JUDGING THE STAFFORDSHIRE BULL TERRIER
There will be newcomers to the world of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier who will one day aspire to become future show judges for the breed. This chapter is aimed at such people and is intended to act as a guide to pass on some of the experiences and observations gained over many years participating in judging the breed. It will focus on the principles involved in the fair and sound assessment of a class of Staffords so that the best dogs are rewarded. All that follows takes full account of the Kennel Club Breed Standard.
Judging the hindquarters.
There are two types of judges. ‘All-rounders’ may judge many breeds, guided by their expert knowledge of balance, substance, soundness, conformation and in particular movement of a particular dog. They will not necessarily have an expert knowledge of type in all the breeds they judge. There are notable exceptions, with some all-rounders possessing a thorough knowledge of type in Staffordshire Bull Terriers. All-rounder judges can play an important part in the future of a breed. Through strict observance of the breed standard, they are unlikely to reward conformation exaggerations that may be emerging to the future detriment of a breed.
By far the majority of judges who are chosen to judge Staffordshire Bull Terrier classes in the United Kingdom are ‘breed specialist’ judges. The breed itself is a numerically strong one, with large entries for Stafford classes at dog shows. A breed specialist judge will be expected to have an expert knowledge of type in the Stafford. As with the all-rounder judges, he will also be expected to have a thorough knowledge of balance, soundness and conformation. He may, however, place a little less emphasis on movement than would the all-rounder judge, concentrating more on type in the dogs he judges.
A newcomer with judging ambitions must firstly learn all about his chosen breed. If his ambitions extend beyond a single breed, and he has the ability, he may later learn about other breeds should he become sufficiently experienced to strive towards becoming an all-rounder judge. What follows is designed to guide those who wish to become a breed specialist judge.
Judging Best of Breed.
A judge must have a thorough knowledge of the breed, based on practical experience, and must know the Breed Standard inside out before even contemplating accepting an invitation to judge. He must understand all possible interpretations of the Breed Standard so that he knows exactly what he is looking for. As with other breeds, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Breed Standard is very much open for individual subjective interpretation. In fact, the only exact specifications indicate the height and weight limits for dogs and bitches. All other parts are open to independent opinion. This is an advantage as slavishly following such artificially imposed restrictions and limitations would inevitably lead to the elimination from consideration of countless numbers of exhibits that do not conform exactly. Instead, the Breed Standard lays down the broad considerations to be observed, and it is up to each judge, using his own knowledge and experience, to assess each dog according to his own interpretation of the requirements of each part of the Breed Standard. No one wants to see the same dog always winning under every judge. Of course, this does not happen, because each judge has his own interpretation of the Breed Standard. Thus a dog that goes unplaced under one judge may gain a top placing a week later under another judge, whose interpretation of the Standard is different. It is not a matter of one being right and one being wrong. They will simply have different opinions regarding such attributes as type, balance, conformation, quality, substance and movement. Of course, a really top class exhibit may be seen to win consistently under any number of different judges.
There is no such thing as a perfect Staffordshire Bull Terrier, although some have come close. In any event it is difficult to imagine that all judges, given their own individual interpretations, would agree! Minor faults are inevitably present in even the very best representatives of the breed, and individual judges will have their own opinions on the significance of such faults. Nevertheless every judge should form his opinion on what makes the ideal Stafford in accordance with the stipulations of the Breed Standard, and should carry this image clearly in his mind whenever judging a class of Staffordshire Bull Terriers. His task is to select those dogs that come closest to that ideal, and reward them in their strict order of merit.
Who will the judge choose?
A judge must be entirely focused on the job in hand. He should not worry about anything else. A judge who concentrates entirely on his task, and selects those dogs that he believes are the best on the day, will gain respect for an honest performance. There is no other way to gain that respect. As long as he is seen to judge the class honestly and to the best of his ability, it does not matter what other people think about which dogs should have won. Never, under any circumstances, should a judge allow any form of persuasion to influence him to bend the rules. His reputation as a judge depends on his honest performance in the ring. When exhibitors can follow his reasoning, they will begin to see consistency in his choices, and respect him for it.
A judge checking the bite.
FAULTS AND VIRTUES
Every Staffordshire Bull Terrier should always be judged on his overall virtues and not on his faults. Clearly there are serious faults, such as lack of correct type, that render an exhibit totally unrepresentative of the breed. There are also certain severe conformation faults, such as a badly overshot or undershot jaw, which must be critically dealt with in a judge’s considerations.
Favouring dogs of average quality but no definite faults over top-class dogs that possess minor faults fails to take into account the whole of the dog. This is known as fault judging and can sometimes lead to exceptional specimens with relatively minor faults being relegated to the role of also-rans in favour of dogs of mediocre quality but no actual faults. The danger here is that the winning dogs do not possess any outstanding virtues. This is not the way forward for the future of the breed. A judge will never be wrong if he looks for the dogs with the most good points and sets aside any temptation to select the ones with the least wrong with them. The message from the fault clause of the Breed Standard is clear: a dog should not be ‘fault judged’ alone. Rather, a balance of his overall virtues should be taken fully into consideration, with acknowledgement of whatever faults he may be deemed to possess.
Judging on the good points without full regard to the whole of the dog is also unsound. For example, a Stafford with one outstanding feature but otherwise lacking in overall qualities should not be placed ahead of one that is less appealing but in fact is closer to the Breed Standard.
Some judges become fixated on certain features, and as a result attribute more significance to them than should be the case. These might include, for example, coat colour, eye colour, tail carriage, ear shape or dentition. Condemning an otherwise first-class Stafford due such a feature fixation is unsound as it does not take into consideration the whole of the dog.
JUDGING TO TYPE
The Breed Standard makes no reference to differences in type in Staffordshire Bull Terriers. ‘Type’ is the sum of all those points that make a dog look like his own breed and no other. As with most breeds, there is a range of different types of Staffords, often conforming to the preferences of their respective owners and breeders. However, there is only one Breed Standard, and all Staffords are judged by its clauses.
A class of bitches.
Judging for the correct substance.
A judge will almost certainly have a preference of his own regarding type, derived from his overall experience in the breed. In fact, he may well be invited to judge because he is known to have a preference for a particular type. However, every judge should go into the ring with an open mind. Demonstrating a preference for a certain type could result in poor-quality dogs winning over good ones.
There are no hard and fast rules in judging, and each judge forms his own particular approach to the task. A new judge will be on the right path if he always keeps his interpretation of the Breed Standard in mind and sticks to it as he judges. This will enable him to judge the whole of a dog, and not just his good or bad points, and then evaluate each dog against the others in the class.
Congratulations! Veteran Bitch Winner.
What follows is an example of a judging technique that has proved successful when applied to the assessment of each and every dog in a class of exhibits. It allows every dog to be demonstrably assessed in exactly the same way. Exhibitors may have travelled many miles and gone to considerable expense to show their dog, and they deserve a level playing field. All dogs, regardless of quality, must be given exactly the same treatment as all the others in a class.
There is much to be gained by making a detailed visual assessment of a Stafford before laying a hand on him. At all stages remember to make your assessment of the dog as a whole, viewed from any angle. As an exhibit is being prepared by the handler for presentation, move well to the side and run your eye from tip of nose to tip of tail in one careful sweep. This will take only a couple of seconds. Observe those characteristics you require for your judgement. Note especially the following:
The award of Challenge Certificate and Best of Breed.
- length, depth, shape and strength of the muzzle; its angulation and relationship to the skull;
- depth and strength of the underjaw; firmness of lips;
- depth and strength of skull;
- definition and depth of the stop;
- length and strength of the neck; the connection to withers and shoulders;
- angulation and muscle development of shoulders;
- development and depth of chest and brisket;
- length, muscle development, and bone construction of forelegs;
- strength and angulation of the pasterns;
- shape and conformation of the feet; condition of claws;
- length of back; levelness of topline;
- angulation and length of hock; and
An overall look at the competitors.
Next move to the rear and observe:
- strength and muscle development of hindquarters;
- length and development of coupling;
- length, taper and strength of neck.
Moving around to look at the hindquarters.
A close study before the selection is made.
Finally move to the front and observe:
- width and depth of skull and muzzle;
- set and shape of eyes and ears;
- strength of foreface and cheek bumps;
- width and depth of chest and brisket;
- angulation, shape and size of feet; and
- straightness, strength and construction of forelegs.
A close examination of the dentition.
With experience, you will have observed much of what you need to know about the dog even before laying a hand on him. This visual once-over takes very little time but it forms an important part of the overall assessment. Certainly it will give a good idea what to look for when you examine the dog physically.
A study from the side to see conformation and balance.
Checking the essential features.
Go forward to the head of the dog. Gently raise the lips and examine the mouth. Check for the size and set of the teeth in the jaws, the presence or otherwise of a scissor bite, and the state of the teeth. Run your hands down the sides of the muzzle to check for strength and development. Check the angulation of the stop and feel for the overall strength of the skull. Check the texture, size and shape of the ears. Place your hands on the dog’s shoulders and check his soundness by rocking him gently from side to side.
Go around to the side. Check the position of the shoulder blade by putting one hand on the withers and the other on the point of the shoulder at the lower end of the shoulder blade. You can then check the angle between shoulder and upper arm by running your eye down to the elbow. A well stacked dog can be deceptively posed. Make sure you gently press down at the back of the withers for firmness. Run a hand under the bottom of chest and brisket to check the sweep up to the loins and then, with a hand on the croup, press down gently but firmly. Do bear in mind that a good handler can conceal faults such as hocks that tend to incline at an angle other than required. All will be revealed when the dog is moved. Check with your hands the muscle of the first and second thighs for development, strength and firmness.
Go around to the back. Check for firmness of the stance and the angulation of the hocks. Run your hands down the neck to check muscle formation and firmness and continue by running the hands along to check the spring of the ribs and the area and length of the coupling. Check the length of the tail by moving it over to the point of the hock, and run a hand down its length to check for any kinks. Do not forget to check the testicles of male dogs.
Assessing the hindquarters.
Checking for fitness.
It seems a lot to do, but really it can all be done in a very short period of time. The last thing to do is check the dog’s movement. You can ask for the dog to be moved in a triangle, which has the advantage of displaying the movement without requiring you to move from your judging position. It is important that you assess the movement from the side. Staffords often prove difficult due to their impulsive tendency to drive forward vigorously when asked to move, so they need plenty of space to regain their normal stride. Alternatively you can ask the handler to move straight up and down the ring a couple of times, and position yourself to obtain the best view. Always remember that experienced handlers will stack a dog in order to emphasize his good points and conceal his weak points. It is much more difficult to conceal faults when the dog is on the move.
A quick check of the tail.
Checking the elbows.
Assessing forward movement.
Position yourself squarely behind the dog to check his gait as he moves up the ring away from you. The back legs should move with a rhythmic spring and with purposeful drive. The hocks should remain parallel, with as little deviation as possible throughout the movement, reaching well forward in a free, powerful and agile gait. There should be no turning in or out of the feet.
As the dog comes back towards you, check for any looseness in the shoulders or for elbows that are out and not close to the sides. The forelegs should remain as parallel as possible, moving freely and not turning in or out. Watch out for any weakness in the pasterns.
Assessing topline, reach and drive from the side.
Attracting the dog’s attention to observe his expression.
When you check the movement from the side, it is most important to look for any deviation from a level topline. If there are any faults here, they may not be apparent when the dog is shown standing by a handler. Look for free and powerful unrestricted drive from the hindquarters, and a free unrestricted reach from the forequarters. Any evidence of paddling or a high reaching style is untypical and should be classed as a fault.
Before moving on to the next exhibit, take a quick final overall look at the dog. Perhaps get his attention so you can check his expression.
When all the dogs have been seen in exactly the same way, it will be time to make your choice. Every exhibit will have been judged in the same way and you will gained all the information you need to help make your decisions.
There are no strict rules about how to judge dogs, and every judge is free to establish his own method. The example shown above takes no more than two minutes from start to finish. You may adopt and adapt it, or find your own method. As long as you are confident and comfortable with it, go in the ring and enjoy it.
One of the halls at the Kennel Club Building at Stoneleigh Park: a splendid venue for a show.