The three most important people in the show dog world are the breeder, handler and the judge. In this chosen sport of ours, they all play an important part in the future of the breed.
With much dedication and hard work, a breeder can hope to realize his dreams of producing the best representative of the German Shepherd Dog. Although some people are talented enough to show their own dogs, most don’t. For these people, paying for the services of a professional handler who knows the breed standard is the only way to go. Then there is the judge who hopefully has had many years of breeding and showing of the German Shepherd to be the best judge possible. Let’s take a look at just what it is that each of these groups of people does.
The breeder is the person who through much research and investigation decides to breed the best two dogs he can afford hoping to produce the dog closest to the breed standard. He knows which bloodlines are known to produce certain traits in the dog. He’ll know which dogs are known to produce good shoulders, good hindquarters and breed type. He’ll also pay attention to dogs that may have genetic health problems in their pedigrees. He will talk to other breeders who may have bred to the same bloodlines to find out what they got in their litters. He’ll be aware of the dominate genes as well as the recessive genes. He’ll inquire if the dog’s carry the coat gene, or the gene to produce blacks. Does the line carry the blue gene? Are there ear problems in this line? Is this a good bloodline for sound temperament? Is the dog that he breeds to dominate for producing his phenotype (what he looks like) or his genotype (what’s behind him in his pedigree)? And then even after all the breeders research on the prospective breeding he has planned, he might get something totally different than he expected from this combination. That’s the wonder and the mystery of breeding dogs. You plan on one thing and the genetics of the dog dictates something totally different. Breeding is never an exact science. It looks great on paper. The two dogs are superior representatives of the breed but the genes of the two might have something totally different in store. The breeder may decide to line breed the dogs (common ancestors in their pedigree). They may inbreed (father/daughter, mother/son), etc. Or they can do an out cross breeding where there are no common lines in their pedigrees at all. What ever the breeder decides to do, hopefully they have done their homework and will produce the best combination of blood lines that they possibly can. Being a breeder is expensive if the best possible food is fed to their dogs, the best veterinarian care is utilized and the general well being of their dogs is of the utmost importance.
The professional handler has come a long way from years before. Years ago, the professional handler was just that…..a dog handler. Most of the time, he had another full time job and showing dogs was something that he/she did on the week-ends. Now days, MANY of the top handlers not only show dogs, they breed them as well and some even have kennels where they train and teach their clients dogs how to be show dogs! It is the handler’s job to take an assignment to handle a client’s dog and show him to the best of his ability. If he is a top handler, not only does he show the dog to the best of his ability, but he shows the dog to the best of the dog’s capabilities. What this means is that a good handler knows the dog’s good points as well as his bad points. It is up to the smart handler to emphasize the one while diminishing the other. I know I talk quite a bit about the late, great handler, LaMar Kuhns. It’s because he was a showman! This man would make eye contact (like most good handlers do) with the judge. If he had a dog whose strength was his exceptional shoulder, LaMar made sure the judge knew it. He’d set that dog up and actually stroke and outline the dogs’ fore assembly while stacking him. It was like he was saying to the judge: "I know you like good shoulders, so look here what I brought to you." He was challenging them to deny him. If the dog was a beautiful dog standing, he would set the dog up to perfection. Then he would lean on one leg with the other stretched out before him and sit back on the back leg and let the audience “oooo and ahhh over the dogs’ extraordinary top line. This is what you pay a top handler for……to showcase your dog. Some handlers like Leslie or Kent excel at moving a dog. The dog is usually on a very long leash and they are using all of it. In my opinion, it is VERY IMPORTANT for the handler to like your dog…..even better if it loves your dog. The handler is there for one reason only and that is to win! He must feel that the dog he takes into the ring is one that he can win with. If you feel that he is using your dog as a filler (to load up an entry), it’s time to change handlers. Also important to note……..take a look at the handlers winning record. See who he wins under. Is he a specialty handler or does he do more winning in the all breed rings? Also each handler has their own style of showing a dog. Some are known to be great at stacking your dog. Some are known to know how to move your dog to the best of his advantage. Get to know the handler’s style of showing dogs.
Then there is the all important judge. Like in everything else (breeders and handlers included), there are good judges and there are bad judges. There are knowledgeable judges and one’s you might scratch your head wondering how they ever got their judges license to begin with. Again, it is up to you to do your homework when choosing a judge to show your dog to. Remember you are asking this judge when your dog steps into the ring to give your animal a fair evaluation. As I said before, hopefully this judge has many years of breeding, studying and knowing the breed inside and out! Hopefully, you as the breeder/owner are bringing the best of your bloodlines for the judge to evaluate. Remember if you belong to a breed club and especially belonging to the parent club, The German Shepherd Dog Club of America, you are afforded the opportunity to vote for the judges that officiate at the dog shows. Don’t whine and cry that the judge is a crook, if you didn’t vote in your club for the judges that you want. Are there crooked judges? It’s almost like asking, are there crooked politicians. Yes to both of these questions. (Again, this writer’s opinion). MOST judges can’t be bought, bullied or convinced to put up someone’s dog that is not the best in his ring! The judge loves what he is doing. It is a privilege to be asked to judge someone’s show. Most have good reputations and want to do the best job that they have been asked to do. You bring an educated judge a great dog and he’s going to find it. If you think that you haven’t been given a fair chance or you suspect that something is just not right with this judge, then get the message across to them by not giving him another entry. Better yet, make sure you vote for a better judge next time at your club. There are many good judges that we are blessed with in our breed. All too many times, the same people get asked to judge because of their name or position in the breed. This happens time and again at the National level and with the futurity/maturity shows. The argument for this would be that these are the people who know the breed best and therefore, these are the people best qualified to do the best judging.
Breeder, handler and judge……they all go hand in hand in importance to the relationship of the show dog. The handler can’t get a job without the breeder; most breeders can’t or won’t show their own dogs, so they can’t show without the handler. And then the judge can’t get any assignments if there weren’t any breeders to produce dogs and there were no handlers to show them. So they all need one another. Who do you think has the most control over the direction of the breed’s future? I would say that the most important of these three is the breeder (#1) and the judge. The breeder produces the quality or lack of and the judge decides if it meets the breed standard. The breeder may produce championship quality dogs, but he can’t hope to realize this without the judge’s approval of what he brings to him in the ring. So we as breeders need to know our breed standard and strive to produce it. If we can’t do it ourselves, hire the best handler to showcase our dogs. Then get to know what the judges like. Watch what they put up. Decide if you like what the judge does and then either vote for him or someone else to show under.
My rating: importance of a good breeder: (4), importance of a good handler: (4), importance of a good judge: (4) and MOST IMPORTANT is educating yourself on the breed standard and knowing which judges judge according to that standard: (4)