Judging – Some background information on the development of the ‘I Judge Dogs’ website

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

About eight years ago, Deborah Fleming, a Belgian Shepherd Dog exhibitor, thought that it would be a good idea to have somewhere on the Internet where secretaries of general dog shows could find suitable, experienced judges without having to rely on those high profile judges already well known or the limited number of people personally known to their committee.  She called the site ‘I Judge Dogs’ (www.ijudgedogs.co.uk) and when she first mentioned this to me I thought that it was an excellent idea.  However, when the site went live I was concerned that there were no barriers to listing and it was possible for every man, woman and their dogs too, to put their names up as being able to judge every breed scheduled (within KC regulations – up to five classes for Band E breeds and up to three classes for the rest) whether or not they had any experience, knowledge or background.

Nevertheless, the site took off and quickly gathered a couple of hundred members and was quickly used by secretaries and show managements because it was useful.  Still, the reports coming back to me indicated that because it allowed people to indiscriminately list any breed they wanted to judge, whether are not they had any experience, a great deal of research was still required by the secretary before suggestions could be put to their committees.  I spoke to Deborah several times and she eventually took the site down for a complete rebuild.  This meant that momentum was lost for it was not available for about two years.

When I met Deborah at Birmingham City this year she said that she did not feel she had time to maintain it but the restructuring had been completed and therefore it was possible for the site manager to develop it in a way that would make it much more useful to show managements by establishing a clear set of criteria for its members.

Frankly, I had plenty to do (and still have, of course) but I nevertheless felt more or less obliged to take it on as I had been supportive and the changes had been made very much at my instigation.

‘Old school’ criticism

There has been some criticism of the idea – mainly from the ‘old school’ who feel that there is something unethical about the process – but I have to tell them: ‘life has changed’.  Although I would not and do not, condone those who ‘tout’ for appointments there have to be better ways of putting together a schedule than by guesswork.  As a teacher, once I had completed my training, I could apply for a job: this meant sending my application form and CV to schools which needed teachers with my expertise and then waiting until I was rejected or called for interview.  It would have been unethical and quite wrong for me to contact the head teacher of the school and invite them to lunch to try and persuade them that I was the person for the post – but there is nothing unethical about informing people of your qualifications.

With these points in mind perhaps it would be helpful for me to set out the reasons why I believe a site like this one is of value and suggest that ‘I Judge Dogs’ may provide one solution.

That was then – this is now

Those of us who have been around for many years, began our judging career in the days when, if you judged a breed at an Open Show, you could expect to have anything between 20 and 50 dogs. We worked hard at it and travelled many thousands of miles (almost always without a fee or expenses) but in so doing had opportunities to learn ‘at the coalface’ in a way which is seldom available to judges these days. Suggesting that today’s potential judges follow ‘our’ path is not helpful to them or to the future of the world of dogs – that path is not only longer and harder but the experience gained upon it is much less useful, for the number of dogs they are able to go over is a fraction of what it once was!

At the same time, those running shows are often people who have not long been involved in the dog game.  This is not new.  It is as difficult as ever to persuade people to join committees and put in the work required. I ran my first open show when I had only been in dogs four years and I remember that I had to rely on the people around me to suggest judges:  lovely and helpful though they were, I later discovered that many knew little more than I did!  The resultant schedules usually contained a few high profile names while the rest were those who were friends or those known to the committee.

Similarly, various press reports seem to indicate that fewer people are prepared to choose their life partner ‘by chance’ – more and more are using dating sites because the choice for everyone is wider and it is more likely that they will find someone who better fits their personality.  It is a new and different world!

There are also problems as far as some breed clubs are concerned: their demands are sometimes unnecessarily high so getting the number of dogs required for a B List is becoming increasingly difficult.  And it is also clear that while most, breed clubs are excellent, some are little more than cabals driven by their own political agendas: those considered ‘outsiders’ do not stand a chance of being accepted.  The Kennel Club definition for a C list is that the applicant should have ‘an interest in the breed’.  I know of a number of people who have attended breed seminara and shown real interest in a breed over two or three years and been turned down for a C List: this surely cannot be right!

Added to all this, when up and coming judges get an appointment other than in their own breed (where, of course, they are known), their entry is often very low, partly because of the current economic situation but partly, too, because the exhibitor often has never heard their name and, most importantly, has no way of easily finding out the depth of their knowledge or whether they have any expertise.

Fair, sensible and open

So, ‘I Judge Dogs’ is not just designed to allow judges to set out their credentials in a fair, sensible and open way (just as they do all the various Facebook sites and on CollieNet and the like) but to provide a service to show managements and to exhibitors who can access the details of judges under which they might compete and find out a little about them.

For all these reasons, I felt it was important for me to take on the administration of the site and pay the outstanding bills from the web designer.  I then spent a good deal more time and money developing the site to make it really useful both to judges and to show managements.  I added several pages of information for judges, direct links to the Kennel Club Championship Show judges’ lists and devoted a page to breed club judging lists.  There is information on writing show reports, developing a judging career, the Judges Development Programme, information on regulations, conformation and movement, and a detailed analysis of some breed standards.

Looking at the outgoings, I felt I at least needed to cover my costs.  I therefore decided that although the site was to be ‘not-for-profit’, a subscription of £15 a year was not unreasonable – £5 less than the £20 fee that Debbie had set eight years ago, incidentally.  This will make no one’s fortune as the number of potential judges is severely limited and, given the current economic situation, gradually reducing.  It is my intention that any profit is either ploughed back into the site or used to reduce the subscriptions.

I did consider going the Wikipedia route and ask for donations, but came to the conclusion this would have provided very little funds – certainly not enough to run the site.  For established judges to make a fuss about a very reasonable subscription (as some of them have) seems to me disingenuous and could be seen as pulling up drawbridge now that they are safely home and dry!

There have actually been very few criticisms and the vast majority of my direct mail and from the site is extremely positive and, in many cases, actually grateful.  This particularly applies to secretaries who are finding the site extremely useful and the breed clubs who are delighted that there is one place where people can go to access their judging lists (members of the site are encouraged to apply for lists but, of course, these lists are inevitably up to two years out of date).  I have also begun to take the time necessary to reformat judging lists which are currently not available on websites and have created a site especially for them.

Everyone, of course, is entitled to their opinion but I hope this explanation helps people realise how much time and effort is going into this project, that it is not a whim, and that it has merit.

David Cavill

2 Comments on “Judging – Some background information on the development of the ‘I Judge Dogs’ website”

  1. Diane Jones Says:

    Judges needed please for Companion Dog Show with Obedience 1st May 2016 Nr Hailsham East Sussex in aid of Sussex Pet Rescue

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