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  Finding Fault


                       For casual consumption only; not to be ingested without the proverbial grain...

                                                                  Lisa Warren





In my book, one of the worst things for a judge to be called (after, of course, the very obvious undesirable labels such as "crook" and "complete blathering idiot") is "fault judge".  By necessity, all thoughtful judging makes note of the faults encountered.  But the "fault judge" designation implies a reliance on finding faults and eliminating the dogs that have them rather than a sure-minded search for virtues and quality and then paying tribute to the dogs that possess the best of those blessings.  To be sure, fault judging is the easier approach, a fact attested to by the number of judges that seem to rely on it as their main operating mode, and by the number of ringside experts always on hand to enumerate the shortcomings of whichever dog has just won.

 Faults are usually pretty easy to find since all dogs have them.  Early in our dog careers we all learn to recognize unsound movement, bad toplines, light eyes, dogs that are outside of the ideal size range, and other obvious undesirable traits.  Alas, many dog-showing enthusiasts, some judges among them it seems, remain at just that level, never learning to recognize the virtues that set the good dogs apart from the mediocre ones or the fine shadings of type, structure and carriage that set the great dogs apart from the good ones.

 Once the vast area of easily discerned canine faults is left behind an even larger world of subtleties is entered, and here is where that famous "eye for a dog" becomes essential if one is to be able to select the best animal, whether it is the judge making a decision based upon less than two minutes of time per dog, or a breeder deciding which stud dog to use or which puppy to keep from a litter.  Many good puppies have been sold as pets by breeders who saw only the shortcomings and failed to believe that they might be outgrown, while overlooking the virtues of structure that would in time transform the gangly youngster into a fine, balanced dog of superior quality.

 In the ring, time after time, a judge can be observed ignoring a sound animal of good structure and superb breed type because of some factor that obviously, for that judge, renders the entire animal unworthy of serious consideration.  Such a judge is likely to end up with a winner of so-so overall quality, one with few faults that are easily found but with no sterling virtues.  Yes, of course judges must judge the "parts" of a dog, but problems arise when the whole dog gets lost for the judge because of a shortcoming in one of the parts, or because of the judge's inability to forgive a few minor but obvious imperfections.  And we see the other side of the coin from time to time as well: the judge that so falls in love with one part of a dog, perhaps the head or the shoulders, that the fact that the dog has serious problems of type, structure, proportion or movement seems to get lost.  In either case, what the judge seems to lack is either basic ability or a commitment to finding the best overall dog, the one that most exemplifies the breed's unique characteristics while exhibiting the soundness, balance, and condition expected in every worthy show dog.  Judging is very much about compromising and forgiving; I submit that the shared traits of the best judges, along with integrity, courage, objectivity and, of course, "the eye", include having a sure idea of what makes up an all-round good dog, and the ability to weigh the importance of the various virtues and failings found in each animal.

 In the rarified world of breeding and showing dogs, judges' opinions are a very important element, no question, and fault judging, as well as "single part" judging, does have its ill effects on breed evolution since breeders, especially the novices and perennial novices, are often influenced by the outcome of what happens at dog shows.  But finding fault can be a larger problem when breeders rely heavily on it as they make their selections of stud dogs.  Make no mistake, it is not being suggested here that genetic diseases and disqualifying faults should be overlooked, but too much fault-finding might find a breeder entering a state of near-paralysis, finding it impossible to locate a perfect dog to which to breed a good bitch, or a bad bitch, for that matter.  For many breeders, venturing off the familiar territory of their own bloodlines creates a big problem: surely any faults in that other bloodline are worse than those in one's own!  Such a breeder might do well to consider the axiom, I believe it was Valery's, that our best ideas are sometimes the ones that are at odds with our emotions.  Notice though, that emotion has been singled out, not intuition, a gift which is surely shared by the best breeders, as are those traits attributed above to the best judges.

 Now, I know that this is a big simplification of the ideal process of stud selection, but the thing to do, of course, is to find the dog who has virtues that might achieve a genetic coup over the bitch's failings, and whose faults are not the same as hers.  Beyond that, consideration of every minor problem that might be inherited from the breeding because of observed flaws in the dog or some of his ancestors is probably going to contribute more to the breeder's eventual insanity than it is to the actual outcome of the mating!  I'd be willing to bet that almost every successful breeder that could be interviewed on the subject would remember a significant mating, one that was instrumental to the ongoing success of the bloodline, that was done because of the virtues and in spite of the faults of one or both of the dogs involved.  And as for the dams, have not some of the best animals and the biggest winners in the histories of many breeds been the offspring of untitled bitches?  A gifted breeder will not let a good bitch with something outstanding to contribute go unutilized simply because she has a flaw or two: I disagree with the adage that "no dog should be bred from if it is not good enough to finish." To my mind, that is a very good way to throw the baby out with the bath water, a good way for a breeder to "fault select" the bloodline right into a state of mediocrity, just as so many judges "fault judge" their way to mediocre winners.  



Lisa and Andrew Warren, all rights reserved