Judging the Euro OES – Ray Owen

The Euro Show is the biggest gathering of Old English Sheepdog enthusiasts in the world. It may well be the most prestigious, I am unable to judge ‘prestige’ so take my word for it. It certainly attracts the biggest entry of any OES show, beating Crufts and the American OES Club show and all other breed club shows. It is eagerly anticipated and the hotels around the chosen venue are soon booked up.

Sadly the popularity of the OES has been dropping almost everywhere around the globe. China and Russia seem to be increasing their Bobtail numbers in tune with their new found economic strength. But generally, wherever there is an OES club there is support and enthusiasm for this magnificent breed. I appreciated the long journeys people had made to attend this 26th Euro show in Oosterbeek, Holland, over 300 bobtailers from 20 countries, so when a dog leaves the ring being unplaced I, too, feel the owners’ disappointment. I have trod the same path and remember collecting over 80 second places with one fabulous dog who was unlucky to be shown in the ‘heyday’ of the OES show world in the 70s, regularly coming up against many great Champions and just missing out on his title. I always smiled and shook the winner’s hand and loved my dog. I saw this same attitude here in Holland and thank the exhibitors for taking my decisions so sportingly.

I do look for positive attributes when judging and keep the ‘scale of points’ firmly in my mind when balancing the best features of every dog. Always searching for what is better in one dog over another, rather than fault finding and being negative. There is no doubt in my mind that with the drop in registrations of show dog numbers there is also a general decline in overall quality when compared to the 70s. Coat quality has got softer in direct relationship to the length that some dogs wear. Necks are generally shorter which loses the overall balance of ‘corkiness’ and shape of the typical OES. Presentation and handling is so much better and superb in some cases, never has it been better overall. Many of us are getting older and do not do our dogs justice when moving. Gone are the days when a dog was expected to walk, canter and gallop, we have fewer dogs in each class and less time to judge them. So an impact must be made on the judge from the first step the dog takes.

A loose lead is what I like, but many handlers ‘string’ their charges up, denying the OES the chance to move properly, with a low head carriage, visually extending the topline down from rump to skull. There is no finer sight in the big ring than a good Bobtail reaching out in front and powering from behind with a strong rear engine. Movement was generally good; a few were excellent and ‘typical’. Type is what I always look for above all else. Overall balance and a correct topline with a well defined rise to loin. Some dogs were lacking and were penalised. Heads were good, skulls strong and square, eye colour varied, even in the poor light I could find ‘waspy’ light eyes.

Only a few had truly dark brown eyes and a good few had two china eyes, I realise eye colour follows skin and coat colour, but we all have our preferences and the warmth of expression comes from the quality of the eye colour and I keep it all in balance when assessing these small details. Just like pigmentation, it is not asked for in the breed standard but it does set the eye colour off in a nice frame. Teeth were good, most were clean, tight scissor bites were to be found a ‘plenty. Shoulders and bone quality were good and rear ends strong in most. Just a few were moving close behind and I know the ring was made smaller by the big entry but only a few were allowed to reach out and power round the tight space. Small, staccato steps are not an efficient way to drive sheep or cattle and I am looking for a dog that is ‘fit for function’, capable of doing a days work. We must never forget ours is a pastoral breed and must work all day at times.

Temperament was good, a few were tested when clapping broke out in the adjoining ring, again not Bobtail temperament, bold and assertive should be a drover’s dog’s nature, never shy or nervous. So overall a good standard, only a few were scissored and I penalised this with placing them lower in the line. The breed standard is clear on this and judges should be decisive when trimming and scissoring is excessive. The individual critiques were in depth and I am happy to discuss my findings via email if necessary as I have a copy for every dog I judged.

I thank my ring stewards and the back up crew who fought to keep the technology moving along at a good pace despite the temperament of the software. The Dutch committee must be thanked and rewarded for putting on such a superb show, one of the best I have ever been to. The hospitality was excellent and the memories will last a lifetime. The future is Orange.

Ray Owen (Amblegait) Judge and proud owner of the Silver Pin

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