Adverts: 0161 709 4576 - Editorial: 0161 709 4571
Mail Order: 0161 709 4578 - Subs: 0161 709 4575 - Webteam: 0161 709 4567
Seminars – a low-key approach?

When chatting to the Assistant Editor recently, it was suggested I might like to expand on something I had written in this year’s Our Dogs Annual. In my article looking at the Challenge Certificate (CC) situation, including ideas for giving those in the numerically small breeds more opportunities to exhibit at Championship Shows, I suggested that local group societies could take a role in the training of more judges, by organising seminars, should there be a shortage. In fact the reduction of the interval between CC appointments from eighteen months, which I thought was ideal, to twelve months suggests such a shortage is already rather acute.

Having given the topic further thought to consider the Open Show situation also, I could only conclude that the need for more appropriate seminars could be getting increasingly urgent. One of the disasters of the last twenty years has been the decline of the General Open Show (I shall not go into the reasons here) and whether the situation will ever improve fully is doubtful.
However anything that might improve the quality of judging at those shows will do no harm.

Of course we have the work of the Judges’ Development Panel, which is involved with additional training to provide more Group judges. However to be eligible for this, a judge has to award CC’s in three breeds within a particular Group, making the process rather elitist. Below this select level, we have the very large number of judges who award CC’s in only one, occasionally two, breeds, i.e. the breed specialists, and then those who are making their way up the judging ladder aspiring to reach CC status eventually. It is with the latter levels that the provision of more broad-spectrum training could yield dividends.

Look at any Open Show schedule and you will almost certainly see several judges, apart from the Best in Show judge, undertaking several breeds. Perhaps the best examples are judges doing the Groups at shows working on that principle. To do the Group judges have to be of CC status and many, if not most, will not do their own breed(s) at this level and are asked to undertake several others. This, of course, makes their journeys worthwhile and, let’s face it, societies are not often going to invite breed specialists to do the weaker breeds which are likely to have very few dogs present.

It sometimes happens too that aspiring judges on their way up are asked to do one or two breeds apart from their own. It is hoped that all judges, irrespective of what level they may be at, doing ‘new’ breeds will do all they can to learn about those breeds before judging them.

Sometimes one is lucky and knows specialists willing to give a little personal tuition but frequently one has to turn to the books that are available, some are more explicit than others, to get some insight into the Standards and their interpretation and try to make time to study them from the ringside.

Attending seminars where the ‘learner’ can interact with the breed specialists is the obvious answer. However, even although breed clubs have a duty to run seminars, there are several inherent problems with them. Just look at current advertisements for forthcoming seminars run by general and breed societies alike and you will find numerous ones for ‘conformation and movement’ and ‘hands-on assessment’ (previously it was ‘rules and regulations’), some for various health issues etc, but only comparatively few that can be classed as breed specific.

If a breed club, especially if it is the only one for a particular breed, runs an annual seminar but alternates the ones demanded by the KC with breed specific, then there may only be one of the latter every three years for those wishing to learn about judging that breed. Even where there are several clubs serving a breed, specific seminars are nowhere near as common as perhaps they ought to be. This is probably due to clubs trying to avoid ‘overkill’, as those who attended one last year are not likely to be desperate to go to a similar one this year.

In fact some breed specific seminars, if run as a whole day event as most probably are, can cover a diversity of topics. The Breed Standard will inevitably be covered and sometimes a ‘hands on’ session, but other topics, such as critique writing, stewarding, health issues etc, are often included. These are all important, of course, but are not very relevant to judging any specific breed. They are included to fill up the day so that delegates are seen to get their money’s worth but in so doing, delegates may frequently suffer from an information overload.

This reminds me of an excellent talk I heard many years ago on presenting scientific papers at seminars and symposia – the speaker stated categorically that no more than one piece of new information should given per five minutes, yet how often is it a case of cramming in as much as possible at seminars in the dog world?

Although one may not be immediately aware, certain factors may deter the attendance of those from other breeds at breed seminars. The first is the date chosen. Inevitably this will be set to avoid any club or Championship Shows affecting the breed for which the seminar is being run as, quite understandably, the organisers depend on the support of their fellow owners and exhibitors to make it a success but, unfortunately, this may clash with shows or events affecting other breeds. ‘Sod’s Law’ usually prevails – on more than one occasion I have come across interesting seminars on the very same day as our local club’s Championship Show!

The second is distance. How often do you see an interesting seminar advertised but it is a couple of hundred miles away? The thought of three or more hours driving, plus any stops, maybe having the motorway nightmare of the traffic around the West Midlands or the London area, and leaving about seven in the morning and not getting home till seven or eight in the evening, is a major deterrent. There is the problem of one’s dogs to be considered too. It is fine if you have someone either at home or who can come in and look after them, but leaving them all day? Four or five hours is one thing but twelve or thirteen hours is totally different and a big ‘No! No!’

Then there is cost! In recent years seminar prices seem to have risen quite steeply. This may simply reflect increases in overheads and clubs should not be running such events at a loss, but do some look on them as income generation? On occasion one wonders, or could some feel that expense is no object and aim for a grand social occasion including a quality lunch with all the trimmings? Many seminars are advertised at £15-20 per head, so for a couple coming some way, the total cost will leave little change out of £100 when you add travelling and incidental expenses.

Of course, all this will not matter to those with over-riding ambitions to get to the top irrespective of what it takes, subordinating friends, family and job to mere also-rans. However many, although wishing to learn and widen their horizons beyond their own particular breed, keep things in perspective trying to balance their obligations to others in their lives with their personal ambitions.

Furthermore, when taken into consideration with all the other costs of the dog game, some may feel they simply cannot afford the extra expense. These may include younger people, with families and high mortgages, who are quite happy, if not relieved, to have expenditure not exceeding income at the end of each month. Such younger folk, possibly in their thirties or early forties, are the future of dog-showing and it is from their ranks that the judges of tomorrow will come. Surely their education, plus that of those who are somewhat older and perhaps award CC’s in one or two breeds, must be paramount?

It is in providing such education that I feel that regional or area group societies could play a major role. A quick glance through the KC Year Book suggests there are sufficient to give adequate cover nationally for most Groups. The gundogs seem to have a superabundance of clubs plus many sub-group ones covering, for example, retrievers or spaniels specifically. Even if there is not a local group society in a particular area, there is no reason why two or three breed clubs could not collaborate for teaching purposes.

What they could do is organise series of evening seminars, perhaps monthly or twice monthly over the winter period or, alternatively, in blocks of possibly six weekly ones, each covering an individual breed. Starting about half past seven and finishing around ten o’clock, with only a quick coffee break, should give adequate time for a reasonable in-depth look at the Standard, hopefully backed up with one or two living examples, plus time for discussion.

The success of such seminars would depend on the speakers who would be supplied or approved by the appropriate regional or national breed clubs, which in turn would recognise them for the fulfilment of their judging criteria. Furthermore judging assessments, on the lines recommended by the KC, could be built into the system, either on separate evenings or at weekends, when several breeds could be done in a single day.

The idea of evening breed seminars is nothing new. One general society in Lancashire ran monthly ones, with low admission of about £2, for many years with a couple of usually related breeds from the same Group being discussed by experienced specialists. The weakness was that attendance at them did not have recognition by the relevant breed clubs.

Similarly evening seminars as outlined about should also be possible with reasonable admission, maybe not as low as £2 but certainly not more than £5 per person, as many smaller halls in clubs and pubs may be hired for an evening comparatively cheaply. The numbers attending are likely to be much lower those expected for larger all-day seminars but this could be a definite advantage.

Smaller attendances, perhaps 10-15, would permit the seminar to be conducted more as a tutorial rather than a formal lecture, thus allowing better interaction between students and speaker.

There ought to be other advantages too. Firstly it is to be hoped that aspiring judges attending them would be elected to, or encouraged to apply for inclusion on, the judging lists of the relevant breed clubs. In turn, this might enhance the numbers of non-specialists on those lists to help satisfy the KC’s requirements.

Secondly it might be possible to encourage general societies to utilise those judges who have attended such seminars, and as a result likely to be on a wider range of breed club lists, for their Open Shows. If exhibitors are made aware of this then they may be more likely to enter which is to any club’s advantage.

Would this low key approach work? Would it lead to improved judging? Would the exhibitors benefit? Would it lead to better entries at Open Shows? One cannot say it definitely would, but it is certainly worth a try!