Published in my Dog World column ‘Crossing the headlines’ (19th October 2016), my article sparked a large debate – with hundreds of share and online comments – among exhibitors in response to my observations and suggestions regarding dog shows, breed standards, judging and exhibitor dissatisfaction.

One subject that has certainly got a lot of you talking on social media is the announcement of an idea that a reduction in the number of breed clubs through amalgamation could lead to higher show entries. I can see where those who support such a move are coming from but, like a lot of you, I think they are missing the point.

Show entries are falling for a whole host of complex reasons, reasons that have been fully discussed in this paper by various commentators for many, many years and frustratingly so many of the useful ideas put forward by people who really know what they are talking about have been dismissed or completely ignored.

And this dismissiveness is key to a whole raft of problems we now face. The showgoers’ concerns rarely appear to be listened to. For example, there is a certain show that for a number of years hasn’t provided suitable all-weather tenting. For the past couple of years, exhibitors and their dogs have baked in sweltering hot conditions while waiting to go into these outdoor rings with absolutely no access to shade. There were lots of grumblings and complaints from exhibitors but were they listened to? Had any lessons been learned? Of course not, we turned up to find exactly the same situation this year as we did last. I don’t mind the discomfort but I’m not going to subject my dogs to it so next year we simply won’t be entering.

And this is what is happening at a number of events. People aren’t being listened to and are voting with their feet. When you also throw in the thorny subject of cliques (and sadly the bullying/intimidating power of these cliques grows as the numbers entering diminish) and the ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ brigade is it any wonder that numbers attending our shows are free falling. Money is tight, and in a number of cases exhibitors soon get wise to who is actually going to win the prizes long before the show is actually held. Now, of course, there are some exhibitors with outstanding dogs that fully deserve their moment of glory; they deserve to have their dedication, years of sacrifice and hard work rewarded and will always feature highly in any awards given out. No, what I’m talking about here are the dogs that aren’t so good; dogs with glaringly obvious faults that somehow inexplicably still manage to hit the top spots. I’ve personally witnessed a lame dog being placed over a beautiful example of a breed. How could this possibly happen? Is it mere ignorance, did the judge not see or is there something more sinister going on?

These are the difficult subjects that really need to be dragged out into the glaring light of close honest scrutiny and openly discussed. No more useless tinkering around the edges with ideas that will probably have no real effect on the falling numbers of exhibitors and the number of pedigree puppies registered. The reason that so many people are quitting showing is because (rightly or wrongly) they believe it is inherently unfair, in one of the most overused clichés of our time but oh so very apt, Albert Einstein is credited with saying the ‘definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.’

A fair crack at the whip

One sure-fire cure for the showgoers’ insanity is losing money week after week with absolutely nothing to show for it. When you add up the sums needed to attend a show (increasing entry fees, overpriced catalogues, unjustified parking charges and, of course, the travel costs) it is astounding and quite frightening. This isn’t just another whinge from ‘sore losers’ – exhibitors simply want a fair crack at the whip and they want to have their dogs properly judged by knowledgeable and honest judges.

Numerous times I’ve watched as my dogs were briskly gone over by a judge as if he/she was just simply ‘going through the motions’, even to the point where they had to be reminded to check the dog’s teeth. A more cynical person could easily come to the conclusion that they had already made their mind up on who exactly would be winning the class and that going over my dog was simply a formality. Given what we pay to attend, this just isn’t good enough. Although I appreciate each event has different overheads but, based on my experience, how do shows such as Southern Counties, Paignton and Bath offer excellent value for money but still provide a great exhibitor experience, yet others simply can’t and think it’s okay to charge £10 to park in a field in addition to some of the highest entry fees on the calendar? The cash cow can only be milked so much.

Thankfully we still have a number of excellent judges out there who really do know their stuff, who judge without fear or favour and these people urgently need to be drafted in to mentor the many eager up-and-coming judges who are keenly waiting in the wings. The fundamental change that also urgently needs to take place is for all our judges to judge to the Standard not to the face. The worst kind of judging arises from those, who with an eye to their or their dog’s future advancement favour the dogs of people they think will have influence. These ‘judges’ have no love for their breed, and so their breed and the show world in general is suffering from these dubious placings.

Our breed Standards are there for a reason – they provide a clear framework. Yes, they’re open to interpretation (which surely is one of the joys of dog showing) but some of that ‘interpretation’ is definitely raising a few eyebrows ringside and it is the driving force behind disgruntled exhibitors increasingly giving up or demanding damaging splits within their breeds. If there was confidence in judges and judging would this be happening? Once again it goes back to breeders/exhibitors fears not being listened to. It’s happened again and again over the years. 

In my breed, the Standard Smooth Dachshund – once one of the most popular breeds in this country – has now shrunk to a shadow of its former self, ironically as its popularity has diminished, the dogs themselves have grown out of all proportion to what they were bred for. While the Miniature Dachshund is strictly weighed the Standard Dachshund isn’t. Its Standard says ideal weight between 20-26lb and I would suggest a number far exceed this however when the breed was at the height of its popularity (1950s) the Standard declared, ‘it is recommended that dogs should weigh from 20-22lbs and bitches from 18-20lbs.’ This was the result of a concerted effort by passionate breeders to drive down the size of the ponderous creatures that lumbered around the show ring in the early 1900s. I wonder how those smaller lithe dogs would fare in the ring today?

Surely to judge a breed at the highest level you must keep in mind the job it was created to do. I know that the Kennel Club’s ‘fit for function’ message is often derided but it shouldn’t be. In a number of cases our breeds’ traditional roles have disappeared but this isn’t the issue, what matters is, if it were called upon could the dog before you do the job its forebears were bred for? Dogs with huge chests nearly touching the ground would not make it in the field nor would the toyish types, yet both are still winning despite a number of beautiful, unexaggerated typy youngsters out there with good ground clearance. The same can be said of Bulldogs and Bostons. I’ve seen a number of youngsters with muzzles and wide-open nostrils. The breeders of these babies have done a wonderful job, this is where we need to be heading and moderation not exaggeration needs to be rewarded in the ring. 

Sticking to Standards

Could you imagine what a seismic event it would be in the dog showing world if it was insisted that all judges judged to the word of the Standard? However we can’t pick and choose which parts of the breed Standard we are going to comply with. Either we start judging to the Standards as they are currently written or we start again and rewrite them. If we want frills and frippery to be rewarded in the ring then at least let us be honest and have that requirement written into our Standards.

This piece was inspired by an advert I saw in the Dog World Annual way back in 1996. It was placed by the renowned Bulldog breeder/judge of over 60 years’ experience (long before Pedigree Dogs Exposed), Mr and Mrs C L Bannister of the Thatchway Bulldogs and (illustrated with pictures of his first Bulldog, Tess, born in 1931, who self-whelped four litters, never required the attention of a vet and died just short of her 14th birthday) the frustration can be felt in his heartfelt plea it said,

‘I beg of you, HELP! We are in trouble simply because breeders and judges have not followed the breed Standard for some years’

‘Why have a Standard if it is not followed.’

‘Why?’

I couldn’t have put it better.

Read more articles at Dog World: http://www.dogworld.co.uk/product.php/168631/1/the_real_reason_people_are_quitting_by_lee_connor

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