More Conversations from the Contest Arena

Getting Down to Business

By Teri DiMarino

My last two columns covered comments from both sides of the grooming table: the judge’s side and competitor’s side. There was a lot of good banter, and I’m sure there was some eye-opening all around. Thanks to everybody who sent me their comments. I would like to revisit those columns with a little more feedback that did not make it into the first two versions.

Questions of disqualifications, specifically on what I referred to as dirty and/or matted dogs or dogs with inadequate growth or pre-grooming, came up pretty consistently from competitors. Why doesn’t a judge toss them out of the ring before the class starts? Well, as I had explained, pre-grooming is very hard to determine, especially when the contestant tells us that someone else groomed the dog last or that they are going to make a distinct change in the dog. The dog may appear already finished, but unless a judge sees fresh clipper or scissor marks (and we do look for them), there’s not a lot we can do except count it against the competitor in the final judging.

While show rules may call for a disqualification under these circumstances, it’s difficult and sometimes unfair to DQ a dog on these shaky grounds. Judges DO look at what is under that table, and if all we find is lint while another dog has buckets of hair, it is all taken into consideration. Dogs that have mats and tangles or dogs that could have been better prepared also fall into this area for a lot of judges. I know that if most judges find knots and tangles in a coat in the pre-judge, they had better not be there during the final judging. To DQ a dog in the pre-judge for a tangle in the armpit is silly, and while some sets of rules call for it, I feel it’s very unfair to pass judgment on something that the competitor just hasn’t had an opportunity to brush out yet.

This brings me to an area that got a lot of attention: doing prep work in the ring. I think we can all agree that a certain amount of prep work should be done in advance and is for the benefit and well-being of the dog. Nails should be trimmed regularly while ears and sanitaries should be kept clean and tidy for the dog’s health. We do realize that some dogs are picked up right before the class, and the contestant has to deal with a lot of unknown issues.

One thing that many contestants echoed is the lack of real good lighting in many of the prep areas. Not only can it be poorly lit, but many contestants have to finish bathing and drying their dog and vacate the table to make room for the next competitor to bathe and dry their dog. I have to take a step back on this one. At the last couple of shows I attended, I made a point to go back to the prep areas and examine the situations, and the competitors are right! Poor lighting would have made it difficult, if not impossible, for me to trim a dog’s nails or clean its ears and get them right without potentially injuring the dog.

While we do understand that not all prep areas are ideal, they are still better than using your hotel room (something that can get you tossed out of a show) or driving to an out-of-the-way salon. If a judge comes to your dog for pre-judge and you are not ready, please tell us, and we will move on to the next dog. Just realize that show rules have contestants in the ring and ready for pre-judge at a certain time, and you must abide by that. Please have your dogs ready as close to that time as possible. If at all possible, keep up with your prep work outside the ring.

Someone suggested that it would be convenient if the judge were to critique their dog during the judging process. While I understand where this competitor is coming from, this could be very uncomfortable for all involved. First, judging must be quick, and spending time critiquing at the table is sure to raise the eyebrows of the show promoters who need to keep things moving in a timely manner. The competitor should be concentrating on showing off their dog to the best of their ability, and the judge should be concentrating on the groom. Passing a critique at this time would be awkward, as other people may be listening and privacy would be breached. Consider, too, that judges usually don’t make their final decision until every entry has been gone over. It’s only fair. Save critique time for after the class is over and the winners are announced.

Input from competitors-turned-judges is fun! Believe me, we’ve ALL been there, and we ALL had the same reactions. It’s really different on the other side of the comb! These new judges see all of the faux pas that you normally wouldn’t see while you are in the ring competing. Presentation or lack of it becomes obvious. Prep work can be very disappointing when a judge gets “up close and personal.” While some of the new judges focus on technical and finish work, others look to profile as a deciding factor. This is nothing unusual, as we all have our preferences. Deciding factors range from a judge asking themselves if they “would or wouldn’t send that groom out of their salon” to asking themselves if they could fix a groom within five minutes. If it can’t be fixed or if it is too unfinished, most judges eliminate it. If all it would take is a couple of snips or plucks, they may keep it in the consideration. You really have to trust when a judge says that it literally came down to hairs. I hate that line, but it can be and often is very true.

Profile is a big deciding factor for many judges, newbies included. Technical skills can be honed and improved, but if a competitor has “the eye” to nail a profile and get the trim in balance, minor technical infractions can usually be forgiven.

One new judge commented that she did not know how it was going to feel judging her peers, having come fresh from the contest arena. She is pleased (and, I believe, surprised) that she can tune out the people and just see the dog. That happens a lot.

Most judges, including me, have found that judging really helps their regular salon grooming. We see things that may look okay when we do it on a daily basis, but when we see it on a dog someone else has groomed, it’s like an epiphany. “OMG! I do that same thing! I didn’t realize how bad that looks!” We go home and make changes and improvements in our own work. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, so stepping outside the forest and looking in can be a good thing!

Judging is not easy. A judge has to make decisions that sometimes are not popular. A judge has to answer to the “ringside experts” who have not had their combs on the dogs. And remember: only one person walks out of the ring completely happy. As judges, we are all former competitors, and we know how much time, effort, and money goes into these contests. It’s all hard work, and we appreciate everything that goes on behind the scenes to prepare for that moment in the ring.

But just remember, as a competitor, you are asking for your work to be judged. You are asking for an opinion. The judges don’t like sending people out of the ring empty handed, but that’s part of a contest. It would be nice if it were like kindergarten and everybody got a first place ribbon, but we don’t learn like that. Take your wins graciously and your losses even more so. Understand that every dog (and groomer) has their day. Thank the judges for their time and please thank the sponsors for their continued support. Last but certainly not least, please take a moment to locate the show promoter and thank them for putting it all together and making it all happen. The show promoter is an unsung hero at these events, and maybe I’ll shed a little light on what goes on behind the scenes at a convention next month from the promoter’s point of view.

Until then, see you ringside!

— Teri

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