Social media has fundamentally changed the way we interact with our public at large and, even more, in our sport. What started as an innovative way to approach our target has become an essential tool for marketing, public relations and services. But as easy as social media has made it to connect with our customers and friends, it does come with some drawbacks.

There is no control on social media. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow anyone and everyone to share opinions which makes for interesting conversation, but it can be very dangerous. Social media must be continuously monitored to maintain a positive content.

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Rafael de Santiago
FCI President
Thirty Nations attend International Congress of Kennel Clubs in London

Seventy delegates, speakers from six countries

Promoting pedigree dogs in the modern era, the challenges posed by social media and the need to encourage the next generation of dog enthusiasts were common threads running through presentations at the 2017 International Congress of Kennel Clubs hosted by the Kennel Club in London.

Thirty nations were represented at this event held on June 28th-29th at the Kennel Club’s headquarters in Mayfair. Speakers were drawn from six countries – the UK, Canada, Germany, Malaysia, the Philippines and Sweden.

Opening the proceedings, Kennel Club Chairman Simon Luxmoore welcomed the 70 delegates to the UK and the congress. It was his task to give the first presentation and his subject was ‘The process of establishing strategic objectives: are there common objectives?’ He gave a brief overview of the operations of the Kennel Club, pointing out that, with an annual turnover of £20m and a membership of just 1,300, the club occupies a unique position on the global canine stage.

He explained that the KC’s own strategic objectives had been updated at the beginning of 2016 having remained the same since 2002. The KC Board and senior staff were both more aligned as a result, he said, as well as due to recent changes in governance which promoted further transparency.

Discussion on this topic centred around the various products and services offered by kennel clubs and how these could be best measured against objectives. Having a strong business plan was vital, it was emphasised.

The next speaker was Bob Rowbotham, Chairman of the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC). His subject was ‘Dog ownership: global trends and the impact of government legislation’ and he gave an overview of CKC history and activities. CKC was incorporated in 1888 by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada under the Animal Pedigree Act (APA) which means that all puppies bred by CKC’s 20,000 members must be registered with CKC.

Some of the issues he identified as common to a number of kennel clubs included declining puppy registrations, aging membership, counterproductive legislation, consumer demands, globalisation, breeding practices and competitive forces. Strategies designed to mitigate problems, he said, could include attracting new members, improving services, diversification, increasing awareness and updating systems.

Discussion on this topic centred around how kennel clubs could tackle proposed draconian legislation and encouraging young people to become more involved in dog activities. Improving the services offered to existing members was also discussed and, in this respect, Mr Rowbotham had spoken about proposed enhancements to the CKC website, including a facility whereby owners could upload photos and health certificates to their own dogs’ records, and this was well received by a number of delegates who felt that similar ideas would be attractive to their members. Data protection laws can be a hindrance to sharing information in some countries, it was pointed out.

Germany’s Christofer Habig was the next speaker. He is a consultant to the German Kennel Club (VDH) of which he was formerly chairman. His subject was ‘Knowledge transfer’, an ongoing strategic project on the role of dog people in society; what they stand for, what life with dogs is all about and who dog people need to target in order to make a difference. Current trends include dog people being less influential than ‘people with dogs’, and people starting a career in dogs before gaining the required knowledge. In years gone by, the opposite was true in both cases, he said.

Mr Habig held out the idea that the previous generation of dog people had not succeeded in its duty of passing on its knowledge to the current generation and that, in turn, the next generation will suffer a similar fate, but it is not too late. “Have we done enough to pass on our knowledge to other breeders, other judges, other dog people? I don’t think we have”, he said.

Mentoring is an excellent way of passing knowledge from one generation to the next, he said, and new digital technology could be a means to promoting breeds as ‘brands’. International cooperation was also crucial in this process, he said, and events such as the international congress could only be a force for good in this respect.

Discussion on this subject centred around modern educational tools such as the Kennel Club Academy, the power of television and other media, the need to nurture specialist judges and the importance of each kennel club increasing its profile in its own country so that the general public regard it as the first port of call on all matters relating to dogs. There was general agreement that this had to be positive,

Kennel Club Board Member Gerald King was the next speaker. He spoke on the Young Kennel Club (YKC), a subject close to his heart as chairman of that organisation. The YKC began life as the Kennel Club Junior Organisation in 1985 and is today the largest youth organisation for dog activities in the UK. Its mission is to engage and support young people in all dog related activities by providing an enjoyable, challenging and rewarding programme centred on a love of dogs.

Mr King explained that the core values of the YKC are education, care, responsibility and fun. Owning and caring for a dog is the perfect starting point in a young person’s social development and as an organisation the YKC recognises this and develops not only their interest in dogs, but their personal and professional lives, he said. Three key YKC initiatives which support this development are youth development courses, volunteering opportunities and work experience programmes. There could be room for an international canine youth organisation, he suggested.

At this point, two former YKC members who are now permanent members of KC staff, Charlotte McNamara (Health Education and Engagement Manager) and Alex Paisey (Events Coordinator), were invited to share their experiences of being a YKC member and also taking part in volunteering and work experience programmes. Discussion on this topic centred around the need worldwide to not only attract young people into dog activities but also how best to retain them once they were older and had other interests as well.

Kennel Club Board Member Jeff Horswell was the next speaker. He spoke on the education of judges, mentioning the traditional system of judge progression in the UK based largely on peer review and the ‘numbers game’ of the accumulation of dogs and classes judged over a number of years. The emphasis changed in 1999, he said, with a number of initiatives introduced by the Judges Working Party including the Judges Development Programme which helped to promote multi-breed judges.

In 2019, the emphasis will change even further, Mr Horswell said, due to the launch of the Judges Competency Programme, which has talent and the application of learning at its core. Judges will now progress though a logical sequence of education, mentoring, observed judging and assessment. An advanced judging course was being developed through working with the Finnish Kennel Club, he announced, and it was hoped this collaboration would be ongoing.

Discussion on this topic concentrated on the possibility of global breed standards, the importance of mentors, the qualities required in order to be a competent judge and succession policies where there are problems bringing on younger judges.

The first speaker on the second day was Gopi Krishnan, president of the Malaysian Kennel Association (MKA). His presentation was entitled ‘Communication and public relations – pedigree dogs’ and he showed a number of television commercials aired over different eras to emphasise how the perception of the importance of pedigree dogs has changed over the years. It was important for the dog world to know who its detractors were, he emphasised, as this could help shape counter-strategy.

Social media is a very powerful medium and, used wisely, can reach a lot of people, Mr Krishnan said. He gave examples of the work being done to promote the work of kennel clubs online, but much of it revolved around dog shows, which was a missed opportunity in his opinion as more emphasis could be placed on promoting pedigree dogs. The American Kennel Club (AKC) was held out as an example of an organisation being very proactive in this respect with hundreds of clips of pedigree dogs on YouTube and other platforms.

Discussion on this topic concentrated on social media as a very effective way of reaching out to the next generation of dog owners, the use of celebrities in public relations work, social responsibility, the possibility of working with detractors in the hope of reaching some common ground and the need to stop fixating on dog shows as the only canine activity and source of potential new members.

Dinky Santos of the Philippines was the next speaker. He is president of the FCI Asia and South Pacific region and spoke on social media. Used in a positive way, this method of communication is an effective way of keeping in touch with old friends and can also be used to recruit new members and share photographs, he said. A huge advantage for the user is the fact that platforms such as Facebook are free of charge, giving clubs with limited resources a very accessible way of promoting their services and events.

However, he said, social media can also have negative consequences such as exhibitors arguing online or even trying to influence judges. It was pointed out that the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) has regulations regarding the use of social media which are quite effective as they attract peer review. Some examples were cited of the extensive and positive work being done by AKC in regard to the promotion of pedigree dogs on Facebook and other platforms – it was felt that other kennel clubs could benefit from AKC’s expertise in this area.

Discussion on this topic centred around the laws of libel, crisis management when a negative dog story spreads like ‘wildfire’, the need for codes of conduct and the fact that social media can be used in a positive way to reach large audiences and potential new members and puppy buyers.

The next presentation was given jointly by Steve Croxford, Kennel Club Vice Chairman, and Dr Jacqueline Boyd, Senior Lecturer in Animal Science at Nottingham Trent University (NTU). Their subject was ‘Activities: health and welfare’ and Mr Croxford began by giving an outline of the work and aims of the Activities Health and Welfare Group which exists to enable the Kennel Club to take active steps to prevent injuries in canine activities.

Partnership opportunities have arisen as a result of the Activities Health and Welfare Group working with academic institutions such as Nottingham University, Surrey University and NTU. Dr Boyd then spoke about the facilities available at NTU including a veterinary nursing centre and animal unit. A ‘canine centre’ is in the formative stages and it is hoped to have a permanent building for this facility in the future, she said. The aim is to improve and inspire the human/dog interaction which can be done in a number of ways including recognising the therapeutic and companionship value of dogs.

Discussion points on this topic centred on behavioural research, countering perceptions that some canine sports are ‘cruel’, the possibility of having some activities recognised as official sports and the need to share the results of research.

Dr Pekka Olson, a vet and president of the Swedish Kennel Club (SKK), gave the next presentation, ‘Dog breeding: health and welfare’. He outlined the opportunities and challenges in the breeding of dogs including aiming for better health and making use of newly-developed DNA tests. He then spoke about the SKK which registers 70 per cent of Sweden’s puppies annually, a country with next to no stray dog problem and with a large proportion of dogs having veterinary insurance cover.

He outlined breeding goals such as health, temperament and trainability and also spoke about the collecting, recording and sharing of health data. Having a well-defined health plan and/or breeding strategy can also be beneficial, he said. The SKK has a lot of health information on its website such as Estimated Breeding Values, veterinary records, breeding statistics and instructions for judges of ‘high profile’ breeds.

International cooperation for the improvement of dog health was vital, he said before giving an outline of the aims and work of the International Partnership For Dogs (IPFD) of which he is chairman. The IPFD has a number of member bodies including the Kennel Club and SKK and holds international workshops on a regular basis – the most recent one was held by the Société Centrale Canine in Paris in April and the next one will be hosted in the UK in 2019.

Discussion on this topic centred on behavioural tests, the pros and cons of compulsory health testing, the need to strike a balance between making sure dogs are healthy while not losing sight of the importance of other breeding qualities, the link between health and breed type, collecting the correct data, encouraging breeders through education and the need to breed away from exaggeration.

As this was the final presentation, Mr Luxmoore moved a vote of thanks for all the speakers before asking the Kennel Club’s CEO Rosemary Smart to say a few words about the International Canine Health Awards which are now in their fifth year and recognise researchers and veterinary scientists whose work has positively impacted on canine healthcare. The prize funds are supported by the Vernon and Shirley Hill Foundation and the scheme is administered by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust – this year a total of £65,000 was awarded including £15,000 to UK undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Mr Luxmoore then thanked all the delegates for their attendance before presenting gifts to the speakers at which point Mr Croxford thanked Kennel Club Secretary Caroline Kisko and her team as well as Mr Luxmoore for the enormous amount of work involved in putting on an event such as this. “Thank you for an excellent two days of talks”, Mr Croxford added.

In a joint statement issued after the congress, Gopi Krishnan (MKA), Gina DiNardo (AKC), Dr Pekka Olson (SKK) and Brian Parker (ANKC) said: “Over two days, kennel clubs from around the world met to discuss their operations, policies, procedures and long-term goals for the success of their respective organisations and for the future of pedigree dogs. The conference was conducted in an atmosphere of camaraderie and friendship. Attendees shared ideas about how to best promote the purchase, breeding and responsible owning of purpose-bred pedigree dogs. There was a true sense that united we could join forces and work together more effectively.

“The Kennel Club is to be applauded for taking the lead to invite all kennel clubs from around the world – including the FCI, KC, AKC, ANKC and CKC – to meet up and take a look at how we currently do things to promote pedigree dogs and where our shortcomings and strengths lie. The topics chosen for discussion proved interesting and stimulated some much-needed conversation, soul searching and reflection on the state of kennel clubs around the world. There was a good variety of subjects covered – everything from health and judging to social media, strategic objectives, public relations and beyond. The congress also gave many the opportunity to see the strengths that certain individual clubs had and the manner in which they worked, that could be shared and emulated by others.

“In relaxed and confidential surroundings, sensitive issues facing our kennel clubs were discussed freely, openly and honestly. There was good open and in-depth discussion after every topic that was presented and many clubs left with the sense of having had the opportunity to get a glimpse into what others were doing and more importantly how they could solicit that knowledge and start to work more as one global unit.

“It was comforting to know that globally we face the same issues and this conference certainly got many reaching out for help, and reassured knowing that many were willing to share their experience. Ultimately promoting and working more effectively for pedigree dogs across all the topics that were presented was the aim of every kennel club.

“The congress certainly gave us a much needed new solid platform and inspiration to get back to basics, arm in arm with other canine organisations across the globe, with a renewed purpose and focus to serve our best friend the dog even more successfully.”

The Kennel Club