I’VE MENTIONED it before but when I was in the US last year one of the things that surprised me most was how the dog scene in the US and the dog scene in the UK are facing very similar problems.
And so it is with falling entries. But before I go further on that subject one thing I will say is that enthusiasm for the sport does not seem to be diminished or diminishing. Dog World has published as a weekly newspaper since 1921 and as the Illustrated Kennel News for many years before that and like every other newspaper in the UK and beyond we have seen our circulation decline in recent years, evidence some might say that interest in the sport is in decline. But in tandem with the newspaper we have been building robust and varied online offerings and when you add up the number of people reading our printed product, visiting our website, reading us via our iPhone app and watching our video content I can confidently say that Dog World is reaching a wider and larger audience than it has ever done in its history – perhaps rumours of the death of the pedigree dog show scene are being exaggerated?
But lets not be complacent because there are things wrong with the system, certainly in the UK and from where I sit in the US as well. Last year the Kennel Club established a show promotion working party under the chairmanship of Keith Young, retiring secretary of City of Birmingham Championship Dog Show. It has been charged with finding ways to make dog showing more appealing, of encouraging people back into the fold and it held its latest meeting in London last week and I was invited along to talk about the reader survey we conducted last year.
The working party is by design a small one in addition to Keith it comprises KC General Committee member Mark Cocozza, Staffordshire Bull Terrier exhibitor and judge Karon Jackson, and secretary and organiser of Liskeard Canine Association’s premier open show Kevin Burdett-Coutts. Keith explains that his intention is to invite representatives of other interested groups along to meetings when it is appropriate, he plans to invite delegates from the Dog Union and Canine Alliance, representatives of the trade stand holders and in the longer term spokesmen from the benching contractors.
I took the chance to explain that the survey we carried out last year was a fairly basic one which had been designed to allow the respondents to set the agenda. We left the questions deliberately open to see if anyone came up with radically new ideas for the future of dog showing that perhaps no one had ever considered before.
Key concerns expressed by those taking part in the survey included standards of judging; CC allocation, including giving greater weight to the award of an RCC; a champions class and the future of benching at championship shows.
The KC has already engaged a marketing company called Vivid Interface which has been charged with running focus groups and has already spoken to exhibitors at Boston and Manchester ch shows gauging opinion and canvassing ideas. The initial findings from these sessions will be reported back to the KC in the near future.
In the meantime the working party wants to open a debate with exhibitors on a number of areas to start to assess how strongly held views are.
The working party wants to know if there should be a change to the beaten dog rule. At the moment if it is attending a show a dog must be entered in it breed classes before it can be entered in any of the sometimes numerous stakes classes that form part of the show. But of course if a dog loses out in a stakes class it is a beaten dog and cannot progress to group and best in show competition. So the working party has floated the idea that a dog need not be entered in its breed classes to be able to compete in a stakes class. It opens up the possibility that a dog declared best of breed could go on to win its group and best in show even though it had been beaten in a stakes class by a dog which had not been entered in its breed.
The question of whether it should be possible to win two CCs in one day at the same venue is also up for discussion. The working party believes that allowing two sets of CCs to be allocated to the same breed on the same day at the same venue would have a positive impact on the show calendar by freeing up dates and it would have a positive financial impact on show societies and exhibitors. But would a general championship show society be prepared to offer time and space to breed clubs at their shows and would breed clubs be prepared to cooperate to hold two championship shows on the same day at the same venue?
The working party also wants to know if a list of what it calls, ‘core breeds’ should be allocated CCs at all general championship shows. It is working on the basis that breeds in stud book bands D and E should be considered ‘core breeds’. Issues for debate include whether this would be too restrictive in terms of available dates for breed club championship shows. There was also the question of whether societies would want CCs for all breeds coming under this classification and the working party says there is the issue of whether additional sets of CCs should be issued to general championship shows where some breed clubs do not currently have an annual allocation of CCs?
There is also to be a debate on the option of allowing people to enter on the day at open and limited shows? Would being able to enter a show on the day encourage people who have never entered a show before to try their hand?
The working party also wants to encourage a full and frank debate on the issue of a champions class, Keith says: “The working party is aware that this particular topic has been raised on numerous occasions, with mixed views. There are many exhibitors of the view that they would not wish their dog to be made up by any other route than by the established three sets of CCs, they want their dog to be declared the best on the day, while others are content to have champion dogs excluded from the CC challenge in order for their dog to have a chance of being awarded the CC.”
The idea of a champions class in the UK is a contentious one and there are strongly held views on both sides of the argument. Indeed while he was KC chairman Ronnie Irving famously spoke out against the idea saying that a champions class would only be introduced “over my dead body”. The argument in favour is that a top winning dog – if it continues to be campaigned after securing its title – can prevent other good specimens of the breed from winning top honours and becoming a champion in their own right
The final item the working party is seeking feedback on now is on benching. In the DW survey some respondents called for benching to be scrapped, while others wanted its retention and some called for it to be made optional, which ch show secretaries say is an impractical option.
And these are just the first issues the working party has put out to seek the views of the public there will be further issues put out to public discussion and debate in the coming months.
But what of the chance of this working party succeeding? Is it going to be radical enough? Is it really going to consider going back to square one? Dog Showing in the UK is more than 150 years old and there is a sense that the framework of rules and regulations under which the show world operates are fundamentally those drawn up in the 19th century. Oh yes they have been tweaked and amended but is the foundation on which today’s rules and regulations are built still fit for purpose or does the working party almost need to consider ‘a clean sheet of paper’ approach or would that simply be a step too far?
Readers who have opinions on any of the topics listed can write directly to the KC or alternatively can write to DW or leave their comments on the DW website.