by Amy Bell

Bio: Gus Sinibaldi is an AKC judge living in Charlotte, North Carolina who started in Bulldogs over 22 years ago. He later downsized to French Bulldogs and is a Breeder of Merit. He has bred multiple Best in Show, Reserve Best in Show and Specialty show winners. He currently judges eight breeds and is continuing his passion for the judging of purebred dogs.

Question 1: What is your opinion of the current quality of purebred dogs in general, and your breed in particular?
Overall I find the quality of purebred dogs to be good. This quality is supported by responsible breeding and by the love and preservation of the breed. While the depth of quality is not always evident, there are times when the quality is in abundance, which makes judging and exhibiting really exciting.

Question 2: What is your advice to a new breeder and your advice to a new judge of your breed?
The advice I have for new breeders is to be patient, continue working with mentors that you trust, and make good, well-thought-out , long-term decisions that preserve the health of your breed. I ask that you understand any specific issues your breed is facing and to be part of the solution and not the problem. Please do not operate in the moment. Breeding healthy and good representatives of your breed takes time. It is a marathon and not a sprint.

To new judges and those with regular status my advice would be to stay connected to your mentors and be sure to have more than one. Diversity of thought is a good thing providing you different points of view. Remember, breed-specific standards can change. It is important to get in front of those changes. I recommend that you always consider the whole dog and look for balance. Understand the hallmarks of any breed you judge and do not get caught up on parts. And finally, create a good experience for the exhibitor. Be thorough and give everyone a good look and exam with a smile and remember to always point to the best dog.

Question 3: What is the most common fault you see when traveling around the country?
The most common fault I see is less about the dog and more about the exhibitor or breeder. Before ever thinking the system is against you, read your standard on a regular basis, and be sure that you too are evaluating the whole dog. When a judge looks at the entire package, they could be forgiving of a fault. If you want to lodge a complaint, speak to the AKC rep objectively and/or write to AKC Judges Operations. Complaining about something through social media or by bending your friend’s ear, may make you feel better, but does not change results. Regarding overall conformation I would say we should work on more bone and muscle, bites, and toplines. Sadly, I do see a number of wry jaws or jaws lacking turn up. I see toplines that are either flat or too extreme. And I encourage breeders to pay attention to movement. Are the dogs reaching and driving or are they taking many small steps?

Question 4: What are you most drawn to when a dog enters the ring prior to getting your hands on them?
A judge knows immediately if the dog represents the vision he/she has in their head for the breed entering the ring. For me I will immediately notice a heavy boned, muscular, compact and balanced dog from the profile. I then walk down the line and look at heads and expression expecting to see large square heads with dark round eyes and high set ears of good size. Work really begins when the dogs do not exhibit those attributes.

Question 5: Will you explain from a judge’s perspective why having your hands on a dog can yield a whole other opinion of the overall conformation rather than just viewing a lineup of dogs from a distance?
I like this question a lot. We can all be ringside critics and sometimes surprised when our pick doesn’t win. When the dog is on the table many things are revealed. The true eye shape and color of eyes, the muscle and tone of the dog, and the bite can all reveal something different on the table. A French Bulldog is not coated, so what you see is what you get. But overall structure and tone is best determined with your hands. And one more thing….. the eyes looking back at you speak volumes.

Question 6: How has being a breeder/owner/handler prior to being a judge shaped your ability to be completely objective in what some may think has become a political event or a popularity contest?
My first reaction to this question is that it hasn’t. I believe doing the right thing, taking your job seriously, and being ethical is innate. However, I do not lose sight to what it takes to breed and raise litters, care for them, pay for entries, take time off from work, and sometimes travel great distances. I take the responsibility to create the best experience possible for the exhibitor and to do right by the breed very serious. A judge must be thorough and give every entry their time and attention while managing their ring efficiently.

Question 7: When you are judging, what order of importance do you put on the handling of the dog, the temperament of the dog, the overall conformation, and movement and what areas are you more likely to forgive than others?
This may be a weak answer, but it truly depends on the quality of the entry. Beyond breed type which we discussed in a previous question, these are all important elements. I strongly believe a French Bulldog should move in an unrestrained, free and vigorous fashion with reach and drive. This goes back to structure. Overall type comes first with movement as a determining factor. Temperament in any breed is critical. We know that a French Bulldog should have an affectionate nature and be active and alert. As far as handling of a dog, a good dog will be found by a good
judge even when they are not perfectly behaved. I don’t care if they move on the table or take some playful steps. I want the dog to have fun too!

Question 8: Do you have a color preference or bias?
Absolutely Not! Conformation and breed type knows no color. As long as it is not a disqualifying color, coat type, or coat pattern, I love them all.

Question 9: To date, what has been your best show experience, and what is one goal you are looking to achieve prior to retirement in breeding/showing/judging?
Breeding quality dogs that do well in the show ring and to produce quality get is what drives me. I have been blessed with a number of great show experiences and some very proud moments. I want to be known as a successful breeder, a fair judge, and someone who gave back by mentoring many while shaping the future of our breed. Being on the judges panel for Mexico City’s Tournament of Champions was an incredible experience and one I won’t soon forget.

Question 10: From an exhibitor’s perspective what is the proper protocol for engaging judges conversationally? Speak only when spoken to, or exchange brief pleasantries while your dog is on the table, or do you find it refreshing when exhibitors approach you after a show to find out what you liked or didn’t like about their dog?
Please talk to me. I am friendly and will likely speak to the dog on the table. Some of you answer back on behalf of your dog which is quite amusing. Conversation at the table does not influence decisions. The dog decides that, but please have fun. When approaching judges about their decisions, please keep the following in mind. A judge may have just judged in excess of 150 dogs. If you have your dog with you, it will jog my memory. I really don’t care for the conversations that start with “What didn’t you like about my dog”? There may have been a lot I liked about your dog.
However, on that day another dog had more of what I was looking for. I personally am happy to share what I liked about your dog and where there could be opportunity. It is one person’s opinion, but I am always happy to share my perspective. But be prepared, I may ask you to share the virtues of your dog and if there are things you would change. I expect you to also know your standard.

Question 11: If you could impart one nugget of wisdom with the French Bulldog Community what would it be?
This is easy. Be nice. Be kind. Be humble. Be genuine. Be helpful. Be honest. And finally, be the person your dog thinks you are.