Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Westminster's Winners, Numbers and Judging

EverythingDogBlog #132: Congratulations, Sky!

Sky won Best in Show
And the grand champion winner, Best in Show (see photo posters from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show Facebook page) at Westminster 2014 last night, was Sky, a Wire Fox Terrier (no relation to this writer), Terrier Number 11 (a Skye Terrier was selected for second place in the Terrier Group. Again, no relation to this writer).
Sky won the Terrier Group
Sky will be seen all over Manhattan today beginning with the morning television shows and like some previous winners, most notably Uno the Beagle, may make a circuit of the country during the year, appearing on local TV shows, in parades and for other dog world public relations functions. 
More Wire Fox Terriers have won Best in Show than any other breed, even the ever popular Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers who have yet to win.
Also taking part in last night’s Best in Show were Toy Min Pin Number 5, Hound Bloodhound Number 5, Non-Sporting Group Standard Poodle Number 30, Herding Group Cardigan Welsh Corgi Number 25 (see yesterday’s article for their photos), Sporting Group’s Irish Water Spaniel Number 6, and Working Group Portuguese Water Dog Number 14 for the second year (this breed also lives in the White House).
Why the Numbers?
Numbers take up less room than full names or even call names and are unique. At Westminster the first few numbers, single digits, go to the dogs with the best record of wins over the past year, and, finally, numbers are used to hopefully increase objectivity of the judging. 
Judging, however, still remains perhaps more subjective than even Olympic figure skating! No points are actually given for a dog satisfying one part of the standard or another and, often, judges will ‘put up’ different dogs for the blue ribbon (on different days, though, with a different field of competitors).
People who are seriously into showing dogs and winning in the conformation ring will ‘campaign’ their dogs – purchase full-page photos in dog magazines and thoroughly research the judges’ preferences and the other competitors. Some judges are aware of some dogs (and handlers), therefore, and of their win-lose records. Handlers, also, vary in competence (and price) and skill. 
Professional’ show dogs may be on the road 50 weeks a year with dog shows around the country nearly every weekend. This sport can cost thousands of dollars which is why so many of these dogs are co-owned or have multiple (financial) owners.
How Does a Judge Judge?

I have attended judging seminars and, often, after a judge judged, he (or she) would tell the class of prospective judges how he made his decision but it was never very helpful to me. 
Sometimes the judge was looking for features to disqualify a dog. Sometimes a judge would say that a dog would just be on his best behavior and show his best, happy to be in the ring. His personality would be obvious: his body language would literally ask for the win. Sometimes (not often) a dog would be in better shape or his coat would be in better condition than the other dogs. Sometimes the winner just 'moved' best. 
Of course, it was a combination of those things as well as the dog’s meeting most of  the standard for the breed better than the other entrants. 
Being a scientist, well-versed in statistics and experimental design, this doesn’t sit well with me – not being able to quantify or replicate a decision, especially when two judges might disagree (they never have more than one judge, though).
Last Thought
If a lab or golden isn’t Best of Show, the next best thing is either a Skye Terrier or a dog named Skye or Sky!
(This article first appeared in ColumbiaPatch.con on February 12, 2014.)

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