Whilst I from first hand experience know that corruption in any arena does take place (particularly in the All-Breeds ring), it is my firm belief that it does not take place as often as one may think, especially in the Specialty ring.
I will endeavor to explain why I believe this to be the case, but also how we can possibly change this false perception that only the select few get chosen.
Firstly I would like to point out that as a Specialist Judge of Bernese myself, I have had my ethics challenged on more than one occasion and yet every appointment taken, it is with utmost vigilance that I endeavour to choose the best specimen in any class. With a clear conscience I walk away from every show knowing I have done my utmost to choose dogs on the day that reflect the standard as best they can in my opinion. Does it really make sense that any judge would do less? Think for a second how much pressure there is on a judge walking in the ring. Half of the exhibitors will think the judge did an ordinary job irrespective of how he places the dogs. Bizaarly all the first place getters think the judge did an OK job and was doing an honest job, yet the other half think the judge has no idea or is just putting up friends or handlers. How is it that such vastly differing opinions of the same judge could come to be? From personal experience, I want to walk away from every judging experience hoping that my expressed opinion is valued and respected for just that.... MY opinion!
On reflection the reason for my writing this blog has come about when looking back on the dogs that I have awarded highly in the past. On several occasions I have awarded dogs highly in non English speaking foreign countries that happen to be bred by close friends or colleague breeders, but without my prior knowledge. Many would argue, how could this be coincidental? Surely it must have been set up prior for these dogs to win? NO, not once has this been the case. But I have thought many times, how could this be the case, because it does seem awfully coincidental.
OK, this is when the penny dropped for me.....
With whom do we associate and spend countless valuable hours talking to within our breed or outside? Who do we respect the opinion of when it comes to puppy evaluations? Which person do we turn to when we want to scrutinise the results of the latest show, share in our wins or sulk with in our losses?
Isn't it those with whom we share similar values and traits with in breeding programs. Aren't we drawn to other breeders who have the same passion for characteristics such as forechest and front angulation.... or perhaps it is a shared appreciation for correct temperaments or pleasing heads. Disapproval for poor tail carriage? No tolerance for anything but clean movement coming and going? This list is long and is varied.
Don't we tend to be friends with and respect the opinion of those that share our own opinions on dogs and share the same "eye" for a dog whether it be our own breed or completely different. As much as we think we can be objective, we will always be drawn to dogs that whilst meeting the standard well in our own eye, will display characteristics we think favourably upon or negatively of based on our own previous breeding experience.
I for one tend to place a fair amount of importance on a well proportioned profile for the Bernese. I want a well temperamented dog that has good reach and drive. Because of my experience breeding Bernese, I will look favourably upon a correctly angulated front, with good forechest and a correct moderate neck length. I will penalise shy dogs and poor tail carriage. When I find these characteristics and many more, is it nor reasonable to conclude that the breeder of such a dog is likely to be a friend of mine already or an aquaintance that holds the same high principles and values in breeding. There is no corruption at hand, we just share the same values in dogs.
It is very hard to keep friends with someone in the dogs world, if you do not share common goals and values in breeding. Nor share the same eye for a dog. Try sitting with someone ringside and talking dogs if you don't...colourful discussions are surely to ensue! Someone who can forgive a poor tail carriage because it is not a health issue (which is a valid argument!) is highly unlikely going to agree with a judge should he penalise this fault. They see things very differently and have equally valid but opposing arguments.
So how is it that the same people seem to be awarded regularly and it is usually those on committee of hosting clubs. Surely this must indicate corruption at even the lowest form. Again think of what I have said above.... when it comes time to suggest Judges for a future show. Never have I heard a committee member say "I suggest Mr Smith, he hates my style of dog and none of my friends have won under him, however I think he is a really honest well respected judge and will do a wonderful job of judging because he knows our breed so well". As if that would ever happen!!! Lol :) Don't we all tend to offer up names of judges that we have won under or we respect their decisions because we would have made similar choices? Very often, committees of clubs are made up of very few 'show people' and therefore the offered suggestions are made by very few people. Likely these people will do well at the show because they have made suggestions of respected judges in their opinions based on their shared appreciation of the canine form.
So where does this leave us and how do we stop the trend of what appears to be an ever increasing small circle of corrupt people winning?
Join a club and have some input! Don't leave it too the elite few hard core show enthusiasts to make all the choices for future judges. If you are passionate and know your breed/s well, have a say and volunteer your time. Often it seems those that bitch and moan about judges choices and the apparent corruption are those that don't offer up their time and get involved in their clubs activities.
Perhaps clubs need to come up with an alternate way of selecting judges. Don't rely so heavily on personal opinions and those offering them. Make the decision more objective and at arms length. Let the selection of the nominees be made by those outside of the club, who have no vested interest in selections other than to choose an appropriate judge just based on merit alone.
Perhaps create an extensive list of judges and just go through the list chronologically rather than by subjective committee voting.
I hope to have shed some light on why 'friends put up friends' at dogs shows. I really think it has very little to do with corruption and more to do with shared values in dogs attributes and faults. It is really up to everyone of us to appreciate that differing judges will sometimes just not like the style of dog we have on offer. Yes, some judges don't have an eye for a good dog by anyone's standards, but these are few and far between. Remember...very often the judges we hold in high esteem will be poorly regarded by the other 50% that did so poorly at the same show and visa versa!
Anyway, food for thought...