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WHY WRITE A CRITIQUE?

The Kennel Club now insists that all its judges at Championship shows
and Open breed shows submit a written critique on the dogs placed First and
Second in their classes.
Furthermore, the exhibitors have done you the honour of giving you an
entry, and most of these will have entered in the hope of winning a prize and
subsequently reading the judge's thoughts on their dog. Another part critiques
play is giving those who were not present at a show some idea of the dogs that
won. To the more serious exhibitors, critiques can serve as a useful guide as to
where a particular judge's priorities lie when judging their breed, and
consequently they can carefully consider the type of dog that stands the best
chance of winning under that judge, based on past critiques.
Historically, critiques have played a major part in the British dog showing
world, and are the life-blood of the two weekly specialist newspapers, DOG
WORLD and OUR DOGS. In days past, when dog shows were not that
numerous, judges' critiques were published in THE KENNEL GAZETTE. However,
as they increased in number, the inclusion of all critiques in this monthly
publication proved impossible and so it fell to the weekly papers to ask judges
to submit to them their critiques for publication. Once upon a time critiques
were published for the first three placings at both Championship and Open
shows, however with the ever-increasing number of shows this has been
trimmed down over the years.
In days past many judges wrote exclusively for one of the two papers.
When they judged, it was not uncommon for the other" paper to employ
someone to write a ringside critique '. This p'actice resulted in some very
interesting and somewhat contrasting opinions being printed.
Imagine this today...
"Good head type and expression, strong bone, tight feet, nicely placed
shoulders, in good coat, moved well. CC.
Mr. X (Judge)
Compose the above with the comments of the ringside reporter: Very
coarse in skull and almost too much bone, stuffy in neck, well presented but
moving close behind and wide in front. This decision was hard to follow but as
the dog is sired by the judge's own dog, presumably he admired its type.
Mr. Y"
Thankfully now we only get to read the judge's opinion, though
sometimes it could be highly amusing to also have an impartial observer's view
of the judging!

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WHAT IS A CRITIQUE?

One dictionary definition of a critique is simply "a critical essay or


analysis" and that is basically what it should be ... an analysis of the dogs
placed.

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As the judge of the day, you have been asked to place the dogs entered
under you in order of merit, and as part of the job you have also undertaken to
submit a written critique on specifically placed dogs. (The weekly dog papers
ask for critiques on dogs placed First and general Open shows, First and
Second at breed dub Open and Championship shows, and generally Limited
shows these days require only the major winners - such as Best in Show,
Reserve Best in Show. Best Opposite Sex and Best Opposite Sex Puppy. So
what should that critique aim to do?
Ideally if should paint a word picture of the dog in question to such a
degree that any reader who was not present at the show should be able to
visuaise the dog. Not everyone is a gifted writer and some people find critique
writing to be extremely difficult. It should never be assumed that just because
someone can produce a fulsome critique, they have judged well. In many cases
this is far from the truth, however any proficient judge should be perfectly
capable of expressing their thoughts in print without necessarily having the
ability of a Poet Laureate.
The following guidelines should help you in putting together a coherent
and logical critique.

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BE FACTUAL

A good starting point is to mention the age and - where appropriate


colour and coat type of the dog. As your initia critiques will probably be
restricted to breed classes, there will be no need to mention the breed. For the
purpose of this exercise, let's imagine you are judging Griffons Bruxellois
a breed that comes in several colours and two coat types, rough and smooth.
So, you could begin with:
16 months red rough''
Initially you should attempt to convey your overall impression of the dog
- the picture that it creates which you first notice when you see it in the ring.
Your first impression of the dog may go something like this:
Very much on his toes, of good overall balance and excellent breed type."
Then you need to get into the detail of the dog that became apparent
during your hands-on examination. It is important to tell the truth and not shy
away from any dogs shortcomings. Some judges are of the opinion that
critiques should never include faults, their reason being that other judges will
pick up on them. I have never understood this thinking as a) all dogs have
faults, and you are putting them up because of their virtues and despite their
faults, and, b) no judge should be officiating if they will base their decisions on
past critiques they may have read!
Remember that there are ways of saying things. For example Head like
a bucket" and "would prefer a cleaner back-skull, mean basically the same
thing but the latter is far more palatable than the former.
Try also to remember what breed you are judging and describing, and
attempt to include breed-specific points that will indicate to the reader what

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the subject breed is - even if they hadn't read the heading at the top of the
repo't. That is not to say that it is advisable to pluck odd phrases from the
Breed Standard in an attempt to impress.
The Welsh Springer Spaniel Standard, for example, requires the breed to
have ears that are shaped somewhat like a vine leaf. However if you were to
ever judge Welsh and put in a critique "correct vine leaf shaped ears", the
breed people would instantly know that you did not have a clue and were just
throwing that phrase in for effect. The breed specialist judges would never
think of quoting that, so it is a good idea to read specialists' reports and see
how they phrase things.
It is also helpful to know, when judging breeds other than your own,
exactly what breed-specific terminology is used regarding colour. Some breeds
may describe a colour as red whereas another breed may describe exactly the
same colour as fawn. This is one area where all-rounder judges can leave
themselves open to criticism from the specialists, and believe me they will be
quick to jump on any perceived shortcomings.
When going into physical detail, it is not necessary to list every single
point of the dog ... Good head, good eyes, good neck, good topline, good
tailset etc." This type of critique is mundane and boring. If will be assumed that
most aspects of the subject dog ore of a certain level of merit if they have won,
and therefore - after describing the overall "look" of the dog - if is best to
restrict individual comments to those aspects of the dog that you considered
outstanding, and those that could be improved.
So, if we return to our mythical Griffon, we could have a critique on the
static dog that read something like this:
Correct large head, excellent rounded skull, good width between the
ears; ears are well set but could be smaller. Large dark eyes full of expression,
nose very well set back with excellent large nostrils. Wide muzzle with
excellent tum-up & this, coupled with his well-developed beard help create a
very appealing expression.
Good straight front, but could have more spring of rib & greater
development of forechest - maybe this might improve with age. Rawless
topline & tailset, in good coat.''
That gives us a pretty accurate picture of the dog without describing
every minute detail. The fact that you have not mentioned neck, feet,
angulation and mouth will indicate to the reader that these were of an
acceptable standard.
Having written about the overall picture and the physical details, you
should then address the question of movement. Bearing in mind the dog's
structural qualities, you may end up with this:
Moves freely in profile, covering the ground well, holding his topline &
goes away true, but coming on he is a little narrow which was to be expected.
Still, he has time on his side."
These days critiques may not appear to flow" as they did in the past
and much of this is down the dog papers' shortage of space. For example, they
will edit out repetitive references to "he'' or she", they will replace the word
and with an ampersand (&), and any mention of the winner" or "one above"
will be replaced with simply the number 1. It is as well to

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appreciate these policies because it will save both you and the papers time
when preparing reports.
Ideally the weeklies prefer to have critiques typed and double-spaced,
and printed on one side the paper only. These days many reports are submitted
by e-mail but in view of recent Kennel Club directives it is vital that you should
keep a copy of any critiques e-mailed along with the date they were sent.

IT S ON THE DAY

Remember always that the critique you are writing should reflect your
thoughts about the dog at that moment in time, and not be based on what you
saw last month or what you hope you might see next.
For example, writing something like Not moving with his usual great
reach & drive is irrelevant, just as is Will soon be back in full coat''. Restrict
your thoughts to what you see on the day.

FAMOUS RELATIONS!

Some judges seem to have an obsession with linking every dog they put
up to others they have rewarded in the past, and it is very tempting to be self-
congratulatory in print if you happen to consistently put up dogs of the same
breeding. However, it can become tedious if every critique includes a mention
of some famous relation from the dim and distant past. Oftentimes the dogs
credited for producing such clones, in reality, bear very little resemblance to
them at all!

SETTLING OLD SCORES

The critique is not a stick to beat the opposition with! Some breed
judges seem to re:ish the opportunity to judge their rivals dogs and get them
in the cards just so that they can write a damning critique. By all means
mention any dogs failings which can enhance your critique, but it is frequently
far too obvious when a winning dog gets destroyed in print by an over-zealous
competitor, and the logical conclusions will be arrived at.

LOGICAL DECISIONS

When you read the critiques of the dogs who placed First and Second in
a class, if should be obvious which dog won and which was Second. However,
that is not always the case.
Study these two critiques:
A: Very well balanced dog of excellent type, moving soundly and holding his
outline well. Lovely head and expression, very well boned and bodied and in
good coat well presented.
B: Strongly made dog of good type, scores in outline and has a pleasing head
and eye. Moving a little close behind and his mouth is not his fortune."
Which dog won? A ... obviously? Wrong! It was Dog 3 that won the class
and one can only wonder how and why.

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Whenever critiquing two dcgs, it is helpful to always include your main
reason WHY the first dog beat the second. A simple remark such as 1 had the
edge in head and expression", or, "A close decision but 1 was so much stronger
behind" will suffice and give the reader the confidence to believe that you
knew what you were doing and why you made the decisions you did.

AVOID SPECULATION

Some judges in the past have discovered a dog has a fault that they
penalise heavily, bjt rather than mention that fault in print, they will resort to
some ambiguous phrase such as Has a little 'if' that could not forgive. Within
hours of the dog papers being delivered to other exhibitors the poor dog in
question will have acquired a bad mouth, lost a testicle or heaven knows what.
Rather than sow a seed of doubt, be strong enough to mention the fault so that
there can be no misunderstanding.

PRACTISE THE THOUGHT PROCESS

Long before you begin judging at licensed shows, it can be very helpful
to watch other judges and mentally pick your winners, jotting down notes that
would make the basis of your critique had you been the judge on the day. Pick
out the major virtues and the major faults, and when you get home attempt to
put together a sensible critique. If your winners coincided with the judge's, it
can be interesting to compare your efforts with the published critique, and
much can be learnt from how different people see different dogs.
Even without making notes, whenever you see a dog you should train
yourself to analyse what you are looking at. Get info the habit of first seeing
the overall impression, then evaluating the details. Furthermore, fry to imagine
how a dog will move based on its construction, and then see if the reality
meets the expectation. Frustratingly. this is not always the case.
Try not to get bogged down with excess baggage when you look at any
dog - whether you are judging or just an eager ringsider. Look only at the
picture in front of you, and forget any extraneous details such as the dog's
breeding or its winning record. Try to describe it to yourself completely cold
and impartially, as if you had never seen the dog or the handler before. This
can be very stimulating.
As a valuable mental exercise in preparation for judging, try this: When
you see a dog you really like, imagine it being handled by your very worst
enemy. Then ask yourself if it is really that good. Similarly, when you see a dog
that you do not care for at all, imagine it being shown by your best friend.
Have you now suddenly noticed some good points that you may have missed
before?
Always remind yourself that every single dog you will judge will have
some good points, and so whenever studying a dog as a ringsider do try to
focus on the positive, keeping the negative in perspective.

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PRACTICAL EXAMPLES

Look at these two Welsh Springer Spaniels, a male on the left and a bitch
on the right. Imagine you have these two in the same class and have to make a
decision. Both are excellent examples of their breed, but only one can be first.
How would you critique these two?

Deciding between two such dogs can be difficult as they both have their
individual strengths and weaknesses whilst both being extremely good quality
specimens. You could justifiably place either First, depending on your own
priorities when judging.
This was a real-life situation for me and I placed the bitch on the right
First over the male on the left. My reasons?
Bitch - Truly lovely veteran bitch of excellent type & full of quality. Her head &
expression are classic Welsh & she is so beautifully balanced with an absolutely
typical outline. In full bloom & moved so true, with great reach & drive, but had
no easy passage.''
Dog - Handsome male of good basic type & with great presence. Good head
type, but not the intense Welshness of the bitch, being a little fuller in the
foreface. Also he is a shade shorter in upper arm than she is & a little straighter
in stifle, so did not have her scope on the move. Even so he moved soundly up
and down and made a very balanced outline when stacked."
Critiquing dogs of high quality to yourself can be very good practice for
the actual reporting of dogs you have judged. Remember that when you get
top class dogs together, something has to give, and so it is very much a
question of explaining what virtues appealed to you on the day, and what
shortcomings you were prepared to forgive.
At the other end of the scale you may well be faced with writing about
two dogs, neither of which really impress you. In all dogs you should be able to
find some positive attributes, before explaining their failings.

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Look at this Pug and what do you see?
Remember, first impressions, then detail.
"Multum in Parvo" is the phrase used in the
Pug Standard to describe great substance in
a smal frame - literally "Much in little. That is
one of the unique phrases that breeder
judges would use in the course of critique.
My critique on this dog would probably read:
Fawn dog of quality & very much Multum in
Parvo. Strong head with neat well pigmented
ears, enough wrinkle, large globular eyes but
they could be darker, & his head would
benefit from a stronger underjaw. Just
enough bone but a little slack in pastern. Firm backline, good width of chest,
excellent spring of rib, tight twist, nails could be better pigmented.''
That kind of critique gives you the overall impression of the dog, its
major strengths and weaknesses and aims to be breed-specific to a degree.
This is what we should all be aiming for.

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This Boxer bitch is clearly a quality


exhibit who could win anywhere in the
world. Most judges would be happy to
compliment her in print on her free-
standing showmanship, her clean and
elegant neck, good forechest and
typical topline and tailset.
The purist may notice that - to be
hypercritical - she could have a little
more rise of skull, a slightly longer upper
arm and a shorter second thigh (over-
long second thighs weaken the
hindquarters and push the hocks so far
behind the dog, yet seem to be almost favoured in some quarters because
of the flashy" outline they tend to create] and she coud be a little shorter-
coupled.
Depending on the company she appeared in, and your own sense of
responsibility to the breed, you may wish to mention these failings in a
critique, but in context.
The Scandinavian system of critiquing and quality-grading every single
dog can be very useful training as it focuses the mind on accurate and no-
nonsense critiques. Because the warts-and-ail critique is part of their culture,
the Scandinavians expect judges to point out their dogs' faults, and if they fail
to mention them they assume the judge hasn't noticed them: as a
consequence some British judges get the reputation of being Santa Claus
judges.

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With the best will in the world, there will come a time when even the
most benevolent judge will be faced with critiquing a dog that lacks great
merit as regards breed type and
this can be a real challenge. Take,
for example, this Golden Retriever

Here is a dog that is clearly


beautifully groomed and well
presented, has a look of
moderation" about it, is
reasonably we I constructed in a
generic kind of way, but is it really
a Golden Retriever?
The fact that it has such an off-
beat head and expression and
appears rather leggy" would
pose any critique-writer with a
problem. Would you be the sort who would just comment on its excellent
neck and topline and its beautifully groomed coat, or would you actually
point out that you would prefer a more typical head and expression and
more depth of body?

THE PRACTICALITIES

You are about to judge your first Open show. It is unlikely to be a breed
show, so you will only be required to critique your First prize winners. Therefore
you will not even reed to think about explaining why one dog beat another.
There is space in the judging book for notes, but it is advisable when you
start off to go armed with a notebook, a pen and a pencil (because if it tips
down with rain, the chances are that your pen won't work on damp paper!).
Portable mini-recorders may look flashy, but don't trust them ... they have a
habit of breaking down, rewinding themselves, and nervous judges can
sometimes just press the wrong buttons. Stick to the old pen and paper; it's
safer.
Even though you may not use all your rough notes, try to be as detailed
as possible. For this exercise you can be as thorough as you wish, going
through the dog from nose to tail if necessary. At least if you can't remember a
dog's eye colour, you can refer to your notes. No mention of it and you might
be tempted to write 'dark eye" when it is as yellow as a headlamp. Put as
much as possible in your rough notes, and then you can select what you want
to incorporate in the finished article.
You might also wish to give yourself rather unconventional aides-
memoires in your rough notes as these might help you to visualise a dog that
you may have forgotten. For example brindle that larked abound with fat
woman in red jacket" might bring to life in your mind's eye the dog of whom
you have zero recall. It goes without saying that you should always keep your
notebook about your person!

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When you get home, try to get your critique written as soon as you
possibly can. Your winners should be fresh in your mind, and it is surprising
how the memory can dull in the space of just a few days. Sit down with your
rough notes and have a copy of the relevant Breed Standard to hand. As I said
earlier, it is not advisable to quote phrases from it willy-nilly in an attempt to
impress, but before committing anything to print, double-check that if a point
is being praised then it is desirable. Some judges have come unstuck when
praising an excellent scissor bite, for example, in a breed that should be
slightly undershot. So always check.
Write out your critique in full, and leave it overnight. Go back and read it
through, tidying up any grammatical points that you might have missed at the
first attempt. Imagine you are reading it for the first time - in print - does it
make sense? Does it describe the dogs as you saw them on the day? If you are
happy with it, send it off to the dog papers and always keep a copy. These
days, with the Kennel Club's new emphasis on critiques you may well be
required at a future date to supply a copy, either to Clarges Street or a breed
club.

MORE ABOUT YOU THAN THE DOG

The judge's critique will very often say far more about the judge who
wrote it than about the dogs it attempts to describe. Exhibitors on the day. and
outside observers who know the dogs concerned, will be very quick to form an
opinion as to how fully you understand the breed by the decisions you made
and the way you explained them in print.
They will soon decide whether you ore a "know it all'', a chancer", a
follow my leader" kind of judge or someone who is out to get even. It is in
your best interests to create the most favourable impression with the people
who get to read your critique, as well as those who showed their dogs under
you.
Be truthful, be tactful and be far - and your critiques will be something
to be proud of.

CRITIQUES UNDER THE F.C.I. SYSTEM

When judging under F.C.I. rules and regulations it is necessary to write a


critique on each individual dog you judge. The critique should be concise yet
comprehensive and based entirely on the dog you see in front of you at that
moment of time. You will dictate your critique to the ring-secretary.
Be consistent with your critiques and start with the general impression,
then work your way from the head to the tail. However in the F.C.I. system in
particular I believe it is more important to mention the dog's outstanding
virtues and also its major faults, rather than listing endless nice" this and that.
Get info a routine when dictating your critiques. I prefer to complete the
hands-on examination, then sit down and dictate a critique on the dog
standing, then ask the handler to move the dog up. down and around, and
then add a sentence about the movement.
If should be apparent to anyone who reads a critique what Quality
Grading that dog received. The exhibitors often compare critiques

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afterwards and are sometimes puzzled when a dog graded VERY GOOD gets a
marvellous critique with no faults mentioned but an EXCELLENT graded dog
has some faults pointed out.
This is why it is important to always list some points that could be
improved - on every dog, and the perfect dog is not yet born! - as the F.C.I.
system is unique in that the critique is based on the dog as it appears in
isolation, rather than how it appears in the competition class up against other
dogs. You will often judge dogs that have no really glaring faults yet their
overall appearance is quite ordinary. Then you can get a dog in the same class
that has an obvious fault, though not a really serious one. and when it comes
to the competition class this is the dog that pulls out a I the stops and because
of its attitude and carriage looks the winner. There is no facility in the F.C.I.
critique to mention how the dog appears in the competition class as the
critique describes how the dog relates to the relevant Breea Standard.
This is how my critique would read on this Pomeranian:

16 months orange of excellent


overall type, shape and
balance. Beautiful head and
expression with the correct foxy
muzzle, straight finely boned
forelegs, well bodied for age,
excellent angulation in front and
behind. High set tail carried well.
Not in fully mature coat but the
texture is excellent, though the
colour could be a little clearer.
Moved true up and down and
went around with the correct
light and buoyant action of the
breed. Shows great promise.
EXCELLENT."

As with everything in life, practice makes perfect and the more you write
critiques on the dogs you judge, the better you will become.

Andrew H. Brace 2015


No part of this material, in whole or in part, may be reproduced
without the prior permission of the author.