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

Posted April 29, 2016 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

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.



The changing face of veterinary services

Posted April 29, 2016 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

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

Posted April 19, 2016 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

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

Posted April 18, 2016 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

 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.


Dog judges training – an update

Posted October 8, 2015 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying – Friedrich Nietzsche

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn – Benjamin Franklin

Education and training are changing and they are changing very quickly. There have been constant attempts to improve the foundation and core knowledge which are required to develop skills and find more effective ways of developing and applying skills once that core knowledge is embedded. The increasing complexity of society and competition between centres of learning both nationally and internationally continued to put enormous pressure on institutions whatever their place in the hierarchy or their size, to ‘prove’ that they are delivering quality in a cost effective way: all those involved in teaching and learning have to keep on their toes and our world of dogs is no exception.

Speakers’ Corner provides too little space for a detailed examination of education from the Greeks to the present day but if I had the room I would be able to demonstrate that despite the razzmatazz of educational theory, psychology and the Internet, the actual processes of learning are fundamentally little different from those that had been established for well over 2000 years but here is a summary. The key time-scales are that until about age seven our brain is like a sponge, sucking up every experience with which we come into contact: the speed with which we do this and quantity of information we store is amazing. Then we become more selective until about age sixteen during which time our minds focus on the accumulation and exercise of basic skills and knowledge about ourselves, our environment and the world in which we are growing up. This is when it also becomes clear that each and every person has embedded within them individual talents enabling them to excel in specific areas which will make a contribution to their families, their communities and society as well as, we hope, providing satisfaction in their personal lives (there may be some who will prejudicially come to the conclusion that there are people who cannot achieve this: my experience in teaching a wide range of pupils in large comprehensive schools suggests this is not the case). Towards the end of our late teens (although some exceptional individuals demonstrate incredible talent very early in their lives) we begin to make those choices were largely dictate the direction in which we want our lives to go.

Learning becomes harder as we get older

But the importance of those early core skills are not abandoned and should not be underestimated, for in the 21st century, flexibility is immensely important and you are unlikely to be flexible if you do not have a sound foundation. For instance, most people who get involved in the world of dogs and become skilled exhibitors, breeders and judges come to our world quite late and, if they are to be successful, must have minds which are supple enough to add a range of skills and knowledge previously, to what was a virtually closed book. Unfortunately, once we are fully adult, flexibility decreases, learning becomes harder and the retention of information more difficult (the vast majority of major advances in understanding our world have been made by those under the age of 30). It is here that effective management and teaching can make a huge difference although, as I can attest, luck remains an important lady to stick with.

Of course, we do not lose the ability to learn: it’s just harder. And, many still retain the ability to remember and regurgitate but most of us struggle and need to absorb new information relatively slowly if it is to be retained and, more importantly, applied effectively.

This is the point I want to focus on in this article. Most judges of my age began in the 60s and 70s when we spent many days each year (and considerable sums in fuel) traveling up and down the country to shows where we could gain experience. We were helped by the fact that there were then many more exhibitors who were doing exactly the same and so our entries were sometimes substantial. It meant that we absorbed information over a long period of time: I began judging Bearded Collies in 1980 and have judged well over 400 since then (I think I have set a record for the longest stay on an A3 list of any judge in the UK although to save any misunderstanding I should tell you that I now have an invitation) but this means that my progress was slow. Having judged the dogs and written reports, that information sank slowly into my consciousness so that in future months or years I had a foundation on which to build. Each appointment (added to reading, watching dogs in the ring, seminars and discussions) modified my experience until, I hope, I have a thorough picture of the breed in my mind. Such a process is immensely time-consuming and, of course, with open shows drawing fewer entries, the practical hands-on experience has been greatly reduced for those who began their career in the mid-1990s and since.

New circumstances require new techniques

Terry Thorn and Ronnie Irving recognised this problem and persuaded the Kennel Club to set up the Judges Working Party at the end of the 1990s. I was invited to join and along with Ann Arch and, later, others such as Hector Heathcote and Eleanor Bothwell, the current Judges Development Programme (JDP) was devised. Despite what some of you may have heard, it was never designed to be a quick fix or to enable some judges progress more quickly. Anybody taking part already had to have considerable experience in several breeds which, we felt, would enable them to absorb new information about specific breeds more effectively. In some senses this has proved to be the case but it is now being recognised that the one off seminar and test does not fully answer what is required. Despite the various minor modifications which have been introduced into the running of the scheme, the JDP still does not appear to be providing that gradual appreciation of breed type which, in my view, is necessary for a thorough understanding of a breed.

At the same time, it has also been accepted that some presentations have not been at the highest standard and that the marking process of the critiques has focused too tightly on individual breed characteristics and not enough on an holistic understanding of the breed as a whole. Where do we go from here? May I make some suggestions.

  • that all judges prior to being passed for tickets for the first time should have attended a seminar on Comparative Analysis which will enable them to properly understand and interpret breed standards. I have long been concerned that the academic level of the various ‘bars’ for judges prior to them giving tickets have been set too low and this would address that problem. I will be very happy to provide the Kennel Club Training Board with the syllabus and give the tools explaining the process to all current Accredited Trainers.
  • that the JDP process should last at least one year
  • that it begins with a well-designed seminar and the opportunity to go over a number of dogs of quality and discuss them with breeders – as it does now
  • that good quality, modern illustrated standards using talks, pictures and videos should be available for each breed and be accessible on the Internet so that they may be studied over a period time
  • that all judges be expected to arrange that they be a student judge for the breed at least once and preferably twice during the year
  • that the breed should appoint a Mentor with whom the judge is expected to spend some time with (my recent Mentoring session with Stewart Band prior to my judging Affenpinschers was exceptionally helpful: it lasted almost an hour and a half and was time very well spent I think – but you need to ask Affenpischer exhibitors!)
  • that they should attend at least one breed club show

These ideas do not mean abandoning the JDP – they are just ways in which the process might become more effective and acceptable. Is this too much to expect? Are they too time consuming? Are they too complicated? If we want to have good judges I think not. Other countries manage it.

Dog training – let’s keep the concept simple

Posted October 7, 2015 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated – Confucius

In July 2008, the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) published its ground breaking report into the Regulation of Companion Animal Services in Relation to the Training and Behaviour Modification of Dogs*. This 40 plus page analysis of the complications of this rapidly expanding sector made a number of recommendations and indicated that there was ‘considerable concern in many quarters about the treatment of some animals during Behaviour Modification Programmes (BMPs)’. This was despite the fact that CAWC’s ‘call for evidence’ which went out to many dozens of stakeholders prior to this research ‘failed to bring forward direct accounts of problems relating to a lack of regulation’. However, because of the fact that ‘many believe that problems exist as a result of lack regulation’, it was felt by CAWC that the whole question should nevertheless be the subject of a report. What they found confirmed what many of us involved in the periphery of dog training and behaviour modification already knew to be the case: the situation, which had been described by many commentators including myself, was ‘chaotic’. And inevitably, given the lack of reported problems, virtually all the ideas and opinions supplied to those responsible for compiling the report were hearsay generated by organisations and groups involved in the sector (who inevitably had their own interests and agenda) or from academic research (much of which has since been questioned by other experienced trainers).

Despite all this, the report proved valuable in many ways although perhaps not quite as CAWC intended. It was useful in that it set out some sensible proposals but at the same time it clearly demonstrated the immense range of ideas about dog training and behaviour modification which would, inevitably, make those proposals almost impossible to achieve.

Government action is unlikely

The first hurdle was inevitably that of regulation. The likelihood of any government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) introducing any formal regulation of the sector was nil then and is nil now. There may be some ‘recommendations’ eventually through Defra’s Animal Health and Welfare Board but officials know all about chalices and poisons – and hidings to nothing – so regulation will not be on the agenda any time soon. In addition, although there is much hearsay, there is little hard evidence that dog training and behaviour modification is in the parlous state many organisations would have you believe. This is not to say that there are no problems but, like grooming and many other canine related services, they are not serious enough to justify legislation. The government would love to have a solution to reducing dog biting incidents but regulation of dog trainers is not a feasible option although this has not prevented one organisation describing itself on its homepage as ‘the regulatory body’, a disingenuous statement if ever there was one simply because there is no related regulation on the statute book.

The second hurdle was the question of agreed standards. This has proved difficult but has met with partial success. Soon after the CAWC report was published the Council asked Sir Colin Spedding to host a series of meetings to which anyone with an interest was invited and eventually a Code of Best Practice was hammered out and agreed – although several of the organisations made it clear that it was not comprehensive enough and ‘their’ code made more demands on their members and more fully protected their clients. A second achievement was the recent establishment of nationally accepted occupational standards for dog trainers and those modifying canine behaviour**. This was a tricky and sometimes acrimonious series of meetings hosted by Lantra (the Land Based Industry’s government funded training and careers sector group which has animal care as part of its remit) with the Animal Training and Behaviour Council (ATBC) arguing the standards already established for all animals were perfectly acceptable for dogs while others, including the Kennel Club and the Pet Education and Training Council (PETbc), maintaining that ‘dogs are different’ so the skills were different too: dog trainers should have their own occupational standards. I am pleased to see that the ATBC now support those occupational standards, even implying that they were in favour of them all along!

One proposal = four representative groups

I hope all this gives you a flavour of the intricacies of the issues which have been most clearly demonstrated by the fact that after the first of the meetings referred to above several groups came together to form the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council. They subsequently asked me to be its chairman as someone who was independent and had some knowledge of the sector but was not actually a dog trainer. Unfortunately, and I believe regrettably, many of those who had a more academic approach to training and behaviour management in dogs and who, through their professional associations with the veterinary profession and having the ear of some of Britain’s major animal welfare charities (who themselves have generally little to do with dog training and behaviour), set up an alternative Council, the ATBC. Soon afterwards, the Kennel Club, with its Kennel Club Accredited Instructor scheme having been praised in the report, understanding the political complexity of the situation and preferring to remain entirely independent rather than be associated with either organisation, suggested the setting up of an ‘independent’ Registration Council with the remit of registering all dog trainers and behaviourists whatever their background and qualification. This group also received the approval of Sir Colin: the organisation was chaired by Bill Hardaway who made some headway but unfortunately passed away before it was properly established and little happened for several years.

Because little was happening and PETbc was an organisation of organisations rather than individual trainers, I believed such a register would be of value so I launched the National Association of Dog Trainers and Behaviourists last year ( It is founded on a very simple membership concept and is a totally independent group which any dog trainer who receives fees for their services may join so long as they are prepared to abide by the CAWC Code of Best Practice. However, there are still many who believe a formal Registration Council is required and several high profile members of the dog training community are currently engaged in creating the criteria for membership and designations to describe the many specialist roles for what is the Registration Council for Dog Training and Behaviour Practitioners (RCDTBP). This is not an easy task for it needs to encompass everyone from the trainer who runs local obedience classes to those who deal with very complex behaviour issues which, if not resolved, will mean that a healthy dog may have to be killed.

At the same time, the techniques required for those socialising puppies, training guide dogs and the many other specialised assistance dogs, gundogs, other working dogs such as sniffer and rescue dogs, along with obedience, agility, flyball, rally and all the rest, require special training skills and techniques. It is also important that people’s levels of expertise are defined: someone might be perfectly competent helping owners teach their puppies to walk to heel, sit, wait and return but would be unable to effectively advise owners on the best way to modify antisocial or difficult behaviour of dogs in which these traits have become embedded.

It does not help that we are swamped with advice from those who have televisual appeal, much of which is contradictory and often challenged by effective and experienced practitioners. Even taking into account the inevitable and understandable editing to make the programmes more watchable and exciting, some methods are questionable to say the least. The furore and impact of ‘tailgate’ at Crufts and at the recent World Show give you some idea of the passions which are aroused by anything to do with canine welfare and indicate how much of a divide there is between those actively involved in training dogs.

All these issues arise because there is money to be made through referrals from veterinary surgeons, running training classes and individual consultations through franchises (whether they are overtly commercial or disguised as groups of trainers with a similar outlook) and so we must also find ways in which they can demonstrate their experience, qualifications and professionalism to the general public.

Can we keep it simple?

Of course, most dogs are amenable and it is relatively easy to train them to sit, stand, stay, comfortably walk on a lead and come as well as ensuring that they understand their boundaries within their environment, their family, with family friends and with strangers.

Many dogs are very well socialised and beautifully behaved but unfortunately there are still far too many dogs that lack basic training despite the efforts of the Kennel Club (through the Good Citizens Dog Scheme which was created to encourage owners to train their dogs), dozens of television programs setting out the basics of dog training and the easy access to small training clubs throughout the UK. I sometimes wonder whether people actually like to have pets that misbehave so their owners can have something to talk about! I am sorry if this seems flippant or dismissive but it does seem that, in the same way as many people appear to be less inclined to ‘do it themselves’ as far as painting, wallpapering and plumbing are concerned, their first response is to call in an ‘expert’. So if the problem is with their dog then they call dog trainer, canine psychologist or canine behaviourist who is more than ready to come with help and advice – and charge for that advice, of course. But how does the owner with a badly behaved dog choose?

A preliminary search under ‘dog trainer’ in any search engine throws up many thousands of websites: not only are there hundreds of individuals and organisations but the clamour and ‘noise’ of their competing claims are overwhelming. There are dozens of different explanations, references and expressions used in describing trainers, their methods, the organisation to which they belong and their commitment to helping their clients. How does anyone find their way through the maze? I hope this article will help.

Whether we are socialising a puppy, training a sniffer dog or preventing a dog from fighting or barking, we are modifying its behaviour. The ways in which we do this are many and varied and so there is a wide range of skills and experience required for anyone involved. Given the complexity of the subject my approach is that we should keep it simple – as simple as we can.

Dog Training

To begin at the beginning, we know that an important key requirement for puppies is that they are handled regularly by humans from the nest so they begin to know and respect people. If this handling is neglected the puppies will identify much more closely with their siblings and would tend to be more ‘canine’ orientated than ‘human’ orientated so canine traits may become ascendant over those of docility, disposition to please, amenability and cooperation. There is no ‘training’ involved but we are nevertheless modifying the puppy’s behaviour just as we do when it is later given a treat for performing a desired action.

At the other end of the scale is the training of dogs to assist human beings both for the physically or mentally disabled, to herd sheep, retrieve game, perform simple or complex routines or sniff out drugs. All these activities are ‘training from scratch’ and require trainers who work with the natural instincts of the dogs to develop useful skills. The way in which the behaviour of these dogs is modified is by consistent and kind training through positive reinforcement: that is, we move forward progressively through time, increasing the skills of the dog through practice. A ‘Dog Trainer’ needs to be knowledgeable and skilful in the psychology of dogs to be successful and this is a sound, sensible term summarising this expertise,

Modifying embedded behaviours

Let us leave ‘training’ for the present and look at the other aspect of behaviour modification i.e. when dogs are not being ‘trained from scratch’ but where the training is required to alter or change embedded behaviours. For numerous reasons (innate temperament; poor socialisation; mistreatment at best and cruelty at worst; traumatic experiences; being left without company for long periods) some dogs will develop a range of undesirable traits which make them difficult and sometimes impossible to live with. They may bark or be destructive, they may be aggressive and lunge at people, bicycles motorcycle or cars, and they may escape and roam the streets or indulge in unpleasant and disagreeable habits from soiling soft furnishings to coprophagia. These behaviours are usually dealt with by canine ‘behaviourists’ who not only have experience and understanding of canine psychology but also have an insight into human psychology too – along with the skills to assess the dog’s environment, its circumstances, its relations with its owners and family and, just as important, the family’s relationship with the dog/s or other pets. ‘Canine Behaviourist’ seems a sensible term for those who treat these problems.

The advanced ends of each skill involve complex scenarios but the basic ‘train’ scenario and ‘treat’ scenario are the two common threads upon which we can base descriptors so that we begin to define specialisms and levels of expertise which will make sense to the public.

Easily comprehended terms for specialisations include: Puppy; Obedience; Gundog; Security – to include the military and police; Assistance; Activity – to include obedience, agility, heelwork to music etcetera, If these are clear, levels of expertise are little different from any other job.   Too many involved in the sector are determined to complicate the issue even though they insist they want to retain clarity for the public: they are not succeeding. Some of the descriptors bandied about include, ‘practitioner’, ‘animal training technician’ (yes really), ‘clinical behaviourist’, remedial behaviourist. ‘animal behaviour therapist’, ‘training instructor’, ‘veterinary behaviourist’ and ‘accredited behaviourist’ just to name the most common. Some are quite straightforward but others require several paragraphs to explain why one differs from another. As I said before, let us keep it simple.

Frankly, there is no reason why the term ‘Qualified Dog Trainer’ should not be used for all those who train pet dogs. Some will be more competent than others but this is inevitable. For those who are learning to become dog trainers why not ‘Trainee Dog Trainer’? For those with enough expertise to teach dog trainers and to assess their abilities I would suggest ‘Dog Trainer Assessor’ while for someone who has the expertise to work at a higher level with, say, assistance dogs, we should use the term ‘Professional Dog Trainer’ who will generally be a full time employee of major charities, the security services, police or the military.

Someone involved in the modification of unwanted embedded behaviours will almost always have come from the first ‘thread’ and have been a dog trainer and will have studied and gained advanced qualifications to support their considerable experience. The designation ‘Canine Behaviourist’ is sensible and acceptable: they are already working at an advanced level and will be capable of assessing fairly complex behaviour problems in dogs. Those who have considerable further expertise and you teach and assess at that level and should be referred to as Canine Behaviour Consultants.

Here is a simple chart which sets out these ideas – the ‘Levels’ are those defined by the Department of Education’s Qualification and Credit Framework.

Level Training Dogs Modifying Embedded Behaviours
Level 1-3 Trainee Dog Trainer  
Level 4 Qualified Dog Trainer  
Level 5 Dog Trainer Assessor Trainee Canine Behaviourist
Level 5-6 Professional Dog Trainer Trainee Canine Behaviourist
Level 6   Canine Behaviourist
Level 7   Consultant Canine Behaviourist






Should a Reserve Challenge Certificate have more value

Posted September 14, 2015 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals


Men are apt to mistake the strength of their feeling for the strength of their argument. The heated mind resents the chill touch and relentless scrutiny of logic. – Gladstone

One of the highlights of our visit to San Francisco three years ago was having a meal at the iconic’ Johns Grill’. You are not likely to have heard of it unless you are a fan of American crime fiction but it features in a number of novels by Dashiell Hammett. Probably the best-known is The Maltese Falcon which became one of the best crime films ever made. It was directed by John Huston and featured Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor (a good quiz night question – most people make the assumption it was Lauren Bacall – but although she starred with Bogart in Howard Hawks version of Raymond Chander’s The Big Sleep and several other films it was Mary Astor who was the femme fatale in The Maltese Falcon). The detective in the book was Sam Spade and he regularly ate at Johns Grill – which was a real place then and which still exists.

I was reminded of the Hammett novels recently when I was rereading The Maltese Falcon and was struck by the style, usually referred to by critics as ‘hard-boiled’ – a style used very effectively by Lee Child who writes the Jack Reacher novels one of which has also recently made it onto the big screen. Their styles are all similar in that their prose is sparse, their sentences are short and take enormous liberties with the English language. The Maltese Falcon is dated, it is true, but it remains a real page turner and is recognised as one of the most influential novels of the genre, having a clear impact on the work of other writers of time including Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler (my own favourite) and Peter Cheyney (one of the few English writers – until Child – to successfully write American style crime thrillers).

All this has come into my mind, rather bizarrely, as a result of the recent Kennel Club press briefing about the work of Keith Young’s committee looking at the future development of dog shows following a meeting to which the canine press were invited. Our Dogs sent along young Kerry Rushby who has been with us in various roles virtually since she left school. She has been involved with dogs and dog shows since she was small and, with her family, is an enthusiastic (and successful) breeder and exhibitor. It seemed to us, with her youth and dedication, that she was an ideal candidate to represent the views of those who would be most affected by any changes put in place by the Kennel Club as a result of the work of this working party. The release has plenty of ideas and sets out the problems and alternatives clearly – although the single and most sensible reform was not discussed at that particular meeting.

Do not hesitate

Incidentally, anyone may put forward ideas and suggestions to the Working Party and if our letters pages and Facebook is any guide, the committee should be swamped with ideas. Please do not hesitate: I know that Keith Young is anxious to analyse every aspect of showing. It need not take long: keep it brief, keep it clear, set out the advantages of your ideas while at the same time anticipate difficulties and objections and show how they might be overcome. Just send them to him at the Kennel Club.

Over the next few weeks I will be putting forward my own views through Speakers’ Corner and, as always, I will welcome your input. But given the number of issues involved I will have to be brief, succinct and make use of the ‘hard-boiled’ approach of those American thriller writers which I have read with such pleasure over the years. This will be hard: I tend towards the loquacious as my regular readers well know!

Over the years I have espoused a number of changes, very few of which have been accepted by Clarges Street: although some have been slipped in under the radar later when it was clear that they were sensible. In the interests of brevity I will not go into them now but I do want to spend a little time on the one single change which I genuinely believe would have a significant and very positive effect. Here we go with the ‘brevity’ approach:

It is simple. It is easy. Almost no change will have to be made to show regulations. Most exhibitors will be delighted. Judges will be happy. It will not degrade or diminish the status of the title ‘Champion’. A real and persistent ‘moan’ will disappear at a stroke. It is likely to increase entries. It requires virtually no extra administration. Takes no more time in the ring. It costs virtually nothing. It does not interfere with the decision making process in the ring. What’s not to like? It is difficult to find a sound, logical and rational reason to object it. In fact, logic and common sense demand that this particular change is implemented as soon as possible.

Is there a downside? Is there anything that it does not do? It does nothing directly for open shows. But on the other hand greater participation and increased numbers of exhibitors overall (which is likely) will almost certainly have a ‘knock-on’ effect.

Patently ridiculous

Most of you will have now realised my suggestion is that if a judge is prepared to sign a certificate which clearly states that dog is worthy to be a Champion then there should be a mechanism whereby, given the agreement of a number of other judges, that dog can become a Champion. There is a mechanism in place for the dog which is the Best of Sex – if it gets three certificates it joins those elite dogs. But a dog can get any number of Reserve Best of Sex awards (on which the wording is precisely the same as that of the CC) but never hold the title. This is patently ridiculous when if the dog who was Best of Sex is for any reason disqualified the reserve automatically gets the ticket: the Kennel Club does not return to the judge to ask whether they were sure – the dog simply moves up into the vacant position. Those who defend the current procedure must be doing so entirely in line with Gladstone’s view as quoted at the beginning of this article.

There are two matters which remain to be resolved and which are likely to fuel debate. The first is relatively easy: how many Reserve Challenge Certificates equal one full certificate? To me the answer is obvious. If three tickets entitle the dog to be a Champion then I see no reason why three Reserve tickets should not equal a full Challenge Certificate (with the usual provisos regarding different judges and the maturity of the dog).

The second matter is whether one should take into account Reserve tickets which are already held by particular dogs. The easiest solution is to start from scratch at the point at which the regulations change but my own view is that there is a more exciting approach ( Excitement? Wow! – careful David!). This would be to take into account the Reserve tickets that any specific dog had won prior to the regulation taking effect. So Reserve tickets won in the past cannot be considered unless a dog gains a Reserve CC after the regulation is put in place. This would mean that a dog shown after, say, 1st January 2015 with Reserve CCs would have them counted when it got its next Reserve ticket. It would not just provide a reasonable cut-off point but would encourage entries and we might see many mature dogs being brought out to challenge for that further Reserve ticket.

There will be some, with dogs long retired or no longer with us, who may suggest that such regulation should be entirely retrospective but, personally, I do not think this would be feasible. Though, come to think of it, if the Kennel Club was going to charge for the administration there could be some profit in it!

A new approach to Internet Marketing

Posted July 16, 2015 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

Tags: ,

The Internet is a fantastic resource but it has become very ‘noisy’  leading those looking for information becoming irritated and frustrated.

Searches are awash with pop-ups, advertisements, cookies and dozens of invitations to click onto sites which, although interesting, distract us in our search for reliable information.

Advertising is important but those searching for information are becoming increasingly frustrated with its increasingly intrusive nature and concerned with the way in which they are being ‘tracked’, preferences are picked up and regurgitated on their own pages and a raft of other distracting flashes and sliders.

At the Animal Care College we have taken the decision to ‘keep it simple’ and it seems to be working. The links we provide are specific and selective and the sites themselves consist of precisely what they say on the tin.
The College has been delivering courses for enthusiasts and professionals in the animal care sector for over 35 years and has built up an enviable reputation in creating relevant courses for dog trainers, groomers, veterinary practices and pet shops including Pets at Home.

As part of our commitment to animal care we have launched a series of ‘information’ websites – the National Petcare Professional Registers:

National Register of Dog Trainers and Behaviourists

National Register of Groomers

National Register of Boarding Kennels and Catteries

National Register of Accredited Petcare Professionals

Clients can be assured that those who have signed up are well respected professionals who have agreed to abide by the demanding codes of practice created by the Animal Care College using its extensive knowledge of animal care.  Check them out to find a professional pet care provider near you.

Commitments and aims of animal care charities in the UK

Posted May 11, 2015 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals since 1980

Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws – Plato

I made a comment in Speakers Corner a few weeks ago and I have been asked to explain a little more about what I meant when I referred to ‘protectionist’ and ‘promoter’ pet animal organisations. Regular readers will know that I have long campaigned for all organisations involved in animal care and welfare and those set up to promote pet ownership, to work closely together for the long term improvement of all aspects of pet care from breeding through purchase to lifelong care. These organisations and lobby groups fall into three broad categories: those that are passionate even obsessive, about the welfare and ‘rights’ of animals who, at the extreme, do not think that we should have pets at all; those which are mostly ‘protective’ and which believe that their role is to care for animals which have been cruelly treated, neglected or abandoned and those who have an interest in the promotion of responsible pet ownership on the basis that pets are good for people and that society benefits from those relationships. Few organisations are entirely open about these basic objectives and all of them attempt to convince the general public that welfare is their prime concern so that they appeal to the broadest possible base. The first two groups, especially, are reliant on the public being convinced that any income they receive will not be misspent.

Animal rightists

Looking at the websites for animal rights organisations (you can find a very long list on Wikipedia) all emphasise the importance of the ethics of animal ownership many do not approve of any animals being kept as pets. Many, like Animal Aid, state categorically that they are dedicated to the use of ‘peaceful means’ to achieve their aims while others such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are more confrontational but, of course, none have real control over the activities of their members who might also involved with organisations such as the Animal Liberation Front or the even the more extreme Animal Rights Militia. They have a right to their views (so long as they do not take unlawful action which will harm property, people or animals) but for most of us, pets are important in our lives and although we condemn cruelty to animals in any form we are happy to recognise that we have responsibility to and for animal welfare and that animals have ‘needs’ rather than rights.

Animal protection

The next group were set up specifically to protect animals which need to be defended and cared for. This includes the RSPCA, Dogs Trust (originally called the National Canine Defence League so there is a clue in the name), Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Cats Protection, The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare and the hundreds of rescue organisations which have been established. Over the years there have been several attempts to create umbrella organisation which can represent all these protection groups, the one with the largest coverage being the Association of British Cats and Dogs Homes (this was founded by a well-known lawyer, Tom Field-Fisher in 1985 as I remember, while he was Chairman of Battersea Dogs Home and their annual conference, which coincidently was held last weekend, always has a fascinating programme providing information for its delegates and opportunities to exchange ideas. I was lucky enough to know Tom Field-Fisher well and be involved in the early days of the Association: it has grown beyond anything he might have imagined). Others include the Pet Advisory Committee (Chaired by MP Tracy Crouch), the All Party Group for the Welfare of Animals (Chaired by MP Neil Parish) and the International Coalition for Animal Welfare and, to some extent the Companion Animal Welfare Council. I mention that two of these groups are chaired by Members of Parliament and they are especially important because they have access to ministers and others of influence: in the final analysis, influence is what you need if you want to achieve political and social objectives.


Finally we come onto the ‘promoters’. These are the groups in whose interest it is that the right to ownership of pet animals into our society is itself protected. All emphasise that animals must be looked after properly but they believe that people’s lives are enhanced by contact with animals. These groups are a very small proportion of the total but they include organisations such as Guide Dogs for the Blind and the other support and rescue groups. The one with the highest species specific profile in Britain is the Kennel Club but there are other organisations devoted to the promotion of every type of pet animal from cats and rats through budgerigars and horses to bearded dragons. They are similar to the Kennel Club and include the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, the National Fancy Rat Association, the British Horse Society which, along with many others, are groups of enthusiasts for their species.

These enthusiasts and pet owners require all sorts of services: food, bedding, grooming, boarding, insurance, training, toys, housing, websites, magazines, newspapers – the list is endless – so those who have developed businesses providing those services and products, have their own organisations too. They include the Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association, the Pet Industry Federation (formerly the Pet Care Trust) among other smaller players such as the newly formed Licensed Kennel and Cattery Association. Each, too, recognises and emphasises its responsibility for pet care and welfare and many have their own sponsored but separate charities devoted to educating the public and their members in all aspects of responsible ownership.

Working closely together

At one time the Kennel Club was insular in the extreme and as a ‘gentlemen’s club’ saw itself as quite different to any of the other species representative groups other than, perhaps, the Jockey Club which was founded on very similar lines. I suppose the first step was when its committee realised that the Kennel Club’s own show did not have the same cachet as Crufts and the decision was taken to purchase the it from Charles Cruft’s widow during the war. But it was still many years, in fact not until the 1980s, that Clarges Street acknowledged, with the rise of the protectionist and anti-pet groups (in the 1970s the secretive and prescriptive League for the Institution of Canine Controls [LICC] tried to influence government and local authorities to do many of the things which have since been put in place through the Clean Neighbourhoods Acts) that it should work with any organisation which would support dogs and pet ownership. I suggested that the KC should join the Association of British Cats and Dogs Homes in the 1980s when the Directory of Rescue Organisations was first published: they remain a member and the Directory is still available and I know, from the time I was a senior manager with Battersea, what a valuable resource it is.

Since that time the Kennel Club has worked closely with many organisations and made a significant contribution in defending the rights of people to keep dogs: we may have very many reasons to complain about the KC (and Our Dogs, on your behalf, does so regularly despite the totally inaccurate view expressed by a columnist in another place) but overall, if the Kennel Club and other species specific organisations along with the trade associations were not making their views known, there would be no response to the draconian measures that we so often report upon from other countries.

We live in a country which is often frustrating for those who wish to bring in reforms (such as those suggested by PupAid which I discussed a few weeks ago) but the checks and balances which are embedded in our society also means that the powerful lobby groups such as the animal rightists are unable to steamroller their demands against the tide of reasonable and popular opinion. This has to be a good thing even if we must occasionally give up some objectives which we hold dear.

There remains much to do. In theory, the Animal Welfare Act (2006), which was the result of lobbying by many of the groups mentioned in this article and who were consulted during its planning and progress, was designed to (and should have) resolved many contentious issues for every group but in practice, lack of money and resources and, perhaps, even an appetite for authorities outside the RSPCA to prosecute, has meant its impact, although significant, has been much less than was confidently expected.

In my view it would be wise for all those involved, to be putting their efforts into implementing the Animal Welfare Act rather than demanding further laws which, I am sorry to say, would be unlikely to improve animal welfare. Frankly, education rather than regulation has to be the way forward.

The rise and rise of ABP – Anything But Pedigree

Posted April 7, 2015 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals


There’s nothing like a jolly good disaster to get people to start doing something – Prince Charles

Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face, I just pick myself up and get back in the race – Lyrics of ‘That’s Life by Dean Kaye and Kelly Gordon

If you are a breeder for pedigree dogs l would ask that you sit down quietly with a cup of tea (or something stronger if you prefer – you might need it), compose yourself, take a deep breath and remember that stress is not good for you. If you feel you are not of a strong disposition or might be severely affected by what you might consider the heretical, even bizarre ideas you are about to be presented with perhaps you should give this essay a miss. We have also taken the precaution of setting up an Our Dogs advice line which we have had especially installed in case you need counselling.

We will approach the subject of this week’s Speakers Corner carefully and just whisper ‘Cockerpoo’ very quietly.

You will perhaps have read that the Kennel Club recently asked its members to compete a survey so those running the institution can assess how they perceive their club and how effective KC services are. A full review of this survey is for another time: for the moment it is enough to say that if every member completed it there would be about 1,300 responses. (In passing, incidentally, I can tell you that, having gone through it carefully, I doubt it will tell Clarges Street anything they could not quickly have discovered by reading the Our Dogs letters pages and the views of our very experienced and dedicated columnists. The questions seem to be more concerned with feelings and concepts rather than facts which, although important, are already well known.)

On the other hand a recent brilliantly designed survey to Cockerpoo owners (I commend whoever created it to the Kennel Club) by the monthly magazine Dogs Today, is incredibly informative. I have often disagreed strongly with some of the content of this magazine but this analysis concentrates on the facts – which not only provide a great deal of relevant and interesting information but should give all of us pause for thought.

Not all surveys are the same

Before I examine the detail and some of the conclusions it might be sensible to discuss surveys. They are broadly divided into three types: those which are entirely random, those where the respondents are carefully selected to provide a balanced ‘spread’ of opinion and those which are targeted on a particular interest group. Both the Kennel Club and the Dogs Today surveys are targeted surveys because they approach a specific group of people with a clearly defined interest.

To get a reasonably accurate picture (assuming the survey is well designed and has clear objectives) you do not need huge numbers so long as the respondents offer a good spread of opinion over the subject. So quite a small percentage of say, four or five percent is more than enough to establish the overall conclusions because more respondents are likely to just confirm the pattern already established.

Next I would ask you to consider the number of responses you would expect if you carried out a survey of, say, Cocker Spaniel or Poodle owners. You are asking questions about why the breed was chosen, it’s general health, whether the owner will buy the same breed again, their character, their fitness and how well they fit into their family’s lifestyle. Would you be happy with 200 responses? This is probably the minimum you would need to get a true picture so do you think 300 would be reasonable? This is probably enough for the survey to be considered valid but 400 would be better and personally I think, that bearing in mind political surveys are pretty accurate with about 1,000 responses (a different type of survey in that it is ‘balanced’ but which nevertheless provides a useful baseline) I would be delighted with 500. I would not expect anything like this number for any group of pedigree dog owners for the result of the breed health survey have been dire in most breeds.

So how many responses do you think Dogs Today received? 1,508 – that’s how many – and we know it is a true figure because it was carried out through Survey Monkey – a respected online application which provides the totals and will not allow anyone to complete the survey twice. And what is especially worrying for all of us deeply involved with pedigree dogs is that almost all owners are delighted with their dog, that they would get another one, that they felt they had excellent service and advice from the breeder and their dogs were healthy, happy and long lived.

There were 41 questions in the survey so it was not an exercise which could be completed in a few minutes. And some of the questions also demanded quite a lot of thought: for instance question 39 asks: ‘As no one registers Cockapoos it is hard to estimate how their popularity compares to other types of dogs. Can you rank these breeds as to which you feel from your own observation is the most popular dog bought recently in your area? What pups are you most likely to see? A rating of 1 would be for the type of pup you see most frequently’.

Clearly this is quite a broad and unscientific question but as 800 people answered it there is a degree of validity which is useful and the analysis is remarkable in that the results make sense in terms of pedigree registrations. For instance, from a long list of breeds and cross-bred dogs and using a complicated algorithm developed by the Survey Monkey to create a figure to enable the proportions of different breeds seen by those taking part to be compared, Cockerpoos scored 16.31 with Labradoodles scoring 12.66 compared to Golden Retrievers at 12.62, Cocker Spaniels at 15.84, Labradors at 17.36 and Staffordshire Bull Terriers at 12.43

Another question asked whether their puppy had been health tested by the breeder and whether certificates were available: it would appear that at least 60% of the parents were health tested and hip scored. About 60% of puppies were sold for between £680 and £999 and about 35% between £400 and £650 and slightly over 80% of owners described themselves as ‘very happy’ with the service that they received from breeders with only a handful being disappointed.

The full results is available It really is worth a look and I would really like to hear of any breed clubs that have carried out a similar survey among owners.

Of course, it is not all cakes and ale. Some recent research suggests that many deliberately cross-bred dogs suffer poor health and are subject to both genetic and conformational abnormalities: this is actually not really surprising because so are we humans – but there is no doubt that the knock on effects of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, (despite all the work which has been carried out by the Kennel Club, breed clubs and breeders in the meantime, are going to reverberate for many years as a result of the impact and success that supposedly ‘healthier’, deliberately cross- bred dogs are having

I know that many breed clubs and breeders are working hard to promote their breeds but it seems to me that we still have a great deal to do.

Well done RSPCA!

Posted April 7, 2015 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs


The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today – Abraham Lincoln

Readers will know that although I often give the RSPCA a hard time I have always recognised the good work which is done by their many independent branches, so it is good to be able to report one of their successes. Unfortunately, news is seldom about the many good things that occur in our lives but focuses on the errors, mishandling and misjudgements of people, organisations or institutions. They usually occur because those taking decisions jump without analysing the possible consequences. Two recent press releases from RSPCA headquarters provide textbook examples of how such communications to the media should not be written. I was told very recently by a Trustee that the problem has been recognised and press releases are now examined by an independent consultant: they need to get a new one!

But I must not get sidetracked: I really want to concentrate on a good news story about the Society although it is, unfortunately, based on the wholly unacceptable, objectionable and repugnant circumstances that sometimes surrounds the unfortunate, disagreeable or undesirable few who view dogs not as pets to be cared for in loving homes but as factory units to generate as much cash as possible.
Quality, of course, must be paid for and I have never had any objection to people who either breed dogs and sell their surplus stock to suitable homes or, for that matter, who breed dogs as part of their livelihood. The key element is the proper care and management of every aspect of the procedure from stud dog to puppy sale. Looking after dogs, bitches and puppies is arduous and inevitably expensive: if it is to be done properly a sensible charge for stock for sale must be made (and we should accept that there are those not in the world of pedigree dogs, who care just as much as we do for the puppies that they breed as was shown by the recent survey of owners of Cockerpoos which I highlighted some weeks ago).

No excuse

But there is no excuse – that is ‘no excuse’ just to make it absolutely clear -, given that people will pay a reasonable prices for good quality puppies, for the breeding stock and the puppies themselves ever to be kept in any conditions other than those which experts and non-experts alike can describe as ‘excellent’.

It is not as though it is difficult. Freedom to move around with sufficient regular exercise, good food, clean water, good husbandry and regular cleaning of a suitable environment, good socialisation and contact with humans, a thoughtful breeding strategy and good paperwork – rocket science it is not. There is simply no excuse for treating animals in any way that is not in their best interests. Ethical and moral duties aside, The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it crystal clear what our legal duty is to those animals for which we are responsible and I am delighted the RSPCA is prepared to take those who do not fulfil their obligations to the attention of the Courts.

I do not know whether you have heard of Margaret and Gary Mazan who live in Bradford and who are breeders of Irish Setters: he is a long distance lorry driver and she is a chef. Mrs Mazan has shown her dogs enthusiastically over the years (she entered four at Crufts in 2010) and in a breed in which there is much competition did reasonably well. Back in 2013, one, Klever, was good enough to win at the Otley Canine Society Super Match. Klever has been hip scored and there are photographs on Mrs Mazan’s Facebook page of him running free and ‘relaxing’ on a sofa at home. My research indicates she began with a love of dogs and the best of intentions: she bred healthy litters and produced some sound stock. But clearly something went seriously wrong* at some stage and those who have met Mrs Mazan at shows in recent years or looked at the pictures on the websites to which she subscribes, would have had no idea that she was keeping her dogs in what the local RSPCA inspector described as the worst conditions she had ever seen.

Highlighting responsibility

However, I bring this matter to your attention not simply to censure the Mazans – that is the role of the Court – but to highlight the responsibilities of all of us who keep animals. Both Mr and Mrs Mazan were brought to the Court for seven breaches of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The process was properly and sensitively implemented in that the couple were given a formal warning and advice three years ago by the local dog warden and the RSPCA as to how the dogs should be better cared for – and for a little while the conditions appear to have improved. But this did not last very long and after the dog warden made a routine call to check and was refused access to the house in January of last year, the RSPCA with the support of the police, raided the house and took the dogs, which were in an extremely poor condition, into their care.

Mrs Mazan did not give evidence and her husband, when questioned by the Court, said that the dogs were nothing to do with him and entirely the responsibility of his wife. And this is the point: whether or not this was true and he really left the care of the dogs entirely to Mrs Mazan, he was nevertheless convicted along with her. In fact, the Chairman of the Bench specifically stated that ‘he was jointly responsible for the care and control of the dogs’. The very fact that he was aware of their very poor physical condition and the overcrowded environment in which they were kept – and did nothing to help them – meant he had directly committed offences under the Act.

There can be no excuse for allowing animals suffer: we are responsible for their health and welfare. Personally I am delighted to see that the Animal Welfare Act is being used as was intended. For all the demands for new legislation (as set out in our report in this week’s issue of the recent meeting of the All Party Group for the Welfare of Animals to improve animal care) there is little that is not covered by this legislation whether it is the conditions within large breeding establishments or the importation of puppies. The demands of the Act are sensible and specific: they just needed to be applied – as they were in this case by the local dog warden and the RSPCA.

* The Kennel Club Charitable Trust has a Breeders Helpline. This is a telephone service which offers support and advice to breeders who face difficulties in looking after their dogs or anyone concerned about the welfare of specific dogs in their area. It is available 24/7 and all calls are dealt with confidentially. The service was set up primarily for breeders who have become overstocked and under resourced such as an elderly owner who has tried to cope with a reduction in income or has an understandable attachment to their ‘golden oldies’. Calls are also often received for veterinary guidance and for advice when summonses about to be or have already been issued. The number to call is 0845 30 30 18.

Two simple strategies to reduce the incidents of dog bites

Posted February 1, 2015 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

Tags: , , ,

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

National Register of Dog Trainers and Behaviourists

Cuddly toy! Cuddly toy! – Bruce Forsythe

The meeting held at the Kennel Club recently which had as its objective the devising of a strategy which would make some progress in reducing the number of dog biting incidents in this country was an initiative which, rightly, has been widely praised. Much of what was discussed was not in itself new but the initiative brought a number of issues together which enabled a fresh focus. I have been discussing these ideas with others and some very interesting ideas have surfaced.

We have friends in Belgium who have two teenage daughters, one of whom has always been passionate about dogs. Four years ago her grandparents bought a Basset Hound bitch from a local breeder which some judges might like but certainly would not pass any vet checks in the UK were it to be shown. Almost everything about her is ‘overdone’: too long, too close to ground, too much skin for her frame, ears dragging on the ground and eyes which have to be carefully cleaned regularly. But Chloe adored her and when her maternal grandmother became ill the dog came to live with her and her family. Chloe looks after her dog beautifully, cleans up after, feeds it and takes it for walks regularly. She is an ideal and dedicated owner who loves her dog who loves her in return.

Recently, Chloe’s paternal grandmother went to stay with them and, as a dog breeder herself was very concerned about her granddaughter’s behaviour around her pet. Chloe’s parents are intelligent and sensible but they had not realised that the way Chloe ‘played’ with her dog, rolling with her on the floor, pulling her about and dragging and carrying her around could be dangerous. Not because the dog has ever shown any defensive or aggressive behaviour: in fact she greatly enjoys the attention, but because its weight and conformation is such that its spine could be seriously damaged. And, of course, if she was hurt, then she might turn and instinctively bite whoever she considered to be the source of the pain.

Problems simply not considered

Chloe plays more carefully now: it was simply not something that either she or her parents had considered – but what her grandmother pointed out in discussions with me was that it made her realise that there has been a significant change in the toys that children are now given compared with the past. The teddy bear has been an important ‘person’ in the lives of many young children as have dolls for girls and fire engines for boys but it is only relatively recently that the range of ‘cuddly toys’ has been so very wide. One of our 17-year-old student students at Bell Mead, when Angela and I were running Battersea Dogs Home’s country kennels at Old Windsor, had a collection of over 50 which she insisted on bringing with her and which lived, packed like a pile of fluffy sardines, on her bed. And it was not so very long ago that the huge ‘cuddly toys’ which we regularly see being carted around Crufts draped around their necks and carried over shoulders became available.

Of course, I am not against toys, ‘cuddly’ or otherwise, but it does seem that if children chew them, tear them, mistreat them and whirl and throw them around without some behavioural control from parents then, when they get a dog, a cat or any other pets, they are likely to treat them in the same way. It may even be the fact that so many toys are so available and there is, presumably, the money to pay for them, that they are not regarded in the same way as they were in times when toys were fewer and consequently more precious.

Two important issues

In a previous article I mentioned that most dog bites occur between 3 pm and 7 pm because this is the time when the dog in the family is under the greatest stress and maybe, quite inadvertently, put under pressure by the tension generated as a normal part of family life. But there are two further aspects of this particular issue which are important and should be underlined.

The first is that my friend suggested to the family that their dog had its own bed, preferably covered and tucked away in a convenient corner where the general hubbub of family life can be avoided. There are many good reasons for any dog being provided with its own safe haven (worth an article in itself from the point of view of sound training and good socialisation) but in terms of biting incidents, it may be that this one recommendation could significantly reduce the stress on dogs in families to the extent that many bites would be avoided.

The second issue was highlighted by a case I was involved in as an expert witness several years ago. The boarding kennel involved took in many stray dogs, many of which were quite difficult to handle, as part of its service to local authorities. One of the kennel staff was quite small in stature but she had worked at the kennels for several years and had never had any problems. In the months before this incident she had taken a particular interest and ‘shine’ to a large dog (a working breed and probably a cross but I only had rather poor quality photographs to go on) which she trained and who became her constant companion around the kennels. The dog would be in the kitchen area when she prepared food and would follow her around when she fed the dogs under her care, usually only being put away while she carried out her general cleaning duties in the kennels. It was a small operation so both the employed kennel staff worked on their own. They had mobile phones and a telephone in the reception area from where they could contact kennel owners direct. There was no suggestion that the routine was anything other than well thought through. On the day in question she sat down on a chair to have a lunch in a common area outside as it was a beautiful day The dog, as was usual, nuzzled up to her for his expected treat. It appears that she got up to reach for something, turned and unfortunately tripped over, knocking her head against the edge of a step which caused her to lose consciousness. The dog ate the lunch from the lunch box and then proceeded, quite calmly it appears, to ‘play’ with the woman to the extent that the seriously damage her legs and arms as he dragged her about over the concrete and the steps.

The point of this terrible accident is that the dog was not angry or under stress. It had no history of aggression as far as we were aware in our enquiries into its previous owners: as far as the dog was concerned it was behaving perfectly normally.

This is the incident I describe when people tell me that their dog is a ‘sweetheart’ and that there is no need for any supervision when it is playing with their children.

There appears to be a temptation among many animal behaviour professionals to overcomplicate the issue. I would not for a moment suggest that the important and interesting research which has been carried out into canine behaviour and psychology by both academics and working practitioners is of no value: it is vital in the long-term interests of pet ownership that there be a thorough understanding of the relationship (and complications) between humans and their pets but I cannot help thinking that if some easy, common sense actions were put in place many problems would be solved. Making sure every dog has its own space and ensuring that young children are always at least within immediate call of an adult might be the best place to start.

A New Initiative Concerning Dangerous Dogs

Posted January 29, 2015 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs, pets and animals


Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Find a member of the National Register of Dog Trainers

 When the press release from the Kennel Club regarding a special meeting to discuss strategies for dealing with the problems of dangerous dogs and dog biting crossed my desk I read it with a degree of scepticism. Since the original act was put into place I have been involved in numerous attempts to change it and I was on the original Dangerous Dogs Reform Group which was put together by Canine Defence League (now Dogs Trust), Association of British Dogs and Cats Homes and the Kennel Club among others, which eventually managed to push through some minor but important amendments to the Act. I am also chairman of the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council (PETbc) and the issue has, of course, been high on our agenda too, for the problem has not gone away and in fact, the number of dog biting incidents has increased over the years. This meeting was called to see whether there were ways in which the situation could be improved.

My initial reaction, which is usual for me, is that not enough emphasis has ever been put on the education of dog owners, particularly those taking on their first puppy, to ensure that their dog is properly socialised. An understanding of the psychology of canine behaviour greatly decreases the chances of dogs either being aggressive or defending themselves and also alerts owners to situations where a dog might be forced into a position where its instinct (or only alternative) is to bite.  It seemed to me that concentrating on the number of biting incidents and how they are treated (the three speakers were a surgeon and two veterinarians) was approaching the problem from the wrong end. I telephoned Bill Lambert, who was to Chair the meeting, to discuss it and he explained that they were looking for a completely different approach. I have no problem in admitting that my initial reaction was wrong. I believe the meeting could be of immense value if the ideas set out are followed through.

Specialists from every sector within which biting incidents have an impact had been invited. They included many canine behaviourists, experienced expert witnesses, representative of social and health services, local authorities, academics, sociologists and the police. The Board Room at the Kennel Club was packed to hear presentations by facial reconstruction surgeon, Chris Mannion, veterinary surgeon, Danielle Greenberg and a veterinary surgeon, expert witness and canine behaviourist, Kendal Shepherd.

The meeting was based on a statement made by Kennel Club Secretary, Caroline Kisko who, in the press release, said: ‘The Kennel Club is firmly of the view that dangerous dog law as it stands is next to useless and has done nothing whatsoever to reduce the number of dog biting incidents across the UK: instead it demonises certain breeds based on stereotypes and not scientific evidence.    There are a range of factors which contribute to dog biting incidents and each incident is specific to its circumstances and we need accurate data to build a more reliable picture of the incidence of dog bites and their causes’.

The speakers raised a number of very important factors and many organisations have been taking the problems of dogs biting not just very seriously but have put in place a number of different ways to try and reduce the number of dog bites.   However, what quickly became clear is that although these strategies may be useful they are piecemeal and far from coordinated. Danielle Greenberg in Liverpool is running a study in association with Liverpool Veterinary School, the Blue Dog charity is developing techniques to help dog owners recognise signs of stress, the Kennel Club developed its Safe and Sound initiative which it promotes on its website, through Crufts and through Discover Dogs, the London Borough of Sutton has taken the decision to become actively involved in any circumstances where dogs are a problem within the community and to engage with those involved before there is a serious incident and the major charities have all tried to address the problem.

There is an enormous quantity of information available but most has had little effect simply because there is no central data collection and distribution service in place. For instance, did you know that most dog bites occur in the home and about 70% of those occur between three and seven o’clock in the afternoon and evening.     The reason that this is the time when there is the greatest stress within the family: children returning home from school,  arguments between them and their parents and arguments between the parents themselves. There just too much going on within a short time frame all of which places the family dog under stress. One of the things that came through very clearly was that the dog is reacting in a way which, to it, is perfectly natural and instinctive but the Dangerous Dog Act places the responsibility on the dog for behaviour which is much more likely to be the thoughtless, unconscious or accidental behaviour of the owner, the family or anyone else who does not recognise the signs of stress in the dog.

We need to recognise that any time the dog is outside its comfort zone. stress can lead it to react by biting, so veterinary surgeons, groomers, police, doctors, those representing local authorities and many others need to understand this and have some dog handling skills which will ensure the dogs with which they come into contact will not react badly.

Dog biting incidents, it was agreed, should be seen as a national health problem.  Dogs are valuable and important to people in very many ways just as are, for instance, food, drink and cars.   Where these last have an impact on the health of society the government takes steps to reduce the damage: much thought is being given to reducing the amount of salt and sugar in our food, bringing the damage caused by too much alcohol to the public’s attention and imposing speed limits, fines and establishing driving courses for those who persistently offend against the Highway Code. There was general agreement that much pain and money could be saved if more information about dog biting incidents were available and there was a structured method of assessing the circumstances of each case (as there is an investigation after a serious road accident) so that we can gradually bring together information which will help develop strategies to reduce incidences.

One of the points made was that there are proportionally few bites which are the result of dogs which are known to be aggressive, where dogs have been abused or from dogs which are on the controlled/banned lists: precisely those that the original Act was supposed to address. Most bites are unexpected although where investigations have taken place there is almost always a history which should have triggered concerns.

There is clearly a case for government to become involved through the NHS, Defra and the Home Office for the ideas put forward at this meeting would only be effective with ‘will’ and funding from government. If it can be demonstrated that, say, the initiative of the London Borough of Sutton has reduced the number of incidents in its area, this would provide evidence that their approach is working and be used as a lever to generate funding from, say, NHS England.

It was also made clear that the development of agreed criteria for assessing dogs, families and the environment where any incident has taken place, would greatly improve our knowledge and understanding of the circumstances of incidents.

We can only hope that those who attended this meeting have the will and the wherewithal to develop the strategy. Caroline Kisko made it clear during the meeting that the Kennel Club Charitable Trust might be prepared to contribute to research and the development of these ideas. This meeting could be the start of something which will finally make a breakthrough in this serious problem which has be-devilled us for so many years.

We need to demolish these ‘Ivory Towers’

Posted December 6, 2014 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

All national institutions[..*.] appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind and monopolize power and profit. – Thomas Paine

The All Party Group for the Welfare of Animals (APGAW) has published a Strategy for Dogs in England. In my view little is likely to be achieved as there is, despite the varying pronouncements of all political parties, both a lack of will and, as was clearly stated by other speakers at a recent APGAW meeting, a significant lack of resources to carry out many of the suggestions.  That said the Strategy Document contains much that is thoughtful, sensible and sound (along with some wishful thinking) but there are some glaring inaccuracies and assumption in one aspect of the strategy: that which concerns training and behaviour.

Under ‘Education’ the document says: ‘All animal welfare organisations, public sector bodies and central government should ensure all messaging in this area is up to date, evidence-based, clear, consistent and accessible and visible. Such information should be positive in its tone rather than the scare mongering approach some advice currently takes. The understanding of dog behaviour and welfare has improved and advanced significantly in the last 10-15 years and is now a well-established science and discipline. Some previously accepted theories and techniques have been shown to be outdated and can place dog welfare at risk making behaviour problems worse and placing people in danger. There are still practitioners that use these theories and techniques and this is compounded by the problem that anyone can still call themselves a ‘behaviourist’ regardless of their qualifications, knowledge, experience and skills. This has resulted in a plethora of people offering behaviour therapy and training and because there has been no joined up agreement on where to sign-post the public or other industry practitioners there is much confusion. Over recent years, the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) has developed, maintains and oversees a range of standards for those in the behaviour therapy and training industry to which the majority of stakeholders have signed up. For the standards that have been created by industry to be upheld and recognised, the public needs to be informed of them and there needs to be clear signposting from Government that these bodies offer the highest standard and demonstrate best practice. Additionally the Kennel Club accredits dog trainers, providing a high quality standard of training from accredited instructors and those working towards accreditation. In 2010 the scheme achieved City and Guilds recognition. Recommendation: Defra needs to urgently identify and endorse a suitable industry standard and independent regulatory body (including qualifications, knowledge, skills and experience) so that the public can be confident in finding and going to a suitable behaviourist or trainer.

Evidence based?

I was especially interested to see the phrase ‘evidence based’ because although much of the above is correct some of its statements and conclusions are quite wrong. I am not a dog trainer but have been involved in animal care education for almost 40 years through the Animal Care College and eleven years as deputy to the Director General and manager of training with Battersea Dogs Home so I am therefore absolutely behind much of this report, especially those general points made about education. It is certainly true that sometimes confusing messages bombard the public. This needs to be addressed although the report omits to point its finger at those responsible: those groups, charities and lobbyists defending their own particular castles of influence. They are institutions which occasionally work together but their prime objective is inevitably, as Gavin Grant said in a published interview in PR Week a couple of years ago when he was appointed the Chief Executive of the RSPCA: ‘My first job must be to bring in enough money to pay my staff’!

I think I would also take issue with the phrase suggesting that dog training is now: ‘a well-established science and discipline’. You would not think so reading the immense amount of contradictory material available through books and the Internet. But let me address my specific concerns about the above paragraph. And I would add that I am not on my own – many organisations have already expressed doubts regarding the summary which contains a number of assumptions and inaccuracies.

First and foremost is the report’s endorsement of The Animal Training and Behaviour Council. The statement that it ‘developed, maintains and oversees a range of standards’ is simply not true and the assertions on their website are disingenuous to say the least. There is no doubt that ATBC has done a great deal of work but the ‘standards’ referred to are incorporated in the National Occupational Standards recently agreed by Lantra and I wrote about them at the time.  These standards were created by many organisations working together: they included the Kennel Club, the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council and the Guild of Dog Trainers among others.  Not only was the ATBC not one of them but, in fact, it argued strongly against their adoption as may be confirmed by Lantra.

Furthermore, the list of organisations which ‘support’ ATBC is mostly made up of groups (mainly those ‘castles of influence’) which only have a peripheral impact and influence on dog training and behaviours.  This is not to undermine the work that any of them do but it is important to understand that the various ‘bars’ set by ATBC and its few associated training/ behaviour organisations is such that the vast majority of those involved in dog training who have knowledge, experience and expertise could not comply – and do not need to.  

It’s not rocket science

Basic dog training is not rocket science: socialisation and the simple behaviours that families required for their pet dog do not need degree level knowledge and expertise.  Complex behaviour modification and the training of support dogs, search and rescue and sniffer dogs require immense skill, and expertise but, sit, walk, stay, come and fetch, the basics, are all straightforward. The APGAW report complicates the whole issue by supporting the view of ATBC and other ‘castles’ that just a few highly educated, expensive, dog trainers only should be allowed to train dogs and modify their behaviour.  This ignores most of the excellent work being done for thousands of dogs and their families in the community by practical, experienced dog trainers both individually and through the many training clubs – many of which work closely with the Kennel Club.

It is essential that the dog training sector gets away from the ‘ivory tower’ approach and reaches out to everyone involved – preferably through membership of one of the sensible and practical  organisations which belong to the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council ( or through the independent National Register of Dog Trainers and Behaviourists which I launched recently. The Register is free and welcomes any and every dog trainer or behaviourist who is prepared to sign up to the Companion Animal Welfare Council’s Code of Practice – the one and only thing, I might add, that everyone within the sector has ever agreed to. Unlike any other organisation it provides links to all the Kennel Club Training Clubs and all the recognised organisations which themselves ignore and often seek undermine each other.
To make progress we need to open doors – our society seems to be more and more determined to close them.

*Thomas Paine was writing about religion and the church/es in this quote but I think it applies equally to most institutions

Judging Dogs – a musical perspective

Posted December 1, 2014 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs


The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Jazz is musical composition in real time – Simon Purcell, Head of Jazz at Trinity College of Music

I am writing this week’s column in south east France on my annual visit to the French Jazz School in Chomarac. This is my twelfth consecutive year and it is the point at which everything (other than Speakers’ Corner) takes a back seat and I concentrate entirely on music. It is always an amazing learning experience: the course is run by an educational philosopher (now retired) and drummer, Clive Fenner and the tutors are three extraordinary musicians: Lianne Carol is a singer and pianist – the only person ever to have won two BBC jazz awards in a single year; Simon Purcell, head of jazz at Trinity College of Music; Julian Siegal, a fantasic saxophonist who you can hear around the country regularly at jazz festivals and clubs and, finally, the bass player, Loz Garett who you can listen to at any of Jamie Cullum’s concerts and gigs as he is part of his regular line-up. All are fully engaged in music professionally and the fact they give up time every year to help a bunch of amateurs improve their jazz and performance skills says a great deal about them: they love jazz and want to share their enthusiasm and expertise.

Today I took part in a workshop which spent three hours studying just one song. What makes it special? Why does it have such an emotional impact? What do musicians and vocalists actually do with their rhythms, timings, variations from the theme to establish what is called the ‘feel’ of a song. In short : why it is so good on every level.

Body and Soul was written in England in 1930 by Johnny Green as a dance band number for Gertrude Lawrence. The original recording is in strict tempo and although the key and chord changes shine through, it sounds little different to hundreds of tunes which were played in dance halls around the country at the time. The first lyrics were considered too risqué for the radio but they were re-written and Louis Armstrong heard the song and recorded it, giving it its first outing with a ‘jazz’ feel. Since then is has been recorded many hundreds of times and many think of it as the archetypal jazz ballad even though it was written relatively late in the development of the form – and by a British composer.

My favourite version is by Sarah Vaughan, my joint nomination with Anita O’Day, as the greatest vocal exponents of jazz in the Twentieth Century, but we studied a version by Coleman Hawkins which is lyrical, almost vocal in its interpretation.

A simple statement with profound implications

During the session Simon Purcell made what, for me was a fascinating comment. He said: ‘Jazz is musical composition in real time’. It was a simple statement but it has encouraged me to think about ‘activity’ from a different angle. Classical musicians work from a score – they certainly ‘interpret’ the music but that interpretation is restricted: confined within the bounds of the score and the way in which the conductor wants it to be played. The great jazz orchestras were slightly different in that the music was interpreted and arranged but spaces were included to allow the individual musicians to create their own solos. That is what gave them their distinctive ‘feel’. (Bach did the same in some of his piano pieces, incidentally, but in jazz orchestras such solos are an integral part of the performance.) But small groups of musicians with their own ideas have always been the foundation of jazz. Band leaders from Kid Ory to Charlie Parker to Jools Holland have brought together musicians who had their own ideas but could improvise within a close knit group to create new sounds – turning jazz from a music for funerals and dancing to an art form in its own right.

Inevitably, more advanced musicians left the mainstreams behind just as Piccaso in art, James Joyce and Virginia Woolfe in literature and Schoenberg in classical music left most of us behind as they moved into areas we could not appreciate. Standing on the shoulders of giants is all very well but if the summit is above the clouds those on ground level are left bewildered.

It is generally considered that to be entirely competent in any art form you need around 10,000 hours ‘directed practice’. Yes that’s 10,000 hours! I am learning to play the piano and so far have clocked about 400 hours so I have a very long way to go. But if you are a dog judge with thirty years experience you might well have spent several thousand hours judging dogs, going to seminars, discussing construction and watching others judge. Those who have much less experience perhaps do not appreciate this level of understanding and expertise if their dog has not been placed or a dog of which they do not approve is highly placed. Someone who has focused on their own breed, for however long, will inevitably have a relatively narrow focus. They have attended their own breed’s seminars and fulfilled the Kennel Club’s requirements before judging their breed but their discussions have been almost entirely about the minutiae of their own breed and they have perhaps taken very little else into account.

Of course, someone can practise playing the piano for 10,000 hours and not be competent but something is likely to have ‘stuck’ over the years so when I hear that the Kennel Club is receiving an increasing number of complaints about the quality of judges decisions I feel it might be time to step back for a moment and look at the whole picture.

Judges training in the UK is still very basic

Firstly, judges training in the UK is still very basic. If an inexperienced judge makes a mistake (and it is all too easy as I know from personal experience) and you are unhappy with the outcome, you should put their inexperience down to experience – your experience. Judges need to be given time and space to learn their craft and they will never make any progress if exhibitors are constantly running them down. Experienced judges make mistakes too. I have lost count of the times this week when one of the amazingly competent musicians here has left a performance bemoaning that they missed a cue, hit a wrong chord or lost time. The last time I saw Sinatra perform he began a song and after a few bars stopped and said, ‘Sorry about that, we need to start again’. He then turned to the orchestra and ticked them off, saying, ‘Fellas, we all need to start at the same time’. They roared because he was the one who had come in late.

At the same time, most experienced performers (and judges, too of course) usually get it right and have good reasons for the way in which they perform in the concert hall or the ring and perhaps we should be prepared to give that idea some thought before we rush and grumble to our friends, to our breed club or to the kennel Club.

But to return to the point about jazz being ‘musical composition in real time’, had you ever thought that this is what is happening in the ring at dog shows in every country and throughout the world? Every decision made by a judge has an effect on the perception of exhibitors. They may be so disgusted that they withdraw from showing so a good dog might be lost to the gene pool. Another might select a dog as a stud on the basis of the award given by a judge they particularly respect. A third might see their breed from a new perspective and change their view so that their decisions are altered over many years. Look back at your own experience – you will find many examples if you have been thinking about dogs and the future of your breed.

Had you realised that judging dogs is such an awesome responsibility. We have a duty to take it very seriously.

The background to I Train Dogs (iTD)

Posted October 15, 2014 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

Tags: , , ,

It is an excellent rule to be observed in all disputes, that men should give soft words and hard arguments; that they should not so much strive to vex as to convince each other – John Wilkins, one of the founders of the Royal Society in 1660

I have lost count of the number of times I have written about dog training and behaviour modification over the years: I only know that it would total many thousands of words. To give you a little background I should first emphasise that I am not a dog trainer. I can teach dogs to sit, catch, jump over things and walk on a loose lead (despite what you may have seen the show ring!) and over the years through my many friendships in the world of training and behaviour I have learned a great deal. Neither does the Animal Care College teach people to train dogs but it does have many courses, all written and tutored by experienced professionals, related to canine psychology and behaviour so I have been involved with that associated (but separate) world to show dogs for almost 35 years.

I was therefore pleased to be involved in the series of meetings Chaired by Sir Colin Spedding under the auspices of the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) several years ago. CAWC had written a report, (the Regulation of Companion Animal Services in Relation to Training and Behaviour) in 2008 and set out a list of recommendations. The report said, in no uncertain terms, that the world of dog training and behaviour modification was in chaos and pointed out that most of the distinctions and claims made by groups of trainers regarding a wide range of behavioural problems were ‘indistinct’ and that such ‘distinctions and their promotion may have important negative consequences for the welfare of both companion animals and their owners and the public at large if they reduce uptake of basic or competent services’.

I recently wrote in an open letter to trainers: ‘What has happened is that in some quarters there is an attitude of elitism which is at best an ivory tower mentality and at worst simple protectionism. Both attitudes will be defended on the grounds of animal welfare but I do not believe such a defence is rational or valid of itself’,

The results of the CAWC meetings were not satisfactory for precisely the reasons set out in this quote.

The truth about the formation of PRTbc and ATBC

After the first meeting a group of professional trainers got together and proposed a council of organisations and colleges which would provide a viable structure for the points being made at the meetings. I was not involved in those discussions but by the time of the second meeting I had been asked to take the chair because it was felt by those involved that they would like to have an independent and experienced person who would not be involved in the politics and commercial interests which had surfaced over the previous few years. For both had reared their heads as more dog owners were prepared to pay to solve their problems, and through the acceptance by pet insurers that they would pay for counselling if it was authorised by a veterinary surgeon (some of whom took on the role themselves although mostly they dedicated either members of their staff or people they knew locally to take on the task).

At the second meeting, the formation of the Pet Education Training and Behaviour Council as it had been called (PETbc – was announced and the secretary was asked by Sir Colin to describe how it had been set up and what its objectives were. When he had completed his review Sir Colin said, and I quote exactly: ‘That’s it then – job done’. Since then PETbc has drawn together and itself carried out much valuable research into dog training. It has established clear objectives for the various level of dog trainers and its website continues to be an important focus for education. It is not designed to promote either specific techniques or individual trainers. It is a forum for the industry and a provider of sound ideas and information for government.

However, there were many issues still to discuss in what have become known as the CAWC meetings including agreement concerning the writing of a Code of Best Practice which could be accepted by everyone involved in dog training and behaviour modification. It took another meeting to hammer this out and in the meantime what some describe as ‘the Ivory Tower group’ decided that PETbc was not an organisation that they could support so set up their own. This group, the Animal Training and Behaviour Council (ATBC – describes itself as ‘the regulatory body’ representing animal trainers animal behaviour therapists – though this description is disingenuous. Nevertheless, the organisation’s website provides much interesting and useful information and is anxious to promote education for instructors, trainers and behaviourists. But it sets a high financial and qualification bar for those wishing to join its lists and separates out four levels of expertise (classes?) with Veterinary Behaviourists, Accredited Animal Behaviourists, Clinical Animal Behaviourists and Animal Training Instructors – designations not recognised anywhere other than in the ivory towers.

The formation of RCDTBP

Quite rightly, and as the CAWC report pointed out, it is vital that those involved in training animals at any level have knowledge and expertise and there is no doubt that formal qualifications added to this mix are likely to be an advantage. It is also important that animals are treated with the respect they deserve and that any encouragement to behave in a particular way or any requirement that they change their behaviour, must at all times be in accordance with best practice in animal care as set out the Animal Welfare Act in 2006 and, of course, in the Code of Best Practice hammered out during the CAWC meetings.

It was clear at the final meeting that Sir Colin felt that the development of two opposed organisation was not what had been envisaged in the original CAWC report. He said that he felt that a formal Register, open to all those involved in training, should be available at a reasonable fee and at that stage the Kennel Club offered to host it. It became the Registration Council for Dog Training and Behaviour Practitioners (RCDTBP). This last has been a frustrating journey for all those involved. Neither PETbc nor ATBC were prepared to support it (the Animal Care College became a member because we support any initiative which will improve the quality of animal care) and, sadly, its enthusiastic chairman who was its driving force died before it could really get up and running. Attempts are currently being made to revive it.

All these organisations, understandably, require money. They may be charities, companies limited by guarantee or not-for-profit but they have expenses in terms of websites, postage and telephone charges which must be covered. Persuading people to part with their hard earned cash is difficult – and when there are competing organisations for that money then the natural reaction is not to become involved in any of them.

And finally – the NRDTB

I believe that a National Register of Dog Trainers and Behaviourists is an important step towards bringing all these disparate groups together. Like everything complex, it is a long hard road but last year I began to think the only way forward would be an entirely independent Register which was essentially free and would have no bias or baggage other than to post the list and enable the general public to contact trainers and behaviourists who have accepted the Code of Conduct and Best Practice. I have too long been frustrated by arguments which all too often resemble those of the mediaeval scholars regarding the number of angels who could dance on the point of a needle. In addition if you take into account my general dislike of unnecessary bureaucracy and administration you will not be surprised that I have taken the decision to cut through all this red tape and launch National Register myself.

It makes no assumptions about dog training, it does not discriminate against any dog trainer whatever their philosophy or technique so long as they are prepared to accept the Code of Conduct. It has no agenda, it does not market anything other than details of dog trainers and accepts no advertising. Joining the Register is free although there is an entirely optional choice to provide more information about the member for a very low annual fee. I am hoping that this will provide enough income to fund the costs of setting up the site and to maintain it for the foreseeable future. You can find it at . It has been welcomed by many and objected to by a few. I hope it works and the general public finds it useful and that in the long term, it improves the behaviour of dogs in society, lessens the stress of owners with problem dogs and eventually enables more dogs to be cared for in loving homes.

Genius dogs

Posted September 2, 2014 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust

Like buses, books come along in groups so it not surprising, having waxed lyrically about Angela’s unique book about Finnish Spitz last week, I am now going to be almost equally enthusiastic about another one. It is called the Genius of Dogs and although I had heard about it I had mentally placed it into the basket marked ‘another book for people who are looking for Christmas presents for their friends who have dogs’. As you are well aware there are hundreds of such books – about dogs in general, about breeds and how to care for and train them – but few are of interest to the specialist. It shows how wrong you can be.

This book is written by a scientist, an anthropologist in fact, for whom dogs have been an important factor in his work since he was in his teens. Apart from his own research he has studied with many other scientists over the years and reviewed thousands of papers related to his own specialism and to dogs. I particularly enjoyed the fact that much of what I have been lecturing and writing about for years about the domestication of dogs, based on my own reading and which, as I have freely admitted, has been somewhat speculative, has been confirmed by many carefully constructed but essentially simple experiments with dogs, wolves, various varieties of chimpanzee and bononos (don’t ask – just keep reading!).

The foundation upon which a whole raft of further work has been done and upon which some fundamental and important conclusions are based is extraordinarily simple and you can try the basic experiment for yourself. Take two identical opaque plastic beakers and place them about 5 feet apart upside down on the floor with a treat underneath one of them. Ask a friend to bring any one of your dogs into the room and, when they are settled point to the empty cup. You dog will go to that cup. The point of the treat is that your dog will go to the cup to which you point not the one which has the treat in it and this shows that dog is not being attracted by the smell of the treat. Try it with your other dogs, whatever their age (it works with puppies too) and virtually every time the dog goes to the beaker to which you point.

Would you notice that this is unusual?

This simple experiment works with babies and small children – and bonobos: if you have not heard of them you are not alone – they are a very rare primate. It does not work with chimpanzees, wolves, cats and, as far as is known, any other species. Brian Hare noticed this phenomenon with his family’s Labrador, quite accidentally while he was still at school studying for what we would refer to as A Levels. He had no idea that it was in any way unusual. He went to University to study anthropology and during his lectures the ‘pointing’ example was used to demonstrate a unique characteristic of human infant behaviour. When Brian raised his hand and told the lecturer that this was not the case – his dog also demonstrated that skill. The lecturer did not believe him but was intrigued enough to set up the experiment – more or less to show that Brian was wrong. He wasn’t!

From such simple observations are new perceptions created. The discovery of X-Rays by Curie and penicillin by Fleming both came from such simple, almost accidental occurrences. In this case a new and more plausible theory of the way in which dogs were domesticated has been proposed and, what is more important, is providing an insight into the process by which we, as human beings, made the ‘jump’ between our immediate primate ancestors, who did not understand the ‘pointing’ gesture, to those who did. The reason why it happened is likely to provide us with new insights as to why homo sapiens has become the unique and dominant species we are today.

But there is more – much more. Brian Hare and his team have been working with colleagues throughout the world over the last few years and also been reviewing the mass of data collected by others. I was pleased that he is sceptical about some of the conclusions reached (we have seen a number of projects in the UK which have not been well designed so it is safe to say that others are not founded on sound principles) and he makes it clear where ideas being put forward are speculative. However, there is more than enough to support the core theoretical ideas which have been accepted by established researchers and leaders in canine psychology such as Roger Abrantes and the Coppingers and incorporated into their writings and lectures.

Essential reading

In my view, this book is essential reading for anyone who trains dogs or has any aspirations to modifying their behaviour. The remnants of FE Skinner’s ideas which were encapsulated in the term ‘behavioural’ psychology and have led to many effective dog training techniques have not been made redundant, but the concept of what is now being called ‘dognition’ should be having an impact on our use and understanding of operant conditioning (both positive and negative), our approach to repetition in training, the use of clickers, distraction techniques and the rest. Hart says, ‘Current training methods do work, since dogs can be trained to do many amazing things. But from a scientific perspective, we do not know which method works best’ – and perhaps this is the reason why the disputes about training approaches and techniques lead to such bitter antagonism between trainers and behaviourists!’ He goes on to say, ‘There is currently no formalised training that combines what we know about dog behaviour and training and the latest research in dognition. Cognitive training would not only identify the different ways in which dogs learn but also identify limitations and biases that can prevent learning. Strategies can then be designed to work around these biases and limitations while tapping into the genius of dogs.

Hare’s work is already having an impact, though. You might like to read The Rosetta Bone by Cheryl Smith and Roger Abrantes latest edition of The Evolution of Canine Social Behaviour. You should certainly get a copy of The Genius of Dogs.

Further thoughts about the appointment of judges

Posted August 26, 2014 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals


Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in. – Isaac Asimov

I have just returned from the World Show – it was fabulous. There were world Shows before 1998 but although I am sure Our Dogs will have reported upon them I do not remember any making an impact. That all changed when Finland hosted the show that year. Our Dogs, Angela and I were all there and it was a wake up call for members of the FCI. It was slick, very well organised, had an amazing entry and the finals each day were jaw dropping in their professionalism. Crufts apart, it was the best dog show ever staged on behalf of the FCI and set standards frequently aimed for by other kennel clubs but, it has to be said, seldom achieved. As expected, Helsinki this year, once again demonstrated precisely how it should be done. The detail was set out last week in our feature article so I will not repeat the plaudits here but in a fascinating four days there was much to be enjoyed and much was discussed, speculated upon and rumoured.

What was neither speculation or rumour was the number of members of the I Judge Dogs community who were present in Helsinki. Some were judging but many had gone simply to broaden their understanding of some of the many breeds which are now coming into the UK as a result of the KC/FCI agreement signed three years ago. It was gratifying that they all said they were delighted with iJD. There is now no doubt that this group is creating a new and successful career path for judges and providing a unique resource for secretaries and show managements.

Closed minds

That said, I had a discussion with a well known and highly respected canine journalist who, I was amazed to find, was very dismissive of the whole concept of iJD. ‘Just advertising’, he said but , in my view, he had clearly not given the idea any real thought. The problem with a closed mind is that it is, by definition, unable to consider alternatives to the embedded and often atrophied established structure. The world changes however much we would like it to remain the same.

I spent some time trying to convince him that our community was a ‘good thing’. I do not know whether I succeeded but when there those with his authority have such a negative (and, dare I say, ‘outdated’) view I realise we still have an uphill struggle. I have since sent him two A4 pages of reasons why I believe his attitude is wrong!

His main problem was that he thinks it unethical if judges do not wait until they are asked to judge. But that very attitude has led to exactly the ‘black’ appointments system which has developed as the world of dogs has grown. True it has retreated a little in the last five years but it is still very much larger than it was fifty years ago: that growth led to the what I have called the ‘nudge, nudge/wink wink’ approach, to the swaps, the favouritism, the requests on Facebook for judges, the increasing number of direct applications to societies and the various cabals which seem to me to be almost endemic. I asked my colleague if this was preferable. Of course, he said it was not – but had no suggestions as to how it might be improved or replaced.

He also objected to the fee! Personally I do not feel £15 a year is unreasonable: no-one could consider it extortionate and bandwidth and maintenance has to be paid for (and this is 75% of that that applied when the site was first launched by Debbie Flemming ten years ago). And I did not want to accept advertising which could have been alternative way for the costs to be covered. Money must come from somewhere : the Kennel Club database of judges passed for tickets may appear to be ‘free’ but, of course it is paid for through KC fees – free it ain’t.

I remember, too, when I first came into dogs and well until the 1980s judges would take out advertisements in the classified section of the canine press under the heading ‘Judges Cards’. Statements such as ‘B….. C ….. for a sound opinion’ followed by an address and telephone number were common and not looked at askance.

Gauges of success

The success and ‘reach’ of a web site is measured by how high it is placed by search engines. Put in ‘dogs’ and Our Dogs is on the first page, put in ‘animal care’ and the Animal Care College is third on the list. These levels of exposure only occur if the site is well used so the success of iJD, as it has come to be known is demonstrated in that if you search the Internet for a someone in dogs who is listed – iJD comes up on the first page.

Another element of our discussion was that judging lists should be the basis on which appointments ought to be offered. I have no problem with that as a concept but: judging lists are quickly out of date and supply very little information other than the level, a name, address and phone number which, if a show secretary is looking for a judge to officiate for several terrier breeds, for instances, is of little help. Also, while many clubs are excellent in reviewing their lists, far too many fall short in distribution and administration. No-one expects secretaries to circulated their club’s lists these days (do they?) but some clubs do not even have a web site and some that do, do not post their judges list. I think this is incredibly short sighted. (iJD, incidentally, will post the link – for free – to any judges list available on the web and about 60 are currently available.)

The great thing about the site is that members of the iJD community have no need to grub around suggesting to those in a position to offer appointments that they would ‘be available’. Neither do they have to approach anyone to judge with implied suggestions that the ‘favour’ would be returned. Their expertise is clearly and accurately set out for all to see. As I said in an article some months ago – what’s not to like?

Finally, what of those who support the site with their subscriptions? They fall into a number of categories. There are those who are already established and have no need to be members in that they are already well known. On the other hand, although they are established they have no way of telling secretaries in an ethical way what further breeds in which they are interested. But what is more important, membership makes a statement that they would like to be appointed on their merit, their knowledge, their experience and their expertise rather than ‘who they know’.

Then there are those who have done some judging but do not want to get on to the ‘ nudge, nudge/wink, wink merry-go-round. iJD allows their name to be available without any strings being attached. If societies feel they are ready for an appointment they can be invited. Some societies complete their panel of two shows a years in one evening with the committee sitting round a table with their laptops or tablets – and they tell me the result is record entries. One of the reasons for this is that exhibitors, when they are faced with a judge they do not know, can go to the iJD website and see their CV. If they feel confident in their experience they can enter when, once, they might not have taken the risk.

Finally there are those who are beginning their career and see iJD as the modern, acceptable way to tell others they feel they would like to judge. If you have an ambition to be a lawyer, a teacher or a nurse and you have amassed suitable qualifications, no-one questions the fact that you can apply for a job: you are not expected to wait to be asked. Why should judging be any different?

It is true that in the world of dogs iJD is not the way things were once done – but virtually nothing is in the 21st Century!

An outside view of veterinary health checks

Posted July 17, 2014 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

That government is best which governs least – Henry David Thoreau

John Amand, a very good friend of mine, is very big in bulbs: not the ones you plug into a light socket but the sort you put in the ground. There are hundreds of beautiful flowers which come under this category, many of which are quite different from the tulips we expect from Amsterdam: some, too, are very rare and John ( is one of the world’s authorities. He is on the Royal Horticultural Society’s Bulbs Committee as well as being involved in the recognition of new varieties. He exhibits each year at Chelsea where, in 2014, he and his sister Nesta, who run the company between them, gained their 28th Gold Medal! If you are a keen gardener and you watch the Chelsea presentations on BBC2, you will have seen them featured on Friday evening’s programme. Some indication of his ‘reach’ in this specialised sector of plants is that a few days ago one of his suppliers telephoned to tell him that his growing fields had acquired a virus and the 80,000 black tulips which John had ordered for delivery this autumn would not be available. Some bulbs are extremely rare: there is a variety of snowdrop which change hands for over £75! John holds a position in horticulture equivalent to that of our most senior judges not just in his status but in that he travels the world searching for the very best.

Although not having a pet at the moment both John and his wife, Helen, are very fond of dogs and usually come with us to the Contest of Champions and the occasional show so over the years he has become reasonably familiar of the complexities of the world of dogs. Being an ‘outsider’ it means, too, that he has, perhaps, a less blinkered view of our obsession for even the least liberal of us must surely admit that there is a tendency for our enthusiasm and dedication to develop a degree of tunnel vision.

A curious friendship

Our is a curious friendship in that I know absolutely nothing about gardening or gardens (other than enjoying them) and dislike any form of physical exercise intensely while John sells bulbs to Holland (really he does) and was a basketball player of international standard. But we have a very similar outlook on life and find it both interesting and useful to bounce political, design and business ideas off each other. And we have shared interests too: we both enjoy good food and good wines.

We were recently discussing the different ways in which prizes are given in the world of dogs and in the world of gardening. In the various small general and specific gardening competitions which are held around the country, the judges award prizes as we do to dogs in order of their preference: first, second, third, and so on. There are breed societies (Alpines, Orchids, National Rose) and general societies (Hardy Plants, Cottage Garden, Garden Organic) presided over by the plant equivalent of the Kennel Club – the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). The RHS are responsible for the major shows such as Chelsea, Hampton Court and Tatton Park but unlike Crufts where the judging pattern is the same as that in other shows, there is a panel of judges (note the neat segue from a recent Speakers Corner in which I discuss the difference between ‘first past the post’ and assessment through ‘knowledgeable opinion’) who are entirely concerned with quality rather than preference – a little like the FCI approach of assessing each dog and awarding a grade (‘excellent’, ‘very good’, ‘good’ and the rest). So at Chelsea there can be many Gold Medals awarded for they are dependent entirely on the quality of the exhibit. On the other hand, just because you are there does not mean you get a Gold – most exhibition stands do not. The next level is Silver-gilt, then Silver and then Bronze. The judges determine a Best Show Garden and there are other specific awards such as ‘Plant of the Year,’ ‘Best Fresh Garden’ and ‘Best Artisan Garden’ – perhaps these can be considered the equivalent of winning a major Stakes Class at a dog show.


We recently discussed the furore surrounding the vet checks of St Bernards. I explained (with help from Angela because she is much better versed in the technicalities of the regulations than I am), some of the reasons why a dog might be considered Best of Breed but nevertheless may be considered by a veterinary surgeon to have an obvious physical characteristic detrimental to its well-being. John asked whether this meant that the dog was therefore also not entitled to the Challenge Certificate. We explained this was not the case but that the dog must once again be examined by a vet prior to its being declared a Champion. ‘But’, he asked, ‘does this mean that a champion might be shown again and fail the vet check?’ We explained that this was the case because the characteristic might be temporarily.

He was horrified. ‘But if it is temporary, surely it should not fail. I would have thought that failure should only be about a characteristic which was permanent and, if this is the case and the dog is fundamentally unhealthy, it should be disqualified permanently?’ We explained that this is not how it worked. Different judges and different vets have alternative views (although some, it must be said, seem to have taken the opportunity to make a point) so it would not be fair to entirely dismiss the dog in question. ‘What about the reserve dog’, John asked. ‘The judge has said it is worthy to be a champion so, assuming it would have passed the vet check, would they not, rightly, be upset?’ We explained that the idea had attracted much controversy and he replied that he was not surprised!

John could appreciate the reasons why the procedure had been put in place. As a businessman he understands the importance both of public relations and employing regulation to force and promote change. On the other hand, we agreed regulations themselves, once in place, are sometimes difficult to alter if circumstances change and, in fact, can often act as a brake on progress.

In thinking about all this later (and bearing in mind the various groups which have been set up to examine ways in which important changes to the structure of the world of show dogs and its governance might be implemented) in relation to the recent introduction of breed watch features into the judging process, I wonder whether the necessary sledgehammer of the vet checks has, perhaps, served its purpose. All the evidence which crosses my desk indicates that even in those breeds which were at one time deeply entrenched in their positions and wedded to their traditions have seriously reviewed their attitudes. There may be some way to go but the very fact that there have been changes in direction within breeds could mean that the current veterinary assessment could be set aside, temporarily at least, just to see whether the much less divisive Breed Watch categories will be effective in monitoring breed health. It seems to me that focusing on a much wider range of health characteristics than the narrowly focused, inconsistent, simplistic and divisive vet checks has to be a more rational and ultimately more effective approach.

The introduction of vet checks has undoubtedly proved its worth as a lever in forcing important changes in judge, breeder and exhibitor attitudes. But I would suggest that the time has come to drop them, not just because they have served their purpose but to enable individuals and organisations to concentrate on the many other important issues surrounding the welfare and the promotion of pedigree dogs.

Is our cynicism overiding our common sense?

Posted July 17, 2014 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently – Friedrich Nietzsche

Apart from war which is always tragically with us, corruption seems to be the current defining social theme of the 21st Century. It has always been there of course, floating silently beneath the surface of society, but the last few years, primarily through the research of journalists on the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, it has been raised Kraken like, generating fear and revulsion as revelations concerning both the Lords and the Commons, local government, newspapers, the police force, the care of the elderly, the sordid behaviour of some celebrities and those involved in the Paedophile Information Exchange have come to light. Conspiracies of silence, cover-ups, lies both in and out of the Courts, and smoke and mirrors are techniques with which we have become all too familiar: this means it becomes more and more difficult for ordinary people such as you and me to trust institutions, organisations and, I am afraid, each other.

The damage to society and to the trust we have in those institutions to which we, through our support, subscriptions or votes are party to, is immense but as a proportion, those who behave unacceptably, whether they are violent, criminals, sexual predators or bullies is, in fact, relatively small. They nevertheless have an disproportionate impact on the cultural health of the country by damaging and distorting personal and public relationships.

During a discussion at a recent show I was told by someone that I was naive and too trusting of people, the implication being that I did not understand the workings of the ‘real world’. I did not see it as a criticism at the time: I tend to trust people until I have evidence (other than hearsay) to the contrary. And if being naive means I believe people are essentially good and their mistakes (if acknowledged and reparations offered and/or completed) should be taken in the context of kettles and throwing the first stone, I am happy to be naive. We are all human and inevitably imperfect but I am beginning to wonder whether my ‘cynical gene’ has not been too deeply buried.

Different views from experienced people

In this context judging has once again become an especially hot topic. Recent articles have led to a great deal of discussion at shows and while at East of England Show I was interested to hear the views of a number of very experienced judges held in high esteem. I was not surprised that they all had very different views both on the current situation, the possible solutions and what might be done to improve the processes of training and appointments. On the positive side I was particularly pleased that one judge, already passed for many breeds, told me she had fulfilled her objectives. But she is still attending as many Judging Development Programmes (JDPs) as she can. She wants to learn about other breeds so when they come into the Group ring or in Stakes classes she can better assess them. The downside is that although she therefore has many credits under the JDP she regularly has to explain to secretaries that although she would almost certainly be passed to award tickets in those breeds she does not want to do so.

At the other end of the scale another judge told me that they did not feel the JDP or breed seminars were of much value because the information provided was so similar. For her it was much more important to go over as many dogs as possible and she felt that working alongside experienced specialists either with them as mentors or with her as their student judge were the preferred options.

Both were critical of many ‘up and coming’, young(ish) all rounders who they did not feel had the depth of experience which came from going over many hundreds of dogs at a wide variety shows. Many experienced all breed judges also feel that their work, experience and knowledge is not appreciated by exhibitors and that the problems we have had with breeds becoming too extreme is entirely down to specialists who lack their broad appreciation and understanding of soundness. There was concern, too, that some judges, both specialists and all breed, continue to judge beyond the point at which they can comfortably go over dogs and it was clear from a brief survey of some of the rings at the show that there was some truth in this.

The crux of the matter

But the crux of this matter is a curious dissonance: over the years every judge with whom I have discussed these issues has been adamant that they judge absolutely to the standard, that they have worked hard to achieve their status as a judge and would, under no circumstances, place any dog other than on merit. On the other hand those same judges believe that many of their colleagues do place dogs for reasons other than of merit or through lack of knowledge of the breed they are judging. They agree, as do many exhibitors, that a good deal of judging is about faces, status, not wanting to be out of step or returning or expecting favours. And even those who cry from the rooftops about the importance of judging fairly and seeking out the very best dogs, whatever their age, are distorting the playing field by promoting those very best dogs: less experienced judges may have their opinion swayed in the future.

Essentially, judging must be about each individual dog and the breed standard. Nothing else should interfere with that assessment. It should be the exhibitor’s expectation too. Mistakes are inevitable (who has not completed a class or handed out a ticket and wondered whether they have ‘got it right’?). But mistakes can only be acceptable if they are the result of lack of experience or knowledge – and are not excusable for any other reason. Even then, if mistakes happen often perhaps the judge needs more training – although it must be admitted that one of the most serious problem is that too many judges would not themselves believe that they lack the basic skills or an eye for a dog.

But who is to tell them that they are wrong? If they have been involved with showing, breeding and judging for a long time, if they have jumped through all the hoops and completed the criteria, might those who disagree be wrong themselves? We columnists are very free with our opinions but these are only opinions however sincerely they are held.

Might the best policy be to be more trusting rather than less? Perhaps we should each accept that there is a broad range of views which may be different but which, because they are honestly held, do still have value? Might the dog which seems to win everything under everyone in reality actually be the best?

Are we, because of the focus of current news stories allowing our cynicism to override our judgement? I hope so.