WHILE politicians in the US were wrangling over – well to be honest over here in the UK we’re not sure what they were wrangling about – national politicians here were grooming their pet dogs to take part in the other Westminster, Westminster Dog of the Year.
Like all the best UK dog shows it’s an annual event held in the shadow of the Palace of Westminster where our members of parliament sit and make the decisions that will affect all our lives. But just to show they have a light-hearted side the MPs bring their dogs in front of some expert judges to find out which is the best.
And this year Noodle, an 11-month-old Cocker Spaniel/Poodle cross belonging to Alan Duncan MP for Rutland and Melton triumphed in what was the 21st annual Westminster Dog of the Year competition.
The contest, organised by the Kennel Club and Dogs Trust, took place last week in Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster, where Noodle battled it out to defeat 13 opponents belonging to other MPs.
For the first time, the competition awarded another winner decided solely by a public vote. This was Brodie, a Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier owned by MP for Falkirk Eric Joyce.
The judging panel comprised Dogs Trust’s chief executive Clarissa Baldwin, Kennel Club secretary Caroline Kisko and MP Charlie Elphicke, owner of 2012’s winning dog Star.
And did Noodle win? According to Mrs Kisko lits of worthy dogs competed: “…the bond each MP has with their companion is uniquely special.
“It was a difficult decision to make but Noodle and Alan struck a chord with us all – and they are clearly popular with their constituents too.”
Mrs Baldwin said: “It’s fantastic to see so many wonderful dogs in attendance with their devoted owners, and it seems to get harder every year to pick the winner. I loved Alan’s answer when he was asked what Noodle would do if she were Prime Minister? He said she would allow a dog to be a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Leading the opposition in second place was Harry, a Fox Terrier owned by MP for Dewsbury, Simon Reevell, with third place went to Cholmeley, a Labrador owned by MP for Enfield Southgate David Burrowes.
Next week we’ll have some news to report on another event which we hope will become an annual feature of the pedigree dog world in the UK, but more of that then.
IT IS just over ten years since I came to work with Dog World. It’s well known that I have no dog ‘heritage’ I was employed for my skills and experience in the world of publishing not for my knowledge of canine conformation.
But those ten years have been a fantastic learning curve as I have come to understand the history and tradition of this world I now inhabit. It’s a world I have come to love and respect, if I hadn’t I would never have taken the major step of taking ownership of Dog World now would I?
In last week’s DW columnist Jessica Holm took a look at how dog breeding and dog breeders have changed down the years and questioned whether those changes had a potentially damaging effect on the future of pedigree dogs.
Jessica referred to an online article by Juha Kares, who expressed a concern that basic knowledge and understanding is perhaps lacking in the modern dog breeder and that this is potentially dangerous for the future of pedigree dogs. And Jessica herself felt this was a warning worth heeding, not least because a respect for dog breeders as worthy of self-regulation is core to the Kennel Club’s ethos.
She points out that the Kennel Club still trusts pedigree dog breeders to a substantial degree it trusts that breeders will do the right thing and are sufficiently knowledgeable to make decisions in the best interests of their chosen breed and that they will do this, as a matter of course and without stringent regulation.
Jessica points out: “I think this is at the heart of the concern. An approach like this only functions well if that trust is well founded. So, does the breeder still know best?”
When Jessica first started in dogs, she says there were more true stockmen and women involved. Breeders whose heritage often included a long-standing family involvement with livestock in general and whose knowledge was based in stock breeding principles they were people who had a breadth of experience born out of handling dogs, often on a large scale, over a considerable period of time.
Jessica says: “For those of us who came into the dog world from a different background, there was a culture of mentoring, a generous tradition which ensured that for those novices prepared to learn, there was an ongoing education available. I myself found a wonderful mentor in a well established Dutch breeder who’s knowledge and experience I’m not ashamed to say, I still draw on today.”
Today though education is largely directed towards judging dogs. In the UK there are breed seminars for aspiring judges but Jessica says they should be seen as a single brick in what might eventually become a mighty wall. What they do is provide a foundation of basic understanding from which further study and experience can be employed to build knowledge.
“The trouble is that some folks think that a high pass at a seminar means they know a lot about that breed,” says Jessica.
She goes on: “The trouble with the instant expert is generally two fold. First, he tends to suffer terribly with kennel blindness. If you cannot acknowledge and understand the faults your own dog possesses then how on earth do you expect to either improve upon it with breeding or judge other people’s dogs? We’ve all read judges critiques of dogs we’ve previously judged ourselves and been astonished to see them extolling as virtues, features with which we found serious fault. Judging is subjective when it comes to type, ring presence and performance, but not when it comes to structure, correctness, fault and adherence to the breed standard. The trouble is that when translated to breeding practise, this ignorance or blindness threatens the breed itself.”
She goes on to suggest that the second main problem is that instant experts tend not to associate with anybody who doesn’t agree with them. Instead, they form what she describes as, “little gaggles of similarly afflicted individuals” who she says “pat each other on the back a lot, studiously ignoring what is actually staring them in the face from the other end of the lead. It can end up a bit like the fable ‘The Emperors New Clothes’, with politically powerful little cohorts all convincing one another their dogs are wonderful whereas in fact, the breed is going to hell in a hand cart!”
I regularly hear the stories of the great kennels of the past where many of today’s successful breeders and exhibitors learned their craft but modern economics have made it very difficult for large scale breeding establishments of exemplary quality to thrive. There are fewer and fewer decent large breeding kennels where the numbers of dogs make it possible to create openings for staff.
Jessica says in her column: “When I first started, I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of a very influential hound breeder, who mentored me through my early litters, even helping with matings and coming to sit in on my first whelping. I will be eternally grateful for the generous help he gave and indeed, once I had gained sufficient experience, I offered the same to other keen novices in turn. But how many modern pedigree dog breeders seek out this kind of help and support? Many seem to assume that they know it all off first base and when things go wrong, they turn to veterinary intervention at the drop of a hat. There is a vital role for vets to play, of course, but in my experience, things can usually be resolved safe at home in the whelping box with patience and a pair of experienced and panic-proof hands.”
What Jessica says she learned from her mentors was that being a first class dog breeder involves extensive knowledge. She was taught thay you need to understand anatomy, behaviour, breed type and history. You have to be a nutritionist, a vet nurse, an industrial level cleaner and she quips, “preferably an insomniac!”
And she concludes: “I hope very much that the KC’s faith in British dog breeders will be justified in the long term. Excessive regulation would make everything so much harder for all of us and, I fear, would be detrimental to the quality of the dogs we breed. However, as breeders we must recognise the faith that is being placed in us and at least make an effort to live up to it.”
It’s fair to say that Jessica’s sentiments are ones I have heard expressed by many people over the years. With fewer people actually watching judging to get a sense of what a judge is looking for and to listen to the ringside and hear the opinions of those most experienced in the breed. And I have also heard the traditionalist mourn the fact that many people today want to start their showing career at championship level rather than by getting their feet wet at a companion or open show.
It is with the world of dogs as it is in all other walks of life these days – change is all around.