In Pursuit of a Better Process – Should the AKC Allow Judges to Sit Ringside to Observe Group Judging?
Given my background in psychology and philosophy, I find myself assessing systems and practices in an attempt to discover whether our practices correspond with the science that should advise our reality. Whether I am examining the political system, educational system, or in this case, conformation dog shows, there is science that does speak to whether our systems follow rational guidelines and support the best possible outcomes. Unfortunately, the tools of assessment are not readily available to most of the mainstream society, as they require a specific educational background that is usually relegated to research psychologists, philosophers, and economists.
I describe the world of conformation dog shows as a “ culture ,” since it has its own unique norms that shape the manner in which shows are structured, shaping everything from preparation, ring process, acceptable behaviors, point tabulation, etc. Dog show culture, like any culture, embraces policies or processes that do not necessarily support the best interests of its constituents. Left unchecked, we accept these as a cultural norm and we relegate them to, “ that’s the way it is, ” regardless of whether it makes sense or not.
One area that I feel requires discussion is whether judges should watch Group judging or Breed judging on weekends when they will, at some point, judge some of the same dogs. When I posted an opinion poll on this topic on Facebook, I received a great deal of push-back from judges, with the majority stating that “ they make their own decisions, and it doesn’t matter if they watch other judges. ”
While I believe that these individuals are being completely sincere, believing that they are unaffected by the decisions of others is a misconception, as there is a great deal of science which states that this is not the case. Decision-making theorists have proven that there are “ unconscious biases ” that affect the decisions we make, whether we are grocery shopping or judging a dog show. My desire in writing this article is not to change the culture of the dog show world, but to educate its participants about the manner in which biased decision-making alters the landscape of our competitions.
Dog show culture, like any culture, embraces policies or processes that do not necessarily support the best interests of its constituents.
Group Ring ‘Groupthink’
In discussing decision-making, we need to first embrace the tenet that human beings are a social species of animal. In our evolution, our minds have developed social algorithms or programs that keep us aligned, for the most part, with our social group. These programs promote a sense of unity and harmony within the group; given that harmony provides more rewards than disharmony or anarchy. Stemming from this desire for order is a concept referred to as “ Groupthink. ” While, to some, this sounds like an Orwellian concept from his novel 1984, it is “ a phenomenon that occurs when a group of individuals reaches a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the consequences or alternatives. Groupthink is based on a common desire not to upset the balance of a group of people. ”
If you pay close attention to Group judging over the course of a string of dog shows, you will notice that it is often the same dogs placing in their respective Groups, day in and day out. It is rare to see a great deal of variation over the course of a cluster. While certain judges might have an appreciation for a specific breed and reward that dog, often, the usual suspects will receive placements. During a recent weekend, for example, a top-winning dog that has not walked out of the Group ring without a placement since January walked out with nothing. There was a synchronized gasp from the crowd as the dog walked. Apparently, the judges “ breaking from the norm ” created discomfort within the community.
Consider that the judges who are judging on any given weekend are sitting ringside, watching the other judges make their decisions about a similar group of dogs. If we are seeing a great deal of repetition in the dogs that are placing, are we really willing to accept that those are always the best dogs in the ring, or is it likely that we are seeing how groupthink can affect critical reasoning in what is meant to be an objective, individual enterprise?
If you pay close attention to Group judging over the course of a string of dog shows, you will notice that it is often the same dogs placing in their respective Groups, day in and day out.
Compounded by ‘Cognitive Ease’
Compounding the effects of groupthink is another decision-making principal called “ Cognitive Ease. ” Cognitive ease is an unconscious bias that occurs due to our general discomfort in using our upper cortical region of our brain, the area responsible for doing the mental “ heavy lifting, ” when we need to do complex mathematical or other types of formulaic thinking. Looking at a group of twenty Best of Breed winners, and trying to decide which four dogs are worthy of a Group placement, can cause mental strain. The act alone of trying to hold data in your active memory as you are distracted by trying to assess other dogs is an extremely challenging task.
The pervasive effects of cognitive ease are found throughout our daily lives, as we often avoid tasks that are stressful due to having to apply our intellectual resources to complete the task. Going back to the concept of groupthink: If a judge knows that a fellow judge had chosen a specific group of four dogs the day before, why not copy some of those same choices? In doing so, the judges keep some harmony in the community without having to do the heavy mental lifting.
If I have challenged some of your notions about the ability of judges to be objective about their decisions, it is probably for the best. If we ignore science, in any forum, we perpetuate faulty policies that are not in the best interest of the “ culture. ” Keep in mind, my purpose in writing this article is not to point out inherent wrongdoing that shapes our results, but instead, to explain that, regardless of how hard we try to be objective, our unconscious programming at some point takes over.
I hope that I have provided my readers with some “ food for thought. ” You may recall that I had mentioned that I did a Facebook poll on this topic and roughly seventy percent of the people who participated felt that judges should not be watching the Group competitions on weekends when they are judging the same dogs. I did receive some push-back from a few judges and exhibitors, which I’d expected, as when we challenge a cultural norm there is always a percentage of the population that will object. I do believe that keeping an open forum for discussion is the only way that we can move forward effectively, making the culture of conformation dog shows the best for all involved.
I encourage you to join my dedicated Facebook page , where you can find my articles on the psychology of dog shows and participate in discussions where we can all learn from each other about our thoughts, ideas, and experiences. See you in the ring!
Michael J. Nelinson
Michael Nelinson has been involved in purposefully bred dogs and AKC conformation shows for 45 years. His parents bred and showed Standard Poodles, and he spent his weekends at dog shows, grooming and supporting his family’s efforts. This exposure led Michael to become interested in handling and he was fortunate to find wonderful mentors among the handlers with whom he spent time every weekend. He purchased his first American Staffordshire Terrier in 1979 and he’s been connected to the breed ever since. Michael was a part-time research assistant, supporting the work of a psychologist who was a longtime faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania. Michael runs a successful business, writes on several topics relevant to social-sciences, and shows dogs on weekends.
THE STAFFORDSHIRE BULL TERRIER IS “THE FOREMOST ALL PURPOSE DOG “
Let’s discuss exaggeration in the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
KC: Smooth coated, well balanced, of great strength for his size. Muscular, active and agile.
AKC adds: “The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a smooth coated dog. It should be of great strength for its size and, although muscular, should be active and agile.”
It’s not vague. It’s pretty clear. Do not put forward a Stafford with bunchy muscles, wrinkles, overloaded shoulders, short necks, short muzzles, flat feet or heads the size of a blimp.
We are not looking for a heavyweight – we are not looking for a racy specimen – we are looking for the ONE IN THE MIDDLE. And for good reason! In fact for many good reasons. When we balance capacity with efficiency we are more likely to find a specimen with good healthy stamina, strength and agility. We will find BALANCE.
There is a movement across the world to put restrictions on producing breeds with health issues such as short muzzles. In some cases these dogs suffer from breathing difficulties such as overlong soft palate, tracheal deformities, stenotic nares and other structural and health related issues coming from exaggeration in structure. . The Stafford DOES NOT want to be added to the list of brachycephalic breeds. We want a muzzle that is no shorter than one third the length of the skull (look from the top or profile and measure). I recently learned that many people are misinterpreting the 1/3 to 2/3 ratio when it is written like that. It is not one to three or two to three. It is ONE THIRD to TWO THIRDS. One third muzzle length to two thirds skull length and don’t forget about the muzzle depth should be approximately one half the total head depth. (measure from underjaw/neck to occiput/topskull).
Additionally, so very many people misinterpret the breeds responsible for our blended breed. The name says it all – Staffordshire (where they originated in UK) Bull (the now extinct bulldog which as far as we can tell resembled a leggy American Bull dog type) Terrier (from the now extinct English White Terrier which resembled todays Manchester). So a balanced Stafford is NOT like an English Bulldog mixed with a Terrier. Stop putting forth these cloddy heavy wrinkled stubby overloaded dogs.
Crib and Rosa by Abraham Cooper – These two are what the Bulldogs which make up the Stafford looked like
English White Terrier
Look for a clean head, no wasted effort/energy when moving, no wrinkles anywhere (none on head, face, shoulders, tails, legs – no wrinkles). I’m tired of seeing these huge headed sloppy bulldogs being put forward when there are clean examples presented.
Stop being impressed by exaggeration.
In the country of origin, UK, at the end of the written Breed Standard for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier it is stated:
“Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog and on the dog’s ability to perform its traditional work.”
This is a good reminder to not only look for the balanced Stafford, remember its origin, but also to balance your judging when in the ring with the breed. The AKC Breed Standard for the Stafford lists only three ‘faults’ and only three ‘serious faults’. Fault judging is to be avoided but these six points should be kept in mind when you find yourself faced with similar virtuous examples in your ring from which to select from.
“Non-conformity with heights to weights limits” - Our Standard calls for dogs 28-38lbs, bitches 24-34lbs with both dogs and bitches being 14” - 16” at withers. They should be balanced height to weight. BALANCE is the key word here. Get familiar with what 34lb bitches and 38lb dogs look and feel like. And remember a 14” dog is in Standard and is balanced at 28lbs just as a 16” bitch is in Standard and balanced at 34lbs.
“ Dark eye preferred but may bear some relation to coat color. Light eyes or pink eye rims to be considered a fault, except that where the coat surrounding the eye is white the eye rim may be pink.” This means we prefer a dark eye but in a red or brindle dog, for example, there can be some consideration for a lighter brown eye. We do not want to see yellow, gray or blue eyes at all no matter what coat color.
“ A tail that is too long or badly curled is a fault .” This is self explanatory but to be taken into consideration as to the above paragraph regarding degree and affect upon health. Also, in the original point system the tail was valued at only 5 points. I’ve heard it said that if the Stafford has one thats half the points right there.
“ Pink (Dudley) nose to be considered a serious fault .” The Stafford nose needs to be black. Some argument of consideration could be made for the blue Stafford but even then we want the darkest possible pigmentation so that the nose appears black.
“ Full drop or full prick to be considered a serious fault .” A small, thin leathered tight ear held back close to the head would be preferred and safest in its original function, however there is consideration for a half prick ear. This means half, not 3/4 and never full drop or full prick. Either of those not only would affect hazzard in its original fuunction, but also gives a foreign expression. As well this differentiates the breed from other terriers.
“ The badly undershot or overshot bite is a serious fault.” The scissor bite is called for, and we want large well placed canines but as we also strive for a strong muzzle and underjaw, a slight under/over may not affect the original function - SLIGHT, not 'badly' over or under. . . however - we know that converging canines would affect the health and comfort of the Stafford. Those should be avoided even though it is not specifically mentioned.
Again, it is worth repeating - please keep in mind the exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog and on the dog’s ability to perform its traditional work when judging this breed. With only these few faults mentioned they should be easy to keep in mind.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier "Lines" of ancestors..
As of today there are only 2 "lines" alive. See the table below
So what are these "lines" ? If a dog is marked with [letter]- Line, means that the male SBT is a descendant from the dog mention in the table below. If a dog is marked with [letter]- Family, means that the female SBT is a descendant from the dog mention in the table below. Females do not pass on the lines, so if the last male of the line dies without male offspring, the line ends.
There are 6 different "main lines" as shown below. (SBTpedigree will update the lines (on the newly added entries) frequently. Please check news for more information.)
Name Line Males Females Line (males) active 2011-2021 Brindle Mick "M" Line 32536 42495 Yes (List of males) Fearless Joe "J" Line 119 177 Not in this database Ribchester Bob "R" Line 6751 8713 Yes (List of males) Game Lad "L" Line 19 18 Not in this database Rum Bottle "B" Line 12 8 Not in this database Cinderbank Beauty "C" Line 12 10 Not in this database
The text below is of Chapters IV and V, from the book "The Staffordshire Bull Terrier" written by H. N. Beilby. (with a few edits) Remember that this book was written a long time ago (around 1944) so terms that refer to date and time was when the book was written.
Although the Staffordshire has been in existence for such a long period, it is only comparatively recently that any authentic and reliable records have been kept, and it is next to impossible to trace back the pedigrees of individual dogs further than ten to fifteen years. In order, therefore, to establish as far as possible the descent and breeding of the present leading strains, I first of all examined the registrations of Staffordshires with the Kennel Club for the two and a half years -- May, 1935, to Dec., 1937 -- during which period most of the leading dogs of the time were registered, and I have tabulated those which have produced the largest number of registered progeny during this period.
This gave the following result:
About 580 dogs were registered. 225 from unregistered sires and 355 from registered sires. Of the latter, 146 were sired by well-known dogs, which is just one quarter of the total registrations.
The 6 sires with the largest numbers to their credit were:
Vindictive Monty 35 Jim the Dandy 30 Game Lad 25 Rum Bottle 24 Fearless Joe 17 (Died in 1936) Corinthian Rogue 15 Total: 146
The first and second were both sired by the fifth, who was therefore the direct male ancestor of 82 of the dogs registered in the period. In order to ascertain the value of the strain represented by the three other dogs on the list, I have extended the chart up to the end of 1943, to cover all Staffordshires that have ever been registered with the Kennel Club. In discussing these strains I shall adopt standard practice and refer to the sire's male ancestry as the "line", and the dam's female ancestors as the "family". This extended chart has revealed many interesting points, and shows that of the original six " Game Lad " and " Rum Bottle " are also entitled to rank as founders of "lines", as well as " Brindle Mick " (brother to "Cross Guns Johnson").
It therefore appeared that there were so far at least four distinct lines of Staffordshire Bull Terriers:
J. Fearless Joe and his male descendants, with about 300 registrations. L. Game Lad and his male descendants, with about 120 registrations. M. Brindle Mick and his male descendants, with about 300 registrations. B. Rum Bottle (The Westall Strain) and his male descendants, with about 100 registrations.
This was the position at the end of 1943. The chart has now been extended to cover all Staffordshires registered up to the end of 1946. In the Three years that have elapsed, two more male lines have justified their inclusion, namely, the "R" line, founded by " Ribchester Bob ", born about 1931, and the "C" line, which descends from " Cinderbank Beauty ", through " Togo ". The numerical strength of the six lines is now roughly as follows:
J line 1200 registrations M line 1500 registrations L line 500 registrations B line 300 registrations R line 500 registrations C line 100 registrations
or, putting it another way, two-thirds of all registered Staffordshires belong to one or other lines listed. A study of the chart reveals a number of interesting points.
It will be noticed that out of 65 dogs:
J line 23 representatives 775 progeny registrations M line 21 representatives 923 progeny registrations L line 5 representatives 298 progeny registrations B line 4 representatives 183 progeny registrations R line 3 representatives 304 progeny registrations C line 3 representatives 54 progeny registrations Misc. 6 representatives 177 progeny registrations
It will be realized that (in the case of the "J" line, for instance) the difference between the figure of 775 and 1200 is accounted for by the comparatively large number of registrations which stand to the credit of sires of the line who have not sired more than a few dogs each, and do not therefore appear in the chart. The same applies to the other lines. The performance of certain sires attracts attention, Ch. " Gentleman Jim ", who has been producing stock for eight years, easily heads the list with 255, while our other Champion, " Game Laddie ", can claim nine years of stud service (72). " Ribchester Max " stands high with 173 registrations in eight years. Among the younger dogs, with not more than two years at stud, " Brigands Bosun " easily heads the list (86), with " Jolly Roger " runner-up (48). In 1937 there were five "line" dogs at stud, by 1941 this number had increased to twenty-two, and in 1946 there were at least fifty-six available to breeders. This is real progress.
CHAPTER V Main "Lines" The "J" Line
Dealing first with the "J" line:
" Fearless Joe " had some half-dozen good registered sons, but it is mainly upon two of these that his reputation depends. By his mating with " Queenie ", one of our most important foundation bitches, he produced " Vindictive Monty ", a good bodied fawn with strong skull and jaw, a shade heavy in shoulder, and perhaps a trifle long in muzzle, although in no sense weak. Joe's other notable son was Jim the Dandy ", a dark brindle with a well ribbed body, glorious head and expression, bone adequate, perhaps slightly weak in pasterns. His dam did not hold the high record of " Queenie ".
It will be convenient to consider the progeny of Vindictive Monty and Jim the Dandy separately.
" Vindictive Monty " sired about thirty registered sons of which, again, two only have played a specially important part in Staffordshire history. " Vindictive Montyson " has won one C.C., and is a strong well-proportioned fawn who inherits to some extent his sire's muzzle properties; bone and rib excellent. He has produced two good fawn sons in " Beecher Prince " and " Montyson Again ", both of which have produced decent stock. " Jim the Dandy " had about 30/40 registered sons, of which some four or five have made substantial contribution to the line. " Tackle " was a dark brindle with good head and legs, rather light in rib. He sired " O'Boy " (who is not unlike his sire but a size larger), "Tactful Steve", " Emden Convoy " and about twenty others that were registered. " O'Boy 's" son, " Brigands Benson ", has won well and has produced a good son in " The Tackler ", a present-day winning dark brindle.
Up to the present it would appear that " Vindictive Monty 's" descendants have played a more important part in the breed's history than " Jim the Dandy 's". This is rather unexpected, as Jim was the better show specimen, and is probably accounted for by their inheritance through their dams, which was first class in Vindictive Monty 's case, but only "so-so" in Jim's. It is interesting to note that most of Vindictive Monty 's notable descendants were reds or fawns, and the Jim's were mainly brindle's. I would hazard a guess that the future of this line will rest very largely on the progeny of the litter brothers " The Great Bomber " and "" Boy Dan ", and I base this on the fact that they are descended on the female side from at least three generations of outstanding bitches. It will nearly always be found that the dam of a great stud proposition (in any kind of animal) springs from a family of good females. According to Kennel Club registrations, about twenty "J" line dogs have proved themselves to be sires of importance.
The "M" Line
The virtual founder of the "M" line was " Brindle Mick " whelped in 1934, by " Tigr " ex " Brave Nell ". Mick was a brindle of great power and substance, slightly over medium size, with well-developed body, good bone, strong jaw and skull, the muzzle being of medium length and weight. In general configuration he is greatly resembled by his son " Gentleman Jim ". Mick was slightly undershot.
He sired some other important sons in " Brindle Bill ", " Furnace Jake ", the " Bandit " and " Red Ruin ".
" Gentleman Jim " , who is now ten years old, is the outstanding Staffordshire of his decade, both as a winner and a sire. He won his challenge certificates at Crufts 1939 (H. Pegg), Cheltenham 1939 (H. N. Beilby) and Bath 1939 (A. W. Fullwood). In temperament he is friendly, but fearless, and I know that he has tackled certain enemies (not canine ones) which a number of other Staffordshires had refused to face. He has sired 255 sons and daughters in the eight years 1939/1946, according to Kennel Club records, which is an unusually long period for a dog to remain a successful sire of good stock. Of these, about 10 per cent have proved to be winners to a greater or less extent, and about six of his sons have themselves established a reputation as sires; these are shown on the chart. " Brindle Mick 's" next notable son is " Brindle Bill " , who was whelped in 1939. Unfortunately there is no really good photo of him. But the sketch is a very faithful attempt to portray his general appearance. He is now dead. A smallish, heavily built mahogany brindle, rather low on leg and a shade long in back, with grand rib and bone and a massive head, somewhat shorter in face than his sire. Brindle Mick 's third son to claim attention is " Furnace Jake "; this grand brindle has 55 registrations against his name and has sired some good bitches. " Bandit " - litter brother to " Gentleman Jim " - produced " The Road Agent " and other good ones. " Red Ruin " was one of a litter of seven, at least three of which were winners. His son " Kongo " has sired some good stock in the London area.
The "M' line owes its ascendancy largely to the stud success of " Gentleman Jim " and " Brindle Bill ", to either or both of which we may look for the continued prosperity of the line.
The "L" Line
The "L" line now claims attention. It was founded by " Game Lad ", who was born about 18 years ago and is therefore one of the oldest lines of which there is a record. After doing some winning in the Black Country where he was born, he went to London, where he proved a popular sire. Smallish medium in size, he was a darkish brindle in colour, with a compact body, nice round bone, good skull and an exceptionally clean muzzle. He had one peculiarity, which was that he did not like his tail to be handled.
Although this is not one of the largest lines, it has produce two champions, which no other line has so far done. His most important sons are Ch. " Game Laddie ", " Our Ben ", and " Billy ".
" Game Laddie " has four challenge certificates, won at The Kennel Club (Holland Buckley)(, Windsor (Blacklock), Blackpool (F. W. Holden) and Richmond (Naden). Although he has several good sons, "Laddie" is probably outstanding as a sire of bitches; he has 72 registered offspring. He is a darkish brindle of intense quality and exemplary balance and his imperfections are trifling. Three of his sons are " Brinstock Aristocrat ", " Brinstock Democrat ", and " Nunsoe Fighter Pilot ". Another son of " Game Lad " was " Billy ", whose son " Belted Hero " produced " Brigands Bash'em ". " Brinstock Democrat " and " Thonock Lad " can be expected to do much towards the future success of this line.
The "R" Line
" Ribchester Joe " was helped in 1931. His son " Ribchester Max " was a brindle of medium size, well proportioned, with good bone and feet and a great winner. He has produced a number of excellent bitches and five of his sons are shown on the chart. " Billy Bhoy " has the distinction of being a foreign champion, but Max 's best son is undoubtedly " Vindictive Monty of Wyncroft ". (What a pity that this good Staffordshire has not got a more distinctive name -- I have already corrected quite a few people who have confused him with " Vindictive Monty " of the "J" line.)
" Monty " is a deep red dog of medium size, sturdily built, with good bone, ribs and skull and a great winner. He claims 116 registered progeny up to the end of 1946. He has a number of good sons, the best of which (so far) is undoubtedly " Head Lad of Villmar ".
The "B" Line
"B" line (B for Bottle). "R" might have been the more obvious letter to use but it has already been allocated to the "Ribchester" line, and in any case Rum Bottle ", with 49 K.C. registrations, is really its founder. He was a red dog, as were most members of this line. Mr.Westall, to whom the pre-war development of this line is due, is of the opinion that red dogs are tougher in hide than brindle's, which probably accounts for their preponderance. The line is of special interest as up to 1935 it had been developed almost independently of all the other lines and there were certain fairly well defined differences, chiefly in formation of head, where the muzzle appears to have been somewhat lighter than that of "black country" dogs.
Three of " Rum Bottle 's" sons were " Invincible Lad ", " Eager Lad " and " Tough Guy ", the last of which was a well-known pre-war winner and captured one challenge certificate. The line will go down to posterity, however, through "Eager Lad" and his son " Tornado ".
" Eager Lad " has about 30 registered progeny and is a very cleanly built terrier with exemplary feet and bone and a well-balanced head.
The "C" Line
" Cinderbank Beauty " was a small tiger brindle, and my recollection of him is that he was compact, sturdy and well proportioned.
" Togo " is a shade larger -- just about medium size -- and is a very fine model of a Staffordshire, with massive and well-proportioned head and (in my opinion) true Staffordshire expression. " Pike Land Spitfire ' is a biggish dog, again built on the same excellent pattern, indeed the resemblance between " Togo " and these two sons is quite remarkable, and unlike anything I have seen in Staffordshires before. " Mapleton Pride " is mostly white, built on sturdy lines and a beautiful mover.
In conclusion, it is impossible to forecast what contribution these six lines will make to posterity, but it would appear extremely improbable that any of them will ever completely disappear. It is, however, not at all improbable that one or more new lines may develop -- indeed there are already some indications -- but that would just be guessing!
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