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Where Have All the Exhibitors Gone?

For some time we have seen a number of really small shows. There are some positive aspects to the less than 400 dog entry. Exhibitors have more time to speak with each other and more time to learn something new. The logistics of a smaller show make the day more pleasant. There’s plenty of parking, grooming space and ringside seating. Ring stewards are more relaxed, and judges have more time to spend with each dog AND with each exhibitor. Almost every exhibitor I know listens to judges very intently. There are even reasons to keep a show small, such as a venue that will not accommodate a 1,000-plus dog show. However, for the most part, the increasing number of sub-400 shows is indicative of a sick system that must be addressed.

(Photo by Kayla Bertagnolli.)

(Photo by Kayla Bertagnolli.)

The existence of unintentionally small shows has a negative impact on previously healthy clubs. Most weekends exhibitors have more than one option for shows within an easy drive. A good portion of the dogs at the smallest shows could have just as easily driven the opposite direction and boosted the 1,000-dog entry to 1,250. Having done a few breakeven analyses in my professional career, I know it’s extremely difficult for a club to recoup costs on a show with fewer than 600 entries. To me the most detrimental aspect of this is the impact it has on the public. If I get up early on a Saturday and load up the family sedan to take my kids to a dog show to see their favorite breed only to find out that there are none of that breed at my local show, I’m not bringing the family back to the next show.

So much for the impact of the small shows. So what are the root causes of the dwindling entries? One is demographics. The active exhibitors from the 1980s when there were 3,000-dog entries almost every weekend are aging out of the sport. If they are still around, most show less frequently than they did before. If you look at the problem we have with Social Security, you understand that the same numbers have an impact on our sport. We have people leaving the sport in greater numbers than we have people coming into the sport. Part of this is unavoidable. The birthrate has slowed. However, much of this is simply an indication that we are losing exhibitors because we don’t know how to properly market our game.

There is no doubt that the downturn in the economy has had an impact. Our sport can be expensive. The cost of a dog and his care and feeding are one thing, but attending shows can be quite costly. Even if you are lucky enough to be at a show site where you can drive to and from the venue daily, the cost of gas often makes it less expensive to overnight in a hotel. However, most middle class families participate in some kind of hobby, and dog shows are no more expensive than playing golf or fishing. In any event, I suspect that the economics of the vanishing exhibitors is only a temporary contributor.

A much more serious issue is the failure to recruit young people into the sport in significant numbers. While the junior program seems to be healthy (I would like to see more boys in the program), young people overall don’t see our sport as worthy of their free time. There are two drivers here. One is the “nerd” status of our sport. Those of us in the game may see the sport as glamorous and exciting, but most young people see us as a bunch of geeks who talk baby talk to our pets. The second is an educational system that demonizes breeders and glorifies the shelter dog. Add them together, and our sport has all the allure of a leper colony. Simply put, showing dogs isn’t cool. I wonder why we haven’t undertaken a more vigorous campaign to make the various aspects of our sport attractive to young people? Consider this: around two-thirds of American households have pets. Most have dogs. Couple that with the increasing number of single person households in our major cities. If you can’t sell a dog-related activity to those people whose primary emotional involvement is with their dogs, you couldn’t sell people in Hell ice water.

Then there is the issue of retention. You might be able to get people in the door, but how do you keep them coming back? Some clubs have new exhibitor orientations, but how many clubs actively seek out new exhibitors and assure they have a positive first time experience at a show. How much effort would it be to add to the standard entry form a field to identify first timers? How much effort would it be to ask people to volunteer to assist first timers (hey, you might get help schlepping your stuff). At a minimum, give the first timers a name tag to wear and encourage experienced exhibitors to say, “Hello, we are so happy to have you here.”

Finally, ask yourself when the last time was that you did something to bring someone into our world? And that’s Today’s Back Story.

Written by

Billy Wheeler has been attending dog shows as a spectator and exhibitor for over 40 years. Billy is the man behind the popular Dog Show Poop. He is a retired management consultant who has advised multiple organizations affiliated with the AKC and the Cat Fanciers Association on business management, long range planning, customer service, and legislative matters. After 25 years of living in the big cities of New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, he now resides in his hometown of Memphis TN with his wife, Brenda, her Toy Poodle and his Cairn, Scottie, & IG. When he is not blogging, Billy can be found in the kitchen cooking, and listening to opera.
  • Charlee Helms June 27, 2013 at 7:14 AM

    Another huge factor is the disparity between pro wins and OH wins. The only option an OH has, is to not enter. The trend has been developing for awhile, and is getting worse. Until there is more balance in THAT, there will be fewer OH entries, leaving a total pro sport.

    • AG June 27, 2013 at 9:25 AM

      This is the most common answer to this issue and while it may be true in part, there are many reasons why that occurs.

      First off, many OH’s are not competent handlers and/or groomers. If your dog looks like s*$t no judge is going to award that. Plain and simple… T

      Another issue is the “new” exhibitors seem to become experts in a breed overnight. They have no background to speak of but they know that their dog deserves to beat the professionally handled one. When asked why, the most common answer is because my dog is better. When asked how is it better the response is a blank stare and “because it is”. They know nothing of correct structure, movement, etc. The real problem behind this is the lack of breeder/new owner relationship. So many “breeders” these days get the money for the dog and thats it. When I first started in dogs 30 yrs ago, every show I attended was because the breeder I got my first dogs from was helping me and they were there to teach me how to correctly groom my dogs, handle my dogs and after judging discussed reason why we won or lost. My breeder was not the only one who helped me, many other local/regional breeders that were there helped as well. There is no longer a breeder/owner mentorship so that new exhibitors can learn from those more experienced. So what happens now is that the new exhibitor shows their dog, loses and leaves instead of losing and staying to watch the rest of judging and observing what that judge is looking for in the breed. We must remember that the judge judges on their INTERPRETATION of the breed standard. Almost all judges, a few cranky ones aside, are willing to speak to the new exhibitor when they have completed their judging. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, ask them when they are handing you the ribbon or while still having dogs to judge. They have a schedule to keep and it is not fair to the other exhibitors.

      These are just 2 of the many reasons that OH’s do not win. If you want to win, than learn how to show, groom, and present your dog and know their faults and their strong points. Speak to the well established breeders and ask for help most are more than willing to teach you because they love their breed and want to see quality dogs in the ring, not the all to common mediocre ones.

      • Jeannie Thomason June 27, 2013 at 11:16 AM

        I take offense at this reason. I have been breeding and showing my own dogs for 15 years now and there have been numerous occasions that my dog was just as well groomed and had better structure, movement and presence. STILL the Pro Handlers would win. I am sure there are newbies out there that fit that description but not near enough of them to make a dent in the numbers of OH wins Vs Handler wins.

      • Lisa Pickard June 27, 2013 at 1:55 PM

        As an exhibitor off and on for a lot of years who can groom to perfection. The politics in poodles is horrendous . I know I have the best groomed and presented dog in the ring . Even have many people at ringside telling me my dog is stunning and should win hands down but get dumped over and over to mediocre horribly groomed dogs. It’s very obvious to me and everyone else the reason I lose is politics. My dog is now cut down. She deserved to finish. Is far better than any specials in the area. But I’m not throwing my money away and am not supporting these judges. I was told at one show by a handler who is going for thier judges license that I should too but to get assignments I would have to play the game and award the people who got me them etc. I will not be part of that kind of crap. It’s too bad as I really do love to show but feel like you have to bloody your head against a brick wall.

      • Mary Lamphier June 28, 2013 at 3:40 AM

        As an established breeder whose dogs are shown at their best and who is frequently beaten by poor quality dogs who should have never made it to a show ring, I can tell you your answer sounds good, but the disparity in the playing field coupled with judges who know faces better than they do standards is a significant factor in killing the sport. It is difficult to recruit people when an honest dog with a competent owner handler will take many more shows to finish than a poor dog with a face. Too many judges don’t judge dogs any more and many of those don’t even go through the motions. They are too busy working on making sure they get assignments to worry about the effect they are having on heritage breeds. And yes, too many newbies come and go before they learn anything of real consequence, but there has always been a five year cycle. In 40 years of showing, there have always been handler judges and poor judges, but never to the extent that it exists now.

      • BK January 1, 2014 at 12:10 AM

        I find this reply somewhat offensive, as it makes no mention of the MANY OH’s (even new ones) who DO understand basic things like being at the ring on time and not asking the judge questions in the ring. As a person involved in showing dogs since the early 1970’s, I can’t say I’ve often seen the sort of incompetence you ascribe to OH’s. Yes, it happens, but even as a ring steward, I haven’t seen it be a major factor.

        What I HAVE much more of is judges who don’t have a clue what they’re looking at or who put up “the other end of the leash.” I’ve both shown my dogs myself and used pro handlers, and after so any years of this sport, I have to say this: I shouldn’t HAVE to keep a little book to record which judges favor pro handlers or who don’t care for, say, certain (allowed) colors in a breed or who can’t recognize correct structure and movement. It shouldn’t be “part of the game,” but alas, it is.

        It was discouraging to experience this when I first began showing, and it’s as discouraging now. I’ve finished my share of dogs (about half of them homebred), and god knows, I love the concept of dog shows. But until AKC figures out how to fix the basic problems with this sport, I think entries are only going to decline.

    • Jeannie Thomason June 27, 2013 at 11:12 AM

      I agree Charlee, Way too many Pro handlers out there anymore and that would not be a bad thing but they get the wins 98% of the time if not more – just because they are handlers and they have to make a living.

      Also the economy has not helped either with cost of gas, lodging, etc. :-( I have not been showing for almost two years now for these two reasons but mainly for the first – VERY hard for a OH to win even with a great dog!

    • Patricia December 30, 2013 at 1:28 PM

      I’m surprised the disparity between pro wins and OH wins wasn’t even mentioned in the article. I think it’s the biggest reason people don’t stay in the sport!

  • BH June 27, 2013 at 8:24 AM

    As someone who has worked for many professional handlers in the past, I can tell you that another reason why many young people do not stay in this sport for a long time is due to the treatment they receive from professional handlers while working for them. A lot of young kids in this sport are eager to learn the tips and tricks of the trade, and try to learn the sport and gain experience by working for a professional handler. There are many handlers that are great to work for and love to teach and guide young people in this sport, but there are even more that treat their young assistants poorly. They scream and yell at their assistants, pay them poorly and make them do almost all the work. Many times the handlers won’t even let their assistants show any dogs. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve met that stated they were turned off to the sport for many years after working briefly for a professional handler, including myself. It seems like in the more recent years, dog shows to the professionals is now all about the money and showing as many dogs as possible, rather than showing quality breeding stock, which are the fundamentals of which the sport of showing dogs was established. At just about every dog show I witness an assistant being treated poorly by the handler they work for, and then within a short period of time you never see that assistant at a show ever again. With that said, why would any young person want to endure that for any extended period of time? It just turns them off to showing dogs and so they walk away.

    • AG June 27, 2013 at 9:36 AM

      I have had the pleasure of working for many handlers at all different levels of the sport. There are always going to be bad ones and good ones, that is life. The real problem today with assistants is that all they want to do is show dogs, not learn what it really takes to be a handler. There is so much more to showing a dog than just walking it in the ring. I do not know handler that would send an inexperienced assistant into the ring with a clients dog, that is unprofessional and could cost them the client. there is no room in a professional handlers set up for an assistant that only wants to be a “star”.

      Also many of todays young adults are so “sissified” that they cannot handle the real world, especially in the highly competitive dog show world. When an assistant is talking to their friends instead of working and a dog misses the ring or is not ready to go to the ring, or has not been exercised before showing/preparation it costs the handler money. That is the way they make a living. So yes when something happens that is the assistants fault they deserve to be reamed out. Trust me I have been several times, and each time was a learning experience that made me a better assistant.

      Because of this I became one of the most sought after assistants, every handler I ever worked for would have me back without thinking about it. It also made me the competent handler I am today. My days of showing professionally are over and I have moved on in my life of dogs to a breeder-owner-handler, but if it were not for those many years spent as an assistant I would have never been able to reach the point I am at now.

      And if you think handlers treat their assistants poorly now, ask anyone who was an assistant in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and even into the 80’s how hard life as an assistant was.

  • Linda G. June 27, 2013 at 9:19 AM

    I’ve shown dogs for nearly 40 years. Casually for my self in the early years and as a Professional handler for the last 20. I only show a few breeds that I know well as a breeder. the costs of expenses for my clients is getting prohibitive. I don’t carry 20 dogs to split those expenses. So in order to justify the expenses I have to feel pretty good about the judging panel of the shows I go to now. Slates are not being thought out well by clubs. Always hiring local judges wears thin quickly. The smaller clubs try to control cost by hiring the judges that can judge the most groups. But after you’ve been to the over used “multi-group” judge once or twice, you may not want to go back. And the elephant in the room for judging panels is the “trading of assignments” among judges. I can often look at a slate of judges and see the club is a “trading” club. This often occurs in smaller clubs dominated by a few members. And that is a “whole can of worms” that I don’t see AKC trying to address if they could.

    But I’m still going to shows and the small entries are VERY noticeable. I’ve seen the point schedule in my breed drop as a result. Which means a lot of mediocre dogs are finishing their Championships. But don’t get me started on that.

  • AJ June 27, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    Economics are definitely part of the problem, but the clubs are not helping themselves:
    -Parking fees for each day add on an additional $15 or so for a weekend— when the club has a HUGE venue with unlimited parking!
    -Clubs are charging for electricity! At a recent show I took my one dog, and wanted to mist and brush him. I plugged in my dryer only to be fussed at by site security that I would need to pay $80!!!! for the weekend use. I was only entered one day, and needed a dryer for 10 minutes.
    -Reserved grooming space– I am paying an entry fee I should not have to pay extra for space to put my dogs crate for the day.
    -The same judges seem to appear on the panels in my area over and over and over again…clubs need to look for new judges (even if they have to pay travel expenses)

    Here is my favorite story regarding ‘politics’ in judging. I worked with a professional handler, though was mostly ‘unknown’ in the dog world. They needed to finish a clients dog so they showed the clients dog and I showed their dog to there was a point. Their dog went on to be the top winning dog in the breed with many best in shows. The judge put up the person I worked for, and after they gave them the ribbon, and said, I quote, “did you see that kid’s dog? Its stunning! You should try to get that dog” I was within earshot sadly.

    The dog I showed won the group 2/3 days the following weekend. But, what message would something like this send to new, and young, exhibitors? It would discourage them greatly—

      sue mcclure December 30, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      I would like to address the complaints about additional fees (I’ve already written several articles about why shows numbers are dropping for the dog news) As a show chair that has been chairing 1800 dog shows that are now 500 dog shows, I have a lot of experience in what a club faces. Originally, our show was at an indoor venue – no AC or heating, but eventually we got that. We had the parking for RVs, the vendor spots and could serve our own hospitality for judges. Slowly the venue began hitting us with extra charges and taking away our RV charges, hospitality choices and they were looking at vendor fees, along with upping the building costs. We began losing money on our fall shows that wasn’t being covered by spring show revenues but would not move to cancel our partnership with the club we alternated sites with. Eventually, they did and we moved to doing back to back shows. We chose to change venues as we could save thousands. It hurt us some in our entries because it was to an equestrian center with packed dirt floor…however we could afford to keep our entry fees down, not charge for parking, run our own concessions with 50 cent drinks vs $3 etc and it made a big difference to our bottom line. Although essentially a conformation club, we introduced agility to our area and began holding agility classes and trials because the local OB club did not want to. That has changed and we may wind up getting out of agility (changes to rules every year means buying all new equipment every year and it isn’t cheap)
      With the drop in entries all over in this area, it isn’t our venue killing our show – it’s the allowance of large clusters in bigger cities that can afford to provide more amenities having drawn clubs out of their areas and in some instances out of their states so people can park their rigs and set ups for a week that are killing us. How can we survive…and how can we appeal to people in our own communities to get into showing dogs if we aren’t holding shows? Well for one thing, we cannot afford to charge less than it costs us to put on a show. We have to use judges that don’t cost us more than $4 a dog and plan on just 4 rings. We can’t afford to pay for electricity for grooming. If people don’t want to groom at their rigs, they can reserve a stall or pay for a hookup – that money goes to the center, not the club. The club is not required to provide electricity, only grooming space. I’ve been at shows where I’ve had to pay $35 for a place to set my crates and if I don’t, I won’t find space because I can’t be at the show Monday – Friday to claim it. One venue rents out that space for xpens as well and I have to compete with that…the floor is as slick as ice, there is no place to walk your dog, a hamburger is $6 and the RV parking is over a block away, but they bend over backward for the handlers to keep their show well attended… and it is. Our show has plenty of walking space, RV spots @ $30 for full hookups (a block away), $10 overnight (close), plenty of grooming space or $28 stalls with hookups, close to the arena (again that money goes to the EQC. We have space that allows us to include lure coursing runs, herding, earth dog and we hope eventually carting or weight pulls to help attract more owner handlers. We don’t appeal to many handlers because it is just a 2-day show and they want us to provide what we can’t afford to so we are threatened with boycotts unless we join a show with a building for showing and grooming in a 4 day cluster. (last year we were told handlers wouldn’t come because we were hiring 3 Canadian judges – so much for not wanting to see the same judges – some handlers want their faces recognized) So, to survive, we began charging exhibitors $5 parking for 2 days. (If we don’t charge spectators we have to pay a state tax on exhibitors) For convenience we are now allowing people to reserve grooming/crating space closer to the ring. We have day parking for those exhibitors not staying or requiring expense – another annoyance for some handlers because they want to be right up next to the building and our day parking area is empty when they arrive on Friday.
      Without those extra fees for parking and using a venue that hasn’t sent us into bankruptcy we cannot put on a show. If we leave our county to join a cluster we cannot appeal to younger members or keep our community aware of purebred dogs. If AKC doesn’t move to allow 500 dog shows to piggyback so they can offer more shows and points in a weekend in one spot, yet more clubs will die off for lack of members and money to operate. More breeders of AKC dogs will stop breeding.
      So, please be aware of the problems and some of the solutions facing clubs that want to serve their community and purebred dogs. (Even when a club club loses money on their shows, AKC still gets their $3.50 a dog) Exhibitors can’t have it both ways – cheap with all the amenities and within driving distance. Eight of the shows I used to go to are now either gone or part of a multi-weekday cluster that working dog owners – nor junior handlers can attend.

  • dog owner June 27, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    While this may be true sometimes, the biggest problem I have come across is some professional or breeder/owned handlers ars just plain RUDE to new people in showing whether they show or use another professional handler to show their dog (s). God forbid you might beat these individuals. They make your life miserable with lies and back stabbing. Why would I want to put myself through this and much less pay money for this?????? To have more entries, we “non professionals” need to be able to get advice from these people not being looked at as unworthy because it is not our chosen profession. In the last 6 months, I have had the worst experiences in my life and they were in the AKC dog show world. I am thinking I am not the only one.

  • ljmilder
    Linda M June 27, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    Another reason I think you have less people entering the sport is the fact that some of the more experienced breeders will not even talk to a newbie unless they are selling them a puppy for big bucks. If it is a show puppy, they want lots of money, coownership and control over where and when the dog is shown, and where and when the dog is bred. This is not mentoring, this is a control issue and a way to sponsor their breeding program. I know of one breeder who had a 15 page contract. I have recently helped a newbie who wanted a show puppy of exceptional quality and was willing to pay a reasonably high price for it. Because she had only shown 4-h and UKC, she couldn’t find even one of the well known kennels to sell her a puppy outright. This young woman has a real committment to the show ring. We helped her get a puppy and I know you will see her in the winner circle in the future but how many others has this happened to who just give up.We, as breeders need to help others no matter what the breed to encourage them to show.

    • Anon. June 27, 2013 at 5:21 PM

      Personally, this is what I see as the problem. I am VERY committed to showing dogs, and I hope to start breeding in a few years. It was very difficult for me to come by a breeder willing to sell me a show dog, and the one I got was the 3rd best in the litter (of 5). It gets expensive and discouraging to try to prove that you are committed to showing with a dog that never wins. Sure I’m a new handler and I am always trying to improve my technique in the ring, but honestly my dog isn’t all that great!

        sue mcclure December 30, 2013 at 11:46 AM

        I think if you ask most long time breeders, you will find they didn’t get a top notch dog to begin with either. But they used that dog to gain experience and appreciate it for what it was while they began a search for their next dog. (I spent 6 years going to specialties and taking notes AFTER I got my first wolfhound.) Having thus proved themselves and knowing what they were looking for, their next dog was a better show example. I know many in my breed that prefer to sell to pet homes. I like to sell to novices…but I have many contacts over 40 years and when I breed, a lot of those contacts that have helped me are on the list for a puppy. Doesn’t mean someone I know or have sold to doesn’t have a nice pup they would like to get into a home that first, wants a family member, second is an apt pupil and third is willing to show it.

    • Barbara June 28, 2013 at 8:02 AM

      I totally agree with Linda M. It has become an unsurmountable task to buy a puppy from a breeder. I understand that they are trying to protect their breed and are trying to prevent people from breeding irresponsibly, but in the process we are discouraging new people from joining the breed and our sport.

  • Deb Franklin June 27, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    We are OH currently showing a ranked special, our special often makes the cut, and does receive placements, but not the aknowledgement that is deserved or earned at this level. We’ve had several PH come tell us so. When a placement is deserved, and not given because weekend after weekend, and yes we do show every weekend, only the PH are given the placements it sends the wrong message to all the OH out there. We happen to be stubborn, and believe in our special, and know that one of these weekends a judge will reward our special. (Who goes in groomed and ready to show)
    I’m also a show chair for a 2 day event each year. While our entries fluctuate some each year, and we are against another 4 day circuit, everyone that attends our shows love the small show atmosphere and the perks that these do have. We’ve managed to keep our heads above water thus far, but that isn’t always easy to do these days. We did a lot of PR for the shows last year, we really reached out to the public and noticed a much larger attendance this past year. The clubs and their members really need to find ways to encourage the public to attend and get folks interested in our world . And our judges need to aknowledge OH dogs that are deserving in the Group rings. Both of these things would make worlds of difference in our dying sport.

  • Susan June 27, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    I think the sport is shrinking for one simple reason…it’s a very expensive hobby. Most people can’t afford to spend $30 for an entry, gas, overnight stays, parking, eating, and the cost of the show dog. This is quickly becoming a sport for people with money. In my breed, we must travel far to find majors. People simply can’t afford to do it. I have stopping going to small shows and only hit the big ones.

      sue mcclure December 30, 2013 at 12:03 PM

      I addressed why small shows are small and the problems they face in another reply… not going to them only makes them go away or join the clusters away from their own communities… then where do the new exhibitors and club members to represent the purebreds come from? Small shows do allow you to gain group showing experience :-) Many of the people who responded to an article I wrote about the problem say they have stopped going to anything but specialties or that they have gone to UKC showing. ( http://www.thedogpress.com/ShowShots/OwnerHandlers-EatCake_McClure-1112.asp ) There is a strange coincidental balance of the growth of UKC registrations and the drop in AKC registrations. It isn’t all about the points. Showing dogs for most is a hobby and a social outlet. Take away the social and it takes away most of the pleasure. AKC has the possibility of allowing clubs with 500 dogs or less shows to hold 2 shows in one day. That is one way to allow clubs to continue to hold shows on the weekend vs. joining clusters for weekday shows and to stay in their own area vs. going to big cities (why there are no points in driving distance anymore) Please talk to your reps and support this allowance. And support your local club – they need the hands and your entries to survive. Without them, more and more breeders will leave the sport and not have replacements.

  • Sandy Mesmer, about-small-dogs.com June 27, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    I am encouraged by this post and the several other “where have the dog show participants gone” that we are at least addressing this issue. And I think you have it spot on — what we are missing is PUBLIC RELATIONS. I write about dogs and I can tell you right now that the shelter and rescue people (not HSUS or PETA, just regular groups) have it all over us when it comes to getting their message across. Why can’t we do this too? The basics of good public relations are well known — it is our choice as dog show fanciers whether we remain “two left feet” dog show geeks or become cool again.

  • Mike June 27, 2013 at 5:03 PM

    The one thing that controls it all is MONEY either as revenue or as an expenditure. There are plenty of issues but I would guess that most of them are based on Money. A dog worth showing or taken a little further like a dog worth specialing is going cost MONEY and I mean BIG MONEY. Handlers living in a RV for the duration of the circuit first had to build a reputation as a top handler, they had to spend BIG MONEY or lets say an investment. Now clients must PAY BIG MONEY and PAY THEIR DUES to have their dog shown and hopefully win. Clubs must spend BIG MONEY on any or all of these facets or in addition to those I may not have mentioned: show site, amenities such as an air conditioned building that most of us want or insist on or won’t enter, hiring judges, dog show superintendents, gas, diesel, hotel costs, overnight parking cost. I know I am rambling but the list is endless and Money is always involved. Just remember the old saying ” you get what you pay for” and now it has more than doubled. Sorry for the rambline

  • Robin G June 27, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    The lack of exhibitors is multiple issues once stacked on top of each other equals a high percentage drop in attendance.

    The same judges over and over, high cost of gas, lack of majors, too many pro handlers getting favors, challenging venues, economy, pet/breeder laws, lack of members, snarky exhibitors, poor sportsmanship, and the list goes on and on.

    Although these things were just as prevalent in the past add to the mix social media and you have an ability to report these things in a matter of seconds.

    When I originally showed in the early 90’s, other than word of mouth I had no way to get immediate information on judges, venues, clubs etc. Social media allows me to look up club info, judge reviews, read about others experiences and find out win results within hours. All of this sways my decisions on shows and gives me the chance to be selective.

    It is hard not to look at social media and the internet when comparing the past to the present.

    Thanks for this topic that will definitely elicit passionate responses.

  • Deb Eldredge, D.V.M.
    Deb E June 28, 2013 at 4:26 AM

    Perhaps conformation shows could pick up a pointer or two from performance. My performance entry forms DO have a spot to check off if I am a first time exhibitor. Our obed club gives those entrants a special gift bag with goodies, rule books, etc.

    As for encouraging juniors – my son has a wonderful Aussie from a very good breeder. Unfortunately his dog ended up very east/west. Showing in juniors time after time judges would say things like, “You need a better dog”. So here is my son with his dog he truly loves & adores in juniors which is theoretically about the kids!!!, being told he needs a better dog. Meanwhile in performance events, people were positive, encouraging him, helping him, etc. We truly need to be more open – especially to the juniors & newbies.

  • Lynne P. July 1, 2013 at 8:13 AM

    Too many pro handlers and too many all-breed judges who are not fully equipped to judge some of the breeds they are licensed to judge. At a recent show the judge was actually fearful in the ring whilst judging one of the giant breeds – how is that conducive to entries? It is very discouraging to breeder/owner/handlers who work hard and spend scarce dollars. Many of those in my breed only show to breeder judges or at Specialty shows.

  • Kathy G July 2, 2013 at 8:22 AM


    Another IMPORTANT reason all-breed shows are shrinking:
    JUDGES: Lack of knowledge re: BREED STANDARD and TYPE.

    Exhibitors aren’t stupid. They know what judges are best to show under.
    They know what judges put up handlers, what judges love certain breeds, what
    judges are ethical and what judges are not.

    We might forgive one’s expertise in the ring one time; however, if they blunder
    a second time, they are written off by breeder exhibitors and serious exhibitors.
    Judges SHOULD/MUST be obligated by AKC to attend breeder seminars on a regular basis….a review course, if you will. These seminars should be given by long time SUCCESSFUL breeders in order to attain the perception of “correctness” in the breed. Some Judges are not paying attention to standards or type and THAT leads to dogs being “reinvented” through bad judging. Top-lines are disappearing and heads are being lost. Over all structure is also disappearing due to the
    wrong type being put up. Exhibitors pay to be judged on the qualities stated in the breed standard.

    AKC’s money makers ARE NOT THE HANDLERS…..the meat and potatoes
    of their organization comes from the breeders and owners. Judges
    are important. Good judges are revered. Great judges are out there
    and we know who you are and we appreciate you so much….unfortunately
    we don’t see you that often.

    In a time wherein things are expensive, one must cut corners. Showing to
    inexperienced or just plain clueless judges is a waste of time and money.
    AKC we need YOUR help! Teachers have attend “continued education”; so do
    Nurses, insurance agents, Hazmat workers, Osha workers, etc. Continued Education
    is purposeful! Make any judge who is judging, take seminars and give written
    critiques on their judging. That’ll tell you immediately who is qualified to judge certain breeds and who is not.

    Thank you for your time to read this.

  • Nadine Robards July 2, 2013 at 3:13 PM

    There are some local judges we will no longer show under. They only put up their favorite handlers- and don’t think I have a bad attitude. I just get tired of losing to a substandard exhibit with my Special. I saw it time and again, and finally just quit doing it. Now we mostly do Specialties. My breed doesn’t have a lot of pro handlers at Specialties, which is nice. The only problem with showing at Specialties to Breeder Judges is those who only put up other Breeder Judges. Most of our BJ don’t do that, thankfully. I do very well at Specialties, and we have very nice dogs. So we mostly do that and are happy with our wins.

  • Me July 25, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    Part of the reason for the decline in entries is the decline in the glamour of the purebred dog. Gone are the days when the financial transaction concluded the sale and, in many cases, the relationship between buyer and seller. Breeders trust new owners enough to take their money, but, put so many stipulations on pet ownership that most people run to the shelter rather than be tied to the hip of the breeder.
    Forty plus years ago, one of my best friends in the sport bought a lovely puppy with no co-ownership, no breeding contract, no dietary rules. Simply a visit, and the mutual decision that “X” would be a good home. The breeder called one day and asked if they wanted to attend an upcoming show. Long story short, that person is one of the most respected people in the sport today.
    Contrast that with the breeder of a popular sporting dogs, who charges $3000 for a co-owned puppy. Said puppy MUST be fed a certain diet (only obtained from the kennel), prospective owner MUST agree to at least one puppy back or two stud services and pays 75% of all show fees. I personally don’t care if every single puppy in that litter is of the quality to win BIS at Crufts, WKC and Eukanuba, I’d NEVER buy a dog under those terms, and I doubt they have many repeat customers.
    We are our own worst enemy, and we are 100% responsible for the decline in our sport. Next time someone wants to put your carefully coiffed ‘special’ maybe say yes – both dog and spectator might enjoy it, and we might gain a new convert!

  • Lynda Beam (Canine Candids by Lynda) December 30, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    If it is true that judges do not interpret the standards correctly (and I’m not saying whether they do or not), please remember that it is very difficult to even start the process to judge unless you have a lot of money saved up. I was mentoring one judge in shibas and he said that it cost him $42,000 in travel expenses, etc. to get the entire working group.

    Most shows want people with at least two groups in order to maximize the bang for their buck. it’s a never ending problem.

    Why does AKC make it so unwieldy to judge. Was there even a test? Now you have to go to seminars for every breed, be tested, deal with the reps, etc. it’s just too much for a lot of folks to handle economically.

    Didn’t all the greats come through the system with a mere application for the breeds they thought they could judge?

  • mary aggers
    mba December 30, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    started showing dogs in the seventies; have watched a lot of changes; handlers back then are not like many we have today; they loved the sport, the dogs, the win; now it is a JOB and that sums up that attitude.

    OH are being priced out of the game; period. The fun is gone; it is hurry up find a place to park, groom; and leave with as little damage done as possible. Some of the breeders spend more time tearing apart other breeders; what you have learned is when you walk away your head is next on the chopping block.

    I had the rare chance to see many of the top handlers and watch and that time they would try and help someone out. Bob Forsyth told me when you stop loving the sport and the dogs get out; so far I still love the dogs and the game is what it is.

  • am December 31, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Here’s another reason – there are MANY activities which I can enter with my dogs – agility, earthdog, tracking, obedience, rally, field work, hunting, etc. If I want to enjoy some of these items on a weekend, then I won’t be showing at the local breed club’s shows. There’s only so much time and money to go around. And may times just having fun with my dogs beats out going into the breed ring with them.

  • Corgimom January 1, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    I hope AKC is paying attention to the one common thread running thru this discussion ~inept judges putting up the face that will get them in next month’s magazines – gone are the days when the pros would turn down sub~par exhibits, now they seek them out because “they can get them finished”, whether they deserve it or not.

  • Joanne January 1, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    I agree with the PH over OH issue. All I have to say to anyone that thinks this is just an excuse us OHs make for not winning, watch the Group’s. I also had a ranked special in 2012. I spent all my time looking for shows the bigger PHs in my breed wouldn’t be at, including the PH that has had the #1 breed dog for the last 5 out of 6 years. At this point, I will not special another dog again. As a OH it is not worth the stress and cost. I decided to special my boy because he was a true specials dog. My special finished with a 3, 4, 5, & 5pt majors. The two 5pt majors were back to back wins at a show with over 40 entries. So my special was more then competitive. Specialing him took every ounce of enjoyment and fun out of showing for me. Another point, I finished my special the last weekend in May of 2011, so specialed him the rest of that year then decided to try and rank him in 2012. Of a year and a half of competing in breed and going to group, he got one Group 3 win. When he won, I was surrounded by big PH. I of course was only OH in the lineup. I just show class entries now. With the exception, I am showing my veteran just to put a GCH on him because he was the first dog I finished of my own. I, like many before me, am going to start showing UKC for the sole reason that PH can’t show unless they own the dog. Been showing starting my ninth year and have witnessed it get worse just since I have been in the sport. Plus I see no end to the problem because AKC knows it and if anything only helps to make it worse. They have forgotten that the OH is their true “Bread-N-Butter”.

  • YoungAndNew January 18, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    I’m 20 years old and have been trying to break into the dog show sphere for a long time, so the paragraph regarding recruitment really speaks to me. I just got a dog from a breeder across the country, so while I’m ready to enter her, I have millions of questions and concerns and nobody to walk me through them. My local kennel club is supportive, but short on information/expertise on conformation (they do great on other performance events!). There is also an overwhelming feeling of non-support from other OHs of the same breed (maybe because it’s a competitive breed, but aren’t they all?), as though they don’t really WANT more successful competitors (which makes sense to a point, because they want the majors as badly as I do). Most of the time, people continue hobbies which they are successful at, and drop out of the ones they can’t get the hang of (except golf).

    Furthermore, I am happy to drag along friends my age, but convincing them to put up the initial $2000-$3000 that the first few months of dog ownership can cost (the dog/training/vetting/supplies/etc.), is no easy task. One appealing thing about a companion dog from a shelter (vs a show/companion dog from a breeder), is that your total cost for the animal plus all vetting, for at least a year, is usually less than $400. I’m happy to pay $1500 for a dog now to not have to spend that same amount on hip surgery in seven years, but how do I convince my friends?

    Being involved for just a few weekends one can make a lot of friends, but the first weekend or two can be very lonely for a young newcomer. While overall the sport/hobby doesn’t cost more than other hobbies, the upfront cost can be overwhelming for young people (who are also trying to pay off student loans, rent, etc.). A weekend at the dog show probably doesn’t cost much more than a weekend at the bar, but the upfront cost is 4 months of rent and food. The combination of these two things keeps young people away much more than “nerd status”.

  • BOH January 31, 2014 at 4:09 PM


    You really should have addressed the “elephant in the room”. Many owner handlers are tired of having a good, well groomed/presented dog, only to be given the gate to PH’s with a mediocre dog, but a well-known face at the upper end of the leash.

    Before someone says I’m venting with sour-grapes, I’ve had top ranked dogs in my breed for the past 10+ years. I’m an extremely competent handler/groomer.

    Admittedly, we’ve always had PH’s. But if I look back about 20 years, things started to change. Where handlers used to be “experts” in the breeds they handled (think George Ward/terriers or Tim Brazier/Poodles) and their opinions were valued and you knew they were bringing a decent dog in the ring. Somewhere that all changed. We developed a type of all-around “super-star” handler (think “A” list handler), that really doesn’t have an in-depth knowledge of the breeds they are exhibiting, and perhaps even more disturbing, THEY DON’T CARE. What they do care about is that the dog being campaigned has enough backers to fully fund a year or more of showing along with the requisite advertising.

    What eventually happens is that we have, in many instances, a dog that is a top winner, and exhibits major flaws when comparing the dog to the breed standard. Take that one step further, then the newbies want to breed to the “big winner”, not even realizing that this dog is not worthy of his ranking, and never would have made it to that level without a PH showing the dog.

    As a breeder, this is extremely frustrating. I have a *vested* interest in my breed. I would never bring a dog into the ring that I don’t feel is worthy of finishing, or being a top-ranked special. But while it seems I’m able to win at a breed level, and many times grab a piece of the group, it’s generally not one of the two top placements. Those, it seems, are many times reserved for the PH’s.

    I was looking at show results from a show recently held and noticed that out of the seven groups, 5 of the GROUP WINS were by the same handler/team. Do you think I really believe that PH had the best dog in each of those five groups? (and that doesn’t even count the 2-4 placements which they also had). I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it.

    The other issue is the judging approval process. When I look back, many of the “old-timer” judges had a breeding background. So many of the judges I see adjudicating in our ring are now retired PH’s, who don’t have that in-depth knowledge of many of our breeds.

    I believe that if we do not figure this issue out in the near term future, the sport will die a slow death. We need owner/handlers to promote our sport, and get the word out, and groom our future exhibitors, the Jr. Handlers. Otherwise, we’re going to be left with a gap that we won’t be able to fill.

  • Rita Rice February 4, 2014 at 5:19 PM

    I will probably get tarred for saying it, but the AKC’s new policy of having the reps critique a judge’s choices goes to much deeper issues. Most (if not all) or the AKC reps these days are retired professional handlers. And while almost all of them certainly know some breeds well, that doesn’t make them qualified to critique breeder judges who have been in the sport with 1-3 breeds for 20 years. Good handlers can do a great job presenting nearly any dog – but listen to any group of them talk and you hear “that dog really shows” or “he presents that dog so well.” Not “that’s a great dog.” Their emphasis is on presentation – and recent discussions among judges point to the same thing.

    If the AKC decides that AKC shows should be about presentation and money, then owner handlers will flock to UKC. If enough move to UKC shows, the quality of dogs will improve. If the quality of dogs at UKC improves, then people will sop regarding UKC championships as “cheap” and will accord value to them.

    Expenses to go to a show are so high that it’s often cheaper to use a professional to finish a dog than to do it yourself – this isn’t only because the handler spreads our expenses, but because it will take the handler less time to finish a dog than an OH, unless the OH is extremely well known (not always, but most of the time).

    The breeders and owners have been speaking for a long time, and, to me, it appears to be building to a crisis. Hopefully the AKC will start listening.

  • K February 9, 2014 at 5:39 PM

    I must add my 2 cents on this issue.

    I see solutions and issues on all sides of this topic. First, I must say I am a breeder/owner/handler. I too agree that handlers are given favors on all sorts of levels :-(
    I have heard a long time judge blatantly say “In the group I give the first three placements are handler, handler handler, and group 4 is the good dog.”

    UKC is appealing to people because there are no professional handlers allowed (unless the owner of the dog) and they also have DAY OF SHOW ENTRIES!

    For a LONG time we have wished AKC would do day of show entries. People would build majors in majors were broken by hustling up an extra dog or that exhibitor who missed their entry could get there and do a “day of” for an extra fee (more money for the clubs).

    On the topic of puppies and contracts… I breed/exhibit dogs affected by breed specific legislation. My contracts are simple but no intact dog leaves my home without a co-ownership. My breed needs to stay rare or we face them being taken away from us by the government.
    (I prefer pet homes and GIVE more spay/neuter pets away than I ever sell)

    As far as my credentials for having an opinion on the matter, I have OH my own dog to BISS at our national, won and placed in groups, finished several dogs in multiple breeds (for free) and have shown in UKC (about 15 years ago).
    For the above posts, I wish there was a “like” button on several of your posts.

    All I ask is for equal judging.

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