Approaching the Ridgeback
By Denise Flaim
it comes to a judge's decisions in distributing ribbons, there's no pleasing
all of the people -- much less all the exhibitors -- all of the time. But what
is universally appreciated by Ridgeback fanciers is a judge who knows how to
approach our dogs.
The Ridgeback standard calls for a dog that is "devoted and affectionate
to his master, reserved with strangers." "Reserved" is hardly
the same as "wary"; a Ridgeback never responds to the approach of
someone he does not know with aggression or intolerance. Instead, he will
observe, calmly and intently, doing an excellent impression of a marble statue
as he tries to understand the newcomer's intent. If the stranger is relaxed and
calm, the Ridgeback will respond in kind. Ours is not a suspicious breed, but
rather a deeply intuitive and intelligent one. If you are nervous, they figure
you have cause to be.
Some judges, especially those who hail from the Working Group, misinterpret the
Ridgeback's intense gaze as a challenge and threat instead of what it truly is
-- a simple, honest, thoughtful study. If the judge shows apprehension, this
initiates a self-fulfilling prophecy: The Ridgeback might shrink away, lean
against his handler or break his stack.
Perhaps the biggest trap judges fall into in understanding Ridgeback
temperament is going no further than the breed's imposing exterior. Some do not
appreciate that under the stoicism there is a sensitive soul not very far
removed from his sighthound roots. He is just as brainy as he is athletic, with
a houndy independence does not permit him to automatically believe the
assurances of his handler, as a Sporting dog might. For this reason, a handler who
corrects or jerks an anxious Ridgeback in the ring often has the opposite
In contrast to the heavy-handed judge who scrutinizes teeth as if they were tea
leaves and slaps rears in a locker-room flashback is the one who attempts to
"baby" a nervous Ridgeback by cooing and lingering. If a dog is
worried about a stranger's intentions, such cloying behavior will likely only
exacerbate that concern. As with many things in this breed, the middle ground
-– calm, gentle and collected -- is best.
Another bugaboo of Ridgeback handlers is the judge who swoops in from behind.
The correct way to approach a Ridgeback is from his line of sight; these are
agile hunters who do not appreciate being "ambushed." The judge who
touches a flank unannounced, causing a Ridgeback to whip around, has no one to
blame for the dog's poor performance but himself.
Similarly, judges who force puppies to stand for an exhaustive exam when they
are clearly overwhelmed are not doing that dog any favors. Yes, puppies should
have some training for the ring. But the Ridgeback's first impressions are
lasting ones, and pushing a puppy too far can create a negative association
that will be hard, if not impossible, to extinguish. The show ring is not the
place to "teach" a panicked Ridgeback puppy how to behave. Instead, a
quick, smooth exam that ends on a positive note -- ideally, proferring a piece
of bait -- is infinitely preferable.
If they are anything, Ridgebacks are impeccable judges of character. They know
when a judge of the human variety likes and understands their breed. And they
know -- mirroring it back quite plainly -- when one does not.
(c) 2006 Denise Flaim. This article originally appeared in the August 2006
issue of the AKC Gazette. It may not be distributed or reprinted without the
express written permission of the author.