From my Dog World column ‘Crossing the headlines’ (7 August 2013) where I suggest ways to encourage the next generation of exhibitors.


As you must all be aware by now, Dog World has launched its readers’ survey asking what can be done to reinvigorate the show scene.
Along with its readers, DW columnists have also been asked for their views on the topic however, by the time my column is printed, I’m sure all the major concerns such as offering CCs to all eligible breeds, sliding scale of entry fees, benching and the perennial problem of face judging will have been fully and expertly explored.
So, I’ve decided to take a different approach – exploring the view of the beginners.
For a full reinvigoration to take place in our hobby surely we need to see new faces. Just a read through DW’s weekly obituary column shows the wealth of talent and knowledge we are losing and, as fewer people take up the sport, this expertise just isn’t being replaced. Obviously, if such a scenario is allowed to continue, our hobby could well face extinction in the very country that created it.

New faces

So, what can be done to encourage those new faces to join our fast-depleting ranks? Well, I have a story to tell that relates to that very issue.
A few years ago I wanted to attend the Bournemouth show (then held in the New Forest) but, in accordance with sod’s law, my car decided to finally give up the ghost on the eve of the show and, as public transport is so woefully inadequate in this area, I was resigned to the fact that, for one year at least, I would simply just have to miss it. Then, a good friend of mine offered to take me.
As his only experience of dogs was a childhood pet Labrador, this offer worried me somewhat, well aware of how unappealing a dog show must be to a non-dog person.
“But you’ll probably be bored,” I said trying to politely put him off. “Nah, it’s okay, I won’t go.”
But he insisted and I reluctantly agreed to the lift.
“Now, let me know when you’ve had enough and we’ll go,” I said as we walked towards the rings.
I needn’t have worried because he was soon absorbed by the sight of so many different breeds of dog and especially captivated by one breed in particular – so much so that on the return journey home he began to talk about getting his very own show-quality pup!
The right time for him to have a show dog presented itself a couple of years (and many shows) later. He then went on to buy a fine pup from someone (who I consider to be among one of the best breeders in the country) and, after attending ringcraft lessons and several open shows, he nervously entered his first championship show – Southern Counties.
The great day finally came and, under a highly reputable judge, a complete stranger and novice with a totally unknown six-month old puppy took a class win and a reserve CC in an entry of 60 dogs. In addition to that, under an international judge, he also took the puppy group and, the following day, RBPIS to rapturous applause. This win delighted seasoned professionals who, regardless of their breed, came over, enthusiastically congratulating the newcomer, and happily offering the hints and tips that had brought about their own successes.
That day and those wins have now cemented a passion for pedigree dogs and showing that will hopefully last a lifetime. He has already expressed an interest in going to various breed seminars with the ambition to, one day, train as a judge. At the age of 25, this is just what we need to encourage and he has been very well looked after by the experts in his chosen breed that are all so keen to see him do well.
It must be a daunting experience to be a complete newbie in our world with its multitude of somewhat confusing rules and regulations. My friend has certainly been fortunate in falling for a breed that has so many warm and welcoming people within its ranks but, sadly, I know this isn’t the case with every breed. Having an experienced, older and wiser mentor(s) gently guiding you through it all is invaluable to retain the newcomer. They have given him advice from how to correctly present his dog right through to what colours are best to wear!
As my friend is now completely hooked, I posed the question, “What would make you attend more championship shows?”
Sadly, in these times of austerity it does seem that money is a major influence.


Of course there are the obvious factors of the location of the show and whether or not CCs are on offer but, there are also other cost-related reasons for being very selective when choosing which shows to enter. For example, reducing or doing away with the additional costs such as parking and admission fees for non-exhibitors could be a great help to the hard-pressed exhibitor and there’s such a variance between the costs of attending a show, ignoring the travel expense. The (excellently run) Southern Counties show, for example, cost an all-in fee of just £23 which included the entry fee, up to a car-load of non-exhibitors and parking. However, this isn’t the case with other shows where the same circumstances could easily cost you double! For example, another show charges £25 entry, £10 parking and £6 for adult spectators and £3 for children. On top of this, £15 is charged for dogs ‘not for competition’ – a very costly day out for a family or for those who have no choice but to bring their un-entered dogs with them. Do we really want exhibitors to attend shows alone? For every friend or relative who is put off attending a show represents the potential loss of a convert to ‘the dog side’ or a customer to the trade stands.
Surely creative ways can be found to tackle all these problems. That’s why I was particularly interested in Marina Scott’s suggestion of a crèche which would surely encourage those with children in their 20s or 30s back into the show ring.
When I first started to attend shows aged 15, way back in the mists of time (1988) a far more fun laissez-faire attitude seemed to prevail. I lived near the Picketts Lock Sports Centre and would often go to the weekend shows held there and sit ringside with my little red Miniature Smooth Dachshund – Lucy. The old timers and ‘doyennes of their breeds’ always seemed willing to talk and impart their considerable knowledge to interested newcomers like myself. At the Great Joint Dachshund show (which was then fortuitously held there) one wonderful old lady actually taught me the complexities of stripping a wire coat! Back then there certainly seemed to be a lot of laughter and sharing of food and gossip ringside so it made me smile reading several respondents to the DW survey calling for a return to a more ‘social experience’.
On the last day of the recent Southern Counties show, with the glorious weather it basked in, I witnessed a relic of those bygone days as several impromptu parties started up with the sharing of homemade cakes and drinks. The laughter was uproarious and this is what I feel we need more of. For many in this country, there isn’t too much to be happy about at the moment but one thing we are all fortunate in is sharing a great hobby that has so very much to offer. We must do all what we can to preserve it for future generations to enjoy.
If you haven’t had your say yet, don’t just sit whingeing ringside; fill out DW’s survey and maybe play your part in helping to change the status quo.


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