I DON’T often take issue with Sheila Atter’s brilliant columns but I can’t bring myself to agree with her concluding remarks in her article from two weeks ago.

I’ve often wondered whether adopting a grading system might help make our shows more interesting, especially in the breeds where entries are regularly huge and you can go to show after show with a decent dog but because of the strength of competition and the sheer numbers in the classes, have very little to show for your efforts.

At least if you regularly received an ‘excellent’ grade or the equivalent, you would know you were showing a quality specimen, even if you seldom manage to feature in the major places, and this may give you an incentive to continue.

But there is a down side to grading, which, even though I’m keen on the idea in principle, does worry me in practical terms.

In several breeds I’m interested in, there are exhibitors who come to the shows principally to have a good day out among friends and who enjoy participating with their dog. The dogs may not be the greatest specimens in the world, nor may the exhibitors have developed the presentation and handling skills to match their more serious competitors. Yet they still enjoy their days out, even if more often than not they are placed at the end of the line, and contribute to the viability of the shows.

Yet would they be so keen if they continually received lower grades? Yes, in some cases, as Sheila suggests, this might spur them on to obtain a better dog and to become more competitive in the way they produce the dog for the ring. But others, I’m afraid, might simply get depressed and drop out, which is surely not in the long term interests of the show scene.

In our quest for the highest standards, it is sometimes easy to forget that dog showing is basically all about people! People who need to be made to feel welcome in the sport. Without them, the sport really will die.

Sheila ends by saying: “Surely 20 top class examples of a breed gives a better level of competition than an entry of 200, where 190 are not really in contention for top honours.”

Perhaps in some ways she is right, but quite how you can keep dog showing going with a tenth of the current entry I don’t know. And if you effectively exclude the owners of the sub-standard 190, might you be actively discouraging the next generation of breeder/exhibitors of the top class dogs of the future? Sorry Sheila, but I don’t think that this sort of super-elitism is the way forward.

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