Procedure When Dogs First Come In The Ring
Our judge should first try to put the dogs in as comfortable a position as possible, so they will not be put off by his approach. Before I start approaching an individual dog, I would first like to see the line (probably only one or two dogs in a class!) and ask them to go around once to get an idea of the general impression the dogs make. Sending the dogs around also means the dogs get a chance to case the ring, so they know what they will have to navigate later. Conservative guard dogs, which our dogs are, do not like strange footing, and you help the whole entry by giving the dogs a chance to go around the ring before anything else happens. The dogs should look imposing and solid; they should appear white, corded (if they are grown dogs), with dark noses; they should move easily on light feet. I feel I should be able to tell across a ring if I am looking at a dog or a bitch. I am sometimes surprised; we have both doggy bitches and bitchy dogs. I fault a bitchy dog; I do not dislike a doggy bitch. The bitchy dog somehow lacks the sturdy, imposing quality I expect in a livestock guard dog. Watch the tails; I would watch them as much for “relaxed” or “tense” tail carriage as for “good” or “bad” tail carriage.
Approach to the Individual Dog
I want first, before I go up to the individual dog, to see if his general proportions are pleasing. Is his head large enough for his body? Many are not, and this can spoil the general impression. The Hungarian standard gives general proportions, and I find I rely on some of them. The length of the head should be roughly two fifths the height at the withers. The back should be slightly longer than the height — at least 104% is given as the standard, though many of us find the dogs that are slightly longer more aesthetically pleasing. The Hungarian standard gives a range of 100 – 108% as “often [seen]”. From the front and from the rear the dog must appear “wide enough”. While we have tall, rangy dogs in the breed, this is not the ideal. Such dogs often have heads that appear correspondingly too long and narrow. At the other extreme, we also see too many broad dogs with legs too short.
Now for the dogs individually. The judge may want to approach the dog talking, either to the dog or to the handler. What he says is irrelevant – he can say “Isn’t this a good day?” or “What a big boy.” or even “What a bad boy”, as long as he says it in a normal, calm, cheerful voice, without any fear. It is good if the handler answers equally calmly, as if this approach is a normal and expected one. The handler can say to the dog “He’s a friend”, especially if this is what he usually says to his dog when a stranger approaches without evil intent. He can say to the judge “I am a total novice, at my first show, and I haven’t a clue as to what to do”, or “I like blue eggs and ham”, as long as he says it in a normal voice. Even the greenest novice has had experience with his dog being approached by strangers who want to touch the dog. The judge does well to offer his hand to the dog and give him time to accept that hand, which he will do. Go over the head first and, not to worry, problems rarely arise when the dog can see you and see what you are doing.
I would like a dog to have a strong, almost coarse, rather short muzzle and a broad skull. I am satisfied with a more feminine head on a bitch, but I do not fault a doggy head on a bitch, though I fault a bitchy head on a dog. No male should have a cute little nose or a shallow, weak muzzle. I like to feel the muzzle. It should feel substantial and should never be snipey. Is the nose big enough? It should end with the nose mirror (The place where you would take a nose print) vertical and at a right angle to the top of the nose. I do not like pointed or small noses. Is the muzzle deep enough? We are seeing altogether too many heads with the nose and mouth very small and delicate. I have to use my hands to feel the breadth of the skull under the coat — it should be substantial. Indeed on a large male’s head it will be more than an ordinary woman’s hand span. I measure with thumb and third finger the distance from nose to stop and from stop to occiput. The first measurement should be slightly shorter than the second one. This measurement is a must — often muzzles LOOK too long but are correctly short. I check the stop; to do this I must move cords. The stop should be moderate. I fault too little stop much more than too much stop. Indeed I have to think if I ever saw a dog with too much stop; yes, I have, and the dog’s head reminded me of a Newfoundland, which I felt was not correct for a Komondor. The skull is usually domed sometimes with a pronounced bump on the top.
The eyes should be almond shaped, not round. They should not be set too deeply; earnest devoted-looking eyes are not desirable. The eyes often have a slightly narrowed look; this is proper — the dog is watching me. Eyes are set straight across and this somehow makes them look slightly oriental or slanting. The darker the eyes the better. Some are almost black, which is excellent. Very dark brown to coffee coloured are good. Light brown is less good. Yellow is starting to get bad; the dog will look like a wolf. Gray eyes on a puppy are bad news. Blue-white eyes are disqualifying. I have seen eyes which are gray in a puppy get paler and paler until they are colourless in the adult. These are approaching the eyes of an albino. Are eye rims dark? The standard says “The edges of the eyelids are slate-gray.” I think the colour we are seeking for these eye rims is truly black or as dark grey as possible. A well-pigmented dog looks noticeably dark around the eyes. Are lids tight? This is important, and it is important to check BOTH eyes. Is there any staining of the hair around the eye? Is the third eyelid dark? It is sometimes not well pigmented which gives the eye a funny look, although this is hardly a serious fault. How about the pigment of the skin around the eye — it should be very dark. I realise that the judge in the ring can miss this, but when a well pigmented dog is wet you see a noticeable area (Several inches) of very dark skin around the eyes and up the ridge of the nose. This area of dark skin and the dark eye rims and nose should combine to give the impression of a white dog with very dark exposed hide surfaces showing starkly dark against the white coat.
Back to the nose, preferably a big one with good sized nostrils. It should be black, or at least very dark brown, and pigment up the bridge of the nose should be dark without any pink or unpigmented blotches.
Look at the ears. They should be set on the side of the head and hang close to the skull. We occasionally see “banana ears” which fold back slightly. This is apparent on puppy heads, but on a dully coated coat, cords on the ears will pull the ears into a better position, so this is hardly serious. If you want to measure the ear leather (sometimes hard to tell where it ends!), one eminent Hungarian breeder feels an ear should be long enough to touch the corner of the opposite eye. Neither the Hungarian nor the U.S. standard specifies ear length. If you want to go over the dog’s ears at any length be sure to ask the handler if his dog’s ears are “tender”. Many Komondors do not like their ears fooled with, and, of course, no dog likes to have sore ears touched. Ears set too high or that lift into an erect position will disfigure an otherwise attractive head.
Check the bite. If the owner is experienced, his showing you is best, but many owners are inexperienced. The dogs usually do not object to your looking at their teeth. Check for missing teeth; we have them, usually it is premolars missing, but I have seen missing incisors and heard of missing molars. I have seen wry mouths. We have a lot of misaligned lower incisors, especially the two lower central ones dropped. Large teeth are desirable, but most Komondor teeth seem small for such a large breed. Pigment on the mouth is important. The lips should be dark and tight with the mouth dry. An expert can tell if a dog’s whiskers are stained from food or not cleaned off regularly or from a constantly drooling mouth. I really object to dogs whose faces have been shaved to keep whiskers clean. If you can see the palette, look to see if it also is dark. A puppy should have a real scissors bite, or he should be just slightly overshot. We rather like to see a puppy bite that is just a little overshot; it will close later. In most cases, the lower jaw grows for a longer time in this breed than the upper jaw. Old dogs usually have front incisors worn down badly, and the bites can approach level. Undershot occurs and is shown. Shark mouths occur and are usually NOT shown.
Having finished with the head, I move on to shoulders and chest, which I try to do keeping a hand on the dog all the time. As I move off the head, I expect the owner to take it over. The time the dog will be most on guard is when I move out of his easy eyesight, and I don’t want his head turning back to see where I am. If the owner doesn’t move to hold the head, ask him to. Look at the neck, but be sure to feel it as well. It must not feel scrawny. It should be strong enough to support that heavy head. It cannot be too long, but it can be too thin for its length, and it can be too short. Coat standing up on puppies or young adults can make a properly long neck appear too short. Dogs generally have shorter necks than bitches. Feel the shoulder blades at the withers — are they good and tight? Can you estimate the angle of the shoulder layback? This is not so easy to do! Is the dog broad enough? Be sure the rib cage itself is broad enough; do not rely on the outer visible dimension. It is quite possible for the dog to look all right if he has a heavy coat when he is really not made properly. If the chest is too narrow, you will find too much space between the breast and the front legs — the chest then is likely to be too frail and birdy. Feel down the front legs — is there enough bone for the size of the dog? The difference between two dogs who look to be the same size can be a big surprise. Are elbows correct, neither in nor out? Does the chest come to the elbow? It is often too shallow. Are the legs as described in the standard — like columns? Narrow dogs often have two legs apparently coming from one hole. This is less bad on puppies than on adults, because ribs can spring later on dogs, and rib spring always improves on bitches after a litter, but it is better never to have this particular fault at any age. A dog who has scratched out coat over the shoulders may look too narrow in front and be properly broad. Are the feet flat or splayed? Can you tell if the dog is up on his toes? Do you see dark toenails? (They are rare, but do exist and are very attractive with the white coat.) If the dog’s pigment has been in any way faulty, I want to know if his pads are black or spotted, but feeling the feet is tricky — the dogs don’t like it. You can see the pads turn up as the dog moves away from you; remember to check for this later. I will discuss this again under ‘Movement’.
Feel the back — occasionally you will feel a real sag or a roach, both faulty. On a fully coated dog, you can throw coat up over the dogs’ back and see what the tuck-up is. Otherwise feel it. There is usually a substantial tuck-up, but not always. The general feel of the dog must be substantial – some are like frail birds under a beautiful coat. Check proportions of length to height — the ratio is said to be “at least” 104%, which you might think would look a little longer than the dog is tall. However, most of us find when we measure from photographs that dogs who look “right” are often longer than this ratio. Think whether the length of the coat is giving a misleading impression about the length of the back. This is another area where short cords can stand up and confuse you. If the back is too short, the dog will not move with enough reach and drive. Think about the back later when you see the dog move. Though you might think that too long a back will sag, in my experience it is sometimes the too short back that does this as well. It often happens when the handler insists on pulling the head up high. I would like to see all Komondors shown on loose leads. I myself would allow a slightly longer back for a bitch than for a dog.
Now to the general rear assembly. I expect to see and feel angulation, but I first want to push on the dog’s rump and make sure he is set properly and is strong. This is another good time to be talking to dog or handler. I prefer hocks not too long and moderate angulation. A dog who can only stand comfortably with stifles straight and high in rear is not correct. But you must think about the handling. Not only can a good handler set the dog to disguise this, but the novice handler can make his dog look very straight in the rear when he is not. I wish I could give you a measurement for how far back the rear legs should be when the dog is set up properly. I cannot. Given the overall statements in the standard I am sure the answer is “moderately far back”, whatever that means. The rear should complement the front. Visually from the side the area between the front of the thigh and the far end of the buttocks, where cords are the longest, must look “right”. If the thighs are not properly long, this are with its long cords will appear too narrow. If you look carefully at two fully coated dogs from the side, you will be able to see what difference this makes. Hocks have to be strong. If the dog’s rump gives too easily and/or hocks look funny, I would check them carefully, when the dog is set so that he is comfortable. He should be standing comfortably with the back level and the hock to heel position perpendicular to the ground. Now is the time to check the length of the tail. It should reach to the hock. It can have a slight turn up at the end, but it does not have to. Feel the testicles then on males as well; they should be adequate in size. Infertile dogs can have small and/or soft testicles. I like to see a dark scrotum on a dog; it indicates good pigment.
Coat and Pigment
You will already have noticed the coat. You do not have to evaluate it. It should feel good, rather coarse and curly and with a definite spring to it. I suspect a good poodle coat has a similar feel. Cottony feeling cords will not hold up in the field. Fat cords with thin necks will not hold up. It does not matter if cords are thick or thin or thicker on the rump. Cords can be either round or flat. A good coat feels like a good wool sweater and smells like freshly washed wool when it is clean. Is it very white? Some coats are slightly biscuit coloured — this is acceptable, but whiter is more desirable. Stains are a problem — a bad stain on an elbow can surely spoil the general impression the dog makes. Flea sprays can turn white coats orange and this cannot be bleached out. I hate to see a good dog penalized because an owner has stained his coat. Check the hair at the roots of a stain. It should be growing out white. I feel I must make some comment on a coat that has been sprayed or powdered. Such a coat will feel too dry, may come off on your hands or clothes, and will be noticeable if the handler pats the dog. Need I say that noses can be painted if pigment is faulty? We have even had reports of mascara used on the dogs. In my opinion, any use of cosmetics should be counted against the dog, and the handler should be told about this.
Is there dark skin? Areas to see this in are around the eyes and up the muzzle, down the back, and especially down the back legs. On a well-pigmented dog, you can usually see dark skin shining through the coat in these areas. There is no law against asking the handler if the dog has any black skin; believe me if he has, the owner will know and will be delighted to show you where! Send the dog down and back more than once. One time when you do this, check the pads of the feet — both for colour and for the angle to the dogs legs. If you just look at the coat, you can miss cow-hocks — really! So check once for the pads and then for how the legs are moving as you think away the coat.
Before I leave coat and pigment, I would like to comment on trimming the coat. Most of us trim some coat from our dogs — males can have so much fur around testicles that they are uncomfortable. Hair flowing over the feet onto the ground gets especially dirty. Beards can get uncleanable. The stomachs of bitches are always shaved before they whelp (or they take the hair off themselves and make nursing easier for the puppies). Badly stained cords after a whelping are impossible to clean. Most breeders trim some ends off. Some dogs with exceptionally heavy coats look fat when they are not. If coats are excessively heavy, we trim them to take off part of the burden for the dog. A few dogs look unattractively “layered”. In some cases this is unaesthetic because owners have trimmed them with a bad eye. In some cases the dogs really seem to grow that way. At some age, between one and as late as three, “juvenile” cords can have puffy ends. I personally prefer them to look slightly ragged and unkempt to looking excessively “groomed” when owners trim off these puffy ends. None of these things really affects coat quality. When you see and feel a really fine coat, you know it. If the coat feels stiff or lacquered, I personally would not place the dog.
Head carriage is naturally forward. A rare dog holds his head up because he wants to see behind him. The head should never be carried high because the dog is strung up. I want dogs moved on a loose lead. Does the coat on the dog roll around the middle? If it does, go back and feel the proportions — is the back too short? Are the shoulders too straight? How about the position of the back feet as the dog moves. A kick-up with the rear feet looks flashy, but it is incorrect — it wastes energy. I think dogs do this when they are too short in the back. The dog should move easily without apparent effort. The stride should be long, covering a lot of ground. A dog can be balanced but with a stride too short. The standard specifically says “takes long strides”. If the handler’s stride is not synchronized with the dog’s, the dog may start out pacing. I have seen judges stop the handler and start the dog over. I would not fault this. Pacing is a resting gait for livestock guard dogs, and any large dog may slip into a pace if the handler’s gait is not matching his. The dog should be surprisingly light on his feet for a large dog. He also can turn very quickly.
What about the tail carriage? Many happy dogs carry their tails too gaily when they gait. Less outgoing dogs can appear to have more correct tail carriage. The dog with his tail way down may not have good tail carriage at all — he may just be very unhappy in the ring. The dog with the tail held “too high” may simply be displaying of “awareness” of a new situation complete with dog’s general bearing. I have had a dog of mine win on the basis of tail carriage which was down in the ring because the dog was upset. At home that dog’s tail can be over his back when he is happy! If the dog’s tail is definitely hanging when he moves, I would feel it carefully wondering if it has been broken. A broken tail can have a very dead look. Bitches in heat carry tails high and often turn them to one side if they like being bred. They carry them down tight if they are not easy breeders. If you suspect that a bitch is in heat, ask the handler; they can be very spooky about a stranger feeling the rear if they are!
Everyone wants to see a firm topline, but handlers can deceive you in this area. Coat piled up can fill in irregularities; a dog being poked either in the rear or under the belly may be equally suspect. I would count more on the topline when the dog moves freely. By the way, a good topline can be spoiled by a handler pulling the head up too high. When the dog moves naturally on a loose lead, you can really tell if the back sags or roaches. Roaching is less bad than sagging. If the dog looks down in pastern, you really should check to be sure of this.
Untrimmed feet can mean hair all over the ground and a misleading impression. Watch the dog coming and going thinking only of how the feet are coming down. On some dogs you will really want to feel the feet. On the other hand the dogs really resent strangers (or sometimes even their owners!) fooling with their feet, so good luck on judging this! For the video I picked up a foot on a bitch whose coat obscured her feet totally. She did not try to bite me, but she folded the foot under in such a way that you would have thought she had NO foot at all, and she gave me a look that convinced me I didn’t want to investigate further. I decided I could very well see if there was a splayed foot (there wasn’t) when she trotted back and forth after this, very pleased that “she certainly had told that fresh stranger!” By the way, I warned the owner I was going to pick up a foot — I can guarantee trouble if you surprise the handler as well as the dog. I do not mean to frighten you here; I have seen a dog put his mouth over the judge’s offending hand when feet were involved. He made no attempt to bite, but he clearly indicated that it wouldn’t do. If you want to see pads you think may be spotted after watching the dog go down and back, ask the handler to turn the foot up and back, as you would expect to turn up a horse’s foot to check his shoe.
You will be aware of great size differences in any large Komondor entry. Large size is preferred, but large size alone should never win over a smaller but better animal. Some small males appear very manly. A shorter dog with a longer neck seems taller than he is. A dog with the correct presence seems like a big dog, never mind his height. We accept bitches much smaller than males.
A dog who is afraid is not acceptable as a livestock guard dog. A dog who is alert and aware is. No Komondor can be expected to be outgoing with a stranger, so do not expect a dog “asking for the win”. A very few Komondors do project a sparkling ring personality — most judges find this hard to resist. Temperament is not always displayed in the ring, of course.
Common Judging Practices and Miscellaneous Observations
I cannot leave the subject without commenting on some judging practices, good and bad. A foreign judge who approached an entry with arms outspread and speaking Spanish was accepted enthusiastically by all dogs in the ring. An American who likes to have dogs’ fronts set, and then go quickly around them to see what has happened to the rear, spooked very stable dogs. No sudden movements out of the dog’s sight are a good idea. A judge who leaned in front of the dogs and made a squeaking noise in each dog’s face — I guess to check his alertness? — about gave all handlers heart failure. Believe me, every Komondor is watching you from behind that hair-curtain.
At a strange noise they may turn their heads and look like teddy bears whose heads have been screwed on wrong, but this can be followed by a lunge to take care of the offender. Occasionally a judge finds the whole Komondor entry a most amusing sight. This also can go down badly — the dogs are serious guards and do not appreciate being laughed at. Failing to take our guard dogs seriously invariably upsets the owners, and upset owners make their guard dogs extra alert for trouble. Knowing the breed well is not the only thing that helps in the judging. Komondors, like every other breed respond to real “dog people”. A cherished memory is of Alva Rosenberg, who could not touch a dog without having the dog like him. He judged an entry saying “I really don’t know what these dogs are supposed to be like.” in his wonderfully calm way. His sure hands delighted every dog, and I watched him go from head to rear with a hand resting (leaning?) always on the dog and always talking; he gave a running commentary as he went, and this delighted the handlers as well as the dogs. He sorted out the entry to everyone’s satisfaction. We all learned a lot.
It is a trick to get a Komondor to show really well. I think most breeders want you to judge the dog and not the skill of the handler. A Komondor has got to be more than a clean and perfect coat. Remember that these dogs are bred to be livestock guard dogs not TV personalities bent on pleasing the crowd. Beauty has to be more than coat deep. The longest coat is not even necessarily the best coat.
A word to lady judges in particular. The dogs are put off by jangling jewelry and dislike long fingernails in their mouths. Coats that flap should be avoided. To all judges, anything that catches on the dogs cords should be avoided. No stranger to the dog should pull on or jerk the dog’s cords!
A general comment is in order about general condition. Altogether too many older Komondors are shown in less than good condition. I am talking here about muscle tone, not grooming of the coat. Many older dogs do not exercise themselves. They can get soft. They are not necessarily being lazy; it is the way of the livestock guard dog who does not waste energy. He characteristically has his property staked out, he may make rounds and mark his property, he has found the very best spot where he can lie down and watch all entrances to the property. If nothing disturbs the peace, he can lie down all day, seemingly asleep. He only “works” when it is necessary. Believe me, even that soft dog can spring into action wide awake day or night. But a good dog in the show ring should feel solid, firm, good, and exceptionally strong. Good muscle tone should mean a great deal more than a clean coat. If the dog is shown by his owner or a handler he knows well, you will see a great bond between man and dog. No Komondor will show well unless he and his handler are a team.
The Quality of the Entry
A final word about quality of the entry. We are still a rare breed. In Region 1, we have had our point scale in bitches raised because show-goers have become point wise. In all but the few areas where there is real competition — namely the East Coast — breeders have figured out that if they round up their puppies, they can finish the parents and/or the “best” puppies. The result is often cheap champions. The judge is faced with an entry which just makes that necessary major. I know the temptation is to be kind to the exhibitors, especially in a rare breed. In the old days we had club presidents explaining to judges that they had to split the points or males would never finish, and we have some dog champions who never competed against another male in the ring to get that title. If I were judging I would want to be sure every competitor is worthy. It is not enough for you to like the winner and want to give it that major. A Komondor, like any dog in any other breed, should win over worthy competitors. You cannot dismiss from the ring a dog that is not worthy. You can, however, withhold ribbons and also give the top of a bad class ribbons lower than first place. How you decide to do this is up to you, of course. You help the breed by withholding ribbons from dogs you do not consider possible show quality. The same holds true of “dirty dogs”.
We hear often from judges about how dirty the dogs are; sometimes we are further told they smell. I discount half of what I hear, because some judges think a dog with an honest stain is dirty. On the other hand, some dogs are really dirty to the extent that it is offensive for the judge to have to handle them. Recently we had a case of this and the handler explained that the dog had to be shown or it would have “broken the major”. The handler did not explain that the major was designed to finish the handler’s clean Komondor. Finishing you Komondor with majors made up of dogs not in show condition should not happen. Showing either unworthy dogs or dogs in poor condition may finish a Komondor, but in my opinion it is beneath the dignity of the breed. Cheap champtions benefit no one; not even their owners. Feathers in your cap in the form of champions bed or finished are a poor excuse for a breeder knowingly rounding up poor or shabby dogs to make points in the ring. I myself also have little patience with handlers scheming to show a dog badly to “throw” the points one day in exchange for getting them the next.
What about dogs that back off, dogs that refuse to let the judge examine their teeth or rear or feel testicles, dogs who snap at the judge? Any Komondor that has not been properly socialized by the owner can have a bad day in the ring. Sometimes a judge, as mentioned above, can spook totally stable and well-socialized animals. More often a puppy is just inexperienced and/or a young bitch is in heat for the first time (this, by the way, can be as late as 2 years old!). Most often dogs that back away present no threat whatsoever to the judge. They indicate that they do not wish to be touched by a stranger. I would try more than once with the dog. It is a good idea to let the handler gait the dog again before you try the second time. If you can examine the dog at all and the dog seems a quality dog, you may decide not to excuse it. We still have many novice handlers who have never been to a dog show. Their very nervousness makes their dogs warier. The dogs always know when the owner is upset, though they may not know why. Even if you have to excuse the dog, a kind word may well send the owner to obedience classes and handling classes and match shows, from which they and their dogs will benefit mightily, whether they return to the show ring or not. An impatient or unkind judge has turned off quite a few owners of excellent specimens. Over the years I have watched novices turn into capable handlers, and “sharp” dogs turn into ring veterans. The genuinely shy Komondor or the genuinely dangerous one of course be in the ring at all. I realize that only a person used to this livestock guard dog temperament will be likely to be able to distinguish these from just plain inexperienced dogs. Some breeders with handsome dogs whose temperaments are just too shy will confuse you, because you have no way of telling if this is the dog’s first experience and he is surprised, or if he is still frightened after going to many, many match shows. Still it is worth thinking about.
What is most important? The Komondor must be a generally sound dog. You are looking for a rugged, brave dog who can do a hard day’s work in the open without any shelter from extremes of climate. He must be a dog who can handle a wolf or a bear in the defense of his charges. He must be built to move all day, if necessary, at a leisurely pace, which his flock and still be capable of great bursts of speed and agility if he is suddenly called upon to spring into action. You must be prepared to find the dog under that amazing coat. A good Komondor gaiting properly on light feet can almost take your breath away. In such a case, believe me, you will see feet coming down properly, which they cannot do if the dog is not properly made.