THOUGHTS ON JUDGING POODLES by HELEN LEE JAMES
A ll judges are expected to be experts and very knowl- edgeable when they step into the ring wearing a judge’s badge. They must know their breed standards from start to finish and to recognize quality when they find it. Over the years, most judges develop a pattern for breed evaluation and fol- low it. Most knowledgeable exhibitors are aware of a judge’s track record and what their background is in the breed they are judging. Over time, the experienced exhibi- tor frequently knows what type of dog within a breed is favored by the judge. And almost any judge will openly tell you that the most difficult class to judge is a class lacking in quality. The routine we follow when judg- ing Poodles (or any other breed) seldom varies, although it may be influenced by the size of the ring. After a class is checked in, we move the dogs around the ring. We want our first impression to be acquired from looking at the total picture of each individual dog moving in comparison to the remainder of the class. We are able to identify which ones move with a long ground cover- ing stride while remaining relaxed and tuned in to its handler. Big classes in a small ring are divided to move only five or six dogs at a time for the first go, round. When all of the entries have been moved around the ring for the first time, we begin the individual examina- tions. We first look at the total picture. Is the dog squarely built, elegant in over- all appearance, correctly groomed and watching us as we approach? We don’t rush in and grab the dogs muzzle and pry open the mouth. Before we exam- ine dentition, we look at eye expres- sion, size and color and whether or not the topknot has been carefully pulled forward to shade the eyes to make them appear darker or has been arranged to change the shape of the eye or make it appear smaller. We also check for elas- tic bands illegally placed behind the
occiput in addition to ear placement, size and shape. At this point we can check the mouth for correct dentition, the strength of the muzzle, for lippiness and excessive loose skin at the throat. It takes longer to describe this than to do it. From the throat we move one hand down to evaluate the forechest and hope to find it well-developed. If the dog has straight shoulders or shoulders set too far forward, there may be little or no forechest and we find a hollow. We may also find elbows set out away from the chest. From here we move a hand down the front leg to check for size of bone and to check feet to see if they are properly well knuckled. Flat, splayed feet are a major fault and are frequently well-cov- ered with a long puff to try to hide the fact. If we cannot see the feet without lifting the puff of hair, we do lift it. We next check the depth of chest that should come down to the elbows. We move to the shoulders that should be strong and smoothly muscled with the shoulder blade and the upper fore- leg the same length, the elbow placed directly beneath the highest point of the shoulder blade. And we do this care- fully, remembering that there may be numerous inches of hair covering this structure. Too many judges have said, “But I didn’t want to mess up the coat!” If it is a good coat with correct texture, you will not mess it up by a correct and thorough examination. We also exam- ine the spring of rib followed by a check of the length and depth of loin. The Poodles topline is described as, “level, neither sloping nor roached, from the highest point of the shoulder blade to the base of the tail, with the exception of a slight hollow just behind the shoul- der”. This slight hollow has been called a swimmers dip referring to their use as a skilled water retriever. We check the base of the tail which gives a testimony to the width and strength of the vertebra in the spine.
The hindquarters are examined by both appearance and touch in order to gauge the muscle. We do not want over angu- lation with the hocks placed far out behind. The hind toes should be slight- ly behind the point of the rump. A Poodle’s movement often betrays the beautiful picture we have seen standing still. It is well described in the Breed Standard and calls for “light springy action and strong hindquar- ter drive” in addition to “sound effort- less movement is essential”. We gauge movement not just by how fast a dog might travel around the ring, but by how many strides it takes him to do so. It is also the proof of balance between a beautifully angulated front assembly and a well muscled set of hindquarters. Dogs which move at an angle coming and going often have more drive from their hindquarters then the front assem- bly is able to absorb. Skillful handlers are tuned in to the speed at which his Poodle looks the best. Unfortunately, some of these dogs carry huge bubble coats which roll from side to side and adds to the illustration of the problem. A skilled groomer is able to hide a myriad of faults and knows where to exaggerate the amount of hair or to direct the judge’s eye away from some- thing well hidden. An experienced judge has learned to look through hair and to see the dog beneath it. It’s unfortunate that exhibitors believe that the more hair the better and who frequently are rewarded by judges. We often observe Poodles that appear to have been attired for a fancy dress ball rather than a serious sporting event. We do not find attractive the Poo- dle that waltzes into the ring wearing what appears to be Marie Antoinette’s hoop skirt and the bejewled towering wig carefully balanced on its head. We hope that judges will truly judge what is under the hair and to find those Poodles which are correctly built both front and rear and to reward them for being a credit to their breed.
S HOW S IGHT M AGAZINE , S EPTEMBER 2017 • 271
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