but are nonetheless interested that
a few judges appear to have failed to comply. One judge appears not to have produced a
critique for three consecutive Bernese Championship show appointments during the past 4 years.
That is a shame and some might consider very disrespectful to the exhibitors as well as in
contravention of Kennel Club Rules. Currently there are two critiques for Championship
shows held in 2014 that have not as yet been published in either of the weekly dog papers,
namely Paignton on 6th August and Midland Counties on 25th October. I am sure you all join
me in hoping that those critiques that have so far eluded us will appear in the public domain soon.
Many judges also volunteer critiques for Open show appointments and some Societies,
especially many breed clubs, include a request for a critique in the contract that judges sign
when accepting an appointment to judge.
That leads us to consider what comments may, or may not be appropriate and relevant to
include in a critique.
Lots of published critiques of both Open and Championship shows follow the minimal
"nice head, good topline, moved well" format which does little to enlighten readers but
ultimately exhibitors are mostly grateful merely to see their dog's name in print. Being
creative when reporting on the same points on each placed dog in each class does not
come easily to all; some judges struggle with putting their reasons and opinions down in
a cohesive way whilst others compose with seeming ease the whys and wherefores of their
decision making in great detail.
The most important thing is that judges place the exhibits in the correct order of merit on the
day (if there IS enough merit in the exhibits present) and judges are gaining experience and
skill with each opportunity but a well written and RELEVANT critique, whether concise or lengthy,
is a valuable asset for a breed which should not be underestimated.
The best critiques describe in a clear, honest and concise manner the positive attributes of the
exhibits that gained awards and explain clearly why dog A scored over dog B etc. All of us are
human; we don't always express ourselves as well as we should and we all make mistakes and
errors of judgement, perhaps failing to employ diplomacy or sensitivity as well as we might and
will likely continue to do so from time to time. We CAN all learn from what has gone before and
reading some of the cringingly inappropriate and, in some cases, astonishing comments in past
critiques which have prompted reactions ranging from amusement, incredulity and even outrage
is something that any self-respecting and breed-respecting judge would be wise to heed.
Some of the "bug-bears" of critique critics are;
A judge referring to dogs they have owned in their critique; usually this is not at all relevant to
the task in hand and often viewed as an inappropriate indulgence.
Including predictions of how one or more exhibits, possibly those lacking in some way at present,
SHOULD or MAY develop or mature are not relevant to the choices made on the day and some
might consider such comments as being on somewhat dodgy ground that didn't need to be trodden
Including comments regarding presentation, or ring training, or handling may be relevant if those
aspects affected the placings.
Referring to the critique and the controversy surrounding it which prompted this piece one would
have to ask is it EVER relevant, or WISE for a judge to include a comment that begins
"If the dog were mine ..."?
Perhaps we should all write a memo to remind ourselves that published critiques become
historical documents that will likely be revisited and analysed in years to come. That said, the
judge's critique for Manchester Championship show 2015 began with the comment;
"I have one or two concerns about the breed, someone said I should not say but I feel that not
airing my concerns would be pointless of judging the breed in the first place."
I am sure most breed enthusiasts would prefer judges decisions to be as transparent as possible
and have the courage of their convictions and not want judges to be dissuaded from including in
the critiques they produce any relevant observations they felt they needed to highlight if
intentioned for the good of the breed. I suppose none of us can guarantee to please everyone
ALL of the time but competent, honest judging and relevant comment in critiques are essential
if we wish Bernese to retain and improve upon all the positive attributes desirable in our breed.
Every breed needs competent judges and an ongoing supply of new judges-in-training coming
up through the ranks. Breed clubs accept applications from judges to be included on their club
Judges Lists and after careful consideration and acceptance by the committees of those clubs,
those judges named on the lists usually progress by gaining experience and meeting criteria for
each level of Judging List culminating in their qualifying to judge at Championship show level.
It was therefore interesting to read a comment amongst many comments made on a social
networking site about this recent situation, by an individual who is also a committee member of
a Bernese breed club which stated;
"Look on the bright side .... No CCs for Mr ....... in future!"
A comment like that may be appreciated by those who have been critical of a critique, but it may
have a more far reaching effect insofar as it might, for fear of penalty, also inhibit some judges,
novice or otherwise, from voicing their honest and well intentioned opinions in future critiques
and adopt the minimalist approach. Of course rudeness and inappropriate content should
always be avoided but we should be encouraging judges to compose critiques which are more comprehensive, not less so.
As I stated at the beginning of this article - there are important points to consider and things
which can be learned from this issue.
The decisions made by judges in the show ring has a huge influence on which dogs are more
likely to be chosen for breeding. A judge is not in control of which exhibits are entered and
exhibited under them and a judge can only judge the dogs that are presented to them in their
ring. We need to train judges to recognise all that is essential in a Bernese Mountain Dog, and
judges need to familiarise themselves with all the Kennel Club Rules and Regulations relevant
to judging. Judges also need to appreciate that it is an honour to be offered a judging appointment
but their task is a serious one and their commitment to the breed, the exhibitors and the
societies who engage them is to perform their task with integrity, professionalism and the
highest degree of courtesy.
Competence, honesty and, some might add, bravery to make the RIGHT decision when faced
with a DIFFICULT decision in the show ring is what all judges should strive for and what all
exhibitors and societies who engage judges should insist upon.