Reserve Challenge Certificate deserve to be recognised

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to accept it – Peter Drucker

Ronnie Irving recently gave me the opportunity to mount one of my long standing hobby horses.

In his column last week, Ronnie discusses the question of whether changing the regulations regarding champions would have any significant impact on entries. In his view, making it easier to make up champions would have a deleterious effect and he believes, as do I, that the value of the UK title should be protected. There is no doubt that a UK Champion is more highly regarded throughout the world than any other national (or even, dare I say, ‘International) title.  He believes  anything which enables exhibitors to make up a dog more easily devalues the designation and once again I agree with him.

Those of us fortunate enough to occasionally judge abroad are often faced with very small entries where no dogs are of ‘ticket’ quality and although the persistence and tenacity (and financial outlay) of those who take their dogs from country to country to acquire international titles must be admired, I am quite sure that those owners would greatly prefer a UK title if their breed is allocated tickets. Ronnie’s thesis is that lowering the bar will inevitably lower the standard and in most instances he is quite right.

A little background

When I first came into dogs back in the late 60s, the number of challenge certificates was dictated by the number of puppies registered in any given year. This meant that in those popular breeds where puppies were bred primarily for the pet market, many more challenge certificates were available than those where a much greater proportion of puppies being bred appeared in the show ring.  The change which was later applied meant that the number of tickets was related directly to the number of dogs exhibited over a three-year period (which also took into account the larger numbers shown at breed club shows). That is much more rational and although, as those in the larger breeds will almost certainly agree, it is not perfect, it is certainly more fair than it once was.  As the number of dogs shown grew during the 80s and 90s, inevitably the number of challenge certificates also increased. To ensure these extra tickets could be available, the Kennel Club authorised a number of further group championship shows and eventually another general championship show (Boston).  Over the past six years the situation has changed again and in what is I hope an interim measure, certificates over and above those which would have normally been available have been authorised while the economy has taken such a sharp downturn.

Being involved in a championship show it is clearly to our advantage to have as many tickets available as possible because we know that,  just as in the Radio Programme  ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, ‘points mean prizes’ – ‘tickets mean entries’, but as a breeder, exhibitor and judge I recognise there must be a balance between quantity and quality just as there must be a balance between soundness and breed type in the dogs we breed and show.

For all these reasons I would be totally against: challenge certificates for every breed at every championship show; a champions class (which as we have seen from abroad, inevitably means dogs of poor quality coming through and gaining certificates) and, in fact, any other mechanism which devalues the title of ‘Champion’.  So Ronnie and I are in agreement here.

However, we part company on one specific issue and I believe that his arguments against giving a Reserve Challenge Certificate formal status are not reasonable. Two are especially striking: one is that reserve tickets are ‘dished out by some judges in a much more cavalier fashion than the CC itself’.  Now there are lots of things that we could say about judges. Of course you the reader, Ronnie and I, can all be trusted to take our responsibilities seriously and to judge consistently and fairly.  Actually I have never, ever spoken to anyone who has not subscribed to this ideal. Of course, there are ‘the others’ who exhibitors and some judges do not believe can be trusted or are, perhaps, incompetent. But it would seem from what Ronnie has said that some such people are on the Border Terrier judges lists and the implication is that there must be at least some on other lists too.  Even if we accept that this is the case I do find it difficult to understand why somebody would be careful and ethical about the Challenge Certificate but would put those attributes aside because the Reserve Challenge Certificate (which has precisely the same wording) is of lesser value so can be used as some sort of reward for persistence or a consolation prize.  What is more, given the knowledge, experience, time, expense and trouble taken by judges, the various committees who evaluate them and the Kennel Club who assesses their suitability, can it then be reasonable not to trust their judgement?

In any event, if this is the case, and I hope that it is not, then I would see it as an argument for giving the Reserve a greater status and not one for leaving it as it is.

My second area of disagreement is where Ronnie brings up the question of withholding of awards.  I think it is culturally and psychologically difficult for judges to do so but I hope it will become easier and more acceptable to exhibitors in the coming years.  However I do not think it is relevant in this discussion regarding Reserve Challenge Certificates.

These are both peripheral arguments so let us move on to the sound ones.

Sound arguments

Firstly, there is no question in my mind that although a Reserve Challenge Certificate clearly states that, in the opinion of the judge, the dog to which it is awarded is worthy of being a champion, it is absurd  there is no way in which that dog can, by virtue of that award, become a champion.

Secondly, given that the statement on the certificate about the quality of the dog has to be confirmed by other breed judges it does seem reasonable that if three judges are prepared to say that a reserve ticket winner is worthy to be a champion, those opinions should be recognised formally i.e. perhaps being equivalent to a full challenge certificate.

Thirdly, there will still be dogs who do not quite make it and retire having eight reserve challenge certificates just as in the way some now retire only ever having won two tickets.  There will still be a clear bar which will provide motivation for exhibitors.

Fourthly, it could be argued that if say nine judges believe that a particular dog is worthy to be a champion this is greater value than if three judges concur!

Fifthly, although I appreciate the argument that if a good dog is taking all the prizes it is a motivation for breeders to produce one that is better, there is no doubt that in many breeds a flashy dog develops a reputation which it is difficult for judges to overcome.  Giving the reserve ticket more status will, I believe, allow other well qualified dogs to come through and gain the champion status they clearly deserve.

Finally, I really do not think that this change will lead to a reduction in the number of dogs being shown. It probably will not make any difference but my own feeling is that it will increase entries, not just because exhibitors will have greater motivation to go to shows, but because they will need to go to more shows to achieve champion status for specific dogs.

I rest my case which I believe to be irrefutable.  And I can say that with confidence because Ronnie cannot be proved right without the Kennel Club changing the regulations – and if my previous attempts are anything to go by (despite me being proved right on those occasions when – eventually – the KC has changed course) this will not happen any time soon!

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