The Special Responsibilities of a Specialty Judge

By Jay Ammon

Every person who takes unto himself the duties of judging dogs owes a debt of ethical behavior to the fancy as a whole. No one that I know had to be roped, tied and coerced through torture into applying for a license. We have all – of our own accord – asked for this job. It is often quite frustrating, occasionally amusing and seldom the joy one hopes it will be. Having to choose the best of a mediocre lot can be most discouraging and judging is really rewarding only when one finds truly worthy specimens – the kind of Shih Tzu that warms the heart and restores one’s faith in the breed and its breeders.

A breeder-judge has certain responsibilities to its breed over and above that of the all-rounder. A specialty judge is expected to have more experience and a greater background of knowledge about the breed. He is expected to appreciate “type” to a greater extent. His opinions and placings generally carry an added dimension and value for the fancy – and this in itself is an awesome responsibility.

Therefore, it certainly behooves this judge to know his breed and to judge with strict impartiality and to be open-minded.

The more one judges, the more one learns. I know this sounds like heresy, but it is true. If one wishes to do a good job of judging, he must be open-minded and be unencumbered from pre-conceived notions – whether they are formed at ringside, from ones own bloodlines, through high powered advertising campaigns or ones own personal likes or dislikes of those exhibiting dogs to him.

The most difficult pre-conceived notions to dispel are those formed at ringside. I believe Shih Tzu are one of the most difficult of dogs to really judge from this location. Showy dogs with great masses of coat are all too easily shaped, barbered, trimmed, teased, backcombed, powdered and sprayed by expert hands. It is the responsibility of a breeder-judge to know the “tricks of the trade” so to speak and to judge the quality of the dog – not the quality or excellence of the owner or handler. It takes one to know one goes the old saying – and there is a lot of truth to it. A specialty judge of coated dogs must learn to look past superficial appearances and find the dog as it really is.

Since most breeder-judges have spent many years breeding and exhibiting their breed, it stands to reason that they have formed many friendships with other breeders. This alone poses a problem. No judge worth his salt will be troubled by these friendships inside the ring – because there only the dogs are being judged. The biggest problem in this respect is outside the ring. It is most unethical for a breeder-judge to discuss or fault other exhibitors dogs with his friends. A judge owes only two things to those who exhibit under him – fair, honest appraisals of their dogs and the courtesy of not discussing these dogs with others. A judge must call them like he sees them – and let his placings for those dogs on that day speak for themselves.

The role of a breeder-judge is not an easy one. I find that it is more difficult for me than I care to accept. Being a total commitment type of character I will no longer breed after December 31, 1973. It was not an easy decision for me to make but for me it is the only answer. I feel that some time in the future this will become a standard requirement for obtaining a license – and I believe in it wholeheartedly.

I would hope, however, that all Shih Tzu breeders would take on some match assignments for any breeds they feel capable of doing. It is quite an experience and broadens ones perspective a great deal.

I would also hope that some time in the future our Standard could be somewhat broadened and clarified to promote consistently better, more knowledgeable Shih Tzu judging.


The late AKC-licensed breeder-judge Jay Ammon of Jaisu Shih Tzu also bred and showed many top-winning beagles, Afghan hounds, and Yorkshire terriers. This article was written for the first Shih Tzu breed symposium in the United States, which was presented by the Penn-Ohio Shih Tzu Club in 1973. Note that the breed standard was revised after this article was written; the current breed standard was adopted in 1989