Is there a way forward for dog shows?

WHEN I was over in the US earlier in the year I was surprised, when chatting with Best In Show Daily editors, that despite the physical distance that separates us, the differing groups and showing systems and the fact that our Kennel Clubs are two very distinct bodies that we share very many of the same concerns for the future and we are experiencing very similar sets of problems as we search for ways to revitalize our sport and attract new enthusiasts.

At DOG WORLD we regularly invite guest contributors to share their thoughts with our readers and this week Rob Hill, whose main breed is the West Highland White Terrier, has written a thoughtful piece about the future of the dog show in the UK. He also makes some interesting comparisons with the past detailing both how entries are dropping and also how the costs of taking part are climbing.

Rather the me try to précis what Rob says, the simplest thing I can do is let you read Rob’s own words which are reproduced below and I’d be interested to hear your feedback especially comparing what’s happening here in the UK with your experiences in the US and other parts or the world.

We have almost completed the work in analysing the results of our reader survey from earlier in the year and hope to reveal all nearer to Christmas but from what I have seen of the survey some of Rob’s suggestions mirror what a lot of the people in the UK – or those who answered our survey questions at any rate – seem to be thinking.

Anyway here’s what Rob has to say:
“My first breed along with many others has seen a marked drop in show entries over the last few years. This is a breed which features regularly in the top ten pet breeds and is subject to real competition from puppy farmers and so the breeding of good quality sound animals is vital.

“If we take entry figures for the first 16 shows of 2013 but omit Crufts as it distorts the picture given the overseas entry and the rush to exhibit at a prestigious event, we find a very depressing average of 61 dogs per show. The high being 87 and the low 38. The absentee average is 12 per show with a range of 27 down to five.
Leaving out the last ten years – as the rot set in during the early 2000s – I looked at the same 16 shows in the 1980s and ‘90s. I do not have accurate absentee figures but the entry figures give much food for thought.

“In the ‘80s the average entry was 125 with a range from 201 down to 78.
The ‘90s saw an average figure of 141 with a range from 250 down to 102 but there were two shows for which I had no comparable figures.
Diminishing entries are affecting almost all breeds but should this be a worry?

“Not wishing to cast any aspersions on today’s winners but realistically can two CC winners chosen from 50 dogs ever hold up their heads against those who had to beat 200 dogs in order to gain those same awards?
The question that we perhaps need to ask is why has our sport declined in this way? It is true that the anti-dog lobby has come to the fore recently but it is yet to have much effect, though that is not to say that we do not need to be vigilant as they may affect our hobby in the future.

“I do wonder how welcoming we are to newcomers? Are we willing to sell someone a ‘prospect’ if they show an interest? Thankfully people in the ‘70s were helpful to me and even taught me the basics of trimming the breed. I have a friend who is currently trying to take on a second breed, having been very successful in this her first breed but no one will sell her a bitch puppy – they will sell her a dog puppy but how do you set up a breeding programme based on a male? Presumably this breed is doing so well that it has no need to encourage newcomers – I hope it continues for them! The first dog she bought from a top kennel ended up with one testicle and a bad mouth! She will persevere but so many others would already have been put off.
I know that breeding and showing is a competitive sport but unless we are welcoming to those who want to join us then the breed we love will end with us. It must be the breed which comes first or else we are all wasting our time. Remember that we do not own our breed, it has only been lent to us for a short time to try to improve it and then pass it on to a future generation.

“Time has become a very important factor. Despite the invention of labour saving gadgets most of us seem to have little spare time and that spare time seems to be concentrated around the weekends so why do we have so many mid week shows? Most of us have to work in order to support our hobby so holding shows while we are engaged in earning our living will not result in entries. It just leaves the way open to the well off to show their dogs with little competition and make up what can only be described as ‘cheap champions’. Going back 60 plus years the sport was the preserve of the wealthy, hopefully we are not returning to those days.

“Cost is a contributing factor as we have already seen there is a link between cost and time. If we look at the costings of my 16 shows entering two dogs at each of these 16 shows which includes two club shows and a group show (lower entry fees) would total approximately £680 without a catalogue, a car park fee or taking a caravan. If my imaginary exhibitor lives in the Birmingham area because of its central location and ease of motorway access, he or she would have travelled 3,630 miles to attend all of the 16 shows. Based 40mpg for a two litre diesel vehicle we would be looking at 91 gallons of fuel at around £6 per gallon – £546 so a total of £1,226 just for entries and fuel. No wear and tear costs have been added on and we have taken enough food and drink with us to avoid the heavy costs on the motorways and at the shows. We have not bought any special shampoos, the crates, bedding and trolley have not been renewed for several years. We have written off the registration costs and any vet fees. We are showing a junior bitch and a limit dog so have not had any pups to defray costs for 18 months and probably will not breed for another 18 months as we only breed when we want something new to show.
All in all, cost looks to be a major factor in reduced entries at general championship shows. Might those costs be trimmed? Do we really need benching?

Should Benching be a thing of the past?

“Most shows these days provide benching plus a large grooming area where the majority of dogs can be found during the competition. This is because the grooming area is usually adjacent to the ring whereas the benching can be a route march away and so exhibitors prefer to keep the dogs in the grooming area as this enables you to watch the judging (a major reason for attending a show) prepare your exhibit and ensure that the dog is safe and in sight at all times. The show committee of the Kennel Club should take a long hard look at benching. The general public do not attend shows to see a dog penned up on its own on a bench, they would much rather see it with its owner and be able to talk to the owner about the dog or the breed. If the benching is removed then there would be more space for the rings and so the number of days over which a show is held could be reduced.

“Then there is the debate about all-rounder judges versus breed specialists has always been a controversial issue. Some breeders will only show under specialist judges and whether we agree with this or not it has an effect on entries which is going to become more obvious as the current situation regarding open shows makes it very difficult for the specialist to gain the required number of classes to allow them to move forward on the various judging lists. The all-rounder will probably have several breeds at a number of open shows throughout the year and so will gain the required number of classes to award CCs much more quickly than the breed specialist. In addition, their ‘other breed’ experience will help them along. If this ultimately results in the balance between all-rounders and breed specialists moving in favour of the all-rounder then expect entries to decrease even further.

“Open shows need to be considered here too, perhaps radically! Are they necessary any longer? Entries at club open shows are holding up reasonably well, especially when enterprising clubs hold an open show in conjunction with a general championship show. Ironically the complaint from exhibitors against the holding of a club show after completion of judging at a general show is that it makes for a long day! The day is still not as long as it was when the CC entries were close to 200! Do general open shows have a place any more? Are they really any sort of training ground for aspiring judges? Let us imagine you need to have judged 100 dogs in order to be able to award CCs. You have to judge for let us say seven years to fulfil your clubs requirements. If you are very lucky, you might get three offers of four classes per year so at the end of your seven years you will have amassed 84 classes. The question is how many dogs have you actually ‘judged’? If the classes have had just one or maybe two dogs entered, how has this given you judging experience? However you do have your 100 dogs so I suppose congratulations are in order! If you are in a breed with a ‘persistent’ open show exhibitor it may also be that you are judging the same dogs time after time.

“For as long as I can remember people have been calling for open shows to be used as a qualifier for entry to a championship show but for some reason the KC has always balked at this idea. Instead, they went for the Junior Warrant scheme in order to attract people to open shows but seemingly this has not been a success if one looks at a championship show catalogue to see how many dogs display with pride their JW title.
Currently under consideration is the notion of having a number of RCCs to equal a CC. Might this be yet another slippery slope to the creation of cheap champions? Surely the idea of this game is to breed a dog to beat the current winners not to accept a second best title holder.
According to the KC website, there are currently 24 all breed championship shows excluding Boston and Crufts. There are six national group shows plus four Scottish based group shows and one Welsh group show. A total of 35 opportunities (give or take depending on the group/breed) for exhibitors to gain CCs plus however many club championship shows a breed may have.

“So now let us get really radical and see whether this calendar can be altered to improve geographical area and therefore travel costs while at the same time make entries more cost effective.

“Let’s start with the breed clubs. My own first breed has five clubs geographically well spread, Norther Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England and the South of England. Four of these clubs hold one championship show each per year which when added to the general and group shows give us a total of 30 sets of CCs per year. The fifth club holds two open shows, one of the clubs holds two open shows in addition to the championship show and three have one open show in addition to the championship show. We also have two sub group clubs who provide open shows. Now all of these clubs can put on a championship show with an entry fee of less than half that of a general show and still manage to make the show pay usually giving exhibitors a wide range of special prizes and other features which make for a pleasant day out. So why not increase the number of CC licences to all of these clubs? Let the breed clubs each hold two championship shows per year and the sub group clubs one championship show per year, this would cut down entry costs significantly and would increase club funds! It would give us 12 sets of CCs which works out beautifully to one club championship show per month. There is very little extra work for secretaries between running an open or a championship show.
Now there are 24 general championship shows to cater for and this very fortunately works out at two per month. Maybe it might be politic to give all breeds CCs at all shows because it makes very little sense that by giving people less opportunities to make up a dog you will encourage them to make more entries! Yes I know breeds have different registration numbers but maybe this might get people to take on some of the smaller breeds if their opportunities are increased. Especially if the costs come down with the removal of benching and car park fees etc. Now we have the 11 group and other shows to fit in so again we can have one per month leaving a space for Crufts.
That gives us four shows per month but also allows all of us depending upon our breed free week ends to hold seminars and even open shows to encourage new judges.
The KC would have to be responsible for drawing up the timetable.

“Radical enough do you think? Radical enough to be ignored I would imagine.
Whatever, something must be done or the sport will wither and all of the efforts of our predecessors to breed these beautiful dogs will be as nothing because unfortunately we do not use them for their original purposes any longer and so the show ring is the only place we can measure our success in keeping type and fit for purpose to the fore.”