At the River Valley Cluster Dog Shows at the Owensboro Convention Center this weekend, the breeds take center stage.
But there is always a judge inside the ring who is essential to the outcome.
And it’s not as easy as it sounds to achieve that status.
“Judges should study the standard of each individual breed they are qualified to judge,” said Cindi Ashley Bosley, event chair. “They take a test through the AKC (American Kennel Club) and then they are observed by an AKC field representative while in the provisional state and then eventually get full status to judge the breeds they applied for.”
Even after officially becoming a judge, the knowledge does not stop.
Nancy Hafner, of Tuscumbia, Alabama, has been a judge for 25 years and still needs to keep up to date.
“We laugh and say you can be brain surgeons as fast as you could ever be a judge,” she laughed. “It’s a lot of learning.”
Ray Filburn, a New Hampshire judge, said the process was underway after 32 years of appeals.
“You have to referee, you have to judge matches, you have to attend training seminars where breeders discuss the breed (and the) standard,” he said.
Bosley said judges are allowed to judge 175 dogs a day, which can be tiring because they’re on their feet all the time.
“What we have to consider is that they spent a whole day traveling here, and then they will spend a whole day traveling back home,” she said. “It’s a lot of work to get them there, and it’s a long day for the judges.”
Bosley and Hafner said the judgment may be subjective, but it causes no major conflict.
“Generally you won’t see exhibitors challenging the judge’s opinion,” Bosley said. “I always joke and say ‘We pay for your opinion with our entrance and we get it in the ring.’ …Judges have a view of the standard, and how a judge may relate to one standard versus another may differ.
“Some people may like black dogs and others like white dogs; so ultimately what you like, you (become) known (for) — so that’s what you’ll get as input,” Hafner said. “That’s what somebody likes. This doesn’t mean they are right or wrong, but it does mean it is their preference in the breed standard.
It can also be stressful, as judges continually watch dogs and see how they compare to the judge’s idea of perfection based on the official breed standard.
“It’s not just physical for the judges, but it’s a mental situation for them,” Hafner said.
“It’s a lot of hard work, and it’s a lot of brain work,” she said. “You have to think about what your dogs are going to be like the next day.”
Filburn, who judges about 100 shows a year around the world, said it’s all about trade-offs.
“You should forgive what you can forgive and reward the virtues you see,” he said.
But the judges never forget what brought them to the ring in the first place.
“First of all, I love dogs. Love them,” Filburn said. “And the people — they’re all friendly, they’re all helpful and it’s fun.
“…We all love the same thing – we all love dogs. That’s why we’re here.