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Judges Right Hand Man

The American Dog Breeders Association began sanctioning conformation dog shows for the American Pit Bull over twenty-eight years ago. The first sanctioned show was held in California by the Golden State Pit Bull Terrier Club in 1977. At that time, our club had been organized for a few years and we had been showing our dogs in rare breed classes with the AKC. We soon began looking for an organization that understood the special characteristics of the breed and appreciated what outstanding and remarkable dogs the American Pit Bull Terrier truly was. We contacted the United Kennel Club, from Kalamazoo, Michigan and were told, that this sounded like a good idea, and to just keep working as a club and come back in six months or so. After getting this ‘brush off’ I felt there had to be a better organization, so I personally called Ralph Greenwood, the president of the American Dog Breeders Association. Within the month, Ralph and his family made a trip to California to meet with our club and to organize and plan the first ADBA sanctioned point show. We were excited to have our dogs judged by men with longstanding reputations as breeders that understood and appreciated the breed.

From this first experience, the conformation shows for our breed have developed and evolved. As I read over the first article “The Judges Right Hand Man” written in 1978 and published in the “Gazette” it is evident how far we have come from the early days of showing dogs in California. The political pressure against our breed and dogs in general are forcing clubs to become more professional in how they conduct their shows. Experience is also the best teacher. Safety of all in attendance at the shows continues to be the club’s first focus, but as we become more professional, the club’s role as educator and mentor as well as the promotion of the positive aspects of the breed takes on a life of its own.

My job here today in this article, is to update and redefine the role of the Ring Steward at ADBA sanctioned shows. Being a ring steward is a challenging but rewarding job. It demands careful thought and planning, a positive attitude, and a watchful eye. You get a birds eye view of the judging, and this is a great way to start if you’re a thinking of becoming a judge in the future. The job of the ring steward and how the show ring is conducted can make or break a show. The time element to bring the classes to the ring, organizing the dogs, and keeping order, will enable the judge to use their time in judging the dogs and awarding the ribbons. This is critical for large shows and for those clubs who are holding two shows on a given day. A good ring steward keeps the show efficient and moving,

It has been recommended by many clubs that two stewards be used, one in the ring and one in the holding area. These ring stewards are selected from the club membership. This is because club members are familiar with the show grounds, many of the local exhibitors, and the dogs in the area. It will be important for these stewards to have input in setting up the placement of the ring and the holding area and thinking about the flow of traffic around the ring. The holding area is the place where the dogs are checked before going into their class and organized before they enter the ring.

A lot of the work of the steward is done in the holding area. Dogs should be checked for buckle collars and acceptable four foot leads. Arm bands need to be on the handlers left shoulder. In the holding area, the steward can also identify the temperament and compatibility of the dogs in the class. Many American Pit Bull Terriers are energetic when challenged and need to be positioned away from one another, or be certain a more docile dog is placed in between to keep things calm when in the ring. Human aggressiveness is not tolerated and is a disqualification in the show ring. Concerns can be brought to the judges attention, so they can be dealt with. It needs to be understood, that not every handler has experience with showing their dog, and one of the roles of the club is to teach and encourage these newcomers to be responsible and to enjoy exhibiting their dogs.

The show ring should always have an entrance and an exit, and everyone should go IN the entrance and OUT the exit. This needs to be clearly marked and communicated to everyone. The judge will go over this with the handlers at the handlers meeting before the show begins, but marking the entrance and the exit is also helpful. A means of communication between the steward in the ring and the steward in the holding area is critical. The size of the class, and if any dogs registered for the class are missing, needs to be communicated to the judge before the class is brought into the ring. With this information, the judge can have an idea of how to space the dogs in the ring. Two way radios are great, or hand signals worked out by the two stewards so that this information is shared is important. It is mandatory for the club to have a public address system, which is adequate to call the classes to the holding area. It is frustrating for exhibitors to miss their class because they didn’t know when their class was to be in the ring. Clubs are encouraged to have the order of the classes posted, or printed in the show program. Another great idea is to have a dry erase board at the ring entrance. The class in the ring is written on this board, so everyone is aware what class is being judged.

Two copies of the judges book can also be helpful. This is now possible with the new computer program many clubs are using from Canada. Have one copy in the holding area, so it can be used to check the dogs into the class, and one in the ring for the marking of the judge’s placements. If two copies of the judges book are not available, then the judges book can be used in the holding area first to check the dogs in, then handed to the steward in the ring once the class is moved into the ring. The marking of the judge’s placements in the judge’s book is critical. The judge should not be seeing the judges book until all the dogs have been placed. This is to dispel any perception of bias on the part of the judge toward a particular owner or handler. Once the placements have been marked by the steward, the judge will be checking the judge’s book to make sure the placements are correct. This will be done after the class has shown. The ring steward should avoid unnecessary small talk or discussion of the dogs in the ring with the judge for the same reason. The judge should be making their placements solely on the conformation and the presentation of the dogs the day they are presented to them, without the influence or knowledge of breeder, bloodline or past history each dog.

The ring stewards should meet with the judge, as soon as he arrives at the show grounds to go over the ring setup, the holding area and a review of how the dogs will be brought into the ring. Each judge has an individual ring style and way of doing things. Some judges wish to move the dogs in the ring themselves, and they might ask that the steward does not move the dogs in the ring without their direction. In this case, the steward would then bring trouble spots to their attention and let them deal with it as they see fit. Understand that the judge is in charge of their ring, and respect what they ask for. Your job as the steward is to help them in the ring, and each judge may require something different in the way of helping them.

When the dogs are brought into the ring, instruct the handlers to have them on their left side, with the dog toward the judge. Some judges wish to have the dogs brought into the ring one at a time, to watch each dogs movement. As this is done, coordinate with the steward in the holding area, on spacing the dogs as they approach the ring. Avoid bunching the dogs together for the comfort of the animals and the handlers. Once all of the dogs are in the ring, please tell the judge, “Your class is complete.” Speak directly to the judge so they hear this. This signals that the judging of the individual dogs can begin. Watch the dogs in the ring and remind the handlers to keep them quiet until the time the judge is evaluating their dog. At that time each handler needs to have the dog on all four feet, head up and attentive. Instruct the handlers to keep all dogs, head to tail while in the ring, to avoid facing the dogs and avoid undue excitement while in the ring. The dogs can be judged more fairly when they are quiet, under control and standing on all four feet. Once each dog has been individually judged and the judge is ready to make his placements and hand out the ribbons, have the ribbons ready. Place them in order ( first, second, third) on top of one another and hand them to the judge. This will save time, and move the show along. The dogs placed in the class should remain in the ring until the placements have been marked in the judges book, then the class will be dismissed. Monitor and direct the dogs leaving the ring with the highest concern for safety, and comfort of the handlers and the dogs.

There should be no dogs standing at the ringside with spectators. All dogs on the show grounds are entered in the days events and should be in crates, until their time for showing, or being walked out briefly prior to showing. Spectators should be seated, or standing five feet back from the ring. This prevents the dogs from being distracted and excited by actions outside of the ring. Safety Issues outside of the ring can be turned over to security. It is highly advisable to have one security officer at ringside to help with security outside of the ring during the judging. The ring steward needs to stay in the ring while the judge is judging. Please don’t follow the judge around, but remain out of the way, keeping watchful and aware of trouble spots. Many stewards will position themselves near an excitable dog to defuse the situation or intervene if necessary. Many times just standing between two excitable dogs is enough.

The show rules are posted in many locations around the show area. Have a copy in the ring for reference. Any exhibitors not willing to go by the rules can be asked to leave by security, or the club president with no refund of entry fees. The responsibility of the club, the security staff and the stewards, is the safe, fair conduct at the dog show, for the enjoyment of exhibitors and club members. The future of our clubs, the sport of dog showing and our breed depends on it.

I hope some of my ideas and ‘lessons learned’ from my experience will help. I remain . . .

Yours in the sport,

Joe Burford