Radio Silence

Wow! I just realized that I haven’t posted anything in this blog for 3 years. I did get busy with other things and haven’t shown since RoRo finished her CH in early 2014, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still go to shows or have opinions.

This excerpt comes from a rant I shared with a very patient friend in Texas who was musing about the decline in dog show entries, and who was wondering whether our aging demographic was a factor. I include it here, since it seems I had something to say after all.

We are part of a graying sport —- no doubt about that. Some people are retiring from breeding, but the pool of volunteers available to help put on shows is also shrinking — and along with it, it seems that AKC is demanding that clubs do more and more to attract new people without offering much support for the shrinking populations of those same clubs. (They really just care about revenue streams, but they cloak their caring in all sorts of “novice-friendly” ways.) Small local shows are going the way of the dinosaur; clubs are now forced to cluster together in order to have enough people to keep things going, and at venues that aren’t local to most of the club members.

On the other end, we have lost many new members to Xbox; dog showing is just not as interesting to younger people nowadays, especially if they don’t have a chance to get exposed to the sport through 4H or junior showmanship. It takes a commitment from parents and from kids to find (or be) mentors, keep dogs in condition, and show lots of weekends in different places — as opposed to spending them at soccer, T-ball, dance lessons, etc.

Fewer people even want to go there these days. If they do, they want to do the fun sports, like agility, where your own performance determines whether you “win” —- you can get legs and finish titles without a placement, and the judging is more objective.

Not only that, but when a single entry costs upwards of $30, people are more selective with where that $30 goes than they did when entries were $10 or less. Everything costs more, so clubs would be hard pressed to cut entry fees in order to attract people —- and you don’t see AKC turning down its cut to help stimulate the local economy.

So many of the articles critiquing dog shows and the shrinking of the sport just fall short of understanding what’s really going on. “We have to be nicer to new people!”, the headlines proclaim. “Dog show people are so snobby/mean/insular.” The truth is that there aren’t that many new people coming into the sport to be nice to (or not) — see $30 and Xbox above. Do show people have attitude problems? Some do, but there are a-holes everywhere you look, not just at dog shows. Also, with fewer people to work at shows, the folks who would normally spend time with potential new members are so flat-out busy running the show and complying with AKC’s burden of mandates that few have leisure time to talk to those mythical newbies.

“Dog shows aren’t inclusive/fun enough! You don’t offer OB/rally/agility/whatever!” is another common complaint — again, not generally coming from people who are busy volunteering. The pools of volunteers for those events are likewise shrinking, and especially among members who not only do conformation, but also do OB/rally/whatever and who are willing to give up days of showing to help run those events. The more events AKC mandates, the more people are needed to keep things running at shows, and the “extras” (such as obedience) start falling by the wayside. (Do NOT get me started about the National Owner-Handler Series and the logistics of finding enough warm bodies to run it at small shows.)

I’m happy to report that our little local cluster show in May had a slight uptick in entries this year. We offer a 4-6 Puppy special event plus the usual Best BBE/Best Veteran-type attractions, and the Golden Retrievers hold a match on one day after Best In Show. We do attract new people, and some are even brave enough to inquire after club membership — but most of them fade away when they realize that putting on an event involves WORK. People are already busy, and many just can’t/won’t commit the time and energy to helping out instead of just having fun. This spreads the work among the existing volunteers, who eventually have to drop out due to age or burnout. It’s a vicious cycle.

Your Feedback is Needed!

The Dog Show Superintendents’ Association released a survey today asking what people think of the new Group Realignment proposed by the AKC. If you haven’t been following this story, AKC has been working since 2008 on this initiative. Basically, it splits the current 7 groups into 11 groups by subdividing the Hound, Working and Sporting Groups according to function, and then shuffling around some breeds to more closely fit their functions to the group descriptions. The Miscellaneous group would disappear entirely, and breeds currently in that group, or awaiting admission to it, would be assigned directly to the other groups.

For example, the Hound group would be divided into Sighthounds and Scenthounds. Looking at the proposed realigned groups by breed (current as of July 2011), the Scent Hounds look pretty much as they have, with the addition of the Treeing Tennessee Brindle. The Sight Hounds include some breeds that have been in FCI and/or CKC shows for years (the Azawakh and Sloughi), plus a new breed called the Cirnecco dell’Etna, or Sicilian Greyhound. The CdE is currently an AKC FSS (Foundation Stock Service) breed, and has been admitted to the current Miscellaneous Class this month.

Here in Beardie-land, the Herding Group remains largely unchanged. Some of the breeds that had been added to the Herding Group would be moved to other groups after realignment. We get to stay right where we are.

As with every change to the way dog shows are held, the repercussions reach farther than to just the name of the group you’re showing in. Remember that the change affects everyone from judges to hosting clubs to parent clubs to ring stewards. Speaking just as a humble ring steward and as a newly-minted Chief Steward who already has her work cut out for her finding enough warm bodies to cover seven rings every day… all I can do is cry “Uncle!”.

Not that these changes will show up right away. The implementation date for the realignment would occur in 2015 sometime.

(And, as with every change, we all know that the ultimate aim is to give more money to the AKC. We know their employees have to eat too, but geeeeez.)

With all the repercussions in mind, the DSSA survey attempts to capture the concerns of a wide variety of dog fanciers, from the ringside spectators to the handlers to the judges. They’d like to hear from you, too!

Take the survey here.

Background Reading

If you’d like to catch up on the proposal and how it affects your breed/group, here are some links to follow. All of these are PDF files from the AKC website.

So… What Do You Think?

What do you think of the Group Realignment? Will your breed be affected? Is your all-breed club prepared to cover the additional expense and need for warm bodies? Is your Judges’ Selection Committee tearing its collective hair out? Growth and change are inevitable, but that doesn’t mean that they’re always easy.

AKC Tries to Woo Back Owner/Handlers

I was never that great a handler, between lack of coordination and stage fright. My hat’s off to anyone who sticks with it.

MB-F once published statistics for 2008 and 2009 that show the percentages of wins that go to dogs with and without agents named at entry, and you can see that the majority of Winners and BOBs are awarded to dogs with no agent listed. The majorities change for Group Firsts and BIS, though. Although the class and breed win ratios look good for the agent-less dogs and the thesis is proved that judges don’t always put up handlers, the stats don’t distinguish between dogs who just don’t have their handlers named in the show catalog, and those being handled by their owners or other non-professionals.

You have to give AKC credit for trying, though. Between offering the 4-6 Month Puppy class and the Open Show to attract more AOH entries, AKC is hoping to get more owner-handlers out there with their puppies and class dogs. The idea is kind of nice: a lower-pressure environment where owner-handlers can just show their class dogs and compete only with other owner-handlers and their class dogs. Of course, the honors you can win at Open shows don’t count toward a real CH or GCH, so amateurs still have to get out there and compete with the professionals in order to finish their dogs. The Amateur Owner-Handler (AOH) class at AKC shows is still relatively new (it replaced Novice, which hardly anyone entered anyway), but in my time stewarding since it started, I have yet to see the AOH entry get the win where any other competition is involved.

AKC hasn’t given up on its hopes of getting more buckage from the non-professionals. Here is a blurb from the October AKC Board minutes describing the Best Owner/Handler. See Page 22, Attachment C. AKCommunicates! describes the Owner/Handler Series thusly:

AKC Owner/Handler Series

The AKC Owner/Handler Series will showcase owner handled dogs at well attended dog shows geographically distributed across the country. The AKC Owner/Handler competition will be conducted following Best of Breed judging in each breed ring. All dogs in the BOB competition (including WD & WB) will stay in the ring after the judge makes their placements in BOB competition. The ring steward will ask all professional handlers to leave the ring and then judge will then select the Best Owner Handler (BOH).

It sounds like a good enough idea, though as a ring steward I’m not thrilled about having one more thing to juggle at shows where we already have Puppy, Veteran, and BBE extravaganzas and their separate groups to judge. On the other hand, we adapted to awarding the Selects after only a couple of hiccups, so this is just one more thing we’ll have to keep track of (not to mention the entirely new sets of ribbons we’ll need for the 4-6 Puppies). As an owner-handler, you have to at least get Winners for consideration. There’s also that mention of “well attended dog shows.” I’m reasonably willing to bet that none of the shows north of Massachusetts will be deemed sufficiently “well attended” so that BOH can be offered. If you want encouragement, folks, be prepared to owner-handle at the Big E.

It’s nice to see that AKC still cares enough about revenues form owner-handlers that they’ll keep trying to get more of them back into the ring. I honestly hope that the experiment works. What do you think?

Vanna, Can I Buy a Title?

Sometimes I wonder whether I should rename the blog to What the Hell is AKC Doing Now?. I completely understand that having the organization lose money is a loss for all of us, but sometimes their desire to wring every possible dollar out of the dog-owning public is just so naked it’s embarrassing to watch.

Thus it is with the new AKC Therapy Dog (THD) title. For the price of your time and a mere $20, you too can buy a Therapy Dog title from AKC!

Please don’t get me wrong. Therapy dogs provide wonderful, valuable help and service to so many people, from shy kids struggling to read aloud to lonely seniors in nursing homes to hospital patients missing their own pets. Therapy work requires training, patience, and an unwavering commitment to helping improve others’ lives at the same day and time every single week, rain or shine, month after month after year. It’s something that I have always wanted to do, and have always been too short of reliable time slots — but as an AKC CGC evaluator, I’m always especially proud when one of “my” teams expresses a desire to go on to do therapy work. (I did look into becoming a TDI evaluator in order to help make therapy certification more available here in Maine. The organization quite rightly requires evaluators to do therapy work for a year first, even if you are a CGC tester already. This goes to the top of my “when I retire” list.) We need to have more therapy teams in the world, and any method that encourages people to engage in therapy work with their dogs is a Good Thing.

So what is my objection to the new THD title? For one thing, it marks a major departure from the way one normally earns an AKC title — at AKC events, with AKC sanctioning. Just because I do CPE agility and APDT rally doesn’t mean I can go back to AKC, wave those title certificates, and say “Hey, gimme one of those AKC titles. I have the papers to show I’ve earned one. Oh, and here’s $20.”

I don’t really even object to the fact that the THD is the first non-competitive title that AKC has ever offered. (I’ll get to CGC later.) What I do object to is the fact that AKC doesn’t really even oversee the earning of the title; that work is left to whichever organization certified the therapy team in the first place.  It’s not redundant to require that work toward an AKC title be done at an AKC event, even if it means liberalizing the interpretation of the term “event.” All AKC is doing for therapy teams is printing certificates and offering up titles for non-AKC activities — for a fee.

The Delta Society also certifies goats, llamas, rabbits, and other animals for pet-assisted therapy. If I give AKC $20, can my goat have a title? (Actually, no — unless I register it as a mixed breed first.)

CGC: So What Am I, Chopped Liver?

Where does this leave the CGC (Canine Good Citizen), the red-headed stepchild of AKC titles? Well, CGC is not exactly an official title — it’s a certificate. You’re not allowed to include it in your dog’s list of titles when entering AKC competition events, nor does the CGC appear on any of your dog’s other title certificates. Many — perhaps even most — of the therapy teams out there started with the CGC, but the record of that CGC is buried in another database far, far away from the “cool” AKC activities.

Despite its subterranean profile, you don’t get the CGC for nothing. Some people train on their own, and some enroll in CGC classes to learn the 10 exercises (all of which are part of the therapy certification programs as well). Both approaches require investments of time and money, and the exam costs extra for those people not enrolled in the training classes. If you pass, you have to send your evaluation sheet and $10 to AKC for your certificate. How about if we CGC graduates send AKC $20 so we can have titles too?

If AKC’s objection to legitimizing the CGC lies with the fact that they only get $10 per dog, then perhaps it could adopt a three-tiered program such as the UK Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Dog Training scheme. Dog/owner teams can work toward Bronze, Silver, or Gold levels of training, learning such valuable skills along the way as an emergency stop and “go to your place.” This approach ought to be good for at least $30, plus the opportunity to sell the associated swag.

Don’t even get me started on the amount of effort, love, time, and training that puppy raisers for programs such as NEADS and Guiding Eyes for the Blind put into their charges before the pups go on to lives as working service dogs. If those people and those puppies haven’t earned the right to recognition, could they please get a title of their own for $20? Better still, give them their certificates for free. They’re the only group for which success means having to give back the dog at the end.

Okay, we get it. AKC is changing its slogan from “We’re the Dogs’ Champion” to “We’re the Dollars’ Champion” — but at least be consistent about it, folks. Put something behind the sale of THD titles, or make titles easy enough for all of us to buy that we can get them at Big Lots, where they hang next to the AKC-branded Made-in-China dog treats and the AKC-branded Post-Its with the adhesive that doesn’t stick to anything. That, at least, would be the honest approach.

AKC Screws the Pooch

If you’ve been following dog shows and dog show news within the past few years, you’re already aware that show entries have been on the decline for quite a while. Numerous articles have been written exploring this subject, attempting to determine the main reason(s) for the decline: the floundering economy, onerous anti-dog laws being enacted, the aging of the dog-showing population, lack of interest on the part of juniors, rising entry prices and other costs, the disappearance of the small local dog show… All of these are true and valid reasons, but there haven’t been many articles discussing one of the larger and more disturbing reasons: AKC is so determined to make money at all costs that their core constituency — dog exhibitors and breeders — is no longer important to them. If they were a corporation, the trade press would be speculating when they planned to divest themselves of the conformation division, and whether they thought they could sell it for a profit.

I personally don’t have a big problem with AKC’s decision to allow mixed breeds in performance events, in spite of the fact that the decision contradicts AKC’s own position as overseer of the sport of purebred dogs. Plenty of mixed breeds compete in leagues such as NADAC agility and APDT rally, and the world hasn’t come to an end. What galled me at the time was that the constituency was asked its opinion after the decision was made, and it was evident that AKC would go on with the decision no matter what the member clubs said. If I were an owner of a purebred dog from a breed not recognized by the club, I’d be mighty pissed about now. Anyway, the decision is done, the events are opened, and welcome to the new exhibitors!

Don’t even get me started on the long-standing romance between AKC, high volume breeders, pet shop brokers, and so on. When the whole Petland proclamation backfired, AKC backtracked, fortified itself with a few cocktails from the Hunte Corporation’s table, and then quietly created the PRIME program in an attempt to woo back the breeders who went off to form their own bogus registries. What’s the PRIME program? It’s basically a double-secret discount on registrations for pet-store puppies. Pretty soon people can be as proud of their AKC registrations as they are of their registrations with the Continental Kennel Club.

As if that weren’t enough evidence of AKC’s waning interest in dog shows, the club has been creating rule after rule designed to ensure the extinction of the small local dog show. From piling on additonal educational requirements and rules to campaigning for clubs to advertise on AKC’s behalf in the local papers (at the clubs’ expense, of course) to ensuring that small clubs forced to cluster to save costs may not share the same volunteer show secretary, AKC has gone out of its way to make it harder to put on dog shows in the first place. They derive only a small part of their revenue from show entry fees and licensing fees, so they’ve made it evident that they won’t miss us when we’re gone.

Here, however, is the crowning glory of the whole sad scenario: AKC has decided to start killing off their Best in Show and group judges. It sounds innocent enough: they’ve decided to start charging each dog show judge an annual fee of $5 per breed. For the judges licensed in only one or a few breeds, this is no big whoop. Many already have day jobs, and they judge a few weekends a month. Provisional judges, eager to complete the requirements for the breeds they want to judge, pretty much pay their own way to their assignments — plus they don’t get paid.

However, consider the Best in Show judges, judges licensed to judge 151 breeds, or even just whole groups of breeds. Annual fees from them can run into the hundreds of dollars. This prospect makes the bean counters at AKC salivate like a cartoon doggie at the sight of a biscuit — THIS is where they can make some serious judging revenue. Never mind that many of the judges who have reached that echelon are elderly, living on fixed incomes, and derive no benefits from their part-time judging labors. Faced with the prospect of having to pay such huge fees to AKC, it’s likely that some judges will drop breeds they don’t judge often, refrain from picking up additional breeds that don’t fit the budget, or give up judging altogether. This scheme makes Wal-Mart’s treatment of its senior employees look benevolent in comparison.

You have to hand it to UKC President Wayne Cavanaugh. In the wake of this pronouncement by AKC, his statement reiterated how much UKC values its judges — and as a token of that club’s appreciation, UKC would send them badges and other small gifts. Coincidence? I don’t think so. On the page at the UKC site where this announcement appears, there’s a link reading, “If you’d like to become a UKC judge, click here.” In light of what AKC wants to do to its judges, who wouldn’t want to click there?

— Post From My iSomething

Memory Lane

Talkin’ ’bout