Becoming a Molosser Judge, AKC Style
I’ve heard it more times than I can count: We need to do a better job educating Molosser judges.
No matter the breed or the judge, that’s always true: Education is never ending, and there is always the opportunity to deepen a judge’s understanding — or, for that matter, our own.
But when it comes to the anointing of a new Molosser judge, you might be surprised to learn exactly what the process is — and what limited influence the parent club has in the whole matter.
Permit Me, Please
First, let’s clear up some misconceptions: The AKC does not issue judging “licenses.” Bad judges cannot have their licenses “revoked.” Instead, judges apply for and, if they fulfill the criteria (more on that later), are given initial permission to judge a given breed. This is what is called “permit” (formerly “provisional”) status, which basically means they are on probation. Later, when they have successfully judged the breed with competition a minimum of three times, they can apply for “regular status.”
(In the face of documented incompetence, the AKC may decide to return a judge to permit status, or revoke permission to judge the breed entirely. But these cases are exceedingly rare.)
Leaving aside breeder-judges, who have different criteria to meet, let’s look at exactly how a judge from outside a breed gets to judge it. The assumption is that this prospective adjudicator has already received regular status in her own breed, whether it’s Bichons or Bulldogs; the rules require you to prove competence on your own turf before you move to someone else’s.
Before she can submit an application for any Molosser breed to AKC’s Judging Operations department, our judge needs to amass the all-important CEUs (Component Education Units). The minimum number of CEUs she needs depends on her experience level. If she does not yet judge a complete group on regular status, she must accumulate 10 CEUs per breed; if she has at least one group but fewer than four groups, she needs eight; four or more groups, six.
The minimum number of CEUs also depends on the breed itself. The numbers above reflect a numerically high “regular entry” breed like Bullmastiffs, Mastiffs or Cane Corsos. “Low entry” breeds that typically get small entries, if they get entries at all — think Dogues de Bordeaux, Boerboels, Tibetan Mastiffs or Neapolitan Mastiffs — have more modest CEU requirements; following the group statuses listed above, they would be 5, 4 and 3, respectively. (The AKC updates its Low Entry Breed List every year, based on the previous year’s total breed entries. New breeds always start out as low entry, as they had zero dogs in competition the previous year.)
So let’s say our hypothetical Molosser applicant is a relatively new judge who judges only a handful of other breeds. She needs 10 CEUs, which are derived from educational experiences of various kinds.
The AKC provides a matrix that shows how each experience is weighted, and the maximum number of CEUs from each category of experience that may be accepted on an application. In most cases, judges are required to document the experience by filling out a form and having an eligible fancier or judge sign it.
Experienced Molosser judge the late Charles Trotter assessing his Dogue entry at Westminster. Photo: Mary Bloom.
A common way to earn CEU credits — one each — is with a kennel visit, tutoring session or ringside-mentoring session at an entry with a major.
If the ringside mentor is an AKC judge, he or she has to have been approved to judge the breed for a minimum of 12 years. But if the form signer is a fancier, he or she has to have been an exhibitor in the breed for 12 or more years – period, end of story. So long as he or she meets the dozen-year requirement, the AKC does not make any further distinctions. This rule was instituted to give an equal voice to those qualified individuals who may not belong to a parent club, whether because of personal preference or politics.
But here’s the flip side of that policy: There is no distinction made between a long-time breeder-judge who has bred for half a century and adjudicated in a dozen countries across the world – and a pet person who has never bred a litter but has owned the breed in question for 12 years and a day. Both are given equal credit.
While the AKC does value and offer a list of parent-club-approved mentors — and many conscientious judges do seek them out for education — again, that has nothing to do with a person’s ability to sign the form. Twelve verifiable years in the breed, and you can scribble away.
You Don’t Gotta Have Class
The most CEUs a judge can earn from a single educational experience — a whopping three — is at a seminar with hands-on exams given by a parent club at the national specialty or at an approved venue like the AKC/DJAA Advanced Judges Institute in Orlando each December. (The Institutes held in Louisville in March, Houston in July and as of last year Portland in January meet the latter criterion.) If there is not a sufficient number of dogs to examine, rank and discuss, the seminar is worth only two points.
If the seminar is given outside those parameters, even if it is the identical seminar sanctioned by the parent club and given by an approved presenter, it is worth only two points with hands-on, and one point without.
To prevent judges from acquiring all their CEUS within a couple of days at a national, the maximum number that can be earned there — including seminars, ringside observations and tutoring sessions — is six.
There are other ways to earn CEUs: having a long-term mentor (2 CEUs), doing an in-ring apprenticeship with a judge who meets the 12-year requirement (2 CEUs), judging a sweepstakes at a specialty (1 CEU, or 2 if it is at a national), judging dogs of the breed on three occasions at special attractions like Owner Handled, Bred By or 4-6 puppy (1 CEU). Added during the pandemic to address the limitations created by COVID is a one-on-one virtual tutoring session with a breed expert (1 CEU).
Dogs appreciate a gentle and confident hand. Their handlers also hope for a qualified opinion. Photo: Mary Bloom.
As you can see, it is entirely possible to become a permit judge in any given Molosser breed without ever attending a parent-club seminar or talking to a parent-club-approved mentor.
Would publicizing the judges-education held each year at the national help matters? Yes … and no. Without question, national specialties are the best place for judges to “set” their eye with a given breed: Given the large entry, there is so much quantity that quality examples are inevitable. (And it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to really grasp a breed by looking at just average examples.) But when national specialties are held in out-of-the-way locations, and when judges education is spread over several days, the price tag of transportation and hotel nights can dissuade all but the most dedicated souls.
Once a judge sends in her application for permit status, her CEUs will be checked. Though the AKC cannot fact-check every documented experience, they will spot-check questionable ones, which is why every form-signer is required to provide a phone number or email address. The prospective judge’s application is then published twice in the monthly online AKC Gazette — once to announce that the judge has applied and then again, typically two months later, to announce that permit status has been granted. In the interim, the judge sits for an interview about the breed with an AKC rep.
Practice Makes Perfect
With that second publication in the Gazette, our fictional judge receives permit status and can accept assignments. If the breed is regular entry — think Bullmastiffs, Cane Corsos or Mastiffs — she now needs to judge the breed three times with competition before she can apply for regular status. (Single entries don’t count because the judge has to actually make a choice between dogs.)
In low-entry breeds — Boerboel, Dogo Argentino, Dogue de Bordeaux, Neapolitan Mastiff and Tibetan Mastiff — the requirements are less stringent: After six assignments, even if no dogs entered or showed up, the judge can apply for regular status.
At any given AKC show, permit judges are typically observed by a field rep, who chooses the breed based on the entry that day. So if our judge has, say, Bullmastiffs along with six other permit Working breeds, she’s not guaranteed a Bullmastiff evaluation. That said, since Bullmastiffs are among the biggest Molosser entries, chances are reasonable that she will have at least one observation in that breed before she completes her three assignments and requests regular status.
Field reps have their own approaches to discussing the entry: Some want to go over each placement in detail; others want a more general discussion of overall strengths and weaknesses. Both judge and rep take notes, and find some time later in the day to sit down and discuss the judging.
We all know that judging is a subjective affair: One judge may prioritize movement, while another places a heavier emphasis on head type. What matters in the interview is not that the judge has the same priorities as the field rep, but rather that the judge can explain her decisions based on the standard. So long as she hasn’t completely fault-judged, or put up a clearly inferior dog, she will likely pass the interview if she can use the standard to justify her decision.
The Big Picture
The most important part of education is not how many seminars a judge attends. Most important is the desire and interest on the part of the judge to be educated. Good judges see education not as checking boxes on a form, but as an ongoing process that is satisfying in and of itself.
Competent judging isn’t just knowing a standard backward and forward. Mostly, it’s about figuring out the delicate balancing act of priorities. Judges judge with confidence when they feel they have a handle on those priorities. And the very best judges know that their priorities can and will change as they cultivate more depth in a breed.
To help them navigate this process, good judges find good mentors, people they can return to again and again with the inevitable questions that arise after each assignment. And for those who worry that mentors will use that opportunity to hijack judges and give them a biased outlook that favors their own breeding program, rest assured that good judges quickly see through this: Mentors who refuse to acknowledge the faults of their own dogs or won’t highlight the good points of others soon become painfully obvious.
Another word about mentoring: Whether or not you are a parent-club-approved mentor for your breed, if a judge comes to you waving a form, remember that you control the final pen strokes. If the judge expects you to brandish your Bic without investing any significant time or attention (“Just sign this”), or appears not to understand the key points you are presenting, it is your right — and, I might suggest, even duty — not to sign. Always ask the judge to fill out the form first (“I’m sorry, I never sign a blank form,” dispensed with a smile), so you can read his description of the mentoring experience and see how much of your discussion registered. A good judge will respect you for this. If the judge taps his foot and says there is no time, offer your email address so he can email the completed form to you at his leisure. Then expect never to hear from him again.
Beware the "clipboard clutchers"! Do not feel pressured to sign a form for a prospective judge if you feel the education experience was inadequate.
The reason permit judges are published in the Gazette is to give the fancy the opportunity to comment on them: Valid objections do have some weight. If you refuse to sign a form — or sign one with negative comments that pretty much insure it will be discarded as soon as the judge turns the corner — you can write to AKC Judging Operations to express your concern. Depending on when the judge’s application is received, and how much education he acquired in the interim, those concerns might impact his application. Just be aware that judges have the right to see correspondence pertaining to their application, and your name is not guaranteed to be redacted.
In the end, the most Molosser parent clubs can do is make breed information and qualified mentors available, capably and honestly guide those judges who do come for their help, and hope for the best. After all, to paraphrase an old adage, you can lead a judge to a seminar, but you can’t make him think.