Making Changes in the Sport of Purebred Dogs

From "At Large: A Happy 2011," Dogs in Review, January 2011

Dogs in Review


The first shows of 2011 have not yet taken place as this is written, but handlers and owners everywhere are already polishing their charges for a new show season. With the country, and much of the world, in a recession that may or may not be ending soon, the question is what the new year will bring for the sport. Will show entries turn around and start increasing again? Will registrations continue to drop? Can the crisis that the judges’ education is in be resolved?

Final 2010 entry totals won’t be available from AKC until spring. Meanwhile, I compared the numbers for a few big show weekends over the past 10 years and found that entries, based on the available figures, peaked in the early or middle part of the decade, dropped towards the end, and increased again last year for at least half the shows I checked. That’s encouraging; we’ll see if the trend continues in 2011.

There are, of course, many things other than the economy that affect entries. Too many shows dilute the total, as demonstrated by the fact that AKC all-breed shows have kept shrinking slowly ever since the 1970s, at the same time as their number continues to grow. (The average all-breed dog show now has fewer than 900 dogs in competition, compared to over 1,200 in the late 1970s.) Everyone agrees we have too many shows, but nobody seems willing to sacrifice their local show — and until there’s a change we’ll continue to see a dilution in the value of show wins.

The other big factor that affects entries is, of course, the judges. Good judges attract big entries; it’s as simple as that. For the long-term survival of our sport, probably nothing is more important than that the most experienced dog people become dog judges. It’s pretty generally agreed that this is currently not the case, and that the system for approving dog judges is in need of a thorough fix. It should not require much in the way of formalities for someone to be allowed to judge a breed in which they have a long and distinguished background. And once they have judged this breed a few times in a satisfactory manner, it shouldn’t be difficult for them to become approved for more breeds. You might even expect those with the right credentials to be encouraged to expand their repertoire.

Trust me, that’s not the case — not yet, at any rate. There are lots of boxes to tick off, sheaves of paperwork to submit, interviews and tests to complete. The result, of course, is that many of those who have the best credentials don’t become judges at all, or stop applying for more breeds, while others (those whom Richard Beauchamp so aptly has described as both “young-in-experience and aggressive”) forge ahead.

Take heart, though. Dr. Robert D. Smith is heading a committee that’s in the process of revamping the judges’ education and approval process, with more emphasis placed on an applicant’s background in dogs. The committee members are some of the most experienced and respected in the sport, and I’m told that both AKC chairman Ron Menaker and the Board are behind them all the way. Watch this space for further developments.

All those of us who care about purebred dogs and dog shows have a vested interest in the American dog sport being the best it can possibly be. Many other countries look to us as leaders, and while we are certainly hard to beat in certain areas, we lag behind in others. Let’s hope that in 2011 we’ll manage to improve what’s already good and fix what’s not working.

P.S. As we go to press I am informed that the Kennel Club of Palm Springs in early January has received an entry of 3,534 dogs. That’s an increase of nearly 700 from last year and augurs well for the new show season.

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