In the AKC ring, it is the responsibility of the judge to use the standard to maintain the integrity of the breed. The judge is also responsible for maintaining the integrity of the sport.
With its two varieties, 13” and 15”, beagles are a unique breed for new judges who need to understand the use of the wicket and need to be encouraged to use it. Information about the varieties and the procedure for measuring can be found here. Beyond simply understanding the use of wicket and the procedure for marking the judge’s book, it might be helpful for the new judge to understand the implications of size for the exhibitor.
A young, growing dog may start out its show career as a 13” beagle but grow into the 15” variety. Any points earned as a 13” go with the dog as it continues competing as a 15”. For the exhibitor, making an entry two weeks before a show, it can sometimes be difficult to guess what height the young dog might be on the day of the show. On the day that the 2016 Nationals entries closed, I entered three puppies that would be exactly 6 months old the week of Nationals: two were just under 12.75 inches and one was just over 12.75 inches on the days that entries closed. The two that were under were entered as 13” and the one that was over was entered as a 15”. I guessed correctly with each measuring in in their class. The slightly larger puppy had grown to be just over 13″ and the two smaller puppies measured just under 13″ on the day of the show. Most exhibitors will do their best to enter young dogs in the correct variety…but there is often a bit of anxiety for the exhibitor until the dog decides which variety it will be.
The goal should be, of course, to measure correctly and the judge should not try to measure dogs out. We benefit from seeing as many dogs as possible in the ring. However, there is a disqualification in 15’s…and…”13’s” that are over 13 inches can and should be competing as 15’s. In spite of this, the wicket is rarely used; often seen just once a year at Nationals. The result is that it is not uncommon to see small 15’s shown in the 13” ring where there is less competition and handlers “put on” oversize 15’s to “get them done quickly”. If there is no reason to “fear the wicket”, advantage is taken.
Exhibitors do have the “right” (and I would suggest – “responsibility”) to call the wicket when they are in the ring with a dog that they suspect is too tall but that exhibitor will instantly be labeled “unsportsmanlike” within the fancy, regardless of whether they are justified. Those who breed, show, and live with the breed day after day know the size of their dogs. Standing outside the ring, and within, it is well-known when an oversize dog continues to be shown but exhibitors have to ask themselves if it is worth making the politically incorrect move to call the wicket. In some cases, it is close. In some cases, it is clear that an exhibit is ineligible for its class or should be disqualified. We hope that a judge will measure…but they rarely, rarely do. To measure requires that the judge stop judging and call the superintendent to bring a wicket to the ring. That takes time and the AKC encourages judges to make good use of their time. The result is that it is not uncommon to find oversize dogs in the ribbons and the rankings…and growing tension among exhibitors within the fancy. Exhibitors who have honestly entered their dogs lose points and ranking to dogs that should be competing as 15’s or should be disqualified…but, to challenge the exhibitors of oversize dogs casts the challenger as unsportsmanlike and creates long-lasting friction between breeders. Judges can keep the competition honest, maintain the standard, and keep the peace among exhibitors by making more frequent use of the wicket.
Showing purebred dogs is an expensive hobby and it is important to maintain the integrity of the sport in order to attract new exhibitors and retain knowledgeable, long-time exhibitors who have much to contribute. Over the years, I have watched rare majors go to 13” beagles that were 14” tall and 15” beagles that were 16” tall while worthy dogs, shown by long-time breeders, left the ring without points. I know a group judge who recently had to go back and correct her judge’s book because she gave the group to the smaller beagle in the ring – the 15” beagle. As an AKC judge, the integrity of the breed and the sport are in your hands. If you have any doubt about the size of a dog, please measure!