There is no question that the AKC is known as the “Club of Clubs.” Without the local as well as the National and performance clubs the AKC would have no events to put on.
Each time we enter a show, trial, match, or any other AKC event we all should know that the only reason we have that event to attend is because of the dedicated members and volunteers of that sponsoring club that give generously of their time, talents, and resources to put on the event for the fancy.
Clubs are without a doubt the backbone of our sport. When I see the number of exhibitors that participate in our events, I often wonder why do the local clubs struggle to attract members to assist in putting on these events?
When I was first introduced to the sport I was encouraged to join and participate in both my local all-breed club as well as my local breed club. Joining those clubs provided me an opportunity to learn and interact with people from all walks of life with many different views and experiences to mold and educate me on everything to do with purebred dogs. I cannot think of any time since I began in the sport that I have not belonged to a club.
The dynamics of clubs can often be diverse, and I think it is safe to say no two are exactly alike. Yet all clubs have one thing in common, and that is the mission to promote the sport of purebred dogs positively and responsibly.
When you become a member of a club you now become part of a group of people dedicated to a sport that you love. Clubs come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are conformation only, others obedience, agility, and performance events only, while many embrace all aspects of the sport.
Membership in any club usually offers an individual an opportunity to learn and grow in the sport as well as fellowship interactions with like-minded enthusiasts.
Clubs offer many opportunities for learning through various programs and seminars at monthly or occasional meetings. Some offer Conformation classes, Obedience, and Rally classes, some teach and promote agility and other performance events. Many clubs also recognize the achievements of their members with plaques or other types of awards to signify their accomplishments in the show ring as well as in the performance arena.
For clubs to succeed and continue to put on events as well as provide other local educational events and programs while also promoting responsible pet ownership they need members. Every individual that participates in our sport should belong to a club and be an active member to "Give Back" to the sport.
I often see and hear exhibitors, judges, and breeders making comments and complaining about things at shows and trials, and when I ask them if they belong to a club the answer is way too often "NO". At that time, I usually say you have a responsibility to give to the sport that is giving you so much. You should not be criticizing those people that are giving freely of their time, knowledge, and efforts to put on the show or trial you are complaining about. None of these volunteers are being compensated for their time or efforts. Many members are often using vacation time and their own monies to help the club.
All of us that exhibit or judge owe a great deal to the efforts of these individuals for without them or their clubs there is no event.
Why Belong? Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote “The only true gift is a portion of thyself to others.” Giving your time, talent, and knowledge to a club is a great way to give the gift of yourself to the sport you love.
Belonging to a club and mentoring new people is also a way to “Pay it forward” in maintaining and developing people to carry our sport into the future.
Many rewards come with membership to any organization. However, being a member also has a variety of responsibilities that come with it.
First, in our club, the Tennessee Valley Kennel Club and with many others, we have numerous people that visit and attend our meetings. We also have some type of educational or fun program every month. We welcome everyone and tell them they are welcome to attend any or all of our meetings, but we don’t want them to join the club unless they are willing to commit to becoming involved in our events and willing to attend our meetings with some form of regularity. We do this because we don't need names on a roster that affect the quorum numbers, we need people willing to work together for a common cause.
Every club has a different make-up of members, and I am confident that each collection of members has unique dynamics and people issues.
When you join a club, you need to understand you are one voice. You have the right to express your thoughts and opinions but that does not give you the right to dictate or try to push a personal agenda. Clubs should be a democracy where every voice is heard but, in the end, it is the wishes of the majority that matter and should be followed.
When individuals within a club step up and take responsibility for an office or position working within the club they should be encouraged to perform and be given the tools to succeed. In our club, we try not to assign more than one job to any member so that we can have as many people as possible involved in our club and our events. We let them do their job and let them know we are all here for support if they need it, but we encourage them to take ownership of the job and accept the responsibility to get it done correctly and on time. All too often in many clubs, some individuals want to tell everyone how to do a job or what they don't like, yet these are the very people that never step up to the plate and volunteer for the job. It is also important for members to understand that even though they may be the Chairman of an event or a committee the club should have the final say in how things need to be done. No club needs to be run by a dictator. When one or two individuals impose their agenda in any club it is a recipe for eventual discord and disaster.
It is also important for clubs to have people in positions as a “Back Up” just in case a situation presents itself where the principal in charge has an emergency or some other event that causes them to not be available when needed. This is especially important in show and event chairs. Life does not let us know in advance when things happen, so it pays to be prepared with people in place to step up when needed.
It is vital to the survival of all clubs to encourage new membership from people that are dedicated and share the clubs' mission. New members should have "mentors" made available to them to help them along and encourage them to pick an area of interest and get involved.
Older, long-term members should always welcome the newcomer with open arms. Also, just because someone is new does not mean they do not have great ideas or experiences that can help the club so listen to them, sometimes they don't know the rules or the ins and outs, and with the right kind of mentoring they will become a vital part of the club moving forward.
Important Points for club members:
• Check your agenda at the door. All members need to work together to make things work for the betterment of the club.
• Volunteer for office or join or lead a committee in your area of interest
• If your time and availability are limited be sure to try to volunteer at shows and events whenever possible.
• Attend meetings whenever possible. Remember you count against the club's quorum and no business may be conducted without a quorum.
• Pay your dues on time.
• If possible, support your breed or group by sponsoring a trophy for the show. We all know how much they are appreciated especially by the newer exhibitors.
• Encourage and support your fellow members and be willing to mentor those that ask for your help.
• You may offer your ideas and share your concerns but never attack those of others especially if you are not willing to do the job yourself.
• Always accept the vote of the majority even when you don’t agree. Clubs should always be unified to the general public.
• Support and encourage the mission of the club.
• Always support and encourage responsible animal ownership
Being a member of a club will provide you with many new supportive friends. It will also help to keep our sport alive well into the future.
If you don’t belong to a club, start today, and do your research to find one that you feel comfortable in and join. You will be glad that you did
Several years ago, there was an outcry from exhibitors about Judges checking the bites and possibly helping to spread disease from one exhibit to another. As a result, it was suggested by the AKC and the fancy, in general, to have the handler/exhibitor show the bite to the judge. I just like most judges adopted the policy and changed our examination routine to allow for the change.
What all judges discovered was that most exhibitors either do not know how to show the bite properly or have not spent any time teaching their charges how to allow it to be done. What is now common to see in the ring is what I call “Wrestle Mania” where the handler and the dog have the battle to see who will win.
So over time, I adapted my bite examination routine so that I have the exhibitor show me the bite as soon as they come in the ring if they are a class of one or I go from dog to dog in the class before moving them around as a group except in the case of table breeds where I do them on the table at the end of my examination. I have found that by doing it this way when the dog is set up for examination the hands-on part goes much better.
However, I will never understand why exhibitors and their charges don't practice this vital part of the examination process. First, you need to know your standard and what it calls for. Is it front only? Full Dentition, Front and sides? Thumb exam only? Or Full Front and Sides and opening of the mouth? If you are showing the breed you need to know it. At the same time if you are the judge, it is also your responsibility to know what is required of each breed. If the breed only requires the front, you should not be digging around in the dog's mouth and looking for more than what is called for in the standard. I have seen judges that upset the exhibit and the exhibitor when they go looking deeper and some dogs especially puppies don't handle it well.
Showing the bite to the judge is very much routine to most seasoned veterans but amazingly there are still a lot of people that don't do it properly. Along with knowing what is called for you need to remember you are showing the bite to the judge and not yourself, get your head out of the way, and make it easy for the judge to examine it.
If you are a new exhibitor or a seasoned veteran start when they are young, so they learn it's no big deal. I know many people don't like visiting the dentist and having them dig around in our mouths, but we do it anyway. Your dog is no different and just needs to learn it is not going to kill him.
Ramps and Tables:
I must admit I am a huge fan of the Ramp and wish many more breeds would start to use it. I am 6’1” tall and there are many times when I feel the exhibit being examined is a little intimidated by this tall stranger coming over him or her.
Currently, 8 breeds must be judged on a ramp, and another 25 that are considered "Ramp Optional" breeds. I simply do not understand why many more breeds are not ramped optional. So many more breeds would look better during examination by being on a ramp.
When most of us train and evaluate our young puppies, we usually start with stacking them on the grooming table or the training blocks. They learn to stand still this way and if it were to continue in the ring as they grow, I think many exhibits would stand better and not make the examination process as difficult as possible. Another plus is it brings the dog up to a height that is easier to examine for the judge and can often give him or her a better perspective on the exhibit being examined. The dog is only on the ramp for a few seconds so I cannot see why it is not an advantage.
When a dog is judged on a ramp or a table it is also easier on the judges that bend over a significant number of times during a day’s judging and that does take a toll on their backs and other body parts.
One thing I would remind exhibitors when setting up their dog on a table or ramp. You should set your dog as close to the front of the table or ramp and as close to the judge's side of the table so that it is in the perfect place for the judge to examine it without having to reach back or across the table or ramp to examine it. I know it's easier for you to set it close to you but remember you want the judge to be able to give it the best examination possible.
Ramps are a great resource, let us use them more.
Those darn toenails?
As a breeder and exhibitor, I know that maintaining a dog's nails can be an ongoing battle with some dogs. Some people use Grinders while others use the clip or cut tools. Most of us start the nail care process with our puppies when they are just a few days to a few weeks old. When we do them regularly, usually once a week it is a simple and quick process that most of our dogs tolerate easily. However, when you do not maintain a schedule, you will end up in a battle with some of the more difficult dogs.
I find that in most breeds people are very good about maintaining nice, clean, short nails. Doberman exhibitors in particular are excellent when it comes to maintaining a dog's nails. Yet, in any case, some exhibitors allow a dog's nails to grow so long you can hear them clicking on the matting as they are moved in the ring. Some are so long that they start to look like talons on a bird of prey.
Can you imagine how painful it must be for the dogs when their nails are not maintained? Imagine if you let your toenails grow several inches past the end of your toes. They would most naturally push up against your shoes and back into your toes causing you great pain. Think about your dog and take the time each week to maintain their nails. As a judge when I see long nails and hear them clicking on the mat the message, I receive is that the exhibitor is not taking care of the exhibit and is not concerned with overall health and conditioning. There is much more to presenting your dog than a bath and good grooming. Clean teeth, short nails, and proper exercise to keep the athletic body toned is a huge part of your overall presentation.
All dog owners even those that never show need to learn to maintain their dog's nails. I know we spend time with each puppy buyer at the time of pick up to be sure they know how to grind or clip nails and tell them it is an important part of the care of their new puppy. We also state that keeping nails short will stop scratching up their floors and carpets.
Too many shows?
There will always be a debate with regards to the question, are there too many shows?
This past weekend I had the pleasure to judge for the Clarksville Tennessee Kennel Club at a small two-day event being held in their local community. It was a very nice small show with a large number of not only owner-handlers but a large group of fairly local exhibitors. The entry was on the small side probably in part because there were also 14 other shows being held on the same weekend throughout the country with several within a 5 to 6-hour drive of the Clarksville location.
The average entry at these 14 shows was around 800 dogs with Clarksville being the smallest with 417 and Baltimore County the largest with 1300. Six of these were part of clusters of three or four days with the other 8 being two-day local shows. These smaller local clubs that stay home in their territory would truly benefit from being able to offer three days to their exhibitors. By lowering their cost per day expenses and catering to their local area it could be the difference between profit and loss for these clubs.
Except for a very few handlers I find most exhibitors and judges would prefer to have more of the two and three-day models as opposed to the big 4-5 day and longer circuits.
Summer shows and venues:
We are getting into the heart of the summer and numerous outdoor show seasons. Remember it is very important to keep yourself hydrated as well as your dogs. It is during this time of year when we hear of heatstroke and other tragedies to people and dogs. Be prepared and be sure to carry extra fans, Ice, Water, and other items to keep your dogs as well as yourself cared for.
Clubs need to be sure to have proper tenting and ventilation, as well as an emergency plan, should threatening weather show up unexpectedly.
Have a safe, and successful summer of shows.
For as long as dog shows and any other event that uses Judges has been around the officials have always been and I am sure will always be the target of criticism from participants and observers. There are no questions that when the human element of interpretation is involved, there will be numerous views both in favor of as well as opposed to the decisions made by the adjudicating official.
In our world of conformation dog shows the trend of complaining about judging seems to be on the rise. Could it be that the multiple changes to the "System" over the years have destroyed the credibility of today's judges?
For many years Len Brumby was the sole decision-maker in the approval and advancement of judges. That would be a flawed system today but back in the day, that's the way it was.
The judging approval system has changed many times since 1985 when I applied for my first breeds. In my opinion, many of these changes have not been made to produce better judges but to appease those wanting to judge and advance through the system.
Let’s just take a look at the changes made over the years.
When I was applying in the mid-1980s the requirements were a minimum of ten active years in the sport with the applicant producing at least three Champions as a breeder. You were required to have judged numerous "B" matches and have ring stewarded a significant number of times. You had to take a "closed book" test with an AKC field rep monitoring the test, a passing grade of at least 70% was required, and getting wrong any questions on the breed's disqualifications was an automatic fail. As it still is today you had a private interview with the field rep usually off show grounds at the hotel the field rep was staying at and usually a day or two before the beginning of the show weekend most often on a Friday. If you were fortunate enough to pass the test and get through the interview a few months later you would be notified that you had been approved on a "provisional" basis. You then had to get at least 5 assignments with dogs present before you could request regular status and be eligible for additional breeds.
It is also important to note that "solicitation" of assignments was prohibited. You could not get on the internet or make phone calls looking for assignments you were at the mercy of show-giving clubs providing you with the opportunity to officiate. These invitations often did not take place until you were "published" in the AKC Gazette. A process that usually took a few months.
After the completion of your provisional assignments and your approval to regular status, you were permitted to apply for additional breeds under the one-for-one, two-for-two system. This meant if you had been approved for one breed you could only apply for one breed. If you had two you could request two. This was the system 3 for 3, 4 for 4, and so on. As you can see it was a very, very slow and tedious process. As new judges, we were observed by the field reps just as judges are today. Observations were for the quality of judging, judging procedure, and maintaining a timely schedule.
Much like today's judges, we would have preferred to advance at a slightly faster pace but those were the parameters at the time. It was not uncommon for a new judge that had aspirations to judge a full group taking 5-10 years to accomplish the task.
Later AKC added a "Hands-On" test to the procedure. In that case, a group of 8 dogs from a specific breed would be placed in front of the applicant to sort and place and then explain his choices to the panel scoring him or her. The panel consisted of a breeder judge, an all arounder judge, and one AKC field representative. The panel would grade the applicant and those with a passing score would then be considered for the breed while those that failed would be denied the breed.
Although these systems were slow, tedious, and made the process difficult they did produce judges that were forced to put in the time to learn the proper type and significant differences in the breeds as they progressed through the system.
Later changes allowed for applicants to apply for up to 8 breeds in an application, and if they had “Exceeds Expectations” in their field reports they could ask for a few more.
Eventually, the closed books and private interviews off-site gave way to "Open Book" testing on the internet, interviews at the shows, and the elimination of the hands-on tests. Also, applicants needed to attend seminars, get mentoring, judge sweepstakes, matches, or special groups to gain experience before applying.
There were other cases where the AKC made "exceptions" for people they felt should be advanced faster. There were also phases where written essays on the breed were another part of the application process. The term "provisional" was replaced by the term "permit judge" and the requirement was three assignments. If no actual dogs were present a few more assignments were required. Then even if dogs were not present the judge could apply for more breeds.
Today the system is broken. A judge approved for their initial bred can now apply for up to 16 additional breeds on the next application. It is hard to fathom a judge going from one breed to 16 new breeds and knowing all of the different specifics of the additional breeds based on the limited experience of their initial breed.
What all of these changes have done is exacerbate the quality of judging at the expense of the exhibitors.
The early system though slow made the judges learn and understand the new breeds and what made them unique. You might say judging dogs is not rocket science or as difficult as being a heart surgeon. But, would you be correct? A Heart surgeon or a doctor of any type knows that the human body is essentially the same for everybody, The heart, lungs, legs, eyes, etc. are the same in every person except for those rare individuals that have some form of abnormality.
However, when it comes to judging dogs every breed has unique characteristics that separate it from its' other canine companions.
We also know that the standards for some breeds are more detailed and comprehensive than others. Knowing and applying the various standards to the exhibits in front of them is what judging should be all about. We need judges that know and understand this. Otherwise, we get a bunch of people doing basic generic judging.
It is also known that the AKC does not treat everyone as equals and has always made exceptions for different people for various reasons. We know there have been scandals and those that have skirted the rules and still advanced while others were slowed down or held back for personal bias on the part of AKC employees.
We have people judging today that have probably never whelped a litter or even ever been in the ring as an exhibitor. These individuals used handlers to raise, show, and often whelp their litters. Breeding, raising, conditioning, and exhibiting dogs takes a lot of time, work, and dedication. It is not for the faint of heart. Each process is part of the learning journey that prepares you to stand in the middle of the ring where you need to honestly evaluate the dogs in front of you. A judge needs to always keep in mind that the exhibits are not just an entry but also someone's pet. All exhibits regardless of quality need to be evaluated on a level playing field. As an exhibitor we all want the judge to be fair and knowledgeable but also provide equal time and consideration to all dogs in the ring. If you have never experienced the feeling of loss when you should have won or won when you know you did not deserve it you will never be fair or impartial.
The AKC puts out the guidelines for judges and behavior and such. Why do they need to do this? You can not legislate INTEGRITY. There will always be cheaters, and those that are dishonest or have some type of agenda. Those people are in the minority.
But when it comes to the judges, they are not all equal. There are true dog people with an eye for a dog and many years of experience to call on in applying the standards for each breed. On most occasions, these individuals will do a better job than the person that is just looking to advance so they will be "marketable" for clubs wanting judges to adjudicate multiple groups to cover the entire circuit.
The AKC has multiple "Field Representatives" that currently "evaluate" judges' performance. My question is what makes in most cases these people "experts" on all breeds? Most were never AKC-approved judges. Some bring personal bias with them and do not treat every judge the same. Also, If the AKC feels comfortable in granting a person the breeds to judge why do they need to evaluate them? I have no problem with a newer judge being observed for procedure and timeliness but If the AKC felt they were qualified to be granted the breed why do they need to be observed? The fancy will do the evaluation, good judges will continue to get entries and the others will get a reputation, and eventually, they will fade away. Those that are crooked are also well known but truly are few in numbers.
In my opinion, the system needs work. I would recommend that for the initial process we go back to closed-book testing, better background checks, and the very slow process of one for one, two for two, and so on. Although it is a slow process it produces better-prepared judges. For those that say it is too slow maybe they should not wait until they are in their 60's to decide to judge and then expect to have2-4 groups in a couple of years.
After a judge has earned the first group make them eligible for up to ½ of the next group. Reduce the number of boxes to check, hopefully, they have proved themselves. If they have not done a good job or have been the recipients of multiple complaints don't let them progress until they have been proved proficient.
After a judge has a combination of three or more groups and at least 10 years of judging experience grant them an entire group either with seminar participation or completing the course through the canine college. Again if there are a lot of complaints just stop them and tell them they can choose to be observed several times before applying again and if the observations are good they can proceed. If this were to occur I would recommend the observation be done by another AKC judge on an anonymous assignment.
Judging is a privilege and not a right. Poor judges hurt the sport, discourage exhibitors, and create problems. The AKC must advance the best and slow down those that are not prepared or just can't get it right as well as those that cheat the system.
Common sense is that we all know the system will never be perfect. But we owe it to the exhibitors, the sport, and especially the breeds themselves to provide them with judges that are knowledgeable, fair, and adjudicate with integrity.
I know we live in a world of instant gratification and entitlement, but we have an obligation to make sure we place qualified people in the middle of the ring. It is time the AKC corrects the mistakes in the current judging system. Just because someone is nice, courteous, and smiles a lot does not mean they are qualified. Knowledge, Experience, and Integrity should be the standard for advancement not just the checking of boxes.
Just my opinion.
Westminster, "There's only one!".
There is nothing quite like the magic of Westminster.
This year marks the 146th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Established in 1877, Westminster as we all know is the second-longest continuing sporting event in the country second only to the Famed Run for the Roses, Kentucky Derby.
Televised every year since 1948 it is the longest-running nationally televised dog show.
As a spectator, Exhibitor, or Judge there is nothing like the magic of Westminster. Probably the most famous dog show in the world. (I am sure the UK would argue that Crufts is more well known, but I would beg to differ). When you attend the show usually referred to as “the Garden” you feel the magic as soon as you pass through the doors. One of the last remnants of the “Bench Shows” of the past you can meet and greet the dogs, owners, and breeders in the benching areas and spend a great deal of time just talking dogs in a setting no longer found at most shows.
The Westminster Kennel Club is dedicated to making this event not only the Greatest Dog Show on Earth but also one of safety for both the dogs and the public. Several years ago when they realized that safely being able to continue accommodating the dogs, handlers, and the spectators at Madison Square Garden was no longer practical. The club made a few adjustments and moved the breed judging to the Piers. The move allowed for larger breed rings, plenty of room for benching and the public as well as room for spectators to sit outside the rings to watch the highly competitive breed judging. They also added Agility and Obedience to the weekend before the conformation show and they have become popular additions to the event as well as the television audience.
The Groups, Best In Show, and Junior Showmanship finals are still held at the world-famous Madison Square Garden and the stands are filled to the rafters as people at the Garden and the huge worldwide television audience watch with great anticipation the work up to the eventual winner of Best in Show.
Through the years I have had the pleasure to not only exhibit but also to judge at the event and I can tell you it is a very special place full of history and great stories from the past.
Judging a group at the Garden is an experience like no other. You are standing in the middle of the most famous sports venue in the world with a packed house and millions of television viewers watching your every move. In front of you stands possibly the strongest lineup of breed winners in the group that you may ever experience. It is an incredible experience to sort through them in a timely and efficient manner as you also need to be aware of the time situations of Television. After the examination, you will make "the cut" of the eight or so dogs you have narrowed down to knowing that unfortunately there are still plenty more outstanding exhibits that are of the highest quality. You will move your final bunch one more time and then you will choose those four that on that night you feel deserve the top awards.
Winning the group at the Garden can be a career starter for some dogs and a retirement ending for others. Any award won at Westminster is a historical win that will be cherished and remembered forever.
If the past two years have taught us anything it has shown us that nothing is set in stone and change can happen at any time. Here we are on the verge of the longest continuous and most famous dog show event in the world and for the second year in a row, it will not be held on the second week of February.
The 146th Annual Westminster Kennel Club week was set to start on Saturday, January 22nd with the Masters' Agility Preliminaries and Championship.
However, on December 29th the word was handed down that this years’ event will again be postponed to a later date due to the latest Covid-19 surge.
The future date and site are yet to be determined but you can be sure that the people involved at the Westminster Kennel Club will be sure it fits with the tradition and pageantry befitting the event.
The Westminster Kennel Club goes above and beyond to make sure everyone, Exhibitors, Spectators, and Judges are treated with class and hospitality second to none. If you are a lover of the sport of dogs and have never attended Westminster you need to add it to your bucket list. The entire experience of Westminster as well as the bright lights of New York and the Empire State Building lit up in the Westminster colors is a trip from which memories are made.
I was fortunate enough to judge in the December Holiday season at two clusters held at what I would consider Exceptional Sites.
First, I was on the judging panel for the Greater Clark County Kennel Clubs shows held in Vancouver, Washington. Karen Burgess and her outstanding club members hold back to back weekends at the fantastic Clark County Fairgrounds Complex in Ridgefield, Washington. The first weekend is devoted exclusively to performance events, while the second hosts their annual conformation cluster.
What a superb entry they had for the Performance and Companion weekend. Entries in Obedience and Rally alone totaled 797 with an additional 174 in Farm Dog Certification, 1077 in Scent work, and over 110 in Temperament testing. They also had Trick Dog, CGC, Urban CGC, Agility, Two 4-6 month Puppy Conformation events, Four open Shows, and two sanctioned "B" matches. What an amazing performance weekend that could only be done with all the hard-working volunteers and again an exceptional facility.
I arrived on Thursday at the wonderful Heathman Lodge in Vancouver. As soon as you enter the Lobby you are part of the magic of Christmas as the rustic Lodge was decorated to the nines for the Holidays. The wonderful rooms and excellent restaurant are worth the trip alone.
The three-day conformation shows with entries of about 1500 per day were also fantastic and in theme with the season. The rings were very large which made the judging very enjoyable as the exhibitors and dogs had plenty of room to show their charges to their best advantage.
The shows this year were held under the Governor's mandate, so all exhibitors had to have proof of vaccination or a 72-hour negative Covid test to enter the building. Everyone was required to wear a mask and my understanding is that the full mask mandate is still in effect for the entire State and if caught non-complying in a public area you could be fined up to $1000.
The December Shows of the Greater Clark County KC are among my favorites as they are filled with fun activities. They have the annual ugly Christmas sweater contest and you never know what else might pop up like a surprise birthday party or some other special activity. The exhibitors in the Northwest take the weekend's festivities to a new level with so many wonderful costumes and holiday attire being worn by hundreds of exhibitors during the shows. We had Elves, Pixies, and everything in between, and it was refreshing and full of great sportsmanship as well. Karen and her team outdid themselves as this was their first-weekend post-Covid restrictions and they went the extra mile.
I made it home from Oregon on Sunday night and left early Monday morning heading to Orlando for my assignments at the Orlando Cluster, The Space Coast Kennel Club on Tuesday, Brevard Kennel Club on Wednesday, The Central Florida Kennel Club on Thursday, and the added pleasure of the Old English Sheepdog Club of America, Southern Regional Specialty.
Linda Rowell was the cluster chair and did her usual superb job in making sure all of the I’s were dotted and T’s crossed. Linda along with other show chairs Glenda Stephenson and Leslie Kovacs had full plates with entries between 4,000 and 4,700 dogs each day. The amount of work, planning, and attention to detail are very demanding when putting together shows of this magnitude. The Volunteer efforts of these people are truly not given the attention and appreciation it truly deserves.
The Orlando Convention Center is a one-of-a-kind facility, massive with room for everything. The facility is the epitome of show sites. Wonderful Large rings, exceptional lighting, plenty of grooming space, wide aisles, numerous seminar rooms, and just about everything you could ask for in a site.
The depth of quality in almost every breed was superb. I had full days of judging all three days and the very large class of specials in most breeds made for a very enjoyable opportunity to sort through some exceptional exhibits. The groups were extremely deep in quality and it was great to see a diverse group of dogs placed in them each day.
The highlight of the week for me was the OESCA specialty. Since OES was my original breed I still carry a great passion for the breed and huge respect for the breeders, owners, and exhibitors of this wonderful breed. I had a great entry of over 50 OES and the quality was exceptional from top to bottom.
There were so many wonderful dogs presented properly and especially groomed the way an OES should be. I saw very few excessively groomed and sculpted dogs and was thrilled with my Best of Breed winner as well as my other winners and those receiving awards of merit. What a fantastic lineup of specials. My only regret was not having more AOM’s to give out. My Thanks to Tammy Benson, Show Chair as well as committee members Elizabeth Fujikawa, Karen Burdash, Jim Caplan, Gigi Goesling, Aubrey Schuer, and Cheryl Tavares for the privilege to officiate.
Although both clusters required the wearing of masks, the judges, volunteers, and exhibitors seem to have accepted the fact that in some cases these mask mandates will still be with us. Getting back on track and returning to a somewhat normal show schedule seems to be trend as we move into 2022. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we are back to a somewhat normal situation.
2021 for me was an exciting year. Life is slowly returning to I guess what is now to be considered normal. Carol and I were able to finish a couple of dogs, Attend and judge several shows and finally have the opportunity to see old friends. For me, the Highlight of the year came on October 16th when I had the honor to walk my daughter Julie (a former junior handler) down the aisle to Marry Mr. Candler Hobbs. It was a special day full of great memories for both Carol and me.
It is my sincerest hope that in 2022 we will see our country get back on the right track and that everyone in the sport of purebred dogs will enjoy great health and success.
*The Westminster Dog Show will be held on June 18-22, 2022
SHOWSIGHT magazine has reached an amazing milestone with its 30th Anniversary this month. In honor of the celebration, I look back at various milestones and how they may change our lives, our legacies, and our sport.
It is hard to believe that we are already 21 years into the 21st century. It does not seem all that long ago that Y2K was a huge issue where people were worried about computer crashes, world economies, and the possible destruction of all things controlled by technology.
As one of the post-war baby boomers, I can honestly say that the world we live in has undergone so many changes that it does not resemble the America of my youth.
Whether it be our lives, our families, our jobs, and even our sports and hobbies the inevitability of change has been a constant. Do you ever look back at those moments in your life that most would consider a milestone moment?
They might include your first day of kindergarten, High School, Your first date, first Kiss. First serious relationship, Your high school prom, a sports moment, College graduation, marriage, and so many other significant moments in your life.
Each one of us has a unique story. We are born into this world with no control over the circumstances in which we arrive. We are dependent upon our parents, our siblings, our extended families, the teachers, friends, mentors, and so many others as we grow and develop into the person we are today.
For many, the circumstances in which we are raised have a profound effect on our adult lives. Some are born and raised in poverty, some in the average two-parent middle-class American home, while others are fortunate to be born and raised in the comfort of certain privileges that many will never have. Some will survive broken homes, physical and mental abuse, a variety of religious and political upbringings. Many will come from loving two-parent homes, some from single-parent or split families, and yet everyone will have moments or milestones both good and bad that mold them over the years.
As I mentioned earlier change is the one constant in life. In my youth, I don't remember very many of my friends coming from divorced families. In comparison, the average length of a marriage in the world today is a little over 8 years and only 7% of marriages will last 50 years. Also, our life spans have increased over the years. During the 1970s the average life span was 67 years whereas today the average life span for men is 77 and 81 for women. In the past, it was common to work and retire from the same company you worked for through most of your adult life. Today the average employee tenure is 4.2 years and most people will change jobs over 12 times in their lifetime.
Just like everything in life our sport also is undergoing constant change. Part of the charm of our great sport of pure-bred dogs is the truly unique diversity that all of us participants bring to the table.
What other hobby, profession, or competition can you think of that has such a diverse group of participants? We have all ages, all races, all religions, diverse sexual orientations, every political view, people with average incomes, and those with great resources. A variety of breeders, owners, and exhibitors from newcomers to professionals and everything in between. Our participants come from all walks of life with a variety of backgrounds as well as a sport that exist throughout the world made up of people dedicated to man's best friend.
Through my nearly five decades in this sport, I can honestly say my involvement has opened me to people, places, experiences, and relationships that I would have never thought possible in my youth.
The sport also brought Carol into my life and we are about to celebrate 38 happy years of marriage. Even after all these years, we both share in our love of the dogs, breeding, showing, and judging together.
Rumor has it that the average length of involvement in our sport is between three and five years so I guess just surviving all of these years is a milestone in itself.
Reflecting on my journey I have had many milestones. Like many in our sport, I started with a "pet quality" puppy bought from a newspaper advertisement. Little did I know that my little Old English Sheepdog puppy would change my life.
Her name was Ginger and like most newbies, I did not have clue about raising, grooming, and training a puppy. Fortunately, I met a man while walking her one day. His name was John Tacejko and he was a member of the Western Reserve Kennel Club, The Old English Sheepdog Club of America, as well as a founding member of the Western Reserve Old English Sheepdog Club. All clubs of which I would eventually join and learn a great deal from. John invited me to a club “fun day” where I met other OES owners that were wonderful about helping me and teaching me how to groom etc.
Eventually, I went to my first sanctioned "B" match and I still have the first ribbon I ever won from that match. I went to many matches that were very available in those days and learned how to show and groom and practice my handling skills for the show ring. Unfortunately, it did not take me long to realize that Ginger was not a show dog but I had already been bit by the bug. So I began to search for a “show prospect”. While I pursued a real “show dog” Irma Dixon of the Cleveland All-Breed training club encouraged me to train Ginger for an obedience title. Back in those days, very few OES competed in obedience so I took on her challenge to get her trained so she could compete at the OESCA national specialty in obedience the following year. I earned the first two legs toward her CD that winter and then waited until the National Specialty where I was fortunate to qualify with a third-place to complete her CD.
As I pursued my show dog I went through the heartbreak of two puppies that had dysplasia before I was able to Obtain my first Champion from Ken and Paula Leach. His name was Cheerio Olde English Jester. Jester finished at the Greater Portland OES specialty and together we enjoyed a good competitive career in the Old Working group.
When I think back there were many milestones moments. First Ribbon, First sanctioned match Best of Breed and group placement. The first leg in Obedience, first obedience title, first conformation points, first champion, first group placement, and so on.
Since those early days, each of my dogs, litters, and different breeds has provided a milestone moment along the way.
In the early 1970s, there was no internet, cell phones, or trophies for just participating, everything you got was earned. The only way to learn and to succeed was to do your research through various books and publications or by observing and learning from mentors in the breed willing to help.
Joining those clubs previously mentioned was also a huge source of knowledgeable people that were generous in sharing and encouraging anyone wanting to learn.
I have many fond memories of talking OES as well as other breeds in general with people I met through the clubs and at the shows. In OES Cass Moulton-Arble, Ken Kopin, Hugh and Linda Jordon, Ken and Paula Leach, Anna Jacobsen and others as well as such notables as Max Riddle, Lina Basquette, Frank Oberstar, Sam Pizzino, David Parker, Tommy Glassford, Bob, and Ellen Fetter, and Bob Stein just to mention a few. I learned a lot from these people and so many others. We learned from these the people and judges at the shows. We would have dinner with the judges and they would share their experience and knowledge and no one ever questioned the integrity of the judges because of it.
We had many great learning experiences but we also had our share of issues, tensions, jealousies, and occasional rifts. However, in those days there was a lot more respect given to the judges as well as our fellow exhibitors. Everyone knew it took hard work and dedication, and if you were willing to pay your dues eventually success would come.
I can remember the Late Tommy Oelschlager with his Siberian Huskies and me with my OES talking about how cool it would be to earn a group 3 or 4 at the shows. Lina Basquette with her Great Danes and Tommy Glassford with a Samoyed of the Hritzo’s dominated the groups in our area back in those days.
Over the years the sport has changed a great deal. During the 1970s Ric Rutledge started a little black and white newspaper called the “Canine Chronicle” it was way different than what we have today but was a current publication and probably the first that was devoted exclusively to "show dogs". Popular Dogs and the AKC Gazette were out there but Ric was the first to showcase dogs currently being shown.
In the years since that first black and white publication, there have been numerous others that have come and gone on the show scene.
It was 30 years ago this month that SHOWSIGHT came on the scene and it has continued to grow into possibly the best publication on our sport. Through the years SHOWSIGHT has been the one magazine that tries to bring its readers up-to-date information in our ever-changing world of pure-bred dogs. AJ and his staff work hard to bring information to the masses about individual breeds with informative articles on subjects ranging from anatomy, structure, and gait to those about each specific breed including topics such as how to judge the breed, interviews with successful breeders, in-depth information on how breeds have changed, the current show scene, selections dedicated to the various groups, owner -handlers, and spotlighting Junior Showmanship. Recaps and photos of shows and just about everything related to our sport both past and present.
For 30 years SHOWSIGHT has been there for all of the highs and the lows in the sport while covering the continued evolution of our sport as it takes place.
Do you realize that 30 years ago we did not have the Grand Champion Program or the Owner Handler series?
Even if you personally don’t like them there is no doubt that they have been good for the sport. By adding the various levels to the Grand Champion Titles many exhibitors that might have simply quit showing now continue to exhibit in pursuit of higher levels. In some cases, exhibitors live in an area that has restrictions on the number of dogs they may have on their premises. So some may have faded away or may have had to wait for their older dogs to pass on before getting another. Although I come from a time when no one thought twice about the owner vs the professional handlers the NOHS seems to be growing and for some exhibitors, it is a deciding factor on whether or not to attend some of the shows. Many of these individuals take the program seriously and work hard to achieve a top owner-handler ranking in their respective breeds.
30 years ago we only had conformation, obedience, and field trials. Here we are today with AKC titles available in Agility, Lure Coursing, Scent Work, Herding, Dock Diving, Therapy, Farm Dog, CGC, Trick Dogs, and a variety of other competitions. Looking at today’s dog in the catalog or a pedigree you will see an alphabet soup of letters both before and after the dog’s name signifying all of the titles they have earned.
Thinking back to the mid-1990s when I started the St. Jude Showcase of Dogs in Memphis, Tennessee part of our mission was to show the public everything they could do with their dogs. I would like to think the success of that event was instrumental in the AKC adopting many of those competitions into their organization. When you look at the AKC/Royal Canin show the entire concept is a replica of the 16 highly successful years the event had along with contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Through that event therapy programs were developed at the hospital and today therapy dogs are a big part of our society.
Look at the growth of “Take the Lead” over the past 30 years and the difference that organization has made in the lives of many in our sport that has dealt with difficult times.
During the past 30 years, the landscape of the breeds themselves has changed. In my breed the Vizsla we have grown in popularity and competition from one of the lower entry breeds into one in which in some areas our point scale is higher than Dobermans and Boxers. At the same time, there has been a huge decline in what I call hard work required breeds. Those with coats demanding work and dedication. Thirty years ago Irish Setters, Afghans, Old English Sheepdogs, Bearded Collies, and others would garner entries over 35-50 regularly, now at many shows, they rarely even reach double-digit entries.
Even the Terrier Group once full of high quality and sizeable entries have seen a huge decline in entries. It is probably because of the demanding effort needed to condition and maintain the coats for competition.
The numbers of breeds continue to increase. The Herding group itself has grown from the initial 16 breeds to 31 breeds today. Every group has seen some type of growth over the past three decades and the AKC continues to add more new breeds to the registry.
Over the past 30 years, we have lost many ICONS of the sport, yet there have always been highly competent individuals to step up and fill those roles.
Unfortunately, over the past 30 years, we have seen a huge decline in the "true" dog men and women involved in our sport. Nowhere has this more evident than within the ranks of today’s judges. The number of individuals approved not only as breed judges but as multiple group judges has grown in leaps and bounds. This meteoric rise in the ranks has also unfortunately brought about a dilution of talent in the quality of today’s judging.
The American Kennel Club has made many changes over the years but in some circles, the perception of our shows and officials has deteriorated. Disgruntled exhibitors are often complaining about many of our judges. As a result, the AKC is trying to legislate integrity with rules and guidelines for judges that in my opinion are not necessary but are being done to give credibility to the complaints from unhappy exhibitors that find it easier to find fault with judges and handlers rather than taking a good long look at what they are exhibiting. Back when I started in the sport, you did not complain about the judges you just got better dogs and did not show to those you thought lacked integrity.
As mentioned change is constant and will be forever. With each change, there will be those that approve while others will be dragged along kicking and screaming. Hopefully, change will provide new opportunities for milestone moments to cherish and remember.
What does the future of our sport look like? I don’t think any of us knows. Since Covid, we have seen more issues with clubs, show facilities, a decrease in the reliability of show superintendents, Virtual competitions for titles, and numerous other issues.
For our sport to succeed we need to find ways to satisfy the needs of clubs, exhibitors, breeders, and judges. These needs must be satisfied in a practical, economical, and safe way for both humans and canines. It may be time for the American Kennel Club to look into a change within the ByLaws to update the over 100-year-old model into one that fits the 21st century and beyond.
SHOWSIGHT has been here for 30 years and hopefully, AJ and everyone at SHOWSIGHT will be here in 2031 to reach another milestone. Congratulations to SHOWSIGHT and the staff for continuing to meet and exceed the needs of our ever-changing sport.
In closing, I hope each person in our sport can reach those goals and milestones they look forward to with their version of Man’s Best Friend.
Writing for Showsight magazine has given me a unique opportunity to share some of my thoughts and insights into our sport. With nearly 50 years of involvement, it would be foolish of me or anyone else to believe that these views are always right on the money or even agreed with by the fancy. Rather, they are just one person’s observations and opinions and if used correctly may lead to constructive conversations between fanciers to help maintain and improve our sport.
So often in our everyday lives, we run into situations where our computers, cell phones, Televisions and so many of our other devices go a little haywire. When this happens we can usually just shut them off, or unplug them, plug them back in, and hit the restart button to get them up and functioning properly again. Have you ever wondered if maybe our world of conformation dog shows is a little haywire also? If you do, what are some of the ways you think might put us back on track and bring new families and exhibitors into the sport?
As I pondered this question I tried to look back into the history of AKC dog shows and the changes and developments experienced over the years. The initial purpose of our dog shows was and should still be today the evaluation of breeding stock. In the early history of the sport, it was generally the domain of people of significant wealth and resources. These individuals maintained large kennels of breeding stock, had kennel managers, and often special handlers to exhibit their stock in competition. In those days there were a very limited number of shows with great distances in between. For most exhibitors, to attend them a great deal of travel often by train or other means was necessary to compete. It is safe to say that in the early days the average American family could not afford to even think of competing with these people and most would not have even had the resources to purchase a pure-bred dog.
Historically speaking, the ending of World War II began a period of great and growing prosperity in our country. The Post War Baby Boom and the expansion of the middle class changed America into a booming country with a great economy and unlimited potential growth. People from the middle class were now moving to the suburbs, buying their own homes, and gaining access to things that might not have been available to them in the past. Moving from a city apartment to a suburban home with a yard and other amenities not available in the former rental properties of most allowed many families to add the family dog to their households. Pure-bred dogs with AKC “papers” were now affordable and AKC registrations were the equivalent of the good housekeeping seal of approval in those days.
As we moved into the 1960s’ and beyond the average family saw that their disposable income was increasing and they could now join in activities that were not available to them in the past.
Some of these people with AKC pure-bred dogs would learn about the world of pure-bred AKC dog shows and many slowly migrated into our competitions. The average family liked the concept that our sport was a family sport that allowed people of all ages to come together and meet and compete on the same level. The fact that almost all shows were held on weekends made it even more attractive because after a week at work they could look forward to the family going together to enjoy the competition and friendships that were developed at the shows.
As most of you know in those days shows were one-day events and were always held in the local clubs' geographic area. Clubs were allowed to hold two shows per year but not on the same weekend. Neighboring clubs in the same general geographic area would often team up to provide two shows on the same weekend to offer a minimum driving distance between shows on the same weekend. Most of the clubs would split their two shows into some combination of Spring and Fall or Summer and Winter. These arrangements meant that on at least two weekends per year the communities in which the shows were held would have an opportunity for the residents to come out and be introduced to the various breeds as well as the sport itself.
Because all the shows were held on the weekends working people and children could still go to their jobs or school and be able to show dogs on the weekends. In many cases depending upon the show's location families would leave early Saturday morning, exhibit their charges and move to the Sunday show grounds following groups and Best in Show. Between shows, most families would stay at a hotel and spend the evening with friends, have dinner together and discuss their breeds and the like while the children would play together, swim, or practice with their dogs for the following day's show.
In those days there were still plenty of professional handlers but I think it is safe to say the majority of exhibitors were breeders or owners.
With most breeds competition was fierce but also friendly as most people only exhibited at the shows in their general geographic area so often the competition was amongst the same people and dogs regularly. During these days exhibitors and Judges alike would get together to talk and share their thoughts and ideas. Judges and exhibitors having dinner together were not seen as a conflict of interest but rather an opportunity to share information and learn from one another.
As it is today winning was important but since you were often competing with the same people regularly it was always important to get along and respect and support one another. Back in those days, the goals were to go Winners Dog, Winners Bitch, or Best of Breed, and if you were lucky enough to place in the group that was just icing on the cake.
Over the next few decades just as our country grew so did the number of local clubs and the offering of an increased number of opportunities to compete in a geographic area. For example, I lived in Ohio and there were numerous clubs within a two-hour drive of most major cities so it was rather easy and affordable to attend shows and compete regularly without breaking the family budget.
During the 1970s' inflation began to get out of control, gas prices were rising, and even gasoline shortages were becoming a common occurrence. The result was the cost of showing was also rising as were the growing costs to the clubs to put on a show. At some point, the AKC decided they would allow clubs to "cluster" together at a common site. The thinking made sense as the clubs could share the expenses of judges, show sites, and other items like the cost of tenting and other things needed to put on a show. Also by allowing clubs to stay on the same site the exhibitors would not have the burden of packing up and driving to a new location after the Saturday show.
The two days at one site shows were successful and the AKC then decided that when there was an "EXCEPTIONAL" site available they would consider allowing up to 4 shows to be held over 4 consecutive days at that one site as long as the participating clubs remained within 125 miles of their geographically designated area.
Depending upon your viewpoint it was the expansion of clusters that in my humble opinion have created a decline in our sport. Since the initial introduction of the 4-day cluster the term "Exceptional Site" has fallen away and now it is rare to see the two-day show weekend in most cases.
The cost factors of combining clubs into clusters is a major factor in the reasoning. However, what is the overall cost factor to sport and the average exhibitor?
When clubs combine for clusters it is usually with the anticipation of higher entries, lowered cost of judges because of sharing for 4-5 days, lower overall site rental, and other economic factors.
In some cases, things work out, and the above hold. In other cases, club leadership changes and animosity grows between the clubs and sometimes leads to a cluster break up. Also, if we are being honest the majority of sites now being used do not fit in the category of “Exceptional”.
These clusters often come at the expense of the average American family. While In the past they could work and go to school during the week while looking forward to the upcoming weekend of shows possibly within a short drive from home. With the growth of long clusters many no longer attend because they are a greater distance from home, they can’t get off work, extra hotel nights, meals, and other expenses that no longer fit the average family's budget.
In some cases, the cost of a cluster is felt even deeper by the exhibitor because most clubs try to fill their panels with judges that are approved for between 4 and 7 groups so they can cover the entire cluster. Many of the same judges are then frequently used over and over again while other highly qualified judges are not considered because they may only be able to cover two or three days of the cluster.
Since the expansion of clusters into 4 and 5 day weekends the average exhibitor numbers are declining and the ranks of the professional handler have exploded. For those working-class people with disposable income, they now hire handlers to show their dogs. Almost all of today's handlers now have huge expensive RV's and the clubs must have a facility that can park these large rigs. It is not uncommon to have anywhere from 50 to 150 of these big rigs at today's shows and when you add in the vans, SUVs, and regular auto parking this alone can be the main concern in finding suitable sites.
We have always had and we will still have a growing number of disgruntled exhibitors but the cry today that is the loudest is the one "The professionals always win". While there will always be the case where the charge might be warranted, the reality is the professionals are showing a large percentage of the dogs at any show and in many cases, their grooming, conditioning, ability to hire assistants and handling skills can often be better than the average exhibitor.
So by now, you might be wondering where am I going with all of this?
I honestly believe there is a better way for our sport and our local clubs to not only survive but thrive in the future.
We live in a huge Country divided into 50 states as well as Washington D.C. I decided to look a little deeper into various opportunities for our show-giving clubs.
According to the AKC website, there are about 720 All Breed Clubs in the United States. The three states with the fewest number of clubs were Delaware, along with North and South Dakota with 2 clubs each. The state with the most clubs was California with 71. There were also only two states home to over 40 clubs and they were Texas at 41 and New York at 45.
Looking further we only have 10 states plus Washington D.C. that are home to 5 or fewer clubs. Along with the aforementioned Delaware, and North and South Dakota, Utah, Alaska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wyoming fit in this category
We have eleven states with between 6 and 10 clubs and they are Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, West Virginia, Maine, and New Mexico
Between 11 and 15 clubs call these states home; Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Tennessee.
This means that over 60% of our country has a total of 249 clubs which equates to just 34% of all show-giving clubs with an average of about 8 clubs per state.
There are 8 states with between 16 and 20 all-breed clubs, they are Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey, North Carolina, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Missouri
Michigan, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin fill out the next group with 21 to 25 all-breed clubs.
Illinois boasts 28 clubs While Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida have between 30 and 40 clubs in their respective states
Looking closer at the numbers, more than 60% of our country has an average of about 8 clubs per state. Looking back before clusters that would have meant about 16 occasions (8 clubs X 2 shows)where the local geographic area would have hosted an event exposing our sport to the locals and providing shows within easy driving distance for the people that live in those states.
Since having been a show as well as a cluster chair I understand the advantages of multiple days and the reduced cost of facilities as well as the economic benefits they bring. However, I would propose that AKC take a good look at the cluster situation moving forward and consider the following.
In those cases where the all breed club is also an AKC member club and that they hold the show in their home territory, the club be granted three shows on the same weekend.
The Benefits: The club does not need to work or interact with another club. They can still save money by the ability to hire judges for 3 days cutting daily expense fees. The facility costs for the third day are usually lower cutting the overall cost. Also by staying in their home territory they give the area a full weekend of exposure to our sport in that community which may bring new interest and members to the club and the sport.
The concept allows the average family the opportunity of a shorter commute to most shows while it is also easier for someone to get off 1 day on the weekend from school or work than it would be for two or more.
Using the average 8 clubs in states it would mean that on at least 8 weekends per year there would be shows in that particular state. In many cases, it would mean an average of at least one weekend a month. This would allow the average exhibitor between 24 and 36 shows in a given year without even leaving their respective state.
I go a little deeper and use high population states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, there are 104 clubs combined in those states for an average of 34 per state. This would translate into there being on average 3 weekends per month for shows within those states with a possibility of up to 102 shows in a year without the exhibitor again leaving their home state.
Of course, New York, Texas, and California with their huge population and numbers of clubs would have even more opportunities.
Each of us that show dogs also knows that our general show area moves into adjoining states so the opportunity for more shows near the average household would be greater.
I am not advocating the total end of large clusters. What I am suggesting is that the cluster is limited to those sites that are "Truly Exceptional". We know those sites are extremely rare and usually only exist in larger cities with huge convention centers and similar facilities. Those types of facilities also provide an opportunity for a huge spectator attendance that does not exist at most of our present cluster sites.
I recently attended a 4-day cluster that while walking through some areas of the RV's the smell of urine and other unsanitary conditions was a reminder of how the health of the dogs themselves can be compromised.
The Health and welfare of our dogs as well as our exhibitors need to be a priority over the desire for the monetary gains of the AKC, the show-giving clubs, and the professional handlers. We need to get back to the basics.
There is no doubt in my mind that if given the choice most all-breed clubs would embrace the idea of a three-day weekend in their territory. Those clubs could have a weekend that the local community looked forward to each year. Clubs could use the Friday show to invite schools, nursing homes, and other civic organizations to attend and be introduced to the various breeds and all of the things AKC dogs have to offer. Having an entire three-day weekend might allow for local businesses or other groups to assist the clubs with sponsorship funding because they might see the economic impact the shows have on the community.
These are just my insights, suggestions, and opinions. What do you think?
When deciding on entering a show do the venue and location factor in your choice?
For most exhibitors, the judging panel plays a great deal in factoring into the choice of what upcoming shows to enter. But what are some of the other issues that play in that decision-making?
Venues play a significant role for fans of Sports, Theatre, Concerts, and a variety of things of human interest. One can look back thousands of years to the great coliseum in Rome where gladiators and other events were put on to entertain the citizens of the times. Just recently the lower levels of the historic structure were made available to visitors allowing them to see some of the conditions as well amazing technology that went into the magnificent structure.
Athletes and fans of the most popular sports have certain stadiums and arenas that they love to perform in or witness a game at. For dog lovers, Madison Square Garden in New York is not only home to the world-famous Westminster Kennel Club but it also has been the location for a multitude of other major events such as NBA and NCAA Basketball, Numerous Championships in Boxing, and other sports, Concerts, The Circus and I have no idea on the total number of different events held at the historic building. The lower inside hallways have numerous photos hanging depicting many of the great historic events held there through the years.
I imagine that for most Boston Fans Historic Fenway Park and the Old Boston Garden hold a special place in their memories for games they may have had the opportunity to attend in their youth or their journey through life.
For a Chicago Cubs fan, it is Wrigley Field, A Cincinnatti Reds fan may miss Old Crosley Field, a New Yorker loves Yankee Stadium, The Rose, and Cotton Bowl stadiums are rich with history, The great Horseshoe Stadium in Columbus, Ohio home of the Ohio State Buckeyes. For some, it may be those newer structures, Camden Yards in Baltimore, AT&T stadium (Jerry's World) in Dallas, Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and of course the Old (8th wonder of the world) and New Houston Astrodome.
Moviegoers, Fans of the Opera, and Broadway plays all have special places that they enjoy going to often to experience the joy that is enhanced by watching or participating at their favorite venue.
So how do we as dog show exhibitors, Judges, and enthusiasts feel about the various venues we share in our country?
Throughout our history as a sport, numerous changes have always been a part of the equation. When I started in the sport all shows were one-day events that with very few exceptions meant you would pack up and move to the show being held the next day at a different location and venue. Amazingly almost all shows in those days had entries of 1000 to 1500 dogs and rarely did shows go past 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. (makes you wonder why now it seems 6:00 to 8:00 in the evening is the norm with lower entries?)
In those days the majority of shows held from Spring until late Fall were held outdoors at Fairgrounds under tents or in various livestock buildings. One of my favorite weekends was the old Ravenna and Chagrin (Western Reserve KC) weekend in Ohio with huge entries, spacious rings, and the wonderful Sunday show at the Polo Field. In the winter Western Reserve Played host to the Christmas Classic shows held for years at the downtown convention center and later at the Huge IX center near the airport. These shows were some of the largest in the country with 3,000 or more dogs regularly. More recently the Palm Springs January shows at the polo field, The week of shows at the spacious Orlando Convention center, The large shows in Louisville and Houston stand out as shows where the venue can accommodate not only large entries but offer large rings and a huge spectator following.
Over the years as both an Exhibitor and Judge I have experienced a wide variety of venues both indoors and outdoors. I do believe that a venue can often have a direct or indirect result on the success of various exhibits at the shows. First, the size and layout of the venue dictate the available space for rings, available grooming areas, the width of aisles, parking, vendors, and numerous other things. In my humble opinion, the size of the rings in which we exhibit is too often dictated by the size of the venue.
For those exhibitors of Sporting, Hound, Working, Herding, and a few other of the larger breeds small rings truly hurt the overall performance of many of the dogs. The AKC mandates a minimum of 40' X40' for ring size and while this is adequate for Toys, Terriers, and most Non-Sporting breeds it is not sufficient for most other breeds. Add in large classes and it can also be a safety hazard.
In small rings, a well-put-together dog barely takes a few steps before he is cutting corners and running into the dog in front of him. For the handler, it means usually keeping a tight grip on their charge to be able to control him in the limited space. Go watch German Shepherds sometimes in a 40' x 40' ring and tell me how a judge can truly and objectively evaluate the breed.
Small rings hurt the good moving dogs and can often help those straighter in the shoulder and rear angulation as they can look balanced and under control while the dogs needing a larger ring never really get a chance to "Move Out" at an effortless speed on a loose lead.
As an exhibitor, I love outdoor shows because there are usually large rings and I love to see dogs in natural sunlight. Of course, good weather always helps.
Without considering the judging panel what are some of the pros and cons of the various types of available venues?
When showing indoors we have safety from adverse weather conditions. No worry about rain. Snow, Storms, and if they have a great heating and cooling system the building will be comfortable. Most sites also have plenty of electricity which helps those with certain grooming needs.
Some of the cons; In many buildings, everything is crammed, the rings are usually smaller, the grooming areas jam-packed (or there is an extra charge for reserved grooming space), Often the aisles outside the rings are crowded with chairs and spectators creating an area ripe with opportunities for a dog fight by those not carefully watching their dog. You need to unload and move your vehicle. Some of these are on dirt floor horse arenas in which you breathe in dust and dirt all weekend long. Some lack good lighting and proper ventilation and in the case of cold weather, some lack proper heating for the building. As previously mentioned some of these buildings are Fantastic and provide large rings, good lighting, and all the things that make a show great, but these sites are in the minority.
Outdoor shows also have a range of plusses and minuses. First, almost all have much larger rings, a more festive and relaxed environment. Most have plenty of parking for RV's and other vehicles which allows exhibitors to groom at their parking spot with their pop-ups, ex pens, and a place to tailgate, relax, socialize, and even cookout. Outdoors the natural lighting is great and many dogs shine under the sun. The outdoor show also has its own set of drawbacks. A lack of proper tenting or cover can be a safety issue especially in the case of extreme weather be it heat, rain, wind, and everything in between. Some locales have great level ground, short well kept, and maintained grass while others can be a field of weeds and holes or hills which can make a ring unsafe. Tent Poles can get in the way as can an occasional tree sitting in the middle of a ring. If the weather turns bad rings can become a muddy mess and if the grass is not cut properly short-legged breeds may have difficulty looking their best.
There is no doubt that we have many excellent indoor as well as outdoor venues in our country. We also have numerous locations that meet average needs and unfortunately some that are less than ideal.
In today's world, many clubs are limited as to the facilities that are available to them. However, for many years before the advent of large clusters, these clubs found workable venues in their hometowns to put on good shows and share the world of pure-bred dogs with friends and others in their community at least twice a year. Those small-town venues were a nice change of pace as opposed to today's shows with certain locations being used on numerous weekends throughout the year depriving the small towns of many clubs the opportunity to keep the show home.
I think any club that hosts a show as well as the AKC needs to look closer at our venues to ensure that the size of the rings can handle large breeds and large entries. Can you imagine what would happen if a stadium wasn't large enough for a regulation area for a football, baseball, basketball, or hockey game? Do you think the leagues, players, and fans, would support or play there?
We need to take a closer look at our venues and the AKC needs to review the size of ring requirements. Even though a 40' x40' ring meets the minimum standard are we being fair in our evaluations of the breeds and exhibitors of larger breeds? the safety of everyone in a crowded ring should also be a consideration.
I admire the hard-working volunteers of every show-giving club. Putting on a show is not an easy undertaking. All clubs have a variety of obstacles to overcome from working members to financial costs, to available facilities, workable dates, and competition from other shows. These people work hard to plan, schedule, and layout their shows. Keeping all of that in mind the clubs and the AKC must consider the needs of the exhibitors. They must provide venues that are safe and large enough to satisfy their exhibitors. Smaller venues still need to provide for proper ring sizes even if it means lowering the limit on the size of the entry.
Even though we don’t live in a perfect world we can adjust to meet the needs of the fancy. When planning your show your question should not be how many rings can we fit in this building? Rather it should ask the question, using a combination of various sized rings how many good rings can we provide our exhibitors?
Another possibility might be our building is not ideal but is there another site that might work better?
Making our show sites user-friendly and safe for our exhibitors will keep them coming back for many years. What do you think?
A man by all accounts has always had a way to preserve his history. From carvings on cave walls to scrolls, drawings, paintings, photographs, and other objects man has always found a way tokeep a record of his history in our ever-changing and developing world.
As human beings, everyone has some type of recorded history from the cradle to the grave. For most of us, it started at birth when that first photograph of the day we were born was taken. Our life in pictures was often followed by numerous other firsts in our lives. The first steps, first birthday, the first day of school, annual school pictures, certain religious ceremonies, Kindergarten, Elementary, High School, and college graduation. The first dance, the proms, engagements, weddings, and all of the special events in our lives. Preserving our memories has always been a great and valuable part of life. Most of us enjoy sitting down occasionally to view the old photos from our youth, our parents, and our many friends and family from years gone by. Each photo is a captured moment in time that can reignite significant memories from our life.
For those of us born during the twentieth century, these memories vary greatly. During our youth, old-fashioned cameras that used film were used to record those moments. When you took a picture it sat captured on the film until the whole roll had been shot. Eventually, the film was sent to the lab to be developed. This process usually took a few days to a week, and you just hoped that the pictures came out well. If it was moving pictures you wanted they were done on 8mm cameras which were fairly expensive and most people did not own one. Eventually, in the late 1970s and early 1980s video cameras that used VHS or BETA tape were developed and you could now record and preserve those moments almost in an instant. Those early video cameras were large and bulky but you were now able to record all of those special moments in life as home movies.
In the early days' photographs were only taken in black and white and with progress eventually color photos came on the scene. In all cases, you saw the actual photo as it was taken. There were no do-overs and you could not see the pictures until they were developed. Kodak was a huge company back in the day and was known as the best for film, cameras, and developing film.
As with many things technology improved and now you will find it difficult to even find film for your old cameras. Kodak is no longer a giant in the industry and digital and cell phones have taken over the photo industry. Photo and video technologies are available instantly for the majority of people. Today, people use their cell phones to record or photograph almost everything. Preserving every event in our lives is now very inexpensive and fills a lot of memory on our computers and devices. Many people no longer print and save those pictures in the old photo albums that we used to have to hold and store them. Many of us old-timers have numerous volumes of our own or those that were passed down to us to store and cherish those memories of days gone by.
Those memories are precious and bring great enjoyment to so many of us. It is also true that in the sport of purebred dogs photographs have a long and storied history of preserving the past as well as the present.
One of the most overlooked but very much involved people at any dog show is the official photographer. These individuals play a vital role in each show as well as in the preservation of memories for many owners, breeders, and exhibitors in our sport.
It is the official photographer that takes those win photos which so many of us save to preserve a recorded history of our successes in the show ring.
Dog show photographers can vary greatly in experience, knowledge, and ability. They must learn the different breeds so that they can capture them at their best. A good photographer needs to know what the proper stack is, does the breed standard specify how the ears are to be held? and does it need to show expression? what is called for in the toplines and tails, and so on? Their job is to try to make the exhibit look it's very best.
For many years these talented people also used that film that was previously mentioned. They did not have the luxury to be able to look at the photos until they were developed. So for many years even though the majority of their shots were wonderful it was not uncommon for there to be a dud now and then because of a split-second movement that spoiled the picture. Back in those days, you would receive proofs in the mail for you to review and order the picture you wanted. In most cases, there were usually two shots to choose from because as mentioned earlier the high cost of film and development did not allow for unlimited shots of the win.
Many of today's photographers go back to those days of old film and development. These are the men and women that truly developed the eye for the best picture of the dog. For a show photographer producing high-quality photos was the only way to succeed in the business. In those days photos were mostly taken in the ring and the wonderful backdrops we see today were not present. Likewise, the lighting and conditions affected the outcome. There was not the ability to crop, lighten and darken photos like we have today. What they shot is what you got for better or worse.
Today technology has become a great asset in the dog show photography world. Digital cameras allow today's photographers to take numerous shots and to review them instantly to see that everything looks as it should. If it doesn’t they can take another while the judge, the dog, and the handler are still present. Technology whether you see it as good or bad also allows them to do this thing called "PhotoShop". They can make corrections to the sign if something was forgotten, they can crop and enhance the colors and make little adjustments to make the dog look its best. Some of these people are even very good at eliminating a tongue hanging out helping to fix a topline or altering little things to make the photo perfect.
They also can send the owners either printed or digital copies of the wins which can be used in advertisements or just as additions to our recorded history of each dog to be preserved forever in print or the cloud.
As a breeder, owner, and exhibitor I cherish many of these win photos and have books and books of them. They are wonderful memories of the dogs we have loved and lost as well as of those special wins that keep us coming back.
Although in today’s world we can all take instant photos or videos of our dogs in the ring it is only the official photographer that is allowed to take those official win photos at the shows. Exhibitors need to respect these individuals and their profession. You should not stand behind the photographer and try to take the same shot with your cell phone. When you do that you are violating copyright laws and could be subject to lawsuits from the photographer. Almost every premium list the show photographer and prints that only the official photographer can take the official win pictures. Just like any other professional these people bring value to the dog show world and have been doing it for a very long time.
Most show photographers are very warm and considerate people that are trying very hard to provide the exhibitor with the best possible picture of their wins. These people are patient individuals that are supplying you with a service. Their time, equipment, and investment in their business need to be respected. When you request a winning photo you are taking up the time of the judge as well as that of the photographer and his expertise. You should never take a photo if you have no intention of purchasing it.
Some people think that a judge will be offended if they don’t request a photo. As a judge of over 35 years, I can tell you that is not the case. If a judge is offended because you did not take a photo shame on him or her. Photos are wonderful memories but as we all know they cost money and if an exhibitor chooses not to take a photo of each win that should not matter to the judge. Every exhibitor does not have an unlimited budget and each one has their reason to choose to have a photo taken or not.
Remember that the official photographer is there for you. The knowledge, experience, and high-quality equipment they use will give you great memories to preserve for all time.
Preserve your memories they are the history of your journey
Over the past few years, a great deal of change has taken place in the dog show world. The National Owner Handler Series has been added to many shows and is growing every day. Covid-19 hit our country causing the cancellation of thousands of events. Following the resumption of shows, we have seen many new protocols put into place such as the wearing of masks, social distancing, a change in ring procedures, judges now not only marking their books but also pulling and handing out their ribbons. The groups being divided into sections to allow for social distancing. The return to various outdoor/indoor undercover venues and due to the reduction in the number of shows a significant entry increase for many of the shows throughout the country.
All of these changes have had a huge impact on the running of shows. Most shows start judging at 8:00 in the morning and in many cases, Best in Show is not being completed until 7:00 to 8:00 at night. Currently, Judges are limited to only 175 dogs per day but with many doing regular and owner-handler groups today's judges may be judging between 200-275 per day. For many judges that can be anywhere from 8 to 11 hours a day standing, bending over, and judging. Those of us that do judge know it is not only a physical but also a mentally demanding day. Calculate it over a three to four-day period and it is truly strenuous. Following the show, the judges barely have time to shower, eat dinner and review their standards for the next day before they grab a few hours of sleep and are back at it the next day.
While exhibitors and handlers have breaks during the day judges are lucky to get 45 minutes for lunch and also must take time during the day to squeeze in photos for the winners. When you factor in such things as cold, hot, windy, or rainy weather or dirt floor venues, muddy grounds and the like Judges are extremely tolerant and hardworking individuals that do their very best to keep things moving and running on time.
The show superintendents try to do a good job with the schedules but following the AKC and social distancing guidelines make our shows run longer and longer. Almost everyone at the shows feels that shows keep running much later than any time in the past.
Since it appears that a complete return to the way it used to be will not happen I would like to share some suggestions for speeding up shows as well as creating a safer healthier procedure for judges.
1. If judges are expected to also judge several groups each day it is time to reduce the number of dogs per day to 150 Max a day. Allowing for the standard 25 dogs per hour expectation and a 45-minute lunch it would mean no groups would need to start any later than 2:45 each day.
2. When judging the group the judge should not have to reexamine any dog that he judges earlier in the day. (exceptions could be made for televised events) After all, I don’t think anyone of us has ever seen a dog lose his teeth, misplace his testicles, go oversize or gain that much weight between the breed and the group.
3. Look at changing the after-lunch judging schedules to one with no breaks. Hopefully by lunch time the judge should have judged about 100 of his/her 150 daily limit. Often because of absentees and the like, a judge might have a 15-20 minute break between segments as they are currently scheduled and then the last segments are full and the judge is pushed to be finished in a hurry to not hold up the groups. With only 50 or so dogs left after lunch no break should be needed.
4. The four to six puppy classes are a wonderful opportunity for new puppies and new exhibitors to gain experience. In most cases, there are only 1-4 exhibits, and each breed with most usually only having one. Why not eliminate the breed competition and bring in all puppies in that particular group and judge them all as one group with 4 placements. You would still have 7 group winners plus miscellaneous but all the puppies would have a great opportunity to be in the ring for a longer period and it would cut down on the time and paperwork under the current system.
5. Rather than having the Owner-Handler groups follow the regular groups Start them earlier before the regular group. The order would not need to be the same and it would avoid delays because of judging conflicts. All too often the Owner-Handler Best follows the regular Best in Show and most people leave and no one is left to cheer on the owner-handler group winners.
6. Many Owner-Handlers feel like second-class citizen's. All clubs should be required to at least provide the same size ribbons and rosettes that are given to the regular group and Best in Show winners.
7. If a club offers Owner-Handler competition they should not also be allowed to offer Best Bred-By Exhibitor groups or veteran groups these take up a great deal of time and can be confusing during the day's judging.
8. The time has come to recognize that using ramps for the judging of many breeds would be a safer and better way for judges to examine numerous breeds. A large towering judge can be a little overwhelming to some of the younger entries in many breeds. It is also a safer and more secure way to examine these breeds.
I believe we will see some reduction in the total number of shows in the future and I also think we will continue to have some shows and circuits where the entry will be larger than we have seen recently.
I also understand the economics of putting on a show and the cost of judges, ribbons, Venues, Stewards, and the many other things that go to putting on a show. However, if managed properly it can be done cost effectively.
We are also obligated to give the exhibitor a judge that is not physically or mentally exhausted because they are judging 250 plus dogs per day under various conditions.
As I mentioned earlier these are just my thoughts. I have been judging since 1985 and have served as a show and cluster chairman on numerous occasions. I have listened to my fellow judges, the exhibitors, and the club members and in my opinion, we all want safe, efficient, high-quality shows that are completed in a timely matter. What do you think?