Archive for April 2016

German Shepherds – Crufts 2016 was a low point for the breed

April 29, 2016

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

 

The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonourably – Julian Barnes

 

Finish Spitz are not known for being quiet and biddable.  They have a mind of their own: the Finns describe them itseppäinen (that is ‘stubborn’ if you are being polite and ‘bloody-minded’ if you are not).  The breed standard says that they should be ‘lively’ and they certainly are: standing still does not come naturally.  They are also expected to range in the Finnish forests searching for capercaillie (very similar to the black grouse we have in Scotland) travelling many miles well away from the hunter.  In fact, we were once walking with a Finnish breeder and, used to our own dogs going beyond the horizon if they were off the lead, complimented him on his youngster who was well-behaved and stayed close.  He told us he was going to sell it as a pet as it was not adventurous enough: he needed a dog that would go well out of sight and bark when it found a bird.

But they can be trained.  In recent years, as we have understood the breed better, our own dogs have been positively civilised.  They do not bark unnecessarily, they will ‘stay’ ‘come’ and we have no concerns when they are off the lead.  Although, that said, some owners do not train them as well as they might.

In Finland dogs are seldom shown as most owners are more interested in their hunting ability and not what they look like.  But when they have earned three working trials Challenge Certificates they appear in the show ring because to become a champion they are required to have at least a ‘Good’ grading at a championship show.  This does not mean that they are not beautiful examples of the breed.  Last year when judging at the Jyväskylä Championship Show in Finland, Angela found just such a dog and she suggested that he would do well in the UK and perhaps he should bring him over and show him at Crufts.

He did so and the dog got his first UK Challenge Certificate under breed specialist Lucy Byrne and was pulled out in the Group by one of our breed’s most respected all-round judges, Jeff Horswell.

 

One example among thousands

 

I tell this story because on the Thursday before Crufts this intelligent, working dog travelled in the hold of a Finnair jet, went through the performance of certification, injection and paperwork patiently and calmly, travelled to Birmingham, stayed in strange hotels, faced the inevitable noise and, for a dog at least, the chaos of Crufts without turning a hair.  He stood for the judge to go over, moved beautifully on the green carpet both in the breed ring and a huge noisy main ring, stood calmly for both judges without a care and certainly no visible signs of stress.

He is just one example of around 22,000 dogs which behaved impeccably over the four days of Crufts.  They and their owners are to be congratulated on having stable, well-behaved dogs which are all that the Kennel Club Good Citizen Scheme could desire.  On their benches and moving about the packed halls, they allowed any of 160,000 people, many of which were children, and their pushchairs, electric wheelchairs and tricycles to approach them, stroke them, bump into them without protest, complaint or objection.

Approaching this whole subject from a different direction I would draw your attention to the editorial in Our Dogs which appeared in the week of Crufts.  Our leader writer asked everyone to be ‘press aware’ and suggested that we should ‘enjoy Crufts to the full but without fuelling the hacks of Fleet Street with tales of woe, or threats or poisonings and let’s all think twice before leaping to the keyboard to have a go at this or that issue’.  This polite request was directed at the few thoughtless exhibitors who cannot resist passing on the latest, usually un-attributable, gossip.  In the event, I and many others were disappointed that at the top end of our sport several people who should certainly have known better, behaved in a way that provided the press with plenty of damaging ammunition without a journalist having to lift a finger.  The Kennel Club and breed clubs’ work of eight years since the debacle of Pedigree Dogs Exposed (and many years’ much less publicised efforts prior to that broadcast), was damaged in a few days by a handful of experienced exhibitors and judges who undermined the extraordinary success of every other aspect of the event with their thoughtless and covetous behaviour.

 

It matters not whether the rules were broken

 

Were rules broken?  It does not matter: common sense was rejected and disastrous decisions were taken with no thought for the consequences on what has been a gradually improving image of pedigree dogs in the UK.  I will say no more about the Gordon Setter whose lap of honour in the Group would have been cheered and recognised as an example of good sportsmanship. This writer is seldom lost for words but I was close to it and almost in tears as I watched the recorded coverage of the Pekingese struggling around the ring and the German Shepherd Dog in a state of near panic.  There really can be no excuse for putting any dogs through such trauma.  The Pekingese is a small dog and we can have some sympathy: the world of dogs could almost have got away with that but I am afraid that the ‘explanation’ from the GSD fraternity about the crowds, the carpet, that it was ‘fine in the breed ring’ (no it was not – the evidence is freely available on You Tube), and the ridiculous suggestion that one of our gentlest and thoughtful judges handled the dog roughly, exposed a degree of desperation which was shown to be ridiculous by the exceptional behaviour of almost every other dog that appeared in the group rings: almost all of them and their handlers coped brilliantly in precisely the same conditions.

Back in September 2014 the Kennel Club issued advice on the uses and abuses of social media and said: ‘Anyone judging at Kennel Club licensed events is warned that in certain circumstances the Kennel Club will refer inappropriate content to the Judges Sub-Committee for a review of status and future appointments.’  One wonders whether the decisions of the owners/handlers to bring these two dogs into the ring was itself ‘inappropriate’ perhaps even to the extent of bringing the world of dogs into disrepute.

Two, perhaps three years ago the Kennel Club brought together all the Pastoral Group Judges for a meeting at the Kennel Club Building at Stoneleigh for a seminar which tried to bring some understanding and consensus about German Shepherd Dogs.  Gary Gray and his team put together a number of excellent presentations and I sincerely hoped that some progress was being made to bring the extremes to at least some semblance of understanding if not actually together.  It was clearly a waste of time.  When the spine of any dog is not just bent but has an angle of  130° in the middle of its back (watch the slow motion coverage I am not exaggerating) and its rear pasterns are virtually flat on the floor at the extended trot, a breed must be considered a long way short of fit for purpose.  I am not for a moment suggesting that we should be returning to the ultra-long level backed dogs with the extended second thighs of the 50s and 60s but there must surely be a reasonable compromise which allows this breed, which should be so greatly admired, to return to its roots.

I have used this picture before but I have no hesitation in bringing it to your attention again.  This photograph was used as a frontispiece of a book published in Germany in the mid-1950s which at that time typified the correct type for German Shepherd Dogs.  The fact that it is German breeders who have distorted this lovely breed beyond recognition does not make it right or mean that we in the UK have to slavishly follow suit when what is happening is not in the best interests of the breed’s health.  I rest my case.

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The changing face of veterinary services

April 29, 2016

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. Yogi Berra (One of the US’ greatest baseball players)

 
If you have never watched Gogglebox on Channel 4 you have missed a real treat.  Now on Series 8, the programme allows us to look into the lives of ten families and couples sitting comfortably in their living rooms and watching real television programmes during the previous week.  Sections of the programmes play and then we see and hear the comments being made by various families and groups.  You could be forgiven for thinking when you first watch it that it is scripted but you are actually eavesdropping on real viewers and the whole show gives credence to the hackneyed phrase ‘you couldn’t make it up’.  The whole show is clever as well as funny.  I won’t spoil it for you but I must tell you that the various reactions to the Crufts Best in Show were absolutely hilarious.  It is well worth watching each week and you can catch the Crufts episode by going to the Channel 4 website, signing up and searching for Googlebox, Series 7, Episode 5.

What I have found fascinating is that in the programme, dogs are central to this cross-section of family groups, partnerships and friends.  What is more, most of them are pedigree dogs and are generally seen curled up on the sofas with their owners’ arms around them.  It is a reflection of a point I have made on several occasions: that dogs are woven into the cultural fabric of our society and despite all the efforts of the anti-dog lobby this is more true now than perhaps it has ever been.  This is borne out in a recent article in The Times Magazine which highlighted how much we spend on our pets, dogs accounting for by far the highest expenditure.  The article was triggered partly by recent surveys by Petplan and Direct Line where one finding was that 54% of owners treasured their pets more than their partners!

Nearly half of all households in Britain own one or more pets, with more people owning dogs than cats (8.5 million: 7.4 million).  The accuracy of these figures cannot be guaranteed although it may be that the new requirement as of April 1st that all dogs should be microchipped will eventually give us a more realistic estimate of the number of dogs.  But we do know that it is in the millions and this is reflected in the increasing size of the ‘spend’ on pet ownership.  Pets At Home has reported an income of £729 million for the year ending March 2015 and that was a 10% increase on the previous year.

The Veterinary Marketing Association?

What is more, we are prepared to spend a great deal more in keeping our dogs alive as technology and techniques to do so have improved.  Although many thousands of dogs continue to have a role which supports the work or activities of their owners or handlers, the vast majority are no longer hunters, trackers, herders or guards.  They are pets and, as Nick Henderson, former President of the Veterinary Marketing Association (that very title tells you something in itself) and co-founder of the BSAVA said in 2010, ‘Pets have become surrogate children to thousands, possibly millions around the world, we can give thanks that this is the case since without such sentiments small animal practice would be a quiet place indeed’.

Since then things have moved forward rapidly partly due to the advances in veterinary science and surgery.  In some ways, Nick Henderson suggests, the clinic provides an outlet for owners to ‘express their true devotion’ and practices are more than happy to suggest tests and procedures which would have been impossible just a few years ago.  Conditions which would have resulted in a dog being put to sleep because further help was impossible until quite recently can now be treated very effectively although, it must be said, often very expensively.

Dippydoodah, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, had a seizure and within days was under a general anaesthetic in an operating theatre having a brain tumour removed.  It was located with a state-of-the-art MRI scanner and two neurosurgeons, an anaesthetist and nurse were able to remove it before he returned home none the worse for his experience.  A year later, a further brain scan showed the tumour was starting to grow back again: this time it was suggested he should have targeted radiation therapy.  Almost every day for four weeks he had to be anaesthetised and held in the same position each day so that the specialist could deliver, in total, twenty high doses of radiation to the tumour.  Once again he returned home and is currently well.  The total cost?  £25,000!

Dippydoodah’s case is not unique and the veterinary community is happy to help.  Davies Veterinary Specialists based in Hertfordshire, has a staff of 170 and day-to-day procedures include open chest surgery, knee surgery, tumour removals and cataract surgery. It has six wards, three radiography suites, emergency blood analysis and an orthopaedic theatre which regularly replaces hips which cost anything up to £5000.  Although few breeders take out pet insurance many pet owners do and by next year premium income is expected to exceed £1 billion (compared with 853 million in 2014).  And premiums will continue to rise: in 2015, 911,000 claims were made – up 9% on the previous year.

James Herriot has become a distant memory

The veterinary world has changed a great deal in a few years not just in terms of the range of techniques and treatments that are now available but in its business model.  This may be because the number of female veterinary surgeons graduating from veterinary schools has been greater than males for many years but I understand that as standards of entry have risen most graduates whether male or female are, rightly, dedicated to serving the animals they treat rather than becoming a partner and running a business  The small, privately owned practice with one or two partners has virtually disappeared in favour of franchised veterinary groups which run as normal businesses employing veterinary surgeons, practice managers, veterinary nurses and veterinary receptionists as and when they are needed.  The U.K.’s top 100 veterinary businesses had a turnover in 2014 of £1.36 billion: it is speculative but entirely possible that the profit margin was greater than Pets at Home in its entirety!

The result has been a much more business orientated approach focusing on marketing, customer care, business plans, cost analysis benefits and the rest – James Herriot it isn’t!  Inevitably, there is a tendency to select more expensive treatments for clients rather the basic procedures in exactly the same way as your garage might ask, ‘Is it an insurance job?’ before working out your quote.

And people love their pets so geriatric veterinary medicine is a growth area.  It used to be that we could take sensible, thoughtful and loving decisions for our pets and kindly put them to sleep just before their life reached its natural ending.  That is no longer the case: modern pet owners want to keep their pets with them for as long as possible and they are prepared to pay for it.  When pets used to become seriously ill putting them to sleep was often the only option.  Now in an age of kidney transplants for  cats and chemotherapy for dogs, euthanasia has ‘begun to feel like a cruel way out’.

This provides an ethical dilemma for all those intelligent, animal-loving and skilled people upon whom we rely to make sure our animals are cared for properly when they are damaged or ill: should the lives of our pets be prolonged at all costs because that’s what our clients want (and will provide increasing profits) or should our role be to provide sensible, pragmatic advice which if followed will save clients’ money, relieve their stress and their pets’ pain and, perhaps by doing so, give another animal a loving home?

There is much discussion about these within the veterinary profession but as it becomes more and more business orientated the view on the ground will almost always be different from that expressed the ivory towers of veterinary academia.

PS: A recent visit to my own veterinary surgeon was interesting.  They are now part of a large group but sensibly charge £10 for micro chipping compared to others locally which range from £12 to £25.  My consultation fee seemed reasonable too so it does pay to ‘shop around’

 

 

The straightjacket of proxy votes

April 19, 2016

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country – Franklin D. Roosevelt

When the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher began the process of reform of company structure in the UK so that companies could compete more effectively internationally (and to make Britain more attractive to foreign investment) it also wanted to promote the idea of a shareholding democracy and furthermore, to ensure that even small shareholders could some impact on the way in which it was run.  There was also a demand to simplify the structure of companies so that they were all subject to the same rules and regulations.  There were several stages in these reforms and the process was finalised by the Companies Act 2006 – which runs to over 500 pages incidentally, and cannot be described as a ‘easy read’.

Although I was in favour of the Kennel Club becoming a Company Limited by Guarantee (partly because it had taken on too many commercial commitments to continue as a private club and partly to prevent the possibility of ‘carpet-bagging’ which had occurred in similar non-statutory organisations) one of my concerns was that proxy votes (the mechanism within the articles of any company by which every member could have a voice) became a legal requirement for meetings of members.   In theory it sounds a good, sensible and very democratic idea but it has some serious drawbacks.  My apologies if you remember my previous discussions on this subject but given the immense changes which are taking place within the Kennel Club, I think it is important to revisit the principles of proxy voting and the effect it can have.

A proxy is someone who attends a general meeting and votes in place of a member of the company. Every member of a company has a statutory right to appoint a proxy.’  This means that every member of the Kennel Club receives an invitation with their Annual or Special General Meeting paperwork which allows them to nominate another member to vote for them.  At one time (and this remains true of the vast majority of clubs and societies in the world of dogs whether or not proxy votes are enshrined in their constitution) it was possible for somebody at the meeting to propose an amendment prior to the item being voted upon.  This very sensible arrangement allows members to discuss the merits of the item and make minor changes which can make it more acceptable to those voting.  So an item that might be rejected at the meeting may be amended in a way that it allows it to be passed.

An administrative straightjacket

But the Companies Act, in theory to ensure that agenda items which are to be voted upon are the same as those which appear on the agenda papers, may not be changed or amended in any way.  In effect, this means that any discussion which takes place at the meeting cannot be reflected in the agenda item: it has to be an acceptance or a rejection.  A further ‘straitjacket’ in this arrangement is that each item may be voted upon by the member not present on the basis of the information that they have received from the board of directors which, naturally, as they have taken the decision, may largely reflect their view in favour rather than any good reasons there might be against it.

I am reminded of one of Parkinson’s Laws which explains how administrations ensure that committees vote for what they want: three or four options are presented only one of which is reasonable (the others are too expensive, too complicated or otherwise unacceptable) so the committee does not really have a choice.  Either way, discussion on any item at the meeting can only be based on a challenge to it or an acceptance of it and those who have voted by proxy are not privy to that discussion so cannot, if they have voted, change their vote.

A further difficulty is that there may be a feeling among members that because they have a proxy vote there is no need for them to attend: if the number of members attending goes down then the influence of proxy votes increases.

The next stage is who should have an absent members’ proxy vote.  If the member accepts or rejects the item their vote stands whatever the discussion at the meeting but otherwise a ‘blank’ proxy vote can be given to any other member who holds it and that person can vote as they wish.  However, proxy votes are often given to the chairman of the meeting rather than to somebody who will be: independent; will be present at the meeting; has listened to the arguments and will therefore vote on the basis of the discussion which takes place on the item.

So, proxy votes should be given to people who can be trusted: perhaps people who think as you do.  This is not for a moment to suggest that the chairman or the board members of any company cannot be trusted but, by definition, as they will have been involved in development and conclusions of the proposal, they will, understandably but almost inevitably, vote in favour of it despite any dissent from the members of the meeting

And this is important because?

You may reasonably ask why all this is important.  There was a good example of the last General Meeting of members when the question of the purchase of the Emblehope Estate was on the agenda.  Several members had serious concerns about this major investment with some having a detailed knowledge both of estate management, the estate in question and gundog and working trials.  Why, asked some members, should such a huge amount of money be spent on land which would not provide any facilities for dog shows? Others, of which I was one, wanted to know whether the estate as a whole would be self-sustaining.  By and large, the questions were answered satisfactorily and the item went through but, had those present voted against as a result of this new information which was newly available, it would have gone through anyway.  In fact, on two further items, the meeting took account of the discussion by members and voted against but the items were passed anyway simply because enough members not present had voted for them or provided proxies to members who did so.

It worries me that items may be put forward at future Annual or General Meetings of the Kennel Club which could fundamentally change the way in which it is organised and which might be passed, despite those members present having considered all the arguments, wanting to reject it.  Do not misunderstand me: change should come and, in fact, must come but it has to come with the consent of members and not be railroaded through because those members unable to attend have voted on the basis of the information they have received rather from the than from the often very perceptive comments made by those members who do make the, sometimes, considerable effort to attend.

One way in which these difficulties may be resolved is to ensure that there is plenty of time for debate well before the date at which proxies must be lodged.  Those who were present at the Welsh Kennel Club’s annual dinner in 2015 may remember that Simon Luxmoore, the new Kennel Club Chairman, in effect recognised these problems when he said that that there may be an ‘arrogant management style that used to, and in some cases still does, pervade London clubs. Perhaps this style is perceived to exist in the way the Kennel Club has conducted its business. If this is the perception – and we all know perception is more important than fact – then we should be very mindful of what our stakeholders are telling us’.

Regular readers will know that this stakeholder is of the opinion that openness, transparency and debate is the hallmark of democracy and this neatly brings me onto the question of ‘governance’ which is on the agenda for the forthcoming Kennel Club AGM in May.  From a recent letter circulated to all members from Mr Luxmoore, it would appear that this is a first step in what might be long-term and fundamental changes.  Such changes are, in the opinion of many, long overdue but the Kennel Club is not a ‘company’ in the normal sense of the word in that it has been established to make a profit: it is a representative organisation in which its members have an active role and share accountability.  It is all very well suggesting that the members install board members who are responsible for taking day-to-day decisions but if a proposal has a tendency to distance the decision-making process from the membership in the long term (as it did when the board, for what it considered to be perfectly sound reasons, decided to drop the Kennel Gazette without consultation) then it is important that everyone who has a vote, whether or not they are present at the meeting, has the opportunity to consider all the options very carefully indeed.

 

 

 

Standards of Judging

April 18, 2016

 The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

It is important to remember that educational software, like textbooks, is only one tool in the learning process. Neither can be a substitute for well-trained teachers and leadership – Keith Krueger (CEO of the Consortium for School Networking in the USA)

I began my teaching career in 1963 and taught from the first year to the sixth form (years 7-12) in large comprehensive schools for over 26 years.  My role for four of those years was to chair the school’s teachers’ committee which advised on and appraised new syllabuses.  There are often a number of different syllabuses provided by examination boards in a particular subject each leading to a GCSE ‘O’ Level in a specific subject.  There are several different examination boards too, each of which have different syllabuses leading to the qualification.  It was the role of the Syllabus Committee to take decisions as to which would be most suitable for the school’s pupils (things have changed – there is much more direction given to schools by the Department of Education these days although some choices still remain).

Let me give you a couple of examples.  The school at which I taught was very near a large army base and almost 25% of our people intake came from the base.  Army personnel often have to move so it was important that core subjects such as English, Mathematics and Science were at least similar in content to schools near other army bases.  At the same time the school’s Mathematics Department was strongly in favour of a syllabus which concentrated on Calculus and Coordinate Geometry rather than the more traditional mathematics syllabuses so it was decided that both courses should be offered (possible in a 11 stream comprehensive school).  We also took decisions about foreign languages because many of our pupils had been taught in Germany or might be taught in Germany in the future, so both German and French were taught on the recommendations of the Syllabus Committee.

It meant that there was intensive discussion of many subjects ranging from music to biology (should pupils up to GCSE level study a combined science course or would it be advantageous for them to take physics, chemistry and biology separately?)  and although I did not teach many of those subjects, my position gave me a unique insight into the way in which syllabuses were constructed by examining boards and delivered by teaching staff.  Although I retired from teaching in 1986 I still teach adults through the Animal Care College so my involvement in education continues:I think 15 years’ experience allows me to comment on education in general and syllabuses and examinations in particular.

Educating judges

In 1980 I created the syllabus and wrote the Judging Diploma course.  I had given tickets by then but could not be considered experienced – but I did know about teaching and creating effective syllabuses and I had learned much from Joe Cartledge and had a great deal of help and advice from my friends and colleagues in the project, Pamela Cross Stern, Wendy Boorer, Peter Larkin and Les Crawley.

Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s we were responsible for guiding hundreds of judges (who also guided us with their comments and suggestions for improvement too, incidentally) many of whom are now highly regarded – at least 10 have judged Groups at Crufts for instance and others give tickets in numerous breeds.  Completing the course required a great deal of hard work over many months but almost all those who took it will tell you that it was both stimulating and useful in increasing their understanding of the theory and practice of judging.

I am delighted to say that the syllabus is still current, emphasising, as it always has, the importance of temperament, health and soundness as prime considerations in assessing dogs.  It also introduced the idea of comparative analysis which all those who use it say is still by far the best way of understanding and assessing breed type.

During those two decades, the idea of judges training and seminars took off and resulted in the Kennel Club bringing together a small group to decide how best to train judges in the future.  Terry Thorn, Ronnie Irving, Anne Arch and I (better to have him inside the tent!) met over two years to develop the foundations of what is now in place and must be completed before anyone may award challenge certificates in Britain.  We were later joined by Hector Heathcote and Eleanor Bothwell and we continued to tweak the material until the Kennel Club Training Board was established.   The principles have been further revised and altered over the years but, frankly, the core material has always been very basic.  You do not improve the quality of education by making the process more complicated: you must focus on the standards.

GCSE grade G – D

The Department of Education has created an Accredited Qualifications Framework which divides courses into a range of ‘Levels’ ranging from the lowest (Entry Level) to the highest (Level 8 – equivalent to a PhD).  The Judging Diploma has been independently assessed at being at Level 4 which means the standard of work required to complete the course successfully is equivalent to that required for the first year of a degree course.  I estimate that the current requirements for judges are equivalent to a Level 1 i.e. GCSE grades G-D.  This low level is mitigated by the fact that there is a certain amount of practical experience required in that those wishing to be passed for CCs must have stewarded on at least 12 occasions and must have judged enough dogs to fulfil the requirements of breed clubsHowever, the numbers vary widely and for some breeds it is sufficient to have judged 30 dogs while other breeds demand 200.  This reflects the numbers of dogs regularly shown in the breed, of course, but it is hardly a level playing field and means it is much easier to get passed for some breeds than others.

At the same time, the element of breed assessments both through JDP seminars and through the breed clubs has been very uneven and has continually emphasised the flaws in the tick box/examination approach which is usually adopted.  This is seen in the way in which the Training Board has continually had to tinker with the process and resulted in the launch the Kennel Club Academy to provide a cohesive syllabus.  The Academy is an exciting and forward-looking innovation which is designed to develop expertise in judging, breeding and training dogs and it is an initiative which I personally support.

I hope the foregoing emphasises that I fully realise how much time and work goes into developing any sort of educational provision.  The resources required in time, money, technical expertise and administration are enormous but there is no point in making such an effort if the results are as dire as many of those who have fully completed their KCAI Instructors programme believe which we featured on our front page last week.  I know many of the signatories and Chris Bloomfield, who is quoted in the article, is a friend whose analysis I know and can trust.

The difference between ‘education’ and ‘training’

It might help if we try to distinguish between education and training.  They are often coupled together as if they were the same but this is absolutely not the case.  There is no doubt that people can be ‘trained’ (as they currently are )in, say, the regulations regarding dog shows using multiple-choice questions. They should then be able to officiate without making any serious errors of process.  But this is not the same as ‘education’.

‘Education’ should provide background and context. Why do we have dogs of pedigree?  Why does the person in the ring want to judge?  What is the objective of placing dogs in order and awarding a best of breed?  What pressures are experienced by a judge when those in the ring are friends, enemies, relations, competitors or able to offer something in exchange for winning?

These are just a very few of the vitally important questions which, despite the beautifully produced and thoughtful publication of standards of judging which contains much very sensible guidance, educating judges to understand the implications of taking on an appointment have been virtually ignored.  This is definitely not something that can be learned by ticking boxes.  These ideas, the ‘philosophy’ if you will, needs to be thought through over time, it needs to be researched, debated, questioned and tested against the ideas of others.  It should provide a foundation on which skills can be built.

When the then government launched the Youth Training Scheme back in the 1980s (I was there in the thick of it having helped the Manpower Services Commission create the Lead Industry Body for Animal Care) there was great emphasis on ensuring that the young people on the scheme could ‘do’ things.  If they could carry out a practical task such as ‘cleaning a kennel’ or ‘clipping a dog’s nails’ they needed to do no more.  Despite advice, ‘knowledge’ was ignored for several years until it was realised that just being able to do a series of tasks was not enough – to be able to relate one task to another and so to progress from one level to another: they needed to be educated, they need to have knowledge and context (and determination and motivation) as well as expertise if they were going to succeed in the long term.

The same applies to our trainers and behaviourists as well as our judges.  Although I am not a trainer, I have been involved in providing suitable courses for KCAI since its inception and the emphasis has always been on education as well as knowledge.  Students need ‘signposts’ leading to personal research, not textbooks from which they can copy the answers or tick boxes which narrowly focus on rote learning.  It is all too easy to be seduced by the wide range of e-learning platforms that promise to reduce administration and may be ultimately less expensive to deliver but such platforms are just tools they are not education.