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Dear Ed

Having read your recent pleas for articles in the journal I thought I would contribute one on how to judge dwarf hamsters. I would however, like to stress that these are my own thoughts on how I judge the wee beasts, it is not to say that this is a fool proof system, but for me it works, and having sat now with a number of trainee judges I thought it would be a good idea to write down my thoughts on judging procedures for the dwarf hamster, as there appears to be some grey areas, running consistently with trainees.

Personally, I tend to judge hamsters along similar lines to how I was taught to judge dogs, that is I follow a simple formula, I was always told repeatedly by one famous dog judge to first look at the animal as a whole, then start from the head, back, tail, front quarters, middle piece and hind quarters, legs and feet, that way you knew you wouldn’t miss something. However following these simple steps helps:

1. The first impression of the animal.

Very simple everyone knows when you look at an animal whether you like it or not. So ask yourself the following questions.

Why does it appeal to you?

Has it correct type, good colour, good head etc.

No it doesn’t appeal to you - why not?

Are the ears out of proportion (i.e. too large for the head), incorrect type (mousy head on a Russian), wrong colour etc. All these comments can be jotted in the comments box by the book steward. At the same time I will tell the book steward of:

2. Type.

Firstly thinking of the standard for that particular species, does the type correspond correctly, or does it have a ratty face, or long body on the Campbell/Winter White.  For type I tend to start at the head and work down the body, does the head look correct i.e. triangular for Chinese, are the ears correctly set, are the eyes correct and not too bulgy, next does the head and body run smoothly together, or does the head look as though it doesn’t belong to the body. Is the shape of the body correct for the standard? Are the legs correctly set, does the animal have the correct number of paws and toes visible.

3. Colour.

Again thinking of the standard, start at the top colour and work down. The standard calls for a specific colour on top i.e. buff brown, and then another specific colour for the base coat i.e. slate grey. There is no point writing a standard for these points to be missed. Blow into the coat to see the under colour, often you will find a multitude of sins hidden under the coat, not only poor colour, but also white hairs, new fur growth and of course you can check the condition of the skin, for scurf or bites.

Next check markings, these play an important role in allocating colour marks, does the hamster have a good dorsal stripe or does it run out of ink half way down the body. In Campbell’s and Winter whites, there should be three clearly visible side arches; these arches should be even on both sides, the middle arch shouldn’t be so large as to almost be forming a band across the animal.

Once you have assessed all these parts you can allocate your points.

4. Fur.

Check the standard, male Campbells fur is often more woolly in appearance, whereas a female tends to have a closer coat being less woolly. When looking at a Chinese hamster I always carefully check around the backend and face for any signs of bites, especially if the coat looks in moult.

Fur faults can be split into the following categories: -

Moult

Not all hamsters show the tell tale signs of spots over the top coat, some manage to maintain reasonable top fur whilst still growing new fur, the best way of telling moult is to blow into the fur. In a normal coat there should be 3 distinct colour markation lines, the tips of the hairs will be the brown/black colour, this then fades to a lighter creamier colour and then the slate grey colour. In a hamster that is growing new fur this often tends to split into 5 or 6 demarkation lines as the new fur grows up.

Rough idea of hamster normal Coat

Rough idea of hamster showing moult

Hamsters not only show spots but they also show demarcation lines across their backs and if you compare the two top colours you will notice that they are slightly different, this is another variation of moult.

Adult Fur Growth

As a baby matures he goes through fur change and often by blowing into the top fur you will notice 4 distinct colour rings, i.e. light brown top fur, slate grey, darker brown and slate grey. A baby is normally always lighter than it parents, and as they moult from their juvenile coats to their adult coats this should change colour as well falling (not always) in line with the parents.

Baldness 

Bald areas are obvious, and occur on any area of the body, but are most common on the belly and hind legs, this can be hidden in a well-covered hamster if these areas aren’t checked.

5. Condition

I work on the adage that a well conditioned animal is made not born, so if it is in good condition, has good soft fur, nicely formed i.e. not fat or skinny and has clear eyes, short nails etc I tend to give it 9-10 points, I feel that as the owner has spent a lot of time getting the animal in peak show condition it should be rewarded. But if the animal has long or very long toenails then points get knocked off likewise, very bony animals or excessively fat animals also get points knocked off.

I also penalise bite marks, scurf, and other ailments under condition. Baldness I tend to take off fur as the fur is missing, but if it is missing due to mange or any other skin disease then I will take it off condition.

6. Eyes and Ears.

Self explanatory really, but it is amazing how many times judges miss torn or tattered ears, bulging eyes, glaucoma, cataract, bitten eyes etc.

7. Size

Again self-explanatory, except a baby has small size points whilst a big one must by a law of averages have bigger size points. There is of course the hamster that is too big, and this I will mark down rather than give it the maximum 10. A dwarf is a dwarf and has specific size requirements, whereas the Syrian is as large as possible. So you as a judge should mark the size accordingly and mark down grossly over sized animals, otherwise we will land up with dwarfs the size of small Syrians.

When judging I tend to be a very hands on person, your eyes can tell you so much but they can also be miss leading, the hands are more sensitive to lumps, bumps, bites etc, they can feel if an animal is just large or fat, they can check ears, and most importantly whilst you are doing this you are also checking temperament. I personally give a hamster two chances to bite, the first may be because I have cold hands, or the hamster has been asleep and just woken up and I feel it is unfair to disqualify a hamster if it is a one off thing, however, if the hamster comes out of the box ready to have a go which it does and continues to do so then there is no option but to disqualify it. You can judge it in the show pen, but you will not be able to assess it properly and it really isn’t fair to the standards which calls for the animal to be handle able.

I could go through the standards of all the dwarf hamsters but as judges we should all have read up on them, and as breeders and exhibitors we should be aiming for the hamster that beats the standard. It is very easy as the judge sitting at the table with rows of little boxes in front of you to be blasé about what you are doing, it is easy to miss faults, and I know in my time as a judge that I have gone back and looked at the entry’s only to see a hamster with a glaring fault which was missed. But as they say we are all human and mistakes will be made, but what we shouldn’t get in the habit of doing is making these mistakes too often.

Unfortunately the standard of dwarf hamsters has declined over the years, I started exhibiting them in 1989 and judging them in 1990 so I have seen a number of changes in the hamster world. Over the past couple of years more and more new colours are appearing and new coat types are also starting to appear, but these aren’t always for the best.

As I keep both dwarfs and Syrian hamsters I have seen both sides of the fence, if you buy a Syrian you will get a detailed pedigree, and in a lot of instances you will notice like being bred with like i.e., cream mated to cream, long haired mated to long haired’s, goldens mated to goldens, if cross matings take place future breeders then breed back to their desired colour to enhance it. In dwarfs nowadays people mate, normal Campbell to argente, to albino, to blacks, to platinums to mottleds in fact any combination of, so to cut a long argument short what we are now getting is a mutation of itself, the nice dark coloured Campbell and Winter White has now mostly been taken over by pale, washed out, hamsters. But that is another story.

I hope my ramblings help new and old judges alike, people think that judging them is easy it’s only easy when you have your eye for a hamster trained.

Melissa Chamberlain

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