From my Dog World column ‘Crossing the headlines’ on 16th November 2016, I follow up on my previous article on the subject of how to tackle exhibitor dissatisfaction.

My last article, ‘The real reason people are quitting’ certainly stirred the hornet’s nest and provoked a deluge of very interesting reaction from show-going dog folk. Unusually for the dog world there was a general feeling of agreement for what I had written and a consensus that if we are to survive and thrive as a hobby, some very important and urgent changes definitely need to take place.

I wrote that piece and submitted it early (as there have been a number of changes to columnists deadlines recently and I had got ‘confused’ – well, I have recently celebrated my 42nd birthday so I suppose such moments are now inevitable!) but it was very interesting (and completely coincidental) that Geoffrey Davies wrote a wonderfully eloquent letter into Dog World saying very similar things… the urgent need for a shake-up.

I particularly liked his last point: “Some may well ask who am I to question the establishment and its practices? I am someone who has spent the past 56 years as a breeder/exhibitor/championship show judge/general championship show judge and breed official. I have been one of the lucky ones, having attained all the things that I have wished to attain in the world of dogs. I have no further canine ambitions other than to help and encourage others to attain their ambitions in this very worthy sport.”

Who on earth could possibly question Mr Davies’ right to express his opinion? He’s certainly earned his stripes.

And then of course there’s me. I come from the opposite end of the spectrum to Mr Davies. Marc and I have only been actively showing for four years and in that short time we’ve made up a champion Miniature-smooth Dachshund and we are currently campaigning two youngsters, a Standard-smooth Dachshund and our young homebred Boston Terrier. I have no desire or burning ambition to be a judge (I quickly learned that at any given time there will only be two exhibitors who are going to sing the praises of a judge) and I’m not in the least bit competitive. It really doesn’t matter to me if our dogs win or not… IF the judging is fair and open.

I love all breeds of pedigree dogs and at some time or another I have wished to own almost all of them. I’ve spent hours in the local library reading up on various breeds, learning the Standards and now I even write about their breed histories. I’ve always enjoyed sitting ringside and watching the judging – far better, for me, than being out in the spotlight.

When we were thinking of getting a show dog, about five years ago, we went along to Discover Dogs and got talking to some chap on one of the breed booths. I excitedly told him of our plans and he smiled wryly and scratched his head, “Well, if that’s the case, my advice to you would be that you’ve got to get your face known – get yourself out there speaking to the people in charge – otherwise you won’t get far.” His lovely wife nodded her head in full agreement and both wished us luck.

The conversation baffled me at the time, and this is coming from a kid who had grown up attending dog shows; I’d naively assumed it was the dogs that did the talking not the owner. Of course I’d heard the negative comments and the predictions on who exactly was going to win what from the ringside ‘Mystic Megs’ but strangely for us, the booth people’s dire prediction didn’t come true. At our very first show, our first show dog, Alfie (a completely unknown dog handled by an unknown novice handler) won a reserve CC under Jeff Horswell. Alfie was up against some incredibly stiff competition and some very well-known faces in the breed yet Mr Horswell demonstrated his integrity and put our dog up – and our boy justified that decision going on to become a group-winning champion just a year later. 

The dark side

I know we were lucky. We have been fortunate to have had the support of a number of top Dachshund people who have generously shared their time, knowledge and tips with us. Others however haven’t been so fortunate. I am often contacted by people who express legitimate fears for what is going on in their respective breeds. These people are often too frightened to speak out in fear that doing so will hinder the progression of their judging aspirations or that their dogs will in some way be penalised. As I stated earlier, I don’t have this fear. There is a dark side to this hobby that’s undeniable but we don’t stand in isolation. Nepotism, bending the rules and regulations and plain old-fashioned cheating happens in every sport, every hobby and every walk of life. That fact though doesn’t excuse its presence in dogdom and everything that can be done, should be done to stamp it out. In many cases the people expressing fears of a rigged or flawed system aren’t young ‘wet behind the ears’ beginners; many times they are people who are passionate about their breed – people who have dedicated years of their lives to their breeds advancement – and bad judging goes hand in hand with a breed’s deterioration.

Sadly many stay silent as their breeds move far away from what their breed Standards demand and little coteries then grow up and pass out the awards among themselves, their dog’s coats becoming heavier, the faces flatter, etc and the breeders who adhere to the sensible wording of their Standard slowly give up and drop out and what are we left with? An exclusive ever-diminishing group breeding extreme dogs that no longer appeal to the general public and because of the whims of a selfish few the breed then plummets in popularity.

I know a few breeds that are now completely engulfed in coat, yet, when you read their Standards there is wording such as ‘moderately long coat’, ‘feathered outline’ one even explicitly states, ‘excessive coat must be heavily penalised.’ Another warns, ‘legs well feathered but not so excessive as to hide body lines or impede movement and function as a sporting dog’. These Standards give us clear warnings about the roads breeders shouldn’t go down. So how can we have drifted so very far away from the blueprint many breeds’ founding fathers so clearly set out? A number of these breeds were once enormously popular (and when one looks back at winning dogs in the 1960s and ‘70s it is quite shocking to see the change that has taken place) and given the immense recent popularity of similar breeds at least one of them should be popular again. Could exaggeration have led to their rapid decline in numbers? And would correct judging have stopped such developments taking place? I believe they would.

One of the few negative comments left on my piece was, ‘Stop whinging. If you want to win, breed better dogs.’ Sadly this person quite clearly hadn’t grasped the message I was trying to get across, the same message Mr Davies was trying to convey in his letter because it isn’t about breeding better dogs; it’s about clued-up, educated judges rewarding the best dogs – rewarding dogs that meet their Standards’ requirements, rewarding dogs that are built correctly, dogs that are temperamentally sound (a number of times I’ve witnessed an owner clasping a clearly aggressive dog’s jaws shut as the judge was going over him and then watched in amazement as the same judge rewarded the dog with a top placing!) and rewarding dog’s that could do a day’s work. Modern judges have to be made aware that on many occasions they are now being closely watched and, in many instances, filmed. Increasingly their decisions can be held up to close scrutiny.

Good judges

Mr Davies is quite correct, good judges are pivotal to taking this sport forward, and his list of recommendations should be listened to by the KC. It also needs to seriously listen to the grassroots and to experienced voices like Jane Dennis (DW Letters, Oct 28) who speaks of the situation in her breed, English Setters: “As a breed we currently have an A-list of about 150 people, breed specialists and all-rounders. There are plenty of people on this list with a huge amount of breed knowledge who for one reason or another are never asked to judge.”

I’ve heard exactly the same complaint from a number of other breeds and this must be something worthy of investigation? I’ve seen in one breed, a breed specialist giving three sets of CCs in less than four years and an all-rounder three times in less than six years. Does that seem acceptable when there are so many in the judging pool waiting for their chance? Surely the way forward is to spread these judging appointments out fairly, and by doing so wouldn’t this help to break up the cliques and widespread accusations of cronyism that plagues our sport? As I stated earlier, Mr Davies and I come from completely different ends of the showing spectrum but we have one thing very much in common. We are both passionate about the continuance and furtherance of this wonderful hobby of ours. We aren’t talking our hobby down but I think most sensible people know that sticking our heads in the sand and pretending everything is just fine won’t increase exhibitor numbers. It’s now time to grasp the nettle and shake things up.

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