The Friday Essay – Our Dogs 26/10/18

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How Team GB Cycling would increase dog show entries

What can we learn from Team GB Cycling that could be applied to the “problem of declining dog show entries”?

Team GB won 6 cycling gold medals at Rio 2016 and that was twice as many as their nearest rival. Before Chris Boardman’s gold at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, GB hadn’t won a cycling gold since 1920. According to an article in the Guardian, by the mid-90s, the sport’s governing body was riven with dissent and members had deserted in droves.

Part of the turnaround has been attributed to the team coach, Dave Brailsford, and what has become known as the “aggregation of marginal gains” or the “1% Principle”. His view was that by making a 1% improvement in a multitude of areas, the cumulative gains would end up being significant and valuable. He looked for weaknesses in the assumptions that underpinned performance and saw every weakness as an opportunity for improvement.

He measured and improved the aerodynamics of the bikes, the riders and their clothing. He looked for improvements in the riders’ diets and sleep patterns. The more they looked and learned, the more marginal gains they accumulated and the more successful Team GB became. The knock-on effect on popularity for cycling has been spectacular.

More than 2 million people in the UK now cycle at least once a week according to cycling’s governing body. Sales of UK manufactured bikes grew by 69% in 2014. The biggest growth in cyclists is among 30-year-olds, with women even more keen than men. British Cycling’s membership doubled between 2008 and 2014.

Imagine that last paragraph translated into dog showing:

More than 2 million people in the UK now show their dog at least once a week according to the Kennel Club. Registrations of pedigree dogs grew by 69% in 2014. The biggest growth in dog showing is among 30-year-olds, with women even more keen than men. Breed Club membership doubled between 2008 and 2014.

Those may be fantasy numbers, but how could the aggregation of marginal gains be applied to increase entries at dog shows?

I have played around with some numbers for Miniature Smooth Dachshund Championship Show entries. If you exclude Crufts, which is clearly an outlier with its big entry, the average Mini Smooth Dachshund entry in 2015 across General and Breed Club championship shows was 72 dogs. We can use that as a baseline.

  • If every Dachshund Breed Club attracted 2 new members a year, each of whom showed 1 dog at half the Breed Club shows with CCs, that would be about 130 more entries per year. Average annual entries would increase to 77 dogs.
  • If the General Championship Shows achieved the same average level of entries with their All-rounder judges as they did with their Breed Specialist judges, there would be a further 69 entries, taking the annual average up to 79 dogs.
  • If the Breed Specialist judges who achieved below average entries had each attracted 5 more entries, the annual entry average would increase to 81.
  • If the shows in Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland could each increase their average entry by 2 dogs, the annual entry average would increase to 82.

The combination of these four relatively small improvements would result in a 14% increase in annual entries.


I’ve quoted Dr. Deming before and I’ll quote him again: “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion“. There’s plenty of data available on dog show entries and exhibitors’ reasons for entering, or not. The results of the recent Our Dogs survey add to that pool of data. We should be making more use of it.

The devil is in the detail, but the insight is in the data.

It’s also worth remembering what Dave Brailsford and cycling’s governing body didn’t do. They didn’t tell the grassroots cycling clubs that there were too many of them and they needed to merge. They were confident that there was a need for lots of friendly, local, clubs where amateur cyclists could get involved in the sport. They didn’t tell grassroots cycling clubs to hold their races on the same day and in the same place as the major regional and national events. They knew that if cyclists were good enough, they would compete at the bigger events and that not everyone wanted, or could afford, to attend these.

Judges have their part to play in making a 1% difference, too. People want to feel they have had a fair evaluation from someone who understands their breed. Courtesy and a demonstrable interest in the dogs on the day goes down well too, as does a promptly submitted critique explaining their decisions.

It is noticeable and significant that the biggest impact in my Dachshund marginal gains example is the role of Breed Clubs in attracting new members who exhibit their dogs. Breed clubs are fundamental to the future of dog showing and the popularity of pedigree dogs. They have the potential to attract, retain and grow participation in our hobby. Seminars, fun days and events to inspire owners and potential owners are all part of their role; relying on “just running shows” is no longer good enough.

We all need to be asking “what’s the 1% difference that we can each make?”.


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