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The Value of the Written Critique

by Ian Copus

Having just completed my judging assignment of the American National Specialty, I thought this topic would be a logical progression in the "Judges" series. A written critique is an expected part of one’s judging assignment in England, and has always been the case. Here in North America it is restricted to Specialties.

I believe a written critique to be an essential part of the judge’s duty. It is the judge’s opportunity to state clearly his opinion of the state of the breed, and to alert breeders to problems that may be arising, based on the entry he received that day. It is also an opportunity to praise breeders for doing a good job. Breeders and exhibitors are only human and respond to "positive stroking", much more than sharp criticism. Do not mistake what I am saying, if criticism is necessary then it should be given, but there are ways of warning breeders of the consequences of their actions in breeding the dogs that are being shown. One has to remember also, that the judge can only make a critique of what he sees on that day. Sometimes a judge can be unlucky and receive a poor quality entry, likewise the reverse can happen, and the judge can be pleasantly surprised with the entry. The judge’s critique will or should reflect the entry.

Let us briefly look at different countries and systems of reporting. In England, it is usual for the judge to write critiques on the 1st and 2nd placed dog in each class at Championship Shows and the 1st placed dog in each class at Open Shows. These critiques are forwarded, by the judge, for publication in the weekly canine magazines. In all other European countries the judge has to write a critique on each dog entered and then grade the dog from good to excellent. Each report is handed to the exhibitor upon completion of judging. The International Championship, which is now available in North America, is proving very popular, and operates using a similar, individual written critique. I do feel it is a pity that in North America judges are not expected to write a critique. They are totally unaccountable for their placings, never having to state their reasons why they preferred a certain dog to another. Judging is an accountable activity in my book, and judges should not only be willing, but also be able to justify their placings to the exhibitors.

There is little doubt that exhibitors like to receive some feedback from the judge. The critique may not always be pleasing for the exhibitor, but we must remember that we did ask for the opinion of the judge by entering under him or her, and we get what we ask for, whether or not we appreciate the verdict. I have found novice exhibitors especially look forward to such reports, as this is a learning time for them. They will eagerly gather their respective critiques and compare one to another. Similarities and differences occur in the judges’critiques, which is only natural. Gross differences are confusing to exhibitors, and this can lead to total confusion for the novice, but an established breeder/exhibitor, learns which critiques have the most value.

Personally, when writing a critique, I always look for good points to say about a dog, similar to judging itself. Always look for the positive. If you do not do this, you will end up fault judging and will be left with a list of faults to write about and no good points upon which to comment. Praise for a dog should be given where it is due, and a good dog always acknowledged. Critiques written by knowledgeable breeders and judges should be refreshing, informative, easy to understand and give food for thought to the breeders and exhibitors.

A valuable exercise for any exhibitor is to write a critique from the ringside and then compare it with the judge’s report when published. The judge will or should be more explicit and detailed because he is laying his hands on the dog, but you should be able to see enough to make some comments and make some form of evaluation. It is often good to choose a judge who writes a detailed report, the comparison can be most revealing. Judges’ training courses, which are run by breed clubs in England, do just that, with open discussion between the prospective judges of their critiques. It is a very valuable exercise, where one learns not to be guarded about critiquing, but to be honest and to the point. The open discussion of course leads to useful interaction and exposes the would-be judges to varying styles of critiques.

The written critique is a valuable tool for breeders and exhibitors to establish how the breed is progressing, especially if the exhibitor or breeder is unable to get to many of the shows. It keeps us informed of the state of the breed and may reveal trends and tendencies that may need careful attention. It is of course up to the breeders and exhibitors to take on board the comments or disregard them, but there is usually some truth in every report that is written.

In conclusion caustic criticism is not called for, nor is extravagant praise. The written critique should be succinct and graphic, explaining why that particular dog won or lost, mentioning any outstanding features or faults. One must remember the critique is just one judge’s opinion, and is personal to the dog. The dog with a "light eye and poor shoulder placement" one week, has been known to have, "good eye colour and good lay back of shoulder" the next. It is another interesting facet of the dog game, and one that will be controversial as long as judges continue to disagree as to who is the best dog and why.

Copyright  © 1999 [Ian Copus]
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Last revised: November 11, 2010