Dog Shows and Dog Judging, and Standard of Excellence by which to Judge.


1. History of Shows.

2. Objects and Management.

3. The Judges: their Election.

4. Judging by Points.

5. Scale of Points.

Chapter XXXVII. The History Of Dog Shows

Dog shows have now been established in this country just twenty years, for, although gatherings of fanciers at favourite haunts to compare the merits of their dogs were common enough long before that date, the dog show at Newcastle, in June, 1859, is looked upon as the first really public exhibition of the sort, and the history of dog shows begins from that date. I am not sure, however, that some valuable hints might not be taken from the meetings of "the canine fancy " in what I may call the pre-historic age of dog shows. Those convivial meetings, where very often the dogs were only shown because of the pride the owner felt in their possession, and the considerable share of the praise bestowed upon them, which he felt justified in appropriating to himself, were of course held at public houses, and, doubtless, owners of celebrated dogs were often subsidised by the landlord to appear on the scene with their stock, as an attraction to customers in general who were possessed of doggy proclivities. I have "dropped in," as Paul Pry would put it, to many such meetings, in some of the large towns of England, and been thus introduced to many notable dogs, and thereby picked up many a "wrinkle." Such gatherings still take place, and, although their fame has been eclipsed by the splendour of our more imposing modern shows, there were always to be found at them good specimens, and men who could discuss the merits and properties or points of a dog seriatim, and it was thus each specimen was judged and relegated to his proper position among the canine celebrities of the day.

At these pseudo private shows the exhibitors were all supposed to be not only fanciers, but judges, and, when matches were made, the match makers were also the judge makers, and he - the judge - was expected to say in what properties the dog he selected for honours excelled his less fortunate opponent.

These are two important points: the election of the judge by the exhibitors, and the judging by the individual points or properties, which I may hereafter refer to more fully, merely remarking now that, as a very considerable section of those who have taken an interest in dog shows is in favour of both plans, it becomes a duty to discuss their merits. Probably, the desire of those who first took an active part in shows was to raise their character in every way above mere pothouse affairs, and such an object was most commendable; but is it quite certain that in avoiding the Scylla of low associations they have managed to steer clear of the Charybdis of respectable but dull incompetence cunningly mixed with craft ? Most certainly the letters of complaint with which that portion of the press dealing fully with the subject teems indicate a very general discontent with things as they are, and the scores of good men who go in for dog showing for a time with enthusiasm, and afterwards retire with silent disgust, emphasise the written complaints, and strengthen the suspicion that reform is needed.

As previously stated, although dog shows sprung from the meetings of the "fancy" in sanded parlours, where they had long been deeply rooted, the fact is generally ignored. It is felt to be inconvenient in this, as in so many things else, to trace the pedigree too curiously, lest the low origin might be found inconsistent with existing pride. So, just as many people would scorn to acknowledge an ancestor before the advent of William the Conqueror, the birth of dog shows is in polite circles dated Newcastle, June 28, 1859.

This, which the Kennel Club Stud Book describes as "the first dog show ever held," was organised by Messrs. Shorthose and Pape, at the suggestion of Mr. E. Brailsford. Competition was limited to pointers and setters, and there were sixty entries, and only two prizes; but there were no less than six judges - three for setters and three for pointers - a great contrast from present practice, where frequently one judge has as many as thirty classes to deal with.

The Newcastle show was followed in the autumn of the same year by one in Birmingham, organised by Mr. B. Brailsford, and including more varieties. The following year a much more extended schedule was issued, embracing thirteen classes for non-sporting dogs. The extension was fully justified by results, the public responding liberally by their entries and their presence, and steady progress continued to mark the history of Birmingham shows, so that, in a few years, those who had taken an interest in it, finding it advisable they should have a " local habitation" as well as a name, formed themselves into a company and built the Curzon Hall, where, since 1865, the shows have continued to be held; and success, as far as entries and attendance, never fails, and, indeed, both are only limited by the size of the building - thus showing how strongly popular the Birmingham exhibition is. There are doubtless several reasons for this. Birmingham is exceptionally well situated, and contemporaneous with its dog show is the world-famed show of fat cattle at Bingley Hall. These two exhibitions assist and feed each other, with both exhibitors and gate money, from the thousands who flock to this great midland centre from a wide and thickly-peopled district, and most of whom have a knowledge of and an interest in live stock.

It would, however, be unfair to attribute the undoubted success of Birmingham shows entirely to these accidental circumstances. Mr. George Beach, the secretary, is a gentleman of great business ability, and to his excellent management much of the success is fairly attributable. No one of experience in such matters will, I think, hesitate to allow that on the whole this show is thoroughly well managed, and in many respects a model for imitation; and I state this with the greater pleasure because I take strong exception to several of their rules, which I shall refer to further on.

Many other places followed the example of Birmingham, and in 1861 we had the monster Leeds show of unhappy memory.

The Messrs. Jennings, of Belle Vue Gardens, Manchester, followed the same year, and continued to hold shows in their gardens at intervals up to 1875; but, I presume, finding they failed to pay, like prudent men of business, dropped them. The great increase in the number of shows held is, however, due to their being made adjuncts to the attractions of agricultural shows, for not one in fifty is strong enough to stand alone, whereas, as an addition to a show of live stock in general, they undoubtedly draw and add to the good of the whole.

In the metropolis dog shows are on quite a different footing, and, as far as visitors go, must depend on their own attractions; and the average Londoner is equally careless about and ignorant of all live stock. Hence the necessity that such shows in London should be under the fostering care of a rich society.

The Kennel Club occupy this position, and since their first show at the Crystal Palace we have had yearly, and even twice a year, in London, shows which, if not unequalled - and on the whole I think they have been - have not been excelled by any in the kingdom, but I should be quite prepared to hear the Americans claiming superiority. The general management of the Kennel Club shows is unexceptionable; in Mr. George Lowe we have a secretary as courteous as he is capable; and under the able management of Mr. John Douglas mistakes are reduced to a minimum. Having thus very briefly, and in outline only, sketched the history of dog shows, I would presently direct attention to their objects and management.

Dog shows have grown to an extent of which their founders had probably no anticipation. It will be well within the limit if I say there is now an average of two a week the year round in this country; and if we take the average of the prize money offered as 200, we have over 20,000 of money to be competed for in the course of the year; and if we average the number of entries at 200, at each show costing in entry fees and carriage .1, the prize money offered would exactly cover these expenses; but not more than one-third reaches the committees in shape of the entrance fees, the railway companies and others absorbing the rest, so that the prize money, after all, has to be made up from the general public in the shape of gate money and by private subscription. There is always, therefore, considerable monetary risk to the promoters, as in every speculative business; for, although a fairly approximate estimate of the outlay may be made, much of the income depends on counter attractions simultaneously offering themselves, and also on that most uncertain of all things in this country, the weather. It is quite clear, then, that promoters run a risk.

It is also clear enough that the money to be won by an exhibitor is nothing equal to the outlay - the cost of purchase, preparing for and exhibiting, being so great that only occasionally is even the last item of expense covered by the prize money. The profit, however, is got in another way. The astute exhibitor knows that the prizes carry a higher remuneration than the mere money value. They raise the prestige of his kennel, and bring grist to the mill in the shape of stud fees and immensely enhanced prices for his stock.

Of course there are hundreds of exhibitors with whom dog showing is so purely a hobby, that they seek for the honour alone; but no matter with which of these views the pursuit is followed, the object sought is of equal value (for Kudos is to the one equal to cash to the other) and every means possible should be taken to insure the end being gained in a fair field with no favour and by merit alone. It is my object to inquire whether the present methods of arriving at the results all should aim at, and all profess to desire, are the best possible and practicable, and to do so it is necessary to consider the various sections of the subject and those features in the present system which most frequently give rise to complaint and controversy. To this end we must review, in a general way, the constitution and arrangement of dog shows, the election of judges, the means and manner of judging, and other questions bearing on the very important object of all the machinery of dog shows - the selection of the best dog for the highest honours.

These embrace the often discussed questions of public versus private judging, single-handed, by two or more judges, the use by the judge of a catalogue, owners leading the dogs out, the system of electing judges, and judging by points, to the consideration of which I shall now proceed.

Objects and Management of Dog Shows. 177