How to Spot AKC Judges Who Shouldn't Judge Anatolians
By Erick Conard, January 2020
This article was SUBMITTED to the ASDCA for PUBLICATION in the ANATOLIAN TIMES and REJECTED. To see why it was rejected and Erick's response, click this REJECTION INFORMATION LINK.
I often hear that AKC ruins breeds. While AKC Judges undoubtedly play their part, I always keep in mind that it is ultimately Breeders and their poor breeding decisions who actually ruin the breed. The Anatolian Shepherd was developed over thousands of years specifically to protect sheep and/or goats in a predator rich environment. In order to preserve Anatolian Shepherds as they were developed, breeders must value the working aspect of the breed as the single most important aspect of the breed. Nothing can trump working ability!!!
Serious and responsible Anatolian Shepherd breeders focus on the breed's essence - livestock guardian ability. A small part of excellent working ability is the dog's conformation, so dog shows and Championship titles can help some individuals make better choices conformationally. While excellent conformation is important to a good working Anatolian, conformation is just a small aspect of the many traits and behaviors required in the selection of a superior working Anatolian.
Without real world experience in a livestock guardian situation, a "breeder" cannot truly understand the many complex and sometimes competing behaviors required to produce a superior working Anatolian. Many show-only "breeders" look for temperament, demeanor, and behaviors that enhance their dogs' chances of winning in the show ring without understanding how some of these "excellent show behaviors" can diminish their dogs' genetically instilled working ability. These inexperienced breeders should look for behavioral and temperamental guidance from experienced working Anatolian breeders who raise their Anatolians with sheep and/or goats in a predator rich environment. To me, seeking this experienced guidance seems preferable to losing actual livestock working ability in their lines over time.
The number of AKC judges who understand the vital importance of maintaining the temperament, behaviors, and demeanor required of livestock guardian Anatolians is increasing over time. However, some AKC judges still lack an understanding of how destructive the selection of Anatolians for "generic show dog traits" is for the preservation of correct Anatolian working ability!
This article is intended to help AKC judges and show-only breeders without real-world experience interacting with Anatolians living with sheep and/or goats in a predator rich environment. If we select for (or at least not select against) excellent working temperament, demeanor, and behaviors, we can avoid making disastrous breeding selections that ultimately lead to the destruction of the Anatolian as a working guardian! Following (in no particular order) are some real-world experiences I and others have had that have caused me to feel disrespect for the opinion of some ill-informed AKC Anatolian judges.
Judges who believe that an unusual Anatolian coat color is incorrect.
The Anatolian Standard says "All color patterns and markings are equally acceptable." Therefore, coat color should never be an issue in the ring. Yet numerous AKC judges (who present themselves as qualified to judge Anatolians) have questioned the color of some Anatolians. In my case, they questioned blue mask. After consulting the Anatolian Standard, they realized that, in Anatolians, color is irrelevant. If a judge lacks a basic understanding of something as simple as Anatolian coat color ("All color patterns and markings are equally acceptable.") how can I expect that judge to have any meaningful understanding of something as complex as proper working Anatolian temperament, demeanor, and behaviors? And why is such an ill-educated judge allowed to judge Anatolians?
Check out my new article (October 2020) ANATOLIAN COLOR
I feel it is a rather eye opening revelation regarding both the 2017 ASDCA'S board and officers' lack of concern for the thoughts of the ASDCA's Membership and also for their lack of concern for the ASDCA's permanent policy regarding color that "All color patterns and markings are equally acceptable." Perhaps it is also indicative of the fact that we have too many individuals on the board and as officers who have little to no understanding of working Anatolians! Your decide!
Judges who are concern over the exact number of teeth in the dog's mouth and insist on prying open the Anatolian's mouth themselves.
The Anatolian Standard says, regarding teeth "Teeth and gums strong and healthy. Scissors bite preferred, level bite acceptable. Broken teeth are not to be faulted. Overshot, undershot or wry bite are disqualifications." Because an excellent working Anatolian dislikes having his mouth touched or handled by strangers (since this can eliminate the Anatolian's most powerful protective weapon), AKC judges who insist on personally examining an Anatolian's mouth and disqualify an Anatolian who refuses to have a stranger touch his mouth, are systematically eliminating Anatolians with correct temperament and a correct working response. Many Anatolians will allow their owner to briefly open their mouths. That should be sufficient for an AKC judge to examine the dog's mouth. I believe that an AKC judge who insists on handling an Anatolian's mouth himself/herself should be censured and re-educated regarding correct Anatolian temperament.
Judges who feel upset that an Anatolian is shedding heavily.
In the Anatolian Standard, one of the comments under "coat" is "A thick undercoat is common to all." As Anatolians are required to live with their charges, which are generally outside in all kinds of inclement weather, an incredibly thick, dense undercoat is a must for all working Anatolians. A well-informed judge should understand that hair flying off an Anatolian during shedding is not only common but a sign that that Anatolian has an excellent, dense undercoat. No amount of brushing will stop the shedding when the coat is thick and dense; it just keeps coming. A judge once told me she was "offended" that I brought her a dog in such a condition! I brought this dog to the show from the pasture where she lives 24/7 guarding her goats. It was early spring and spending the night in a warm motel room seemed to release clouds of her winter coat. I spent hours brushing this dog, including an hour immediately prior to taking her into the ring, but the shedding never stopped. The judge said she felt disrespected I would bring her a dog in this condition. She was right, but for the wrong reason. I had no respect for that AKC judge's opinion regarding Anatolians because she was more concerned about the shedding than the important qualities of the dog … her excellent conformation and demeanor, her beautiful movement, and her wonderful and correct temperament. I hope AKC judges don't become so focused on Anatolian grooming that it supersedes their evaluation of the Anatolian's breeding potential demonstrated in the dog's conformation, movement, temperament, and demeanor. When a judge becomes more focused on grooming and handling than they are on traits necessary for the selection of future breeding prospects, that judge's opinions have become useless to me!
Judges who desire or reward animation over steady calmness.
Since the Anatolian standard clearly states "…, calm and observant… Reserved around strangers and off its territory is acceptable. Responsiveness with animation is not characteristic of the breed…." I am amazed when I see an AKC judge watching with approval as an Anatolian in the ring scampers and plays, whirls and jumps. That AKC judge obviously lacks a basic understanding of the breed and has not yet received enough breed specific education to be judging Anatolians. All animation irritates, scares, agitates, etc. goats and/or sheep. They hate it!!! Anatolians were bred for thousands of years to live with and guard sheep and/or goats. All behaviors that upset herd tranquility is incorrect. It's just that simple. Since AKC proclaims to assist in selecting future breeding prospects, to me the appropriate response would be to take into account the dog's improper behavior in selecting the winners. While puppy playfulness happens, it isn't desirable. As an Anatolian ages, improper play behavior becomes a greater indication of incorrect temperament. If you want a dog to scamper around the ring like a high energy terrier, breed terriers. It is incorrect demeanor in an Anatolian!
Judges who dislike an aloof and distant attitude (the preferred attitude for working Anatolians).
From the Anatolian Standard we are told "… Reserved around strangers and off its territory is acceptable. Responsiveness with animation is not characteristic of the breed. Overhandling would be discouraged." As someone with true working Anatolians since 1985 (with sheep and/or goats in a predator rich environment) I prefer a reserved, aloof and distant attitude toward individuals the Anatolian does not know. Anatolians with a reserved, aloof, and distant attitude tend to make the best guardians because these dogs are not confused, even for a moment, by the thought that a friendly attitude indicates the person is actually a friend. Generally, the Anatolian in the ring does not know the judge so the best breed response to a judge in the ring is reserved, aloof, and distant without animation. One of my favorite working Anatolians "ghosted" individuals he didn't know even after I introduced him to them. Once he saw I accepted the person, he appeared to pay no more attention to them than he would an unseen and unfelt "ghost." Even when they petted and sweet talked him, he seemed oblivious to their presence. As they were petting him, he walked away without any acknowledgement that they existed. This is an excellent expression of correct Anatolian temperament and behavior! AKC judges who fail to reward an aloof attitude and instead reward excess friendliness are removing excellent working temperament from the breed. (Goats don't like pushy friendliness!) I don't believe that these judges understand the working aspect of the breed well enough to judge Anatolians.
Judges who don't understand they behaved in a way that would cause an Anatolian with excellent working responses to be suspicious of that judge ("I won't attack you but I don't like your behavior"). In response, this ill-educated judge penalizes the Anatolian's correct breed response rather than rewards it.
Under "General appearances" the Anatolian Standard says "Appears bold, but calm, unless challenged." NOTE-UNLESS CHALLENGED!! An Anatolian with correct temperament looks at all situations as "threat" or "not threat." When an AKC judge approaches an Anatolian in the ring in a bold, direct and dominant manner, an Anatolian with correct working ability will immediately place that judge in the "potential threat" category and all future decisions will be made in response to whether the Anatolian believes he/she is being challenged. AKC judges must never approach and handle an Anatolian in a dominant and assertive manner. A judge with that dominantly aggressive demeanor in the Anatolian ring should be removed from judging Anatolians! (Anatolians also notice a fearful approach and equate fear with "up to no good!" so it is also not an option in the Anatolian ring.) That judge lacks a basic understanding of what the breed was bred to do - to protect - and failed to adjust his/her presence in the ring to an appropriate neutral. All Anatolians should be approached in a neutral, non-threatening manner. When an AKC judge punishes an Anatolian for responding appropriately to the judge's challenging and aggressive demeanor, the judge has just punished a correct response for the breed. Judges who demonstrate such a basic lack of understanding of correct Anatolian breed temperament should be required to undergo further breed education prior to being allowed back into the Anatolian ring!
Judges who pick large size rather than overall balance and conformation aren't following the Anatolian standard.
The Anatolian Standard states "General balance is more important than absolute size." Over the years I have observed taller dogs (frequently with narrow, weak chests and improperly straight upper arms) being selected over beautifully built and balanced shorter dogs, especially in shows in the Western part of the USA, where taller, narrow chested dogs with short upper arms seem to be selected frequently by AKC judges (and therefore, incorrectly, by some Anatolian breeders there). One of the most often used protective defenses against canine predators is an angled chest-slam, which knocks the canine down. Then, as the Anatolian crosses over the downed canine, the Anatolian reaches down and grabs the canine's neck. Holding on, the Anatolian's body is flipped around and jerked to a stop. This neck grab is rather violent and when I've observed this happen (numerous times) the canine predator has no fight left. The success of this technique all depends on the Anatolian having a powerful, well-built chest and shoulders (as well as powerful jaws). Narrow chested Anatolians with poorly constructed shoulders, no matter how tall, cannot use this technique effectively since the narrow chest isn't strong enough to handle the blow. Being unable to use the chest-slam creates a greater risk to the Anatolian and its charges from predators. As Mark Twain said, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." This rings true as long as the dog with the "fight" is well balanced with a body structure that can withstand the violent physical impacts favored by Anatolians protecting their charges. Many taller, narrow-chested Anatolians cannot drive off predators with the same ease as well-balanced, agile, structurally-correct yet smaller Anatolians who have powerful, muscular chests because the narrow-chested less-muscular structure can't withstand the repeated chest-blows as well as the more powerful broad-chested and muscular chest structure! As the Anatolian Standard says "General balance is more important than absolute size."
Judges who require Anatolians to "bait." (Luckily, many AKC judges understand Anatolians should not "bait" easily or naturally and they correctly do not allow Anatolians in their ring to "bait.")
Baiting" is not specifically covered in the Anatolian Standard but can be considered as "Reserved around strangers and off its territory is acceptable." As a working Anatolian breeder, I prefer Anatolians who will not "bait." While I have had individual Anatolians bait a bit, I believe that "baiting" directs too much of the dog's energy and attention toward a treat. I prefer my Anatolian's to focus on their surroundings, noticing whether things are or are not a threat. Watching handlers in the ring baiting their Anatolians, I see Anatolians that are further and further away from my original Anatolian who was only a couple of generations out of Turkey. My first Anatolian, Ebling's Kasif (CASY), born in 1985, didn't bait, even in his pasture. If his food was touched by anyone other than me, he would refuse to eat it and required new, untouched food. Even when fed raw meat, which he loved, he allowed meat touched by another human to lie on the ground and rot rather than to eat it. When I fed him raw meat, he would lightly take it from my hand and immediately drop it. After minutes of careful and suspicious sniffing, with lots of checking to see what was happening around us, he would gingerly pick it up and eat. This kind of suspicion keeps Anatolians in the pasture safe from being poisoned. Besides, the slavish eagerness seen in Anatolians who bait easily is not correct Anatolian demeanor.
Judges who are strangers to the dog but require the dog to act friendly to him/her.
As we know, the Anatolian Standard says "Highly territorial, he is a natural guard. Reserve around strangers and off its territory is acceptable." Not only is being reserved around strangers acceptable to me, it is a necessary attribute of a working Anatolian. In the ring an Anatolian is both off territory and with a stranger. While some Anatolians use the owner's behavior toward a stranger when off-territory as their cue and are friendly when their owner expresses friendliness, it is more than acceptable for the Anatolian to be cautious, reserved and suspicious of a judge, an unknown stranger. If the handler is nervous being in the ring, the Anatolian picks up on his/her owner's apprehension and therefore is more suspicious and protective. Even when the Anatolian is initially friendly, if the judge appears too dominant and/or expresses some form of aggressive behavior toward the dog or handler, this friendliness can change to protective behaviors immediately, as is breed appropriate for a breed whose entire existence is the evaluation of threats. That is why it is vital for any AKC judge judging Anatolians to be fully knowledgeable and appreciative of the true breed temperament and to understand that they (the judge) must keep their emotions under control or keep out of the Anatolian ring!
Judges who use squeak toys.
The Anatolian Standard says "… Developed through a set of very demanding circumstances for a purely utilitarian purpose; …" Utilitarian is defined as "designed to be useful or practical rather than attractive." The usefulness of an Anatolian is guarding sheep and/or goats in a predator rich environment. When I see a judge using a squeak toy in the ring, I immediately feel disgust that such a judge is allowed to "judge" Anatolians. What is that judge thinking? For thousands of years Anatolians were selected to protect sheep and/or goats from a variety of serious predators. Protection is a dangerous job and requires a dog committed to that goal. To me, if a judge is squeaking a toy in the ring, they are demonstrating their total lack of understanding of the nature and character of the breed! Watching a dog move powerfully around the ring, expressing a serious, watchful nature with a cautious mistrust of an approaching stranger demonstrates Anatolian breed character. No matter how an Anatolian responds to the squeak toy, the judge has learned nothing I find useful in evaluating Anatolians. To me, this judge requires additional breed education prior to being involved in selecting potential Anatolian breeding stock!
Judges who judge handling skills rather than the dog.
This comment requires no reference to the Anatolian Standard. When a judge really likes a handler's skills and picks that handler no matter the quality of the dog being shown, that judge is not judging the dog, that judge is judging the handler. If the judge's ability to judge Anatolians is so low their selection criteria includes handling ability and/or excellent generic show dog behavior, that judge has no place judging Anatolians, who have a breed temperament that isn't conducive to excellent show dog demeanor in the ring. An example of selecting because of the handler happened with me years ago. The first day I showed, my dogs took Breed, Best of Opposite, and Best of Winners under a well-respected working Judge. The second day a working dog Judge was replaced by a well-known Terrier Judge and my competition hired professional handlers known as favorites of that Terrier Judge. The handlers took everything that day (day two). The same professional handlers were used again on day three but the judge was again a working judge. This working judge chose the same line-up as the working judge had chosen on day one, so my dogs took everything again. While this story is anecdotal, it demonstrates the problem. The terrier judge wasn't familiar with Anatolians and I'm certain that her close relationship with the handsome young handlers inappropriately influenced her decisions. Choosing excellent handlers does not help the breed identify excellent Anatolians. Judges who do this should not judge Anatolians!
Judges who are impatient with the Anatolian's non-show dog behaviors and/or are impatient with the less professional handler's skills (Anatolians shouldn't be bred to be generic show dogs or skilled obedience dogs. Both behaviors are contrary to excellent livestock guardian ability, the core essence of this breed.).
The Anatolian Standard says "… He is very loyal and responsive. Highly territorial, he is a natural guard. Reserve around strangers and off its territory is acceptable. Responsiveness with animation is not characteristic of the breed. Overhandling would be discouraged." Judges knowledgeable regarding Anatolian temperament and demeanor understand that many quality Anatolians are owned and handled by working Anatolian breeders and owners, who generally are focused on the working aspect of the breed (which takes huge amounts of time over years to fully evaluate) and less focused on the show aspect. These working breeders dedicated to preserving the breed in its true and best form tend to be less skilled and less knowledgeable regarding all things show related. Also, the Anatolians they identify as superior working Anatolians and wish to show will likely lack the temperament and demeanor seen in generic show dogs. Judges who actually understand correct Anatolian demeanor and behaviors recognize and reward Anatolians whose behaviors indicate potentially excellent working ability (even though these behaviors are contrary to the normally rewarded generic show dog behaviors). These excellent judges also understand that an Anatolian with typical generic show dog behaviors and demeanor might lack the essential skills required to be successful in the pasture!
Judges who don't understand that tail placement is a necessary means of communication with an Anatolian's livestock.
The Anatolian Standard states "Tail should be long and reaching to the hocks. Set on rather high. When relaxed, it is carried low with the end curled upwards. When alert, the tail is carried high, making a "wheel." Both low and wheel carriage are acceptable, when gaiting. "Wheel" carriage preferred. The tail will not necessarily uncurl totally." I'm uncertain why the Standard states that wheel carriage is preferred. I prefer a tail position that correctly signals to goats and/or sheep the safety situation perceived by the Anatolian. Anatolians signal to their charges with body posture, barking, and tail carriage and movement. Therefore, randomly holding their tail one way or another is not correct. Correct tail carriage must reflect the safety situation as the Anatolian perceives it.
The curled tail has a definite safety function related to guardian duties. Therefore, I prefer tails that go up when danger is present or the dog is moving to another location and wants the herd to follow. If the tail curves too tightly the smaller animals in the herd will have greater difficulty seeing the tail signal and not know where to shift. From a working standpoint I favor the tail that stands tall with a nice curl toward the top… similar to a shepherd's crook.
1. Tail high and waving back and forth quickly signals agitation and danger; the
experienced herd will follow their Anatolian with the tail high and moving back and
forth quickly as it circles the herd and moves out or the herd will stand behind
the Anatolian who stands still and barks while holding its tail high and quickly
waving back and forth.
It is important that AKC judges understand that Anatolian tail position and movement is a necessary trait for clear communication with the herd and not just a matter of personal preference!
Judges who don't understand correct type.
The Anatolian Standard says about the Anatolian - "Large, rugged, powerful and impressive, possessing great endurance and agility. …purely utilitarian purpose… with a unique ability to protect livestock." So an Anatolian requires good bone, but not so much they lose endurance and agility; a large, powerful chest (none of those weak, narrow chests sometimes seen) since a chest-blow is one of their primary techniques to gain control over other canines; excellent overall balance and conformation (rather than merely size) to allow them to protect with the speed and power required to minimize injuries and survive the fight; and characteristics that functionally assist an Anatolian's ability to protect livestock, including temperament and demeanor, as Anatolians were developed for the purely utilitarian purpose of protecting livestock.
"Appears bold but calm, unless challenged… good bone, a well-muscled torso with a strong head…. Fluid movement and even temperament is desirable. … General balance is more important than absolute size. … Eyes are medium sized, set apart, almond shaped..." Almond shaped is important because these dogs are outside all day with their charges, sometimes in bright desert situations and other times in the snow. Almond shaped eyes help protect against the intense sun. Round eyes don't fare as well in intense sun.
"All color patterns and markings are equally acceptable." This is so basic I question why any judge who doesn't know this is being allowed to judge Anatolians!
Leaving the Anatolian ring, I overheard a judge tell a friend handling one of my dogs (who had just gotten Breed) "Excellent group of Siberians." I had several excellent Anatolians in the ring and added this female (an excellent working dog but with poor conformation) to help the point count. This judge referred to Anatolians as Siberians and she picked the Anatolian with the worst conformation in the ring (I owned them all). We had placed her with a friend known to handle poorly, and he had not disappointed. I won, but how could I ever value a win from a judge like her? Why is there is no easy method with AKC to provide feedback regarding terrible judging that also provides feedback regarding AKC's response? Perhaps the ASDCA could host a site with comments listed alphabetically by judge. We could all learn from the comments!
Judges who insist an Anatolian look them in the eye (Strong eye contact is considered an aggressive challenge in Anatolians so the judge who insists on this interaction clearly doesn't understand breed basics.).
How can one value the opinion of a judge whose ignorance of a breed is so great! In Anatolians bred correctly for working ability, everything is viewed through the lens of "a threat/not a threat." An Anatolian who doesn't look a judge in the eye is expressing a polite reaction toward an unknown person. Forced eye contact is not appropriate! Perhaps this judge would do well to visit an actual working ranch where Anatolians are required to protect livestock. The judge would have a much better understanding of the breed and what is required and what isn't! Some show-only breeders might also benefit from a working ranch visit as well!
Judges who recommend a head up position over a level or lower position when trotting.
This recommendation was given to me more than all the other "judges tips" I've been given. I responded "Thank you for noticing that my dogs hold their heads in an appropriate position for a working Anatolian in this situation." I always hoped that their understanding of correct conformation was much better than their understanding of Anatolian head position. Just as tail position is used to signal the Anatolian's herd, the head position is used also. When my Anatolians are guarding livestock and raise their head, giving them a beautiful, majestic look, I immediately look to where they are looking. A raised head indicates the Anatolian is concerned it has identified a potential threat! (This is what goats do when they spot a potential predator; they raise their head high.) When an Anatolian lowers its head, the Anatolian is indicating all is well (eating grass again). Let's please not have AKC judges undo thousands of years of breeding selection for excellent communication with livestock because the judge thinks a raised head is a prettier look!!!! And breeders who follow ill-educated judges' poorly informed picks are demonstrating their lack of experience with and understanding of the breed.
Although I have seen improvement in AKC judges' understanding of the complete Anatolian over time, the area in which too many AKC judges still fail miserably is correct Anatolian temperament, demeanor, and behaviors. Since the essence of the breed was derived through thousands of years of selection to protect sheep and/or goats, judges need to hear from ASDCA club members who specialize in that area … the true working Anatolian owners (Anatolians guarding sheep and/or goats in a predator rich environment). Working Anatolian ASDCA members know the temperament, demeanor, and behaviors required for the Anatolian to perform their guardian duties. Lose these working traits and Anatolians become just another generic AKC breed with no special skills. Observing your Anatolian lying on your living room floor in your air conditioned and heated house does not provide the information required for one to speak knowledgeably regarding the necessary temperament, demeanor, and behaviors required in excellent Anatolian Shepherd guardians!