Interview With Ken Downing

  The following is an attempt to improve communication between the judges of our breed, and the people who show under them.  

1.) Are you an active breeder of German Shepherd Dogs? Do you have a kennel name ?  

Yes, I am active as a breeder if you qualify I or less breedings per year as active. I am also active as an exhibitor. Our kennel name is ABRAXAS SHEPHERDS.
2.) How long have you been in the breed? When and how did you get started? Are you affiliated with any clubs?  
We, my wife Patty and I, established our kennel in 1978. Prior to actually establishing the kennel as we know it today, we had owned German Shepherds for approximately 4 years. 

We really got started in obedience with a wonderful dog who was a cross between the German and American lines. His father was a highly recognized German dog. "Erich" was a top performer in obedience obtaining his CD in 3 consecutive shows with very high scores. He was also a member of the GSDC of Wisconsin Scent and Hurdle team,  he was the anchor dog, who were three time National Champions. We showed our German dog, "Erich" in conformation and did well when he was a puppy but as an adult we were not competitive. At the GSDC of Wisconsin fall show in 1976 we had the opportunity to see the Grand Victor Hollamor's Judd  win Best of Breed and we fell in love with his beautiful  structure and movement. It was at that point we decided to really get serious about conformation and set our goal to breed  better dogs. We also felt that we could breed a dog that would be competitive  not only in the conformation ring but in the obedience ring as well. We feel we have accomplished that goal. 

I belong to the Ft. Worth GSDC where I served as President for 3 years before moving to Kansas City. I have been a  member of the GSDC of Greater Kansas City for the past 3 years and also serve on the Board of Directors. I have  been a member of the GSDC of America since the mid 70's just not sure of the exact year.

3.) How long have you been judging the breed?  
I received my license to judge in 1993.
4.) How many times a year do you judge German Shepherds?  
Since I am an active exhibitor and I don't feel it wise to accept a lot of judging assignments at the same time, I only  accept three or four judging assignments each year. I try to insure that they are in different parts of the country and  where I don't  
regularly exhibit. As a result, I have had to turn down assignments each year.
5.) Over the last 2 years has the number of shows?  
Since I received my license to judge, I have always made it a practice to accept only three to four shows a year as I  explained above. Therefore, it remains the same.
6.) Have you ever judged the National Specialty? If yes, when and what classes ?  
No, I have not judged the Nationals, but Helen Miller Fisher did submit my name last year to the Board to Judge the Nationals. When I learned I was not on the Board slate, I planned to run by petition. However, when I decided to run  for the Office of Vice President I felt it would be in poor taste to run on the slate to judge the Nationals at the same time.
7.) Do you judge at both all-breeds and specialties, which do you prefer ?  
Since I do limit the number of assignments that I accept, I prefer to  judge at Specialties. However, I have judged at  some large All-Breed shows, I would feel much better about judging 
and taking more All-Breed assignments if it was being held during the same weekend as a Specialty show with support of a Specialty Club and entries from same.  One of the problems in 
All-Breed shows that I we is the size of the ring which I don't feel is adequate most of the time to display the beautiful movement of  our animals. I know I can get some arguments in this area, however, a large ring is an important factor for me.
8.) Do you have a color preference?  
As an exhibitor and breeder. we have always bred black and tan. I do prefer the  rich pigment with more black than red/tan but have not had that in a while. I am constantly working towards that end. 

a. As a judge, I have no color preference and a good dog is a good dog no matter what the color. Color and/or  pigment alone would not prohibit me from putting up a good dog, I remember in one of my earlier assignments  putting a sable puppy reserve and  calling home to tell Patty what I did. I also remember telling her he was stunning and if the rear tightened up he would be spectacular. I guess most of the spectators were surprised but who could  resist a puppy who turned into a lovely adult named Gotti. 

b. I cannot remember ever judging a solid black dog but I can speak as a spectator. At the Nationals I seem to have a more difficult time seeing the motion and substance without some 
distortion. Of course, that would be from a considerable distance and could possibly change if  I were closer to the dog as I would be if I were in the center of  the ring on the dogs level.

9.) What importance do you place on condition of plush versus smooth coat? Please explain.  
I think it is always more pleasing to the eye to see a beautiful German Shepherd with a beautiful coat. You can have a well conditioned coat in both plush and smooth. As a judge, I am 
more attracted to and interested in the dogs structure and movement.
10.) When judging the dog do you also judge the handler? Please elaborate if possible.  
As a judge, I could care less who is handling the dog as long as the dog is presented the way I want it presented. I believe that everyone knows that a good dog can be made to took bad with poor presentation just as a good dog can be made to look superb with the proper presentation. I do request and get a loose lead presentation.
11.) What importance do you place on missing teeth?  
Proper dentition is very important and any missing teeth,. other than first premolars, is a serious fault and must be considered when judging the dog.
12.) How do you see bites today?  
While judging over the past few years, I haven't noticed any significant problems with missing teeth, but I have seen several level bites which seems to be more of a problem than missing teeth. Overall, bites are good.
13.) How do you see strength of ears?  
I haven't seen a problem with ears and consider them to be good.
14.) Do you feel the GSD's temperament has improved over the past 5 years?  
Absolutely!! It has improved. I have always tested temperament when judging by using the loose lead test. I am very  careful, however, not to stalk a dog or try and hold it's eye contact. Use 
of the loose lead test and penalizing shy  dogs by all judges will continue to improve temperament.
15.) Do you consider temperament today to be? Please explain.  
In the shows that I have judged or attended, I have not seen any major temperament problems. A few shy dogs, but  usually good overall.
16.) Do you prefer a dog to be shown on a loose lead?  
I always demand and got a loose lead or a dog cannot win under me.
17.) How would you rate the following in sequence of importance? (On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest).  
Coming and going  9 
Side Gait  10+  
Temperament  10+ 
Teeth  8 
Coat  7 
Pasterns, hocks, feet  9 
Pigment  7 
Structure  10+ 
Shoulder and reach  10+ 
Attitude  9 

I need to make a few comments concerning the above ratings. Regarding coming and going, I tend to put more weight on coming at me since a dogs elbows cannot and should not be out or flapping and is certainly more important to me than going away. As far as coat and pigment  are concerned, the lower rating doesn't mean that I don't prefer it well conditioned, plush coated, richly pigmented dog, however, I feet they must be piece of a total package.

18.) Could you briefly describe your ring procedure, and any changes you may incorporate between a small Vs large class  
I have the dogs come into the ring in catalog order and go to a designated area after checking the arm band numbers, Then the dogs are stacked so I can get a general impression of them. I Then ask that the dogs make two laps around the ring while Making sure that the handlers understand I want to see the dogs at an easy gait with a  loose lead. After this, I start the 
individuals by going over each dog using the loose lead temperament test having the dog come out and stand on a loose lead as I approach being very careful not to stalk or give the appearance of stalking to the dog.   

I then check teeth, structure testicles in the case of the males, tail, coming and going, and all areas that make up our breed. I then ask the handler to take the dog around the ring twice 
making sure they understand that if I don't see the dog at an easy gait and on a loose lead they cannot win. Then I, once again, review the entire class stacked and start placing the class. After placing the class, I have the contenders go around again letting those contending for the win or place lead the class at least once. I use this procedure with each class and look at every dog the same way. I feel it is very important that every exhibitor feel that their dog was looked at. 

With large classes, anything above eight, I will divide the class into groups as evenly as possible with not less than four dogs to a group. I then follow the same procedure explained above with each and every group selecting the dogs I went to keep in  
contention. I will then excuse the dogs no longer in contention, but never before I give them a chance to go around as a group to be sure I haven't missed anyone. I do like to work a large class down to the six dogs I would consider to be in contention for the class win. After picking my Winners Dog and Bitch, again letting each contender for winners lead, I then judge for Best of Breed those dogs not already judged. I use the same procedure I used in the classes.

19.) Do you think there should be an age limit in placing points on a dog (i.e. dogs and bitches under 12 months of age)?  
No, I don't think there should be an age limit placed in placing points on any dog. If a dog is good enough to win, the age should make no difference. During the years I have judged, I have 
never had a puppy win the points and I have judged some very, very nice puppies but there has always been a more complete adult shown. You could also make a good argument for one of the two majors needed to come after two (2) years of age because at that point you would be certain of the development and how the animal would turn out.
20.) If a dog is not exactly to the standard in size, would you prefer slightly larger or smaller?  
I would prefer slightly larger, but it still all goes back to the dogs structure and movement,
21.) Do you think on average German Shepherd Dogs are too extreme?  
No, I do not feel that the German Shepherd Dog is too extreme. The real key is whether they are in balance in their movement front to rear and does the rear function properly.
22.) In your opinion should double handling be allowed?  
I don't mind discreet double handling, but I will not allow people running crazily around the ring, etc. My experience has been that there are a lot of people who do not know how to double handle their dog and do more damage than  good for the dog. I am also of the opinion that double handling is no different than baiting a dog in the all breed ring or sparring simply to excite 
a dog.
23.) Should all select dogs, in your opinion, be OFA (H&E)?  
If you are asking if I think it should be mandatory for all Selects to be required to be OFA, then my answer is no. I  am not in favor of placing the requirement of OFA for our Selects or any other mandatory requirement for that matter other than what the Breed standard calls for. We have already established a requirement and that is within the confines of the Award of Excellence. If you scrutinize the Selects at the past two Nationals, you would find that the greater percentage of the males were OFA certified and some were too young. I also know the argument that by having this requirement, we somehow would improve hip dysplasia as "most" people breed to the 
Grand Victor and Selects. However, the Grand Victor would be exempt from this mandatory requirement. Not exactly fair nor factual ! It would have no effect on the hundreds of back yard 
and litter lot breedings done each year. If the biggest. percentage of our Selects are already OFA, then why add another requirement? I have always said you cannot legislate  
honesty and all the requirements in the world will not change that! As a breeder, I have always been very concerned about good hips and elbows and I not breed or show a dog who will not OFA. Our record at Abraxas will show those concerns as will most all other breeders I know.
24.) When making the final selection, does the dog with the most front reach usually win the class?  
I use the German Shepherd standard when judging and feel that the winners are the ones who most meet that standard. We have a very complete standard with some 1690 words in it- Those areas that comprise movement such  as hindquarters, transmission, forequarters, and gait make up 30% of our standard. Therefore, a dog with a beautiful front working in total balance will usually be my winner.
25.) Do you feel more emphasis should be put on the total package, and less on movement?  
Please refer to my answer #24. 1 am also not sure what some people mean when they say "total package". To me a "total package" 'would be the one that most conforms to the standard  If the GSDC of America and it's members  want to change our standard to place less emphasis on movement then that is what should be done, but remember our beautiful breeds outreaching, elastic gait, without effort, covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps is one of the areas that sets our breed span from all others, It has served us well for many years and continues to do so in my opinion.
26.) Do you think the German Shepherd Dog standard should be changed?  
No, I feel we have a very good and complete standard that serves us very well and has for many years.
27.) Do you think there should be any changes in any of the existing rules concerning dog shows? If so, please elaborate  
No, I don't think there should be any changes, I do believe, however, at large shows (i.e.: 5 points) then there should be some compensation to the reserve winners.
28.) Is there a dog, whether alive now or not, who to you typifies most closely the "ideal" German Shepherd Dog ? If yes, please explain and give details  
There are and has been a lot of really fine dogs so to single one out would be difficult. There are many who have been dominant contributors to our breed such as Lance, Reno, Sundance Kid, Gunner, and as I have already mentioned GV Hollamor's Judd who actually patterned our thinking towards movement. One bitch whose name comes to mind is GV CH Langenaus Tango who in my opinion met the standard in almost every area including movement. I could go on and name many others, however, those who most typify my ideal GSD are those who have the qualities that our standard calls for and displays breathtaking movement.
29.) Do you feel that in general the quality of the breed in this country is getting better or worse ? Please elaborate  
    In my opinion, I feet the quality of the breed is improving in such areas as temperament, dentition, cars, and masculinity of our males, The breeders have also made progress and shown concern with regard to hip and elbow dysplasia. One area that still needs careful monitoring is, in some cases, the extremity of rear angulation where dogs are unable to have the proper follow through.
30.) Do you have a pet peeve about anything owners or handlers do concerning the showing of dogs ?  
One of the things that bothers me regarding owners is any improper and too exuberant double handling of their animals in the ring. It distorts the animal and does not present them in the best light. As far as handlers are concerned, occasionally one will ignore my instructions as far as loose lead and the speed at which I prefer to see them gait which is unfortunate because it also does a disservice to the animal and the owners.
31.) Do you have any suggestions for owners or handlers regarding anything they should ALWAYS do when showing under you ?  
I always expect to see the dogs properly groomed and presented as I ask them to be. The handlers only need follow my directions and the owners need only pay close attention (double handling) to their dogs while performing in the ring.
32.) Do you have any suggestions for owners or handlers regarding anything they should NEVER do when showing under you ?  
I will not tolerate poor sportsmanship from either handier or owner.
33.) Do you have any advice for people who are relatively new to showing and/or breeding?  
The most important thing I can stress to anyone is that we all started at the same place and should never hesitate to share our experiences and knowledge we have gained. Anyone undertaking breeding or showing should be knowledgeable about the standard and be able to pick the movement out and know how and why it works, and they should always be objective in evaluating their own dogs as well as others. I do not believe that breeding should be undertaken for any reason except to better the breed.
34.) Is there anything else you would like to say about judging or about the German Shepherd breed today ? If so, please feel free to say it here  
I enjoy judging and seeing fine animals presented to their best advantage. I have a procedure that does not vary from  show to show and I feel that is very important especially to those watching you judge. Consistency is another area  that needs constant attention so that exhibitors and handlers know what to expect when entering under any judge.  As I have already stated the GSD today is overall a better dog today than it has been and we always need to continue to strive to improve and not regress.
35.) Have you ever judged one the of the greats? If so, can you give a rundown of this dog for the people who have not had the privilege to even see it.  
This question is very difficult to answer as I am not sure how the term "GREAT" is being used. It could be used only to signify how well a dog produces; or could mean the impact the dog has on the breed itself; or simply the movement and structure. Even though I have been judging only five years, I have been fortunate enough that virtually  every dog I have pointed has gone on to finish it's championship. When I judged the Futurity, my Futurity dog was the #3 Select this past year; my Maturity bitch winner was the Maturity Victrix that year. Many of the dogs that I have awarded points to early in their career have gone on to earn the Select title within a short period of time under different judges. So for me to single out one dog would be improper.
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