Archive for May 2010

Thoughts on a Judges association

May 19, 2010

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Bob Rushdon who gives tickets in Border Collies, has set up a new group on Facebook called Lets Start A Judges Club. In the space of about a week he has attracted over 500 members many of whom are beginning to post on the page. To start things off he says in the description: ‘This is a serious proposal. I am starting this group to gain interest and then will hold a meeting if sufficient people join. The objective is to improve the standard of judging and judges education in the UK.’ I think over 500 members is enough.
An early posted by Veronica Hull says, ‘what a great idea. Let’s try for a strong team of judges that fit the description of who knows what rather than who knows who – or am I just living in a dream world?’
There are many further posts most of which agree that the idea is a good one and I should say at the outset that I am certainly not against it. I think the greater the number of ways in which ideas are circulated the better and there is no doubt that the Internet and the Message Boards have been enormously influential in developing ideas and passing them around. It must be said that not all of those ideas are useful and helpful but people are entitled to their present opinions however strange they are and however widely they differ from our own so long as they are within the law,.
Of course, all the usual ideas are being put forward on the site and I was particularly pleased to see several people supporting the idea of Student Judges. This is an idea put forward by Catherine Sutton many years ago when she was on the Judges Sub-committee. I tried to revive it six years back but it was no more successful in catching the imagination then as it was when Catherine, a much more powerful and influential figure in the world of dogs that I am ever likely to be, was promoting it.
In fact, most of the ideas being put forward have long pedigrees themselves and it is interesting to see how many people recognise that education and training are essential elements in becoming a judge. In 1980, with the help of Les Crawley, Wendy Borer, Peter Larkin, and Pamela Cross-Stern, I launched the Judging Diploma which was taken up by many of those who wished to learn more about the principles of judging. Those that took this course all believed that it improved the way in which they assessed dogs in the ring (ask Robert Kiillick – he was a candidate on the very first one) and many of those people are still judging today. It was hard work but to achieve anything worthwhile is not easy. Over the years it has been overtaken by Breed Seminars and over the last ten years by the Kennel Club’s more active and positive role. Candidates still enrol for the Diploma though the Animal Care College I am pleased to say: perhaps they realise that to be able to correspond in detail with their highly respected and experienced tutor about the important theoretical and philosophical elements of judging (which I believe to be vital in developing a positive and fair attitude in the ring) as well as being introduced to a detailed procedure for analysing standards, is worth the time and the money. Unfortunately, these concepts have been abandoned by the Kennel Club Training Board in favour of what has become a’ quick fix, tick box’ solution based on numbers, seminar attendances and the sometimes biased opinions of those who are asked to comment while little attention is given to the broader experience of judges
Unfortunately, and for the same reasons, a lot of people (many of them well known within the world of dogs) chattering online, asking questions, making points about the necessity of balance and knowledgeable judging is unlikely to solve the problems which we currently face. Voters know what needs doing and politicians find it easy to set out the objectives but it is much more difficult to develop the framework and strategy required to ensure that those objectives are achieved. In fact I think it would be true to say that everyone would agree on the objectives as far a dog judging was concerned but most people will have a different view on the best road to get there.
What I hope this group comes up with is some really sensible, thoughtful, practical approaches to the training of judges that will be acceptable and effective. If you are skimming through this article please read that sentence again – it sums up precisely what is required. There is a very interesting book written many years ago by Robert Thouless called Straight and Crooked Thinking which analyses the way in which we should approach complex issues. If we look at this statement carefully it is difficult to challenge but immensely difficult to implement. Clearly we want an approach which is sensible, which is thoughtful and which is practical and I would ask you first whether it your solutions to a training package which fulfils those basic requirements would be acceptable to everybody you know within the world of dogs. I have been studying this problem for over thirty years: I know I am right (possibly) but do you agree with me? Probably not and others, whether they are exhibitors, judges, show administrators or the Kennel Club, will all have their own favoured solutions
And this is only the first half of the statement. When we begin to approach criteria which are ‘acceptable’ and ‘effective’ it becomes much more difficult. What would be ’acceptable’ is a procedure that is: simple to administer, easy to join, delivers the accolade of being allowed to award Challenge Certificates in a reasonable time and does not have the disappointment of failure. Unfortunately, as I’m sure you will immediately realise, although it would be perfectly easy to create a system that fulfils all those demands, the likelihood of it being ‘effective’ is very remote. Easy, cheap and uncomplicated are concepts diametrically opposed to the very demands that exhibitors make of judges i.e. that they should be knowledgeable, experienced, fair and unbiased – and award them first prize!
I am not the only commentator who has put forward their ideas on this matter regularly over many years and I know that none of us are arrogant enough to believe that we have all the answers. What I do know is that most of the people who put in their half penn’th tend to focus on the detail and not give enough attention to the broad structure. This cultural structure developed over 150 years and modified marginally and occasionally with a great deal of effort is like an ocean liner changing its direction or coming to a halt – it is a long and tedious manoeuvre. To give you just two examples, you only have to look at the bizarre wall of thoughtless discrimination against changing the seventy-five year rule which prevents judges taking on new breeds with tickets. It affects very few (not me, I have to say, just in case you think that I have an agenda here), could be changed by the stroke of a pen and would have a significant effect on those who have devoted much time to their breeds over many years but just have not had the invitation to judge in time. Similarly, our hobby/profession which requires enormous dedication and knowledge is the only job of which I am aware that you can be qualified for and not be able to apply for. What on earth is the objection to somebody who is appointed to an A3 List having fulfilled all the criteria required, not being able to apply for a licence to give Challenge Certificates through the normal channels even though they may not have an invitation?
I would also warn against what Jonathan Lynn (one of the writers of Yes Minister) has described as ‘institutional hypocrisy’. He says, and I agree, that it is embedded in our national psyche at every level and as far as we are concerned in the world of dogs is demonstrated more often than I care to remember. It occurs when people make public statements from the moral high ground and who, when faced with a situation which gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their impartiality, show themselves to be biased and/or prejudiced.
If Bob’s initiative can begin to address and solve these sorts of problems as well as some of the many others which are already posted on his group then I will be delighted. Very best of luck to you all and I will be pleased to join you when you make your formal protests to the Kennel Club and camp out on the pavement in Charges Street!