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Has the K C lost the plot?

- is it out of its depth?

During the past few years the Kennel Club has been floundering around like a leviathan out of its depth. What has caused this? It is their inability to address the decline in Open Show entries.

The Kennel Club, to its credit, did notice a drop in Open Show entries. Unfortunately rather than handing the problem to a group of people who regularly attend, organise and run Open Shows it handed the problem to the Judges Working Party. Its initial remit was to improve the level of judging with the hope of thus encouraging entries to Open Shows.

What did the JWP do? It came up with a whole new spate of regulations and restrictions to try and improve the way a judge judges a dog. Gone were the tried and tested methods of learning the craft through judging Ringcraft matches, then onto small Open Shows before progressing to larger Shows followed by, hopefully, a Breed Show and ultimately being asked to award tickets at a Championship Show.

The rise of the ‘professional’ judge

Now we need to be ‘professionals’, not gifted amateurs. We need to attend seminars on ‘Rules and Regulations’, ‘Movement and Conformation’ and a breed seminar before you can be let loose in a ring. Gone are the days when you learned the ‘trade’ via the school of experience, hard knocks, stewarding and watching other judges – that can’t be put on a piece of paper and shown to the Kennel Club.

Has this improved the entries at Open Shows, or even at Championship Shows? No it hasn’t because we have ended up with either the same tired old faces doing the rounds or the ‘new’ breed of judges, the ones who have been in the breed a year or two, have attended the necessary seminars and got their pieces of paper to prove that the can judge. Not that they have been around long enough to see what good dogs look like, owned a dog that has done a ‘bit of winning’ or even bothered to go round the rings and put their hands on a variety of dogs (good and bad). No, they have their bits of paper and they are a ‘JUDGE’.

Of course this has not had the desired effect! In fact it has done the reverse, people have stopped entering Open Shows because they do not value the opinion of this new breed of judge. Plus, because it has become a necessity to get on the ‘Judges List’ of your particular breed, these people are accepting judging appointments on a much more regular, and less geographically spread basis, which again reduces the likelihood of a good entry.

More legislation and more rules!

At the same time as these new rules on judges, the Kennel Club came out with more and more legislation and regulations regarding the conduct of Open Shows. Amongst these were the requirements to have certain size rings, certain size of gangways and, most pernicious of all, a minimum of three dogs per class. Because these new regulations and rules were not having the desired effect more and more were promulgated until hardly a month would go by without another regulation coming from Clarges Street.

Did these regulations achieve the desired effect? NO! They actually made the situation worse. Because of various rulings certain venues no longer became viable for showing and the remaining ones became overbooked, some having two shows a weekend! The classifications of numerically small breeds were removed to enable societies to achieve the golden ‘three entries per class’ target.

All of this had the effect of reducing entries at shows, not increasing them, and drove more and more exhibitors away from showing altogether. Amendments to the qualification of achieving the Junior Warrant award and allowing BIS and BPIS at Open Shows to qualify for Crufts did nothing to reverse this trend. The Kennel Club, faced with this continuing decline, carried on making more regulations.

Some of these regulations came to the fore and, when seen to be unworkable, were quietly dropped. One such regulation was the one that a society MUST hold all its shows in its own locale; if this had been followed to the letter centres like Newark and Notts. Showground would have been lost altogether without anything to replace it. In fact the Kennel Club has actually worked against the original idea insofar as it has allowed certain shows to move well out of their original area, championship shows such as Manchester have moved as well as a variety of Open show societies still concentrating their shows at places like Newark and Notts. Showground.

Failure to improve entries

When all the above have failed to improve entries at Open Shows what does the Kennel Club do? It makes more regulations and moves the goal posts yet again. Now a society must achieve an average of four entries per class to be able to have two Open shows a year.

The Kennel Club is working on the misguided notion that fewer are better. To the exhibitor, and it is them after all that showing is for, all it means is that he will have less choice and therefore will either go to fewer shows or stop showing altogether. Not all exhibitors go to Championship Shows, many only go to Open Shows and reducing their choice will drive them away from their hobby completely.

A way to stop the decline

What can be done to redress the decline in Open Show, and Championship Show, entries?
After listening to, and talking with, a lot of the grass root exhibitors and reading the comments in the dog press various remedies have become evident, something the Kennel Club has patently refused to do. First of all let’s get rid of a lot of the regulations that do nothing other than put obstacles in the way of societies and exhibitors, what is required is fewer rules not more!

Secondly bring back a society’s right to hold TWO Open shows a year without any limitations, after all it’s the attendance of exhibitors and their dogs that make a show, not the level of entries. A 200 class show, with 150 breed classes, attracting 450 dogs is likely to be much more successful than a 100 class show attracting 200 dogs giving 400 entries.
Apart from the ‘feel good’ factor of the, busier, first show, first entries bring in much more income than second entries ever will.

Thirdly, The Kennel Club should devolve its powers over all shows below Championship and, perhaps, the new Premier Show (which appears to be nothing less than a second class Championship Show) to Regional Kennel Clubs covering say the North East, The North West, the South East, The South West, The Midlands, London, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These regional ‘kennel clubs’ would have the authority to issue licences for all shows in their area and would have, unlike the staff at Clarges Street, knowledge of the proximity of each venue and thus be better able to allow an even spread of shows. This would be further facilitated by consultation with adjoining regional ‘kennel clubs’ to avoid clashes with venues close to their boundaries.

The above would allow the Kennel Club to concentrate on Crufts, Championship Shows and Premier Shows. It would appear to prefer to be regulating these types of shows because it seems to be bent on destroying the Open Show. It would also concentrate more on the registration and regulation of Pedigree dogs as well as the working and field trial side of dog ownership.

Societies should have fewer regulations to abide to, other than necessary ones regarding Health and Safety issues. They should not be limited to the number of entries per class and thus allow market forces to operate. If a show is not run well the exhibitors will not enter and the show will make a loss, thus the society will have to change or cease to exist.

Help and advice not confrontation

Furthermore the regional ‘kennel clubs’ would, through the local Field Officer, be there to step in and help and advise struggling societies. This would be a new function for the Field Officer, being there to help instead of insisting on the adherence of petty rules and regulations. They would also, of course, have to ensure the society is complying with its legal obligations on Health and Safety and Insurance etc. but they would help and encourage societies, not wield the big stick over them.

The governing bodies of these regional ‘kennel clubs’ would be made up of representatives of the local societies, General Open Show, Breed Clubs, Ringcraft and Affiliated Societies (such as Agricultural Societies). They would have full authority over all Shows in their area except for Championship and Premier Shows. The funding of these regional ‘kennel clubs’ would be from the Show licence fees plus a percentage of the registration fees of dogs domiciled within their boundary.

The Kennel Club in Clarges Street would be left with the running of all Championship Shows, Premiership Shows and Crufts. They would remain as the registration authority for pedigree dogs as well as the guardian of the breed standards. They would also act as the final authority in regard to breaches of the Show Rules, the regional ‘kennel clubs’ would have limited powers in this respect, and as a court of appeal in cases of disputes between the regional ‘kennel clubs’ and exhibitors and/or societies.

Giving back dog showing to the exhibitors

In conclusion, the world of dog showing should be given back to the exhibitors who, after all, are the most important people. Without them there would be no shows at all. Above all it should be remembered that dog showing, as well as serving on committees, is done by amateurs who are there to indulge in their hobby. If it is legislated to the extent that it is no longer enjoyable, which is the way it appears to be going, then we will be left with no committee members to run the shows as well as no exhibitors to attend them.

The Kennel Club does appear to have seen the error of its ways because it has recently done away with the need for societies holding outdoor Open Shows to provide wet weather accommodation. It has also reverted to the - almost - original rules regarding the obtaining of Junior Warrant points. Perhaps it just needs a couple more nudges for it to finally see the true needs of the exhibitor.

What the Kennel Club also needs to do is consult the general show going public, not just the few top breeders, judges and stallholders. It needs to immediately stop these new regulations and contact ALL the registered open show societies and ask them what they think needs doing. It also needs to canvass the views of the Open Show exhibitor by way of a questionnaire that can be returned to the local Liaison Council. Above all it needs an agreement by consensus, not the imposition of diktats by a body that is so far removed from the ground roots that there is little or no common ground.

Incidentally the last thing we require is an alternative Kennel Club setting up. All that will do is to cause Clarges Street to batten down the hatches preventing any further changes. Also it will not serve the needs of the exhibitor, as they will not know where they stand with regard to entry in Championship Shows or even Open Shows and may ultimately cause an irreparable rift between exhibitors of the two alternative kennel clubs.

Stephen Clayforth is Chairman of Harrogate CS, treasurer of Huddersfield CA and vice chairman of West Riding CC. The views expressed in the above article are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any society to which he is associated.