I recently posted a query on Facebook asking which were the most serious problems dog show exhibitors are facing today and I was promptly overwhelmed with hundreds of comments from many, quite unsatisfied exhibitors to say the least.
I had carefully prepared a guideline, outlining the principle shortcomings we encounter weekend after weekend and I was so pleased to receive your input which has greatly enhanced the outcome of this article.
Interesting to note was the response from Italian exhibitors which totaled 120 comments and 300 LIKES in less than 24 hours! English speaking exhibitors voiced 40 comments and 100 likes, just proving once again that there is a great need of improvement in Italian dog shows as compared to the rest of Europe!
In the box I have outlined the main flaws according to where exhibitors feel the problems lie and not surprisingly enough, the top concern lays in the hands of our judges!
People blame judges as the primary dilemma affecting the dog show scene! This doesnít surprise me at all, as a judge can only please the few winners he puts up in a day as compared to the majority of losers that go home empty handed. But a GOOD judge will never send any exhibitor home empty handed if he is, knowledgable, fair, honest, competent, and judges each and every entry to the standard of its breed in an equal way, treating every dog and handler with respect in a positive manner.
A judge must take his job seriously and earn the respect of the dog fancy, studying as an ongoing education, refreshing his memory periodically, reading the breed standards of those breeds he will be judging on any particular day. He will read articles, talk to breeders, sit ringside at shows where there is a large entry in that breed and participate in breed club educational seminars when offered.
He will be courteous to those who show under him, treating the dogs in a soft manner, going over them with gentle hands and will write a critique highlighting each dogís merits and qualities, specific to what they were originally bred for. He will also note where they are lacking and need improvement in type, health, temperament and function and place each class with consistency. A good judge will voice his opinion publicly as he places each class, so the exhibitors themselves, as well as those sitting ringside will have a good idea of what considerations he has made in order to make his placements. If a judge is able to voice his opinion in this manner he can gain respect and credibility from those who have paid hard earned money to have their dogs evaluated.
This process is done normally in livestock competitions and not only weeds out the judges who hide behind brief, generic, badly written critiques but enhances education and increases the interest of those participating as well as ringside spectators.
Many complain that judges tend not to take their responsibility seriously enough. They are only into the traveling to far away places, elegant hotels and restaurants and wonderful catering bestowed upon them. Many exhibitors think that dog shows revolve around the judges when the protagonists should be the DOGS!
Too many judges brag on the social network saying ìHere I am in the Executive Lounge of so and so airportî posting photos of their 5 Star hotels, swimming pools, fancy dinners, sight seeing tours. It all seems better than a Honeymoon Vacation at Club Med! This is very annoying and unprofessional to say the least! The serious judges, returning home from their travels abroad, instead post photos of the dogs that impressed them, telling us in depth their judging experience making it ALL ABOUT THE DOGS, and not about their social activities! Let them do that elsewhere and not in the public eye of the dog show world. This gives a bad reputation to all judges and is unfair to those who take judging seriously.
Many complain about politics. Judges who donít judge the dogs but judge who is at the end of the lead. Famous breeders and professional handlers often DO have the best dogs but this is not always the case. Why do some judges seem to be competent and consistent in certain instances, gaining our respect and then occasionally fall into politics?
Do they feel obligated towards the breeder who has brought them numerous entries? Are they fooled by the inferior dog conditioned, groomed and shown to perfection by the famous professional handler? Do they put up the local member of the kennel club that has invited them, who came to pick them up at the airport and accompanied them to the club dinner? Have they been tipped off to put up dog number 47 in exchange for an enticing judging invitation? Are they influenced by peer pressure or heavy advertising?
And what about reverse politics? I put him up often so I need to put up someone else if I still want others to enter under me. Everyone knows we are friends so I better put up someone else even if my friend has the best dog. I canít put up the successful handler even though he has the best dog, people may think I am judging famous faces.
There is nothing worse than seeing a great and respected judge doing a poor job and one seems to wonder if there is an ulterior motive or is he just having an off day. What seems to be the most frequent problem is the amount of incompetent judges we encounter. It is not very easy in any country around the world to become a judge for their first breed or two, but once you have a foot in the door, it seems like a snowball traveling recklessly downhill, accumulating breeds faster and faster as it demolishes everything along its path.
When there is a shortage of judges in certain countries, those licensed to judge 3 or 4 groups get immediate approval to become instant all rounders. How sad and wrong is this as well as detrimental to the sport. Of course there are stricter means of approval in Scandinavia and most would agree that their judges are more well prepared, but in many parts of Europe it is all about who you know and reciprocal favors. It is really sad that many judges find judging a means to an end instead of constantly furthering their education about breed type, structure and movement, and health issues that afflict various breeds.
Appropriate behavior is expected from our judges and this includes arriving punctually and carrying out their assignment in a timely fashion. Being polite and patient with exhibitors and ring stewards and gentle, especially with the dogs is fundamental. Cell phones should be switched off and smoking in the ring is of course prohibited, although some judges donít think twice about taking personal calls while judging or lighting up a cigarette between each breed! A judge greeting friends and acquaintances is permitted, but certain scenarios are quite out of place in and out of the ring.
Judges must act professionally if they would like to be considered respectably by their colleagues and those of us who pay for a professional opinion regarding our dogs.
There is nothing as annoying as arriving at a show, especially if you have undergone a long and costly trip, only to find an unjustified change in the judging panel. Itís one thing if a popular judge has overdrawn his entry and certain breeds with smaller entries are taken away and assigned to others. This is of no fault on behalf of the organization or the judge himself although every measure must be taken to advise the paying exhibitors of a possible change in the panel. What is disturbing is when your breed is given to another judge for no apparent reason.
This is sometimes due to the fact that a kennel club assigns a breed to a judge who is not licensed to judge that particular breed. Or maybe he is not permitted to judge certain breeds that he may be judging in the near future at an important event such as the World or European dog show. But it is also the responsibility of the judge to know prior to the show, the breeds he will be judging, in order to study them and let the kennel club know that he may not be able to judge certain breeds for various reasons.
A judge and a show committee must respect the published panel and only make changes if absolutely necessary. Many times at the end of the day, at group level, changes are made to accommodate those who need to catch a plane to the bitter surprise of certain exhibitors. Maybe the show is running late, but often when making travel plans, both judges and organizers are well aware that they canít possibly stay for group and BIS judging and fail to notify exhibitors.
Second on the list is the disappointing problem of inappropriate venues. The problem is of course money related; good venues cost alot of money, and most kennel clubs struggle to make ends meet. What can be done to assure a suitable venue for a dog show? IF THE VENUE IS LESS THAN ADEQUATE DONíT HOLD THE SHOW AT ALL!!! PERIOD!!!
It is as simple as that! Venues need to be approved by those responsible of their governing bodies and deemed appropriate or inappropriate. We have a right to a minimum of comforts and safety for our dogs as well as ourselves.
An open field with no trees or tents in the hot summer months is simply not suitable and it is equally not fair to let dogs, exhibitors, judges, stewards and paperwork fall victim to rain or hale storms and lightning.
Outdoor shows must have the possibility to provide shelter from the elements when necessary and an alternative location must immediately substitute in order to protect all those concerned with minimum inconvenience.
Lawns must be freshly mowed short and the ground must be level and regular without posing a threat to handlers or dogs who will be running around the rings.
Ring size is often a problem not affording the necessary space for larger breeds to move comfortably and be efficiently evaluated by the judges.
Indoor shows offer peace of mind to show committees if the show giving club can afford the rent, and resolve the problem of possible climatic disasters. Unfortunately, when space is a problem, ring size and set up space become restricted causing overcrowding and total chaos for everyone involved, leading to hazardous conditions if an emergency evacuation were necessary.
These tight conditions make for nervous dogs and nervous exhibitors.
Unsafe flooring is another concern for exhibitors. Slippery floors can be quite dangerous for dogs and handler and while your dog may not slip and rupture a ligament, he could still remain permanently traumatized psychologically. I myself did severe damage to my knee on 2 occasions due to unsafe footing.
A good show will provide grooming areas in strategic zones with the possibility to have electricity. Most exhibitors are willing to pay for a grooming space with an electrical outlet rather than crowding up and fighting over them. This is an intelligent way to earn revenue and make exhibitors happy but very few shows offer this service.
Some shows have great food concessions. The problem usually lies with the fact that they run out very quickly leaving many people hungry and angry. Many shows unfortunately do not have enough available food and this is another way clubs could earn money to offset expenses and make exhibitors wanting to return the next time.
Sometimes restrooms are a big problem. Never enough causing long lines, especially for the ladies, very dirty, very far from the set up and ring areas.
I often find that garbage bags and bins are difficult to find causing people to litter and not clean up after themselves. This is very unpleasant to see and makes cleanup after the show very difficult for the few volunteers that offer to do the job. Many shows should have specific areas for dogs to relieve themselves with clean up bags available. When they are set up nicely with bales of straw and tree trunks for the males to lift their legs on, and sand and roll out sod carpets for the bitches, people go out of their way to use them and makes for a cleaner, respectful show site. Anyone caught not cleaning up after their dogs should be fined. Bag dispensers and trash bins placed strategically around the show grounds would take care of this problem.
Poor organization is something that many of you had to comment about and I couldnít agree with you more. Most of this in my opinion is due to the fact that most dog show committees are made up of few volunteers. There are never enough workers to make the shows run smoothly. A top notch judging panel studied with intelligence will attract a larger number of exhibitors. Often clubs try to save money on judges always inviting the same names who live relatively close to the show. The committee who chooses the panel should also know how to distribute the different breeds. This requires much skill and experience and above all knowledge of what breeds each invited judge is famous for.
In many shows, people know they must arrive very early to find decent parking and have the possibility to unload their equipment. There are always long lines and often the organizers donít think of the many exhibitors that need to drag in their heavy and bulky equipment as well as large breeds of dogs on wheels over long distances and rough terrain from faraway parking lots. When this occurs it is really the worst way to start off oneís day. Instead they should provide an unloading zone convenient for those with many dogs and large amounts of equipment with the possibility of entering the show ground at an early hour in order to have time to setup, get organized and begin grooming in time for judging.
Veterinary checks often stall the entrance and cause long, slow moving lines causing dogs and exhibitors to become nervous. In Portugal they have done away with this by sorting dogs randomly. Only 10% of the entries are chosen for veterinary check and if you find an invitation in your envelope when you pick up your number you must proceed to the vet and have your health papers and dog examined. In Spain, to avoid the long lines, there is often random checking by the vets who roam round the show grounds randomly asking to see your dogs papers.
I would suggest scanning veterinary paperwork at the time of making entries to avoid these long lines which spoil the beginning of a bright day.
Once you finally get into the show it would be nice to find well explained maps to direct you to your rings or grooming areas. Some shows are good at this but not most. Then there is the problem when going through the catalog to find your dog is incorrectly entered as another breed or in the wrong class. Sometimes the lists of the breeds posted outside each ring are not in correct catalog order. Entry services and superintendents are paid up to 3.00§ per dog but nonetheless are constantly making errors which increase the workload for the organization to sort out the morning of the show adding time consuming stress to the exhibitors as well to get things sorted out. All of this lack of proper organization makes it impossible to get judging started on schedule. Some shows are famous for being as late as 2 hours in getting the show started. This is unacceptable!
Although there are many professional ring stewards who travel great distances every weekend to do their job in exchange for a small fee which does not even cover their expenses, many ring stewards are completely inexperienced and slow down the judging procedure. In Italy, we have not only the paperwork with written critiques and certificate cards to be filled out, but also qualification booklets for each dog to list the results of every show in which it participates. Ití s good revenue for the Italian Kennel Club as each Libretto costs nearly 20§, but adds to the already time consuming process, as it also needs to be filled out and signed by the judge.
Librettos and all the other paperwork is distributed at the end of the day and it is a madhouse to receive everything with many inexperienced ring stewards making so many errors in the paperwork which needs to be sorted out in the secretaries office.
Another issue exhibitors complain about are the ìso calledî professional handlers. In my opinion, the serious and professional handlers in Europe can be counted on 2 hands, most coming from Mediterranean and Eastern countries. Nowadays, everyone and his brother consider themselves professional. I would estimate well over 200 in Italy alone, including several Junior Handlers!
The major problem exhibitors have with handlers is attitude. Handlers expecting early entrance, easy and preferred unloading and parking, monopolization of overcrowded grooming areas and electrical outlets just to name a few. Shouldnít these things be compulsory to ALL exhibitors and not just a luxury to a few chosen handlers.
Once again, the problem lies with the venue and organization to facilitate and provide those commodities to make all exhibitors happy, making them want to return year after year. Poor organization will make any handler nervous and edgey, especially the professional who has many dogs to get ready and show. This of course doesnít give the right to the pros to be disrespectful and presumptuous but some exhibitors need to recognize that they do bring extra revenue and should expect a little extra consideration that the average owner-handler with just one dog does not necessitate.
Many others feel that the judges tend to favor the professional handlers. Is this the fault of the handlers themselves or the judges? Do judges tend to put up the dogs shown by the pros because they are groomed, conditioned and trained better? Because they perform better and are easier to evaluate? These considerations of course help a quality dog to win.
Hopefully the competent judges can see beyond grooming and performance and will always put up the better dogs, but letís not forget that we are talking about dog shows, where not only the dogs are being judged on type, structure and movement but also on proper presentation. This means that the dogs groomed correctly to their standard, in the best physical and mental condition, which perform in a way to catch the judgeís attention, moving correctly are the easiest to evaluate.
An ungroomed, untrained dog in poor condition should never be shown for his own best interest and if an owner doesnít have neither the time nor the capabilities to present his dog in top notch condition, why not seek out the help and skills of a qualified professional handler?
All exhibitors, whether they be professionals, breeders, or owner-handlers should have more respect for one another. Good sportsmanship and good manners are appreciated by all.
Respect your competitors in and out of the ring! Respect the opinion of the judges and if you are unhappy with how they may have judged, think twice before spending money on a future entry fee. Respect the environment keeping your set up and grooming area clean and tidy. Donít litter and always clean up after your dogs. Bring your own garbage bags and always carry in your pocket small bags to retrieve your dogís feces.
Donít abuse in the use of grooming products that leave your dogís coat looking and smelling artificial. Try to use products intelligently removing any residue before entering the ring and pay attention to not invade the area of others on a windy day or when using blowers and dryers. If you are trimming, scissoring or brushing your dogs, make sure to pick up and dispose of all hair and maintain a tidy workplace.
Another problem facing exhibitors is the role of the delegates and reps at our shows not doing their jobs. How often do we see dogs being shown that donít appear in the catalog? Why donít they report to the governing kennel clubs when conditions are inadequate and unacceptable? Why must we accept all the shortcomings and injustices often encountered weekend after weekend?
Why not have delegates observe that the show giving clubs are doing a proper job for the safety and well being of dogs and exhibitors and make an official report to the kennel club? They should also be observing the judges to make sure they are judging appropriately and abiding by the rules as is done in North America.
Many people feel that there are too many shows offered and for this reason the quality and efficiency is lacking and the number of entries has precipitated.
With fewer shows you will get more entries thus providing more revenue to put on a better show! This, of course makes a lot of sense.
With too many shows, not only the quantity of dogs decreases per show, but especially the quality diminishes and leaves less technical value to the eventual wins. Then we have the problem of the circuits offering 10 championships in 3 days. What kind of titles are these? Do they have any value at all?
With the economic crisis, it has become much more of a burden to exhibitors to permit themselves the luxury of showing dogs. Entry fees have increased and the price of fuel, tolls and food and lodging has prohibited many from being able to attend as many shows as before.
To sum it all up, we are surely facing many negative factors in the dog show world. How to go about changing all the things that need changing and improvement depends upon us. If we just sit and complain and do nothing to let our voices unite and be heard we will never get anywhere. We owe it to ourselves and to our dogs to stand up and be counted! Because this is……
AS THE EXHIBITOR SEES IT!!!