Are Breed Judges Applying The Breed Standard?

by Bobby Duff
Steinenberg German Shepherds

 Recently on his Videx web-site, David Payne complained under the heading “An Appalling Incident” regarding the judging procedure of SV Judge Franz-Peter Knaul. I quote

“At a Championship Show, here in England, SV Judge Franz-Peter Knaul was giving his verbal critiques about a minor puppy class (6 to 9 months) He had placed a six month old male in last place and graded it promising. He then gave the puppy an otherwise very good critique, but finished the critique with the words:
"But the problem this dog has, I wish him more correct in the front hand. When I see this problems in my own country, I wish you did not have them here. So I think this dog should not be used for breeding". (this is a transcript from a video of the Minor Puppy Class, taken by Ray Sullivan Tel. 01604 770758)
In my opinion, and the opinion of many Championship Show Judges present, this statement was considered quite ridiculous and an absolute nonsense. It is worth looking in the Sieger Show PHOTO URMA books, and looking at the fronts, and reading the critiques of the highly placed males and females. It is very clear that other 'reputable' SV Judges do NOT share his opinion.”

In the Breed Standard under the heading “The Limbs/Forehand”, it states:

 “The forelimbs when seen from all sides must be absolutely straight. Viewed from the front they must be parallel”.

It would appear then that this is quite straightforward; the feet should not be turned out. Basically it is a fault, but for the sake of the discussion let us take this a stage further. The Breed Standard also states under the heading Hindquarters:

The hock joint must be strong and tight whilst on a vertical line to the rear feet”.

Basically what this means is that the hocks should be straight when viewed from behind, in other words the animal should not be “cow-hocked”.  Therefore what the Breed Standard is saying is that dogs with either or both of these problems have a fault. Nowhere in the Standard does it say that the animals must not be bred from. In my experience very few Judges, including SV Judges view the dog for straightness behind during the individual examination and only look at the dog when he is checking him for soundness of hocks. By this stage the dog is pulling on the lead and a clear impression cannot be seen.

In the past people have mistakenly assumed that when a judge talks about the correctness of stand in front he is referring to the length and angle of the shoulder blades and upper arm. This is quite wrong. The judge is referring to the straightness of the limbs when viewed from the front.

Two incidents in the recent past can possibly explain this situation a little better. Some years ago Erwin Wieser of the famous Farbenspiel kennels in Germany was judging for one of our Breed Clubs in Ireland. During his examination it was quite noticeable that he spent quite a lot of time viewing all the dogs from the front. When he was asked after the show why he did this he explained that the forehand of the dog was a crucial area. It had to absorb all the power and drive from the hindquarters during the walking and gaiting examinations and severe problems here affected movement and endurance. He explained further that the shoulder blades are not connected to the skeleton by joints but by muscles, ligaments and tendons, therefore the front should be correct as possible. He said that the stance in front comprised the shoulder blades, upper arms, elbows, forelegs, pasterns and feet, but importantly he stated that problems with front assemblies were just that: FAULTS, and should be qualified as such in the complete assessment of the dog.

Recently, SV Judge John Lijffijt, from Holland, judged in Ireland. In many of his verbal critiques he commented on the degree of incorrectness of several of the exhibits in regard to the stand in front. However, if the dog otherwise was a good specimen and clearly better than its competitors the dogs won their classes. I spoke to him about this problem after the show and he said that this was not just an Irish problem but a problem worldwide. He stated that the degree of the problem must be assessed. If the dog was completely turned out (east-west) then he should be penalised. As with David Payne he said that everywhere he has judged he has seen the problem to some degree or other. Indeed he said that the problem was quite obvious in Europe including Germany.

In his statement David Payne quite correctly states both Siegers Quando vom Arminius and Visum vom Arminius had the problem of incorrect stand in front although this never appeared in their critiques and did not seem to affect their popularity at stud. More recently Peter Messler has criticised Hagadahl’s Arex for this fault but he was not banned from breeding. Indeed he has been widely used and the fault has been quite apparent in his progeny to date. Inconsistency, to my mind, is what upsets people. Should an SV judge apply different criteria to his judging standards in Germany than he does overseas? Of course not, but they do nonetheless. In my time in the Breed I have never seen a Select male or female criticised for being oversize, when quite clearly several have been and remember this is an exclusion fault in the Breed Standard, if the animal is over or under by 1 cm. A measuring sick is available at all shows in Germany, including the Sieger Show, yet rarely used, a pointless exercise.

Over angulation in the hindquarters is also something that is being heavily criticised and penalised by SV judges. The Breed Standard again is rather vague on this point and simply states that the upper and lower thigh bones are almost of the same length and create an angle of approximately 120 degrees. As with the forehand angulation some degree of variation is permissible. The angle of the shoulder blade to the upper-arm ideally should be 90 degrees but usually it is acceptable around 110 degrees. My understanding of this is that a slightly steep upper-arm is more favourable to a short upper-arm. Should the same latitude be given to the hindquarter angulation? Of course it should. Bar vom Ostsfrieschen Thingstatte, Uri vom Amulree, Esko vom Danischen Hof, Romeo vom Pallas Athene and Baru von Haus Yu are just some dogs penalised for over angulation in the hindquarters, to my mind unjustly so. Why then have dogs such as Ulk von Arlett, Neptun von Bad-Boll and Lasso vom Neuen Berg not been criticised for lacking angulation in the hindquarter. If we read the critiques on three recent Select males, Dux della Valcuvia, Neptun von Bad-Boll and Larus vom Batu the judges give them faultless critiques in regard to their forehand angles. Like many other people, I have seen these dogs in the flesh and clearly there are problems with the length and angle of their upper-arms of these 3 dogs. Indeed it is widely agreed that Dux della Valcuvia has the most obviously forward placed shoulder and yet this has never been mentioned in any of his breed critiques. Does this make them poor specimens, certainly not? They have faults like every dog but the faults must be dealt with relatively, as with the stand in front. They all have other assets which we can utilize. My argument here is do the judges not realise the problem, or are they trying to hide problems which they feel might have an effect on their own judging appointments. It has happened in the past at previous Sieger shows when judges in the junior classes have been forced to make changes to their line-ups by the President and Chief Breed Warden.

The question we have to ask ourselves as judges is; “Do we apply the Breed Standard when we judge”. Indeed how many of us have read the Breed Standard recently or indeed have we ever read it or do we have a copy of it? The SV Judge Training Scheme for foreign judges has always been a source of ridicule for many people involved in the Breed. In his book “The German Shepherd/A Genetic History of the Breed Dr. Willis makes a very good point; “In Germany the SV run training schemes which involve foreign judges. They are asked to attend a number of shows, usually in Germany, with an experienced SV judge and to comment upon the dogs, place them and then have their opinions vetted by the SV judge. A number of British and Australian judges, among others, have sat these tests and all those who have bothered to complete the course passed. They are then placed on the SV foreign list and some people make great play on this. Without wishing to denigrate the ability of SV foreign list judges, some of whom are excellent and certainly as good as any German judge the author has seen performing, the fact remains that an examination which everyone passes has had its currency debased”.

 A very good point is made here. As no one has ever failed the examination does it serve any purpose, of course not?  All you have to do is be a member of the SV for a number of years, have the time and money to make three trips to Germany, sit the exam (which no one has ever failed including German judges) and hey presto you are now qualified to tout yourself as a breed specialist judge. I believe it is fair to say that there are better judges in Ireland and Great Britain who have never sat this examination than many of those who have passed. There is also the case of the foreign trainee judge being evaluated by the German SV judge, who told him at the end of the show that he was a stupid man and knew nothing about dogs, but you still pass. The judge in question told me this and of his obvious embarrassment, so much for that particular exam.

Judging in Germany is made a lot easier for their judges because of their system of pre-selection. For example when judging at the Sieger Show, the judge will have judged many times throughout the year, and will already have examined many, if not all, of the exhibits before him. Allied to this he will have the placing and grading of every animal from every show that they have attended. Immediately he has a running order and just needs to fine tune his line-up, fairly straightforward. It also takes the mystery out of the German system for newcomers to the Breed. How many times have you been asked at Sieger Shows “How does he do it in such limited period of time?” The answer is simple; he knows his initial placings before he walks into the ring. This can also explain why many SV judges struggle to cope with large entries outside of Germany, when they do not have the bonus of knowing the animals “form”. This has certainly been evident in the past at 2-Day National Shows and the GSD League Shows. Some judges have visibly struggled in Ireland, where entries are considerably lower. One German SV judge, who had officiated at the Sieger Show, on entering the ring asked the ring steward to point out the champions and top rated dogs in each class. When told this was not allowed the judge replied that he did not want to be caught out. This is not an isolated incident. I will qualify this statement by saying that several top SV judges have officiated in this part of the world, and irrespective of the size of the entry have done a marvellous job. Walter Martin, Erich Orschler, Rudiger Mai, Helmut Buss and Erwin Wieser, easily spring to mind. It is also worth remembering that many SV judges have refused appointments in England, even for the more prestigious shows, indeed some have cancelled at the last moment. You may draw your own conclusions from this.

The GSD Breed Council in Great Britain in conjunction with the Kennel Club has implemented a very good Judge Training Scheme. Applicants must sit 2 in-depth written examinations and then be assessed at 2 championship shows before they will be allowed to judge the breed. An excellent idea and one which means that all future judges must have a good knowledge of the breed before they ever enter a breed ring. I would advocate such a system for Ireland, which should also include judges on our current judging lists. This would also help banish the absurd all-rounder judging system.

This article started out by trying to make some sense out of the Franz-Peter Knaul incident in England. Should the SV be contacted and an explanation demanded? I also asked the question; “Are breed judges adhering to the Breed Standard?  I personally believe the SV needs to update the Breed Standard and make it more user-friendly. I have argued for many years that an illustrated Breed Standard would be a great step forward, especially for the novice. You the readers can be the only true arbiters in this discussion, your opinions would be greatly appreciated.

Bob Duff



David Payne (Videx German Shepherds).

Dr. Malcolm Willis (The German Shepherd Dog / A Genetic History of the Breed).


"an independent opinion"

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Dear Bobby,

  My compliments on your article, and I quite agree with your conclusions. I want to inform you the training of Judges in Germany has recently changed. Prospective judges are now obliged to attend two trainings seminars, each lasting several days. They have to succeed in these training seminars before they are accepted for the Judges-training scheme. It is not easy to succeed in the seminars (Latest seminar seven out ten failed).

  I fully agree with your conclusions, Judging should be done on the day of the show, and achievements of the past are no guarantee for the future.

  Also VA dogs should have to prove their worth under every judge and in different countries, without "politics".  It is a nonsense that VA dogs should  not be beaten. I quite agree that  there are several non-German bred dogs/bitches at this moment, that could compete for the VA title at world level. More value should be given to results of the main breed shows of the different countries.

  I also sincerely believe that we need a European Branch of the WUSV, to address the needs we have in the European Union, and the issues related to European Regulations and laws. At this moment "German Protectionism" works against an international and European equality of opportunity, and honest competition in the showing and breeding of the German Shepherd Dogs.

Peter van Oirschot