Gilberts' K-9 Seminars News & Review
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By Patricia H. Gilbert

I received an e-mail from a lady who had a question for me about judging Junior Showmanship and how to deal with a potentially volatile situation. This lady has worked with several children and has given some helpful advice that encourages them to continue.

Two of her protégées were at a show recently. They respectfully asked the judge how they could improve their performances. They were told by the Juniors judge that they needed to get flashier dogs!!! As if they would consider getting rid of the family pets? These juniors are showing a breed that traditionally is not flashy and that judge should know it. He is regularly approved for that breed. The juniors thanked the judge and then talked to their mentor later in the day. She was not there at the show or she would have talked with the judge.

I know how many times I have had to quietly talk with a judge about not making any negative comments on a juniors dog. It can really hurt a junior to have mean things said about a dog they work so hard with and live with day in and day out.

It is not about the quality of the dog. It is about the juniors rapport with the dog and the breed specific presentation of that dog. Not all breeds are flashy and not all breeds should be baited.

How would you deal with this as an instructor/guardian?  Should it be dealt with after the fact if it couldn't be dealt with sooner? How would you take it as a judge hearing that you really goofed?

Pat’s response: I would have quietly, and I have, talked to the judge in a polite manner. I would introduce myself and explain my interest and then say may we talk and have you considered etc. I would explain that sometimes being caught up in the moment, things get said or done that should not happen. I would explain we really need to be careful and how I would personally deal with a situation. Going to the AKC Rep to me is that last and final resort.

Showmanship in one breed does not apply across the board for all breeds. Showmanship is not and should never be generic. For instance, not all breeds free stack. We should be judging the rapport of the Junior with their dog and their breed specific handling. How does that Junior interact and handle their dog even when the dog is not behaving? You get high marks in my ring if you don't lose your temper and work with what you have.

We must follow AKC rules governing the judging of Juniors. It is never appropriate to comment on the quality of a dog, the attire, or the appearance of a Junior. You never know the story behind how things happen and why a Junior is exhibiting.

One of my Junior students survived a fatal car accident, but lost both her parents in the crash, also hit puberty in a rough way around the same time. Her little dog, a recent birthday gift from her parents for all her hard work, also survived the accident. Her dog gave her a reason to live and do things each day. She knew the dog needed her and her parents were watching from heaven to make sure she did a good job.

Showing and doing things with her dog were the only things she thought she did well. She was magical on a lead and most happy competing with her dog. My friend was not coping well otherwise.

When she got up enough courage to ask how to improve, a judge told her to get skin care, lose weight and get a better dog! I was there with my student and restrained myself from using colorful metaphors. I know that judge hated me until the day she died because I had the nerve to challenge her authority. She had a heart of stone and never did get it. She got very few Junior entries after that incident. Juniors are not dumb.

The girl and I got past that time in her life but I have to say it took a lot longer with no thanks to some stupid, thoughtless and careless remarks made by the insensitive and incredibly rude judge.

Finally - This is a big issue with me. If you don't like judging Juniors, please do the future of the fancy a favor and don't judge them. If you can also keep the negative thoughts on Juniors out of the lunch room, I would be so grateful. If you are a show chair or have input into judge selection, please try to get a judge who actually cares about Juniors. Kids are more important than the extra money in your paycheck from the club.

It is so gratifying to know that I was not alone in the thinking that the scenario I presented was very bad for the future of our sport.

I will be honest and say that the reason I presented the questions to a list was with the hopes that the offending judge would get to read this. At the very least it will give some pause for thinking to Junior judges out there. What we say can effect and stay with a junior for a very long time if not forever. Remember they are our future.

I received many good e-mails with excellent thinking. I would like to share some of the thoughts I received without identifying the authors as these were private e-mails.

This is my most favorite motivational story that I will repeat to each generation of students that might be getting discouraged. I love this story and feel this is what it is really all about.

Favorite response: "As a former juniors mother and now a judge of juniors, I would like to tell you this story.  I bred ...and gave my daughter one for juniors.  She would place, not win.  Someone told me that I should get her a flashier dog that would catch the judges eye. I refused, stating that judges should be judging the handling abilities of the junior in a manner in which that breed should be shown.  My daughter was really frustrated many times as she was a very good handler but would not win first in her class.  Finally, a judge found her for her handling abilities, on a breed that was not easy to handle, and gave her the first win. After that break, she won many times and was a top contender, qualifying twice for Westminster! This was many years ago as my daughter is now a grown woman. Tell your student this story, tell them to practice, practice and practice, watch professional handlers as often as possible, and consider the source on the words of the judge."

I also received: "Well you know that MY head was spinning on that judge's response!! I would have loved to be the Mom on the end of that conversation … and my reply would have been:  Oh, I’m sorry, I thought that my daughter was in Junior Showmanship, and you were SUPPOSED to be judging the handler!!"

And: "About 10 years ago, one of the juniors in my regional club was showing in open junior.  Because of the incident, it isn't something that I will forget. This junior, was the sweetest kid on earth, and a good handler. One that I have even had help me with my dogs, and I don't just allow anyone to touch my dogs.

“After the class was over, the junior asked the judge what she could improve upon. The judges reply (in front of the junior's mother) was *Oh honey you didn't do anything wrong.  Your dog just didn't catch my eye.* Needless to say, they called me after the show to tell me. This incident was a shocker to me that any judge would have the audacity to even think such a thing out loud, let alone tell a junior!"

And: "That's horrible.  I'd certainly voice my opinion, even if it were after!  Me, I love the Juniors that have their own dog, flashy or not."

More: "If I committed such a blunder I would want someone to bring it to my attention.  We are each schooled that it is the youngster's performance and rapport with their dog that is being judged and not the dog itself. This judge fell into the trap of flash over substance and should be reminded about the purpose of his judging. He is only pandering to everything that is negative about the sport of dogs and planting seeds within these youngsters that promote the 'my dog is better than your dog' as opposed to
'my hard work, diligence and performance prevailed."

Another good one thanks to Ed Gilbert: "You could add my Cardinal Sin of Judging Juniors - Telling a Junior to get another dog or another breed. You never know the background and the junior/dog connection - and even if you did, you are supposed to be judging the breed specific handling capability of the Junior."

And Another: “I think a lot of Junior Judges are missing a very important aspect of their job. You should smile, act relaxed, and look like you are enjoying yourself and make it apparent to the Junior that you are willing to help.  This is done by your voice, body movements, and never be impatient.   If they do not have training classes in their area, it may well be some ones first time. They or their parents have paid for their time in the ring and they deserve the best you can give them. And don't be in a hurry.”

Last but not least: “Pat, I wholeheartedly agree with you on this!

“While I find today's crop of kids to be generally annoying, for the most part, I find judging Juniors to be a delight!  In our current environment of many kids wanting instant gratification, not wanting to compete in events where one team or individual actually WINS (lest a kid lose some self-esteem by being on the losing side), not showing each other and adults basic politeness and manners, judging the junior ring is a special treat for me.  So many of them do a much better job than many of the adults!  It seems that many of the kids we encounter in public can barely acknowledge your presence - and many just grunt in response to questions or statements or just completely  ignore others.

“In how many other venues do we encounter kids who smile (if they are not too nervous or just unwillingly forced by their parents to compete in juniors), willingly try their best to follow your instructions with a "yes maam" or "yes sir," actually care about improving the quality of their exhibiting, and generally accept their wins and losses with grace.  And I've found that most will listen to my suggestions about how to improve.  No, they are not perfect!  And sometimes they do show bad sportsmanship.  But generally, they try very hard and love their dogs.

“Our sport is under attack from many angles.  If we, as junior judges, don't do our best to encourage them, the sport will be much weaker in the future.”