The recent collapse of Dog World has deeply shaken the already precarious health of the dog show scene, whose members see it as another nail in the coffin for the Fancy. Although Our Dogs was apparently quick to seize the spoils, it felt like the whole fabric of dog showing has been broken; much as it was when Pedigree pulled out of dog show sponsorship. But we survived that tumultuous event and will of course survive this deep wound. Just as video killed the radio star who was already under threat from TV, the unregulated environment and freedom (in all senses) of Facebook has seen the vultures circling around the subscription papers for some time. Surely a new model of centralised information is much needed, because despite the multitude of FB groups fulfilling our every apparent need, it is all so fragmented that many feel we are in danger of losing the focus that binds the show world together.
Fresh leadership and a new direction at The Kennel Club has brought some desperately needed vigour to the fuddy old establishment of previous years. The Injustices of the High Profile Breed Checks foisted on individual breeds held up like a sacrifice to the anti-pedigree groups after Pedigree Dogs Exposed, did grievous harm to our community, and although there were many harsh home truths of the programme, exhibitors felt completely disenfranchised from The Kennel Club who literally cut the 'guilty' adrift. What a PR car crash that was!
Some years ago we started seeing the decline in numbers and predictions that the so-called elite championship status that we have in the UK will no longer be so elite. With some breeds having tickets, and others relegated to scarcely third division, is it any wonder that easier access to showing overseas, fresh faces, a different atmosphere, and championship titles for all breeds has certainly tempted many UK exhibitors abroad. The so-called cheap titles of Europe are already looking more inevitable over here, with CC's on offer for some breeds with only five dogs entered! The playing field certainly needs levelling. Many exhibitors are calling for champion classes - the best still has to beat the rest. Some have suggested increased prize money; all well and good if you know you're well in with a chance of it, otherwise it means nothing to you. Mentoring is frequently suggested and should surely be a fundamental part of judge's development. Even 'Neuter' classes have been suggested; it works perfectly well in cat shows, so why not?
New initiatives from the Kennel Club such as the completely revamped judging program, and the more recent breed mate select are superbly proactive, and the registration of Jack Russell Terriers was ground breaking, but still much more exciting developments than just the new rule on beaten dogs from stakes classes could be done to put some real vigour into re-enlivening dog shows in the UK for all exhibitors. Everyone has their own take on why shows are suffering. Was it the limiting of exemption show (now companion show) licences many years ago to prevent too many being held in the same area, which resulted in far fewer village shows from which so many of us started our show careers? Or perhaps as an exhibitor mentioned yesterday, of open show entry numbers suffering when the KC changed the JW rules of a minimum of 3 in the class? The KC's recent big change was to allow open shows to hold 4 classes for judges instead of 3 (providing one is a puppy class) for C list judges, shows just how much the KC recognises the real threat to the hobby which is a lack of newcomers.
Some of the larger championship show societies have recognised they need to be more businesslike to succeed. Many now offer back to back shows with breed clubs and many more stakes classes of competitions with prize money to tempt exhibitors. Breed clubs, however, haven't quite caught up and some still seem to be lacking proactive initiative. This may quite possibly be because many committees especially at breed club level are so busy squabbling amongst each other and defending their power bases, to see the real threat facing us all which is the ever decreasing number of newcomers into showing, and how many seasoned exhibitors simply don't enjoy it any more. The lack of collective forward thinking is surely much to blame for our current situation.
Breed 'elders' may complain that newcomers aren't interested in helping on breed clubs which is frequently true, but who can blame them when they see some bitter and regressive attitudes from the top. New people come in full of fresh ideas, and are often knocked back by the seniors. Of course there are many wonderful mentors, but we all know the type of person who feels they have worked their way up through the school of hard knocks so why should they give anyone a leg up? Equally, some newcomers expect to be treated with kid gloves, unable to fathom that their 'heart dog' is not actually very special in the show ring. When that sinks home, some will stay and learn, aiming to buy a better example of the breed next time, but if their general experience has been unhappy, who can blame those newbie's for finding something nicer to do?
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Recent surveys indicate deep rooted unhappiness amongst exhibitors who cite everything from costs to faceiness as the reason they don't show as much as they used to. There will always be enemies, bitching, backstabbing, running down the competition, dirty tricks and dodgy judging, but these behaviours are not exclusive to the show scene. They are just exacerbated in a competitive and subjective environment, and the smaller we become, the more they will be noticed.
Can it be fixed? Of course it can. What we need to do now is COLLECTIVELY learn how to re-build our fractured system which has suffered so much over the past few years.
It seems to have become easier to moan, gripe, bitch and generally be a thoroughly unhappy person these days, than it is to arrive excitedly at shows, ready to have a good day out with friends, great dogs and hopefully brilliant sunshine when it happens We are all guilty of bad thoughts ranging from revenge to simply not liking a dog because of who owns it, or just a mean snippy comment to an old foe, but the feel-good factor plays such a massive part in showing, that perhaps what we need is a national smile dog show day! Naive? Yes undoubtedly, but why not eh? Why not go back to the days of happiness and the simple joys of winning and losing graciously? It's a bit of an ask if the judge is a complete idiot and we're beaten by a lame duck, but imagine what utopia that would be to have a day out with friends, great dogs, big rings and a really great day out at a dog show. So next time someone is stirring up the cauldron, moaning for the sake of it, or even grumbling about traffic on the way to the show, smile and CARRY ON DOG SHOWING!
Next week...what is it that makes some UK shows more successful than others? Thoughts on more than a postcard please J.