Judging Accreditation and Certification

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

How little do they see what is, who frame their hasty judgments upon that which seems: Robert Southey

Time for a rethink?

It is worth remembering that despite all the furore raised by Pedigree Dogs Exposed and the media storm that surrounded it, dogs, cats, rats, exotics, birds, cattle and other farm animals are all subject to significant inbreeding whether it be for beauty or for functionality – and there are shows in the UK and across the world where experts are called upon to make an assessment of the results.  Those who tune in to One Man And his Dog are seeing just one example of centuries of selective breeding – as they are when they buy a bottle of milk, a dozen eggs or a lean leg of pork.

That said, I believe that we must once and for all address the extraordinary complexity and disfunctionality (if that is a real word – if it is not it should be for it sums up the position particularly well) of our approach in the UK world of dogs to the question of breeding standards and judges’ qualifications.  Firstly we must accept that there is no likelihood that any government is going to become involved in the regulation of dog training, pedigree dog breeding (except at the behest of the charities to tinker at the edges of the problem) or the process of judging and assessing dogs and other companion animals.

So we are left, as we are with so many human activities from hairdressing or dog grooming to motor vehicle maintenance or brick laying, with self regulation. Those responsibly involved in any of these vocational or hobby/voluntary activities have, over the years, come together to form member organisations which are designed to set standards and regulate activity.  The Kennel Club is an example of one such organisation as is The Guild of Hairdressers, the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association and the Association of Brickwork Contractors.  Of course, among any given activity there may be several different approaches so you will not be surprised to learn that, say, in dog training there are several organisations that purport to be representatives of that particular interest.

Qualifications, registration, licensing and accreditation

Most of these organisations want to have government recognition (or some form of licensing) so that they are in control of the standards of those people who work in the sector.  There are actually very few groups that are given this authority.  They include doctors, lawyers and veterinarians who have to be registered with their legally established recognised body and would commit an offence if they practised in those sectors without such authority.  Licensing is a much more common approach and financial advisers, boarding kennel owners, publicans and many other groups have to be licensed.

You may be surprised to know that teachers, scientists, accountants and many other professionals do not have to belong to a government recognised body or be licensed before they can set themselves up in business.  However, government gets involved in other ways by authorising organisations to provide evidence that those who have completed an agreed, recognised and independently assessed course of study have the necessary knowledge in a particular subject.  The general term that this is ‘education’: it some of those subjects are ‘general’ such as a GCSE certificate or University degree in English or Science while others are specific such as diplomas or certificates in Accountancy, motor mechanics or dog grooming.

As you would expect, many of the organisations established to set standards in a particular field of activity set up their own ‘qualifications’ which are not accredited or independently assessed and some even go so far as to set up separate organisation that pass themselves off as independent bodies.  Some of these have high standards (although some are without doubt ‘empty shells’) but you should always remember that if they are not listed on the National Database of Accrediting Organisations they do not fulfil the government’s criteria for independence nor are they guaranteed to deliver within an agreed framework of quality certification.  A good example of an accredited organisation is Lantra, the government funded organisation responsible for environmental based industries – which includes caring for animals.  Lantra is listed on the National Database but there are no formal Lantra Awards for any aspect of companion animal handling, care or training.  A good example of an organisation originally set up (by me as it happens) to be an independent accrediting organisation but which never achieved recognition, is the Institute of Animal Care Education which some claim is a recognised awarding body (as they are sometimes called).  It sounds good but there is no independent external and recognised body which verifies its standards.

Councils

Some organisation set up Councils for their industry to give the public confidence in the standards that their members are committed to upholding.  Anyone working with animals can be a member of the Pet Care Trade Association (the body which represents the pet care sector to government and local authorities) but membership is not a guarantee of standards or quality.  Members are expected to sign up to a code of conduct and the Association has an education and training arm which delivers, monitors and supports qualifications (mainly those delivered by City & Guilds).  However, last year it set up its own Register of Accredited Petcare Professionals who have to fulfil a series of independently accredited qualifications and have at least two years experience so the public can know that anyone with that award can have confidence in the knowledge and expertise of the person holding it.

Having established some of the background, what is the relevance of this article to our world of show dogs?

I have been personally delighted over the last ten years to see that the Kennel Club has made enormous strides in ensuring that its own accreditation programs for dog trainers have adhered to national standards.  After a rather shaky start and a scheme that initially looked as if it was being made up as it went along, those responsible eventually teamed up with City & Guilds – an accreditation body which is on the National Database, so that outsiders can have confidence that those going through the scheme have been independently assessed.

The Kennel Club is also applying the same principles to its Assured Breeders Scheme.  There is no doubt there have been some shortcomings in the ABS because new and complex frameworks always take some time to both establish and to become effective, but I have watched the progress of the scheme and there is no doubt that it is now delivering on its aims and objectives.  In this case the KC is not going through the certification route but via another government sponsored and independent method of assessing quality standards: the UK Accreditation Scheme (UKAS).  The UKAS strap line is ‘delivering confidence’ and it uses a wide range of techniques which are based on the International Standards Organisation (ISO) standards.  In fact, the KC itself has been awarded ISO 9001: 2000 certification by the British Standards Institution.  This means that the working processes and practices within the organisation are efficient and fulfils the BSI’s code of practice.  It may not sound very important but I can assure you that such standards are very difficult to achieve and many organisations, including those involved in the training of dogs and people in animal care at national level, would not be able to achieve them.

Commitment to standards

So the Kennel Club should be congratulated on their commitment to standards in many of their activities but there is one area in which it fails significantly.  This is in the standards applied to pedigree dogs themselves and in their method of assessment: that is the breeding of pedigree dogs (as distinct from the care given to the bitches and puppies and the environment within which those puppies are bred and sold) and in the assessment of their results through their assessment by judges.

Given that so much has been done and, to be fair, attempted, in terms of the breed standards and training of judges, it is surprising that the KC has not done a great deal more in establishing the credibility of the standards and of judging, for both are essential pillars upon which the quality of pedigree dogs is founded.  It is not rocket science and, in fact, there is already an independently accredited course for judges which has been studiously ignored by Clarges Street ever since it was first launched over 30 years ago.  Its syllabus is precisely that which is followed by some other Kennel Clubs who are producing the people who are recognised as some of the world’s best judges and it involves not just what the ears or tail set of a particular breed should look like but the more fundamental and important aspects of judging such as confirmation, balance, understanding the elements and effects of exaggeration and the making of value judgements.

It is bizarre that we test whether a judge knows that to be a champion, a dog must have three challenge certificates under three separate judges one of which must be awarded after twelve months of age, but do not assess whether a judge understands the importance of balanced angulation.

You may be unhappy with veterinary checks and those who have read previous articles in Speakers Corner will know I have personally expressed concerns.  However this is the only ‘independent’ assessment that the Kennel Club considers (wrongly in my view) valid and acceptable because they must have something with which to challenge those dyed-wool-breeders and judges who are not prepared to change their views on the way in which breeds look or have their judging abilities and expertise independently assessed.

I write all this with a degree of sadness because my experience is that those who have read thus far are people who will, by and large, agree with me while those who really need to read it and think about it will ignore it!

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