Hello, my name is Stuart Baillie, and I am the managing director of Dog World, the U.K.’s leading weekly canine newspaper.
In the coming weeks we hope to bring you a flavour of the dog show scene in the U.K. You’ll hear not just from me, but also from a range of staff and freelance writers. Sometimes we’ll be discussing the top-winning dogs of the moment or looking at the breeds that are dominating Group and Best in Show lineups. At other times we’ll be trying to explain some of the issues facing breeders and exhibitors in the U.K. and the role of the Kennel Club (U.K.).
Sometimes we’ll bring you a flavour of the news in the U.K., issues including compulsory microchipping, breed-specific legislation and what government is doing to eliminate what we call puppy farms – what those of you in the U.S. know better as puppy mills. And of course we’ll bring you good news stories as well – what could have been more uplifting than the recent 140-mile sponsored walk that was undertaken by this year’s Crufts Best in Show winner, Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen Ch. Soletrader Peek a Boo, better known as ‘Jilly,’ and her handler Gavin Robertson? As we get into the final weeks of fundraising, it looks like Gavin and Jilly might actually reach the £50,000 mark, or around $75,000. What an achievement for the world of pedigree dogs!
This is actually a very good time to start this regular column for Best In Show Daily because here in the U.K., Dog World has just launched a survey of our audience. We’re asking those who read the weekly newspaper and those who visit our website to tell us what they think about the current state of the U.K. show scene. We’re also asking for their suggestions about what can be done to improve things and, importantly, to encourage people to actually enter their dogs.
As is the case in the U.S., we’re seeing declining entries at our big championship shows. We’ve had a lot to contend with here in recent years; there has been the financial crisis and subsequent recession that has forced people to consider how much they can afford to spend on dog shows. But the loss of Pedigree sponsorship hit the dog scene hard in the U.K. It’s my belief that many show societies had come to rely on the cash sponsorship they received from Pedigree, so when the tap was turned off very suddenly, it hurt.
Then of course we had that television programme, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed,” which was a hard blow for us all and again the hobby is really only starting to recover from its effects.
But back to the Dog World survey. It was launched just over a week ago and we plan to keep it running for a week or so yet. We already have responses from what pollsters would consider a very representative sample of our readers, but we really do want as much feedback from as many people as possible.
Three key themes are emerging – CCs, a Champions class and judges – and it seems that Dog World’s readers reject an assertion made by Kennel Club Chairman Steve Dean just two weeks ago that offering additional CCs is not the answer to declining entries at championship shows.
A huge number of those responding to our survey want to see CCs for all eligible breeds at all championship shows. In fact, that’s right at the top of the exhibitor’s wish list.
Respondents to the survey would also like to see a Champions class and greater reward for the dogs that win RCCs. Several of those completing the survey suggest that three RCCs should equal one CC. The logic behind the suggestion is that on the RCC the judge signs to say the dog is “worthy” of being a champion, but in a breed where there is a consistently top-winning dog, other good dogs deserving of their champion title are denied. Similar logic is applied by those calling for a Champions class. There is some variation in the suggested number of CCs a dog should win before it stops competing in the normal breed classes, but respondents believe that the winner of the Champions class should then compete against the CC winner for Best of Breed. Former Kennel Club Chairman Ronnie Irving once said publicly that the introduction of a Champions class in the U.K. would be “over my dead body,” so there is known resistance to the idea within the Kennel Club and a belief that it could result in “cheap champions.” However, it’s a popular idea with Dog World readers.
Several people have suggested that a Champions class would actually encourage entries as people would enter dogs they might otherwise have retired if they believed another title was possible, that of grand champion being the most common suggestion.
Judges come in for a significant amount of comment too. Exhibitors want to see more use of breed specialists at championship show level. Many accept that it is more cost effective for a society to use all-rounders, but a regularly repeated comment is that the same faces are being seen judging too often. There appears to be a belief that a judge should be forced to leave a longer gap between appointments for the same breed. Respondents also want greater efforts to be made to monitor the quality of judging. One suggestion was that “secret judges” should watch from ringside and then challenge a judge to justify their decisions. Those “secret judges” should also be briefed to watch out for “face judging,” ensuring that the playing field is level for all exhibitors.
There are mixed suggestions about the future of benching. Many people feel it should be abandoned and the savings made by societies passed on in reduced entry fees. Other people believe it should be retained, but should be optional, and exhibitors should be able to reserve benching, at extra cost, when they make their entry.
There is a call too to make showing a more social experience. Other suggestions include more seminars at shows, back-to-back shows, reduced entry fees for multiple entries, and the staging of companion shows alongside existing open shows or championship shows as a way to encourage new people to become involved. One respondent has even called for shows to offer a better shopping experience!