Withholding Ribbons

by Edd Bivin

My experience as a breeder, exhibitor, and judge for all these years has been a positive one. I do not believe it is wise to be negative or to always find faults with our sport. With this in mind, I was recently approached by a very good younger judge who asked me how I justified withholding awards, placements or points on dogs. Certainly, he approved of the practice and felt that it should be used more frequently. But it appeared to this young judge that the withholding of awards was a negative action and not a positive one, and that withholding did not fall into my earlier-stated positive position on judging. He felt that there was a contradiction. I thought that he had a good point, one worthy of further explanation. This is my position: First, withholding ribbons is not fun; but it is a responsibility. Moreover, it is a responsibility for the judge in the ring at that moment in time. The judge should not concern himself with whether the next day’s judge would also withhold or award a ribbon on the same dog. Judges are accountable only for their own actions and convictions. While a judge should be able to give the exhibitor an explanation as to why he withheld, it is not the judge’s duty to make the exhibitor happy by awarding placements or points to dogs that do not deserve such awards. It is the judge’s duty to disqualify dogs who possess characteristics forbidden by the breed standard. It is also the judge’s duty to excuse or disqualify dogs who fail to possess characteristics that are required by the breed standard or possess conditions not in keeping with AKC rules. An example of this is that you cannot judge a lame dog in any class, and this includes Junior Showmanship.

An all-too-often-forgotten concept is that judges are evaluating breeding stock. Therefore, any awards a judge gives influence the breed he is evaluating at the present and for the future. It is an important responsibility. Others share this duty within the fancy. Exhibitors must breed better dogs based on education from mentors and their parent clubs, from the influence of judges, and from experience gained in the ring. In turn, judges must demonstrate a better path of breeding by awarding wins and points only to those exhibits who deserve the honor. Remember that the award, regardless of what it may be, should be coveted not simply as an ego trip or an economic reward for the breeder, handler, or exhibitor. Also remember that a win is an award bestowed - not a right or entitlement.

The withholding of ribbons and points must be done when there is an obvious lack of merit or quality in the dogs that are present in the class. If a dog lacks sufficient quality and breed characteristics to warrant an award, a judge must make that assertion so that the exhibitor, breeder, or handler will know that this position is being taken out of respect for the breed, and not as a derogatory statement about them personally. It is amazing how many times you will be thanked for making this decision. Such a decision will often turn a new exhibitor to a better dog rather than waste his money on a very poor one. I am sometimes asked, what are the more serious faults in a breed? I try to answer that by turning it into, “What are the more important characteristics for a breed?” I have always felt that the more important characteristics are those which define that breed - those which make it different from any other. Then I conclude my answer with the statement that the more serious faults are those that take away from a breed’s definition. Judging dogs is breed specific, not generic. Dogs must first possess sufficient breed characteristics to be worthy of award. While dogs must show well and demonstrate their qualities well in the ring, they also must follow the breed standard. After all, we do not have a breed called “show dogs”. I encourage judges to evaluate dogs on breed specifics, and to defend their withholding of ribbons to the exhibitor of the dogs that are worthy of award due to lack of the breed-specific qualities, rather than to the faults possessed. There is a difference. The withholding of ribbons and points must be done when there is an obvious lack of merit or quality.

CREDIT: reprinted with the permission from the author