Dog judges training – an update

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying – Friedrich Nietzsche

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn – Benjamin Franklin

Education and training are changing and they are changing very quickly. There have been constant attempts to improve the foundation and core knowledge which are required to develop skills and find more effective ways of developing and applying skills once that core knowledge is embedded. The increasing complexity of society and competition between centres of learning both nationally and internationally continued to put enormous pressure on institutions whatever their place in the hierarchy or their size, to ‘prove’ that they are delivering quality in a cost effective way: all those involved in teaching and learning have to keep on their toes and our world of dogs is no exception.

Speakers’ Corner provides too little space for a detailed examination of education from the Greeks to the present day but if I had the room I would be able to demonstrate that despite the razzmatazz of educational theory, psychology and the Internet, the actual processes of learning are fundamentally little different from those that had been established for well over 2000 years but here is a summary. The key time-scales are that until about age seven our brain is like a sponge, sucking up every experience with which we come into contact: the speed with which we do this and quantity of information we store is amazing. Then we become more selective until about age sixteen during which time our minds focus on the accumulation and exercise of basic skills and knowledge about ourselves, our environment and the world in which we are growing up. This is when it also becomes clear that each and every person has embedded within them individual talents enabling them to excel in specific areas which will make a contribution to their families, their communities and society as well as, we hope, providing satisfaction in their personal lives (there may be some who will prejudicially come to the conclusion that there are people who cannot achieve this: my experience in teaching a wide range of pupils in large comprehensive schools suggests this is not the case). Towards the end of our late teens (although some exceptional individuals demonstrate incredible talent very early in their lives) we begin to make those choices were largely dictate the direction in which we want our lives to go.

Learning becomes harder as we get older

But the importance of those early core skills are not abandoned and should not be underestimated, for in the 21st century, flexibility is immensely important and you are unlikely to be flexible if you do not have a sound foundation. For instance, most people who get involved in the world of dogs and become skilled exhibitors, breeders and judges come to our world quite late and, if they are to be successful, must have minds which are supple enough to add a range of skills and knowledge previously, to what was a virtually closed book. Unfortunately, once we are fully adult, flexibility decreases, learning becomes harder and the retention of information more difficult (the vast majority of major advances in understanding our world have been made by those under the age of 30). It is here that effective management and teaching can make a huge difference although, as I can attest, luck remains an important lady to stick with.

Of course, we do not lose the ability to learn: it’s just harder. And, many still retain the ability to remember and regurgitate but most of us struggle and need to absorb new information relatively slowly if it is to be retained and, more importantly, applied effectively.

This is the point I want to focus on in this article. Most judges of my age began in the 60s and 70s when we spent many days each year (and considerable sums in fuel) traveling up and down the country to shows where we could gain experience. We were helped by the fact that there were then many more exhibitors who were doing exactly the same and so our entries were sometimes substantial. It meant that we absorbed information over a long period of time: I began judging Bearded Collies in 1980 and have judged well over 400 since then (I think I have set a record for the longest stay on an A3 list of any judge in the UK although to save any misunderstanding I should tell you that I now have an invitation) but this means that my progress was slow. Having judged the dogs and written reports, that information sank slowly into my consciousness so that in future months or years I had a foundation on which to build. Each appointment (added to reading, watching dogs in the ring, seminars and discussions) modified my experience until, I hope, I have a thorough picture of the breed in my mind. Such a process is immensely time-consuming and, of course, with open shows drawing fewer entries, the practical hands-on experience has been greatly reduced for those who began their career in the mid-1990s and since.

New circumstances require new techniques

Terry Thorn and Ronnie Irving recognised this problem and persuaded the Kennel Club to set up the Judges Working Party at the end of the 1990s. I was invited to join and along with Ann Arch and, later, others such as Hector Heathcote and Eleanor Bothwell, the current Judges Development Programme (JDP) was devised. Despite what some of you may have heard, it was never designed to be a quick fix or to enable some judges progress more quickly. Anybody taking part already had to have considerable experience in several breeds which, we felt, would enable them to absorb new information about specific breeds more effectively. In some senses this has proved to be the case but it is now being recognised that the one off seminar and test does not fully answer what is required. Despite the various minor modifications which have been introduced into the running of the scheme, the JDP still does not appear to be providing that gradual appreciation of breed type which, in my view, is necessary for a thorough understanding of a breed.

At the same time, it has also been accepted that some presentations have not been at the highest standard and that the marking process of the critiques has focused too tightly on individual breed characteristics and not enough on an holistic understanding of the breed as a whole. Where do we go from here? May I make some suggestions.

  • that all judges prior to being passed for tickets for the first time should have attended a seminar on Comparative Analysis which will enable them to properly understand and interpret breed standards. I have long been concerned that the academic level of the various ‘bars’ for judges prior to them giving tickets have been set too low and this would address that problem. I will be very happy to provide the Kennel Club Training Board with the syllabus and give the tools explaining the process to all current Accredited Trainers.
  • that the JDP process should last at least one year
  • that it begins with a well-designed seminar and the opportunity to go over a number of dogs of quality and discuss them with breeders – as it does now
  • that good quality, modern illustrated standards using talks, pictures and videos should be available for each breed and be accessible on the Internet so that they may be studied over a period time
  • that all judges be expected to arrange that they be a student judge for the breed at least once and preferably twice during the year
  • that the breed should appoint a Mentor with whom the judge is expected to spend some time with (my recent Mentoring session with Stewart Band prior to my judging Affenpinschers was exceptionally helpful: it lasted almost an hour and a half and was time very well spent I think – but you need to ask Affenpischer exhibitors!)
  • that they should attend at least one breed club show

These ideas do not mean abandoning the JDP – they are just ways in which the process might become more effective and acceptable. Is this too much to expect? Are they too time consuming? Are they too complicated? If we want to have good judges I think not. Other countries manage it.

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4 Comments on “Dog judges training – an update”

  1. Ruth Francis Says:

    I agree with training but for some there arent enough seminars and the jdp appears too many exhibitors is for the chosen few and people who would love to progress are finding that too many hoops need to be jumped.

    • davidcavill Says:

      Agreed – but the perception of ‘the chosen few’ is misplaced. They are not ‘chosen’. They have to have earned an invitation by showing commitment. TO get passed for three breeds is not easy. One the other hand – those who are ‘good at exams’ do have an advantage over those of us who judge more instinctively while the assessments depend entirely on the opinions of those assessing the dogs being presented to candidates. They are sometime wrong.

      • Ruth M Francis Says:

        Grass roots exhibitors are often seen to be complaining about the JDP as evidenced by comments on certain FB groups and I agree that for some people with a retentive mind these seminars and exams are easy but the days of the stockmans eye are often overlooked by the people ie The KC who approve judges.I attended a seminar where all the candidates placed the dogs in order yet the assessors said they were all wrong! The dogs being judged were from the same kennel owned by one of the assessors!

  2. davidcavill Says:

    Writing about that as we speak!


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