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Steve Tillotson, 1996

Introduction In this article we will explain the system of Breed Club lectures and training available in the UK for would-be judges. This is "not an article on how to Judge the Afghan Hound" - I would love to receive such an article(s) from you.

Starting point - In the UK, the Afghan Hound Breed Council have issued guidelines for judging exams and most UK Afghan Clubs exam systems are Breed Council approved. This typically involves the candidate judge attending three "lectures" and then sitting the exam. In most cases the exam involves the candidate going over 6-7 Afghans, placing them in order of merit, then sitting down with a panel of very experienced Senior Judges to discuss their placings. In the case of the Southern Afghan Club, you are also required to sit a written exam.

Training Lectures - Thank goodness they're not just somebody standing up and talking at you, they involve real Afghans. Also, they involve several speakers talking about (perhaps), stewarding, understanding the breed standard, preparation for the judging appointment, interpretation of the standard, the anotomy of the Afghan etc. It is also an opportunity for novice's to get close to and to speak to the "Seniors" in the breed. An important dimension is the actual Afghan and the "laying on of hands". I cannot stress how important this laying on of hands is. To stand with, on a one to one basis, a senior and respected judge, having listened to their lecture, to then go over an Afghan Hound and describe to the senior what you find is a most valuable experience.

Contact with Seniors - to make this point, I will tell a little story. When Margaret Niblock gave a lecture that I attended, a Senior Judge was one of the organisers for the day. This Senior Judge described to some novice's what a correct front on an Afghan should be like, this was done whilst going over an actual Afghan. Margaret listened intently and then in her most charming way, explained to the Senior Judge (and the looking on novice's) that this senior judge's explanation and understanding was incorrect. The senior judge said to me afterwards "Steve, you know me, you have seen me judge for years, and I never knew that". This was a marvellous moment because, a) In front of novice judges, Margaret corrected a senior judge, in a very nice way, but nonetheless, it was in public. b) The senior judge was embarrassed, but not uncomfortable. c) The novices witnessed an open and honest exchange between two seniors and realised that no matter how experienced you are - you can always learn.

Other things you need to know - It is self apparent that you must know the breed standard and the anatomy of the Afghan Hound, these lectures/teach-ins are so valuable in helping novice's relate one to ther other. But that's not all of if, you need to know ring procedure, your role, the role of the stewards etc. You also need to know some practicalities, such as, lady judges are ill advised to wear high heel shoes, particularly if judging Afghans in a damp field, avoiding wearing dangling beads of jewellery etc. I recall at an examination the trainee lady judge was wearing a particular (strong) perfume. My bitch (a model for the day), was always looking for food. She was very attracted by the smell of perfume, and was very difficult to go over, she wanted to follow/sniff the Judge who, despite my handling efforts, had difficulty in going over the Afghan. A real life problem, not often found in the textbooks.

Systems - some people have the ability to store and manipulate a tremendous amount of information in their head, others need to write it down, and shades in between. No matter how knowledgeable you are, on the day, faced with a class of 30 Afghans at a Championship show, you have a lot of information to consider, sort and decide upon. Some people make copious notes and then refer to these when pulling out their Afghans, others use a small system - ie, each dog is in/out on the first pass, others simply work without such paper systems. Some have an "eye for the dog" and I personally believe a few people have this skill, but only a few. The point is, each of us has to find a system that suits us in sorting out the exhibits. I am convinced that many people will not (should not?) judge because in the pressure of the moment, standing in the middle of the ring, they get overwhelmed with the amount of information and perhaps nerves and just cant cope. Again, this epitomises the fact that simply being an expert about the Afghan is not sufficient, you have to be able to handle the occasion, the moment, and the pressure it brings.

Stewarding - an excellent way to put some of the training into practice. You are in a ring working closely with an experienced judge, usually the judge will share some intimate thoughts with you as the day progresses, you can study what he/she does (with perhaps extra insight), you have to face the exhibits, keep them in order, keep the ring running smoothly. If you are a shy sort of person this will help you get used to being ringside/centre stage. I just love stewarding, its educational and can be very enjoyable, and its an important job. When I judged last year, the steward provided by the Society was fantastic. She knew better than I what came next, everytime I turned round, there she was, everything ready. It helped me relax and concentrate on my job.

Preparation for the Exam - For me there were two stages to this, firstly memorizing the breed standard (I am hopeless at exams, so had to find a way to make it stick in my mind), secondly, to establish a routine/order/sequence in which I undertook the actual judging. Here's my personal notes made at the time -

  • Memorizing the standard - I dissected it into component form, for example-
    • Head long/not too narrow, Occiput prominent, Foreface long, Jaw punnishing, Mouth level, Stop slight, Nose black (liver ok), Balanced overall, Top Knot long
    • Eyes dark preferred, Nearly triangular, Slant up inner to outer
    • Etc, basically my system to memorize was to identify the characteristics/features, put them into a category, and list the keywords. Looking at my actual notes now I see I listed 15 categories (Head, Eyes, Ears, Neck, Shoulders, Forelegs, Back, Hindquarters, Forefeet, Hindfeet, Tail, Coat, Colour, Expression, Gait), Within these 15 categories I listed and used a highlight pen to list 60 points. Thus on one piece of paper I (hope) to have staring out at me the key points of the standad, nicely organised.
  • Judging the Afghan Hound - For the purpose of my exam I made another list. Before I did this, I practiced and pratciced on my own family of Afghans, the single purpose was to develop and establish a routine for going over an Afghan. I think it matters not what your routine is, but I do believe you need a routine, if only to ensure you treat all exhibits the same. Example -
    • First, Take My Time, walk down the line, initial reaction to head/front and side view, walk back up the line, looking at exhibits from back and side view, perhaps gain a preliminary view to what I like and what I dont like.
    • Second, approaching the exhibit to go over him, make friends! Hand under the chin, gentle touch/tickle or stroke, then move on.
    • Third starting with head, then work down and backward through the Afghan.
    • My list of checks included things such as teeth/bite, teeth.side (molars etc), head overall and balance, eye shape and colour, neck long and sloping, front wide/narrow, shoulder/lay etc. Again, looking at my list on a single page, the preliminaries (walking the line), the checks (the 15 catagories/check out the points), then move the exhibits, once done, stand back and look at the lineup and pull out my choices (and try not to panic, try not to get confused with the vast amount of information I have just considered). Pull out my choice, up/down the line for final look/adjustment, move each/any (basically reminding myself of why I chose these, double checking the points that influenced me), thats it done.

Judging exams - Whilst modelling with your Afghan, you gain tremendous insight. For example, after the candidate judge has gone over the Afghan, they return to the lineup to discuss their placings. I recall this same perfume-lady judge being quite severely rebuked for describing my bitches bite as "overshot" when in fact she had a perfect "scissor bite". You are standing there, showing your Afghans bite and are "privvy" to these intimate and educational moments, and you are learning all the time. Its imprtant also that in this privelaged position that the exhibitor/model do not go and blab and gossip to others about these personal moments. I have recited a couple of stories, but for this reason the names of those involved are not mentioned. I also recall a very experienced Open Show judge who had judged about 40 classes - failing the exam. Personally, I have quite a high opinion of his abilities, but he failed. I dont know why, it may not have been lack of knowledge, it may have been failure to articulate this knowledge and to convince the panel.

The Judging Exam routine is generally this, you sit in an anti-room, awaiting your call to view 6/7 exhibits, place them in order of merit, then explain the rationale behind your placings to several very experienced judges. You do not have sight of the dogs in advance, you do not know who the Seniors on the judging panel are, candidates that go before you do not tell you what to expect. Its like being in a condemmed cell (the wait for your turn I mean). In the case of the Southern Afghan Club, you take a quite demanding written test before you go and judge actual Afghans. It can be very difficult to cope with a question such as "why did you prefer dog 2 to dog 3, noting that dog 2 could be a Veterean (could it be a Champion?) and dog 3 a young thing. These tests are good, if you dont have the basics and cant articulate your views, you will struggle.

If at first you dont succeed, try again - I took the Afghan Hound Association (AHA) judging examination, twice, failed both times. The first time I was a last minute candidate, not quite ready, and allthough my placings were pretty good, I lacked the experience. The second attempt - I had such a mixture of Afghans, I mean from stars to dogs barely recognisable as an Afghan I really struggled. It was a classic case of having dug myself a hole by talking , I continued to dig myself an even deeper hole. I have to say, this nearly destroyed my ambitions to judge, all my self confidence evaporated on that day. I also have to say that the AHA were very fair and considerate, my judging and comments on the day were not up to standard. I think, on hindsight, I had come so close (so I was told at the time) to passing the first time I was over confident, ironically, ended up with no confidence. Life goes on..

Sometimes a written test as well - Some time later I took the Southern Afghan Hound Club examination - a new dimension of problem, a written examination as well as actually judging Afghans. I found it very hard, under time pressure, to give written answers and I think I only just got through that section if I am being perfectly honest. I was more comfortable with the actual assessment and placing of the Afghans, and, (apparently), did a convincing job in my explanations (and I didnt talk as much as I did at the previous attempts in order to not dig myself anymore holes to fall in). But, it was/is important to me personally to pass a Breed Council approved exam. It doesn't mean I am a qualified expert judge, it means some experienced people believe I have a potential to judge and have the basics, thats important to me.

In Conclusion - Many of the Senior judges on the circuit became established before judging exams were invented. Some support them, some dont, others think they should be harder. I think theyre a hard enough test. I think its quite a challenge to convince an experienced panel that you are both knowledgeable and capable. The pass rate varies, I have seen 6 out of 8 candidates pass, on another day I have seen 2 out of 8 pass. I think a feature of UK judging is that most of it is undertaken by breed specialists, most of whom in the future will have undergone some initial and formal training. I make no claims for being an expert Judge. I have a certain level of knowledge and experience and I interpret the Breed Standard,(steered by others originally), maturing to my own way as I indeed mature. Whatever you do, on the day, you must believe in yourself.

Steve Tillotson April 1996


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