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. CONFORMATION CULTURE 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. Conclusion 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. … Written by: John Cocchiola  I read, and responded to a thread on a Staffordshire Bull Terrier forum.  Someone who was researching the breed was concerned with their potential dog aggression.   Yeah, I have an opinion on that.  What attracted me to the breed, what still attracts me to the breed is the spirit.  Yeah, I love the way they look and their goofy expressions, but it’s really those precious intangibles that I fell in love with…it’s what’s buried inside the dogs; it’s something that can’t be seen, it needs to be experienced.  It’s not the dog aggression (although that goes along with it), it’s the “yeah, I’m ready…let’s go” attitude that every Stafford should have, and “yeah, I’m ready…let’s go” includes a proper response when they’re challenged by another dog.   These dogs are fantastic companions, but they weren’t originally bred to be companions.  No true terrier was originally bred to be a companion.  Every terrier breed was created by human beings; they were selectively bred to do a job…to kill.   So anyone that gets a Terrier (a cute little Cairn or a Scotty or a Bedlington), and sets it loose in their backyard and is horrified to see it ripping a bunny rabbit apart is completely naive and living in a pretend fantasy world.  That dog was bred to rip bunny rabbits apart.  There’s a spark inside that dog that fires up when it sees critters.  No, it’s not “how they’re raised”…it’s called “instinct”.  Dogs aren’t blank slates that can be molded and shaped to suit your lifestyle.  They come already programmed.  Some of their wiring can be overridden with our conditioning, but the instincts don’t get erased.  They’re still there and can pop back up.  Don’t be surprised.       I was a little uncomfortable looking at some of the dog aggression responses.  Some even made me squirm a bit.  I wanted to respond, but I didn’t want to put myself on the internet, treadmill to nowhere argument route.  I wanted to respond, but this will be my response.   I’d really like to use the word “stupid” to describe some of the responses on that thread, but I’ll use the words ignorant and naive to describe them.  On the other hand, I will use the word “stupid” to describe someone that responds (with authority) on something they really don’t understand.  “It’s how they’re raised” is bullshit.  You’re not going to override all of those hard wired instincts with love, hugs and affection.  If you want a stuffed animal, go to the mall and build-a- bear or something.       People like to refer to Staffords as “foremost all purpose dog” and the “nanny dog”.  I don’t like either of those to be honest.  Those handles promise too much and are misleading.  While friendly with human beings (to a fault), Staffords can bowl over toddlers and send them flying through the air like bowling pins.  It’s not the worst thing in the world.  Kids bounce pretty good.  Staffords play rough.  Old folks with tissue paper thin skin might need to buy their bandaids and disinfectant in bulk. No dog breed is perfect, no individual dog is perfect and not every breed is suitable for everyone. Before you choose a breed, educate yourselves on what it was bred for.  What its traits are, what it’s capable of.  Ask yourselves “can I live with that?”  Be honest.  Sometimes the easiest person to lie to is looking at us in the mirror.     If you choose a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the worst thing you can do is underestimate them.  They’re faster than you think, they’re stronger than you think, they can jump higher than you think and they’re more determined than you think.  They can look like they’re asleep, then dart off at full speed if there’s something out there.  Ten seconds later they’re a mile and a half down the road chasing squirrel.     If you’re honest with yourselves and still choose the SBT and it’s a good match, they will make you happier than you can imagine.  I can’t even think of living with a different breed, but I’d never try to talk someone into one unless they understood what they’re all about.  After that if they still have the “yeah, I’m ready…let’s go” attitude, it might be a good match. HISTORY The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is an English breed of dog and should not be confused with the American Pit Bull Terrier. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a direct descendant of the old Bulldog and Terrier.  The Stafford is renowned for loyalty to their owners and stability of temperament. When properly bred and socialized, they are fond of people, playful, energetic, and not naturally aggressive. They have extremely high energy, which makes them more than a handful for inexperienced owners. The breed is naturally muscular and may appear intimidating; however, because of their natural fondness for people, most Staffords are temperamentally ill-suited for guard or attack-dog training. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier has arisen from centuries of careful breeding to develop a strong dog that is placid towards people. Most Stafford owners refer to their dogs as, Staffords. We are not fond of the the term, Staffy.  Owning a Stafford is huge responsibility and not for everyone. Staffords are very powerful dogs and we as owners are responsible for all of their actions. It is our job to protect and preserve this breed. Staffordshire Bull Terriers, unfortunately are categorized as a dangerous breed. Some homeowners insurance companies do not allow for the owning of Staffords, as well as some HOA guidelines. Staffords will almost always be listed on a breed restricted list.  … Let’s discuss exaggeration in the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. General Appearance 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. … Part 1- .................'The beginning of Rendorn in Bolton' Part 2 - .....' t hey shot him because he wouldn’t fight’ ....... ‘ we won BOB at Crufts in 1980’ Part 3 -  .................'Ch Rendorn Deadly Nightshade -  Ch Rendorn Drummer Boy -  Ch Rendorn Revelation'   ........ ‘ a champion every 4.1 litters’ Part 4 -  ‘Dorothy’s never walked a dog in her life’ ...........  ‘I couldn’t pick one from the other’    ............'what would I like to be remembered for?’ … Collections of most editorial pages and entries from over the years from The Stafford Knot publication. These include submissions from all editors and staff from each team.These will also include photos and vinage images selected to be shared in the magazine. We hope that you enjoy them if you missed it the first time ..."...of recording Staffordshire Bull terrier strains and pedigrees based on the ‘Line and Family’ method has been exhaustively covered by Mr. H.N. Beilby, of Bromsgrove, whose outstanding services to our breed I have referred to in Chapter II. His findings are published in great detail in the second (1948) edition of The Staffordshire Bull Terrier.