Every week I get e-mails and phone calls complaining about how the dog show game is “going to Hell in a hand basket.” Like all of life, our sport has its share of doomsday prophets, but I think it is fair to say that conformation dog shows have had some setbacks. While this slide has been gradual what concerns me are the more recent changes. Entries at this year’s shows are, on the average, down 19 percent from last year.
First the good news (well, I think it’s good news): we have far more shows than we did 20 years ago, approximately 1,500 all-breed shows every year. Now, some would say that the number of clubs is the basic reason entries have dwindled, too many clubs competing for a finite number of entries. I have a basic belief that dog shows are our primary interface with the public. Therefore, the more shows we have, the more opportunity for the public to come into contact with the AKC-registered, purebred dog. That’s gotta be a good thing.
The challenge is how to draw exhibitors and keep ‘em coming back year after year. This is where show committees and clubs have the chance to get creative. Let’s start with the venues. As my regular readers know, I am not a fan of the split venue cluster, three or more shows in two or more locations within the same area. As I grow older, I find my preference for tradition is frequently trumped by my desire for convenience. Even the venerable Westminster Kennel Club was willing to modify its venue to draw more exhibitors and spectators. Ditto for the Westchester Kennel Club. Exhibitors are much more likely to spend four days at a cluster if they only have to unload and pack up once.
Venue selection is hampered by a shrinking number of sites where animals can be exhibited and the public’s demand for modern conveniences. Exhibitors expect plentiful RV hookups, convenient unloading, spacious grooming areas conveniently located to rings and amply supported by electrical outlets, and large rings providing shelter from the elements. Parking is often a weak point that could be mitigated by reserved parking and/or shuttles for spectators and exhibitors with mobility problems.
Many exhibitors, and most spectators, appreciate vendors. My wife will typically spend as much time shopping the vendors as she will at ringside. I am constantly amazed at the overall poor quality of the food service at shows. In an era when food trucks have risen to cult status, an energetic vendor chair could change the whole character of a show. For those of you who think food is an afterthought, there is money to be made here.
While many people will challenge me on this, most exhibitors choose their shows based on proximity and judging panels, not the other way around. While exhibitors campaigning a dog may get on a plane to seek out a favorable judge, 90 percent of fanciers will enter their local show as long as they think they might have an outside chance with the breed judge. I may be one of those rare people who will show to a judge I know does not like my dog. You never know. People change their minds. Besides, my main purpose in showing is to have my dogs seen by my peers. If they win, that’s icing on the cake.
But I digress, the point is to get input on judging panels. Wouldn’t it be helpful to show committees if some brave soul would do a survey of the most popular judge by breed, groupand all-breed? I’m sure the powers that be would hate the idea, but frankly, it never hurts to have valid data to support your decisions. Every week I hear the lament, “Why can’t they hire a (insert group) judge?” If you are having five Terrier breeds with supported entries, hire a Terrier judge for the Group. On the subject of supported entries and concurrent specialties, what can clubs offer the specialty organizers? Convenient ring times, reserved grooming space close to their ring andinput on judging panels.
Finally, ask exhibitors how you’re doing. Set up a comment box in the hall, and ask people what they liked and what they didn’t like. One warning, once you know what’s wrong, do something about it. It’s one thing to do a less than stellar job. It’s another thing altogether to KNOW you are doing a less than stellar job and not do anything about it. That really ticks people off.
I do believe the potential pool of exhibitors is smaller than it used to be. It’s a combination of economics and political correctness. Yes, we in the show world are outside the mainstream, lumped in somewhere between episodes of “Toddlers and Tiaras” and “Hoarders.” While changing that attitude is a concern to us all, show committees should focus on keeping this year’s exhibitors coming back next year. Let me know what keeps you going back to a show year after year. We can turn this around. And that’s today’s Back Story.