Sat, 05/30/2020 - 7:42pm

School of Thought

In quarantine, webinars are a welcome learning opportunity

In answer to my informal survey about the AKC webinars that have been going on during this "stay at home" period, my wonderful Argentine friend replied, "It is said that 'out of every bad situation some good always comes.' I sincerely hope that webinars are here to stay. I hope that there will be a 'library' of webinars that all people could access from anywhere they are in the world. Only good things can result from this."

I am sure that watching day after day as show after show is cancelled – and rightly so – and needing to stay at home had most of you as bored, frustrated and stressed as I am. There have been a few times in the past — when I thought it was appropriate — that I have voiced my criticism of the American Kennel Club. This time though, I can only sing the praises of Tim Thomas, Ashley Jacot and AKC's support of the webinars offered by the Education Department and the various parent clubs.

I absolutely don't believe that someone can learn a breed only by watching a webinar or any other online activity, but these webinars have proven to show some real value. The timing of these webinars made them even more valuable. As one judge said, "For NOW these Webinars are perfect — a lifeline to the sport we love and cannot practice, a chance to review our approved breeds and to learn about others, and a way to momentarily rid ourselves of the Corona virus miasma that daily clouds our brains." 


I know these webinars have given me the opportunity — as a BIS judge — to get some structured education on breeds in groups for which I have had little real education before. Others must feel the same way because these webinars are very well attended. The webinars can only help to make me a better judge. However, I would hope that no one believes that he or she can become a good judge solely through online training.

One judge hit the nail on the head when he said, "I am reminded of Mr. Miyagi's warning, 'You can't learn Karate from a book.'"

As a former National Training Director, I wish to offer constructive comments. There is no doubt that the webinar presenters are true breed experts. Attendees are perfectly able to read the breed standard — and the power point on the screen — by themselves. What we want is to have the breed experts make those words come to life: What do they mean? Interpret the words for us. What are strengths and weaknesses of the breed? I believe it is important to know the breed weaknesses so that if we see it as a strength in a specific dog, we should reward that. What should we look for when judging? What are some mistakes made by judges of your breed? By the way, when showing a picture of a dog, saying something like "I don't like ... (ear placement, eyes, etc)" is not helpful if you don't say why. It would be even better if you could show a poor ... whatever ... to a good one.

Oh, and for the person who asks at every webinar, "Should we approach the breed from the side or the front?" Here's your answer: You Should Never Approach A Breed From The Side!

Probably the most significant question when it comes to evaluating the benefits of a webinar or a seminar is what value it has if there is no hands-on? Is it necessary to have hands on a breed to learn it? Is there real value to online learning of a breed? There are certainly disparate thoughts on this.

One judge expressed his opinion this way: "I initially scoffed at the idea of the Canine College, but having used it a number of times and having worked to prepare [my breed] program, I think that it is very valuable. I have used the programs for preparation of application for breeds as well as review for breeds [for which] I am already approved. The programs have been well prepared."

Personally, I believe hands-on experience with a breed is essential at some point; however, I don't like the way it occurs at a seminar. To my mind, there are few dogs — and even fewer breeds — that enjoy having 15 to 20 strangers going over them within the space of a few minutes. For many breeds, this is absolutely the wrong thing for them. There has to be another way to accomplish hands-on experience.

One judge said: "Having [a protection breed that is often aloof], I so agree [that it is not good to have too many people going over the breed]. In fact, the last seminar I didn't let [the attendees] touch [the dogs]. I wanted them to look at profile, head and movement. I think [the attendees] are so worried about touching they MISS the big picture. I tried it on myself when I was studying a new breed. It was so nice not to be rushed and crowded to go over each dog. I could LOOK at them and make some decisions. If you miss the breed characteristics, you miss the point."

And these comments from an advocate of online learning: "I have been a fan of online learning to be made available to the judging community for many years now. I think it is a valuable portion of continuing education. Nothing replaces hands-on experience, but you can learn how to mold clay by watching a video, so there are lessons that will be given that can educate the judge on details of a breed."

When asked whether he thought too many people were going over a dog at a seminar, he replied,  "... they are valuable to a point, but not vital. One must experience a breed to feel comfortable with them, learn an examination technique but for the most part, structure is generally similar on many breeds. I judge in detail, and so the basics in structure are expected. My winners are the ones who contain the breed-specific-type traits and those can be learned online."

A multiple group judge said, " I think seasoned judges (multiple group judges) get more benefit from Q and A sessions, discussion on prioritization and finer points relating to Hallmarks of the breed."

Another talked about how these webinars fit in to education, "Having these Webinars available and without cost encourages both learning and interest in breeds we should all know more about, but seldom have the time or the money to pursue. A small gift of opportunity we should not overlook. Not having ‘hands on’ concerns me not at all. As you have accurately pointed out, there are always too many people going over the dogs and, unless you are at a national specialty judges ed. or other significant breed presentation, the dogs brought to be examined can sometimes lack value as teaching tools.  Photographs, videos and illustrations can teach a lot to a practiced eye, particularly when guided by a knowledgeable breed presenter."

Noting the value of hands-on was presented by this judge who said, " I believe a “hands on” opportunity should be required in order to be approved for any breed. This can be at seminars, kennel visits or mentoring opportunities and should require multiple dogs. Would you want your breed judged In the classes by someone who NEVER had touched the breed?"

Many also agreed that there were two webinars that would be of value: "How to Show a Dog" and "How to examine a dog." As one pointed out, "So many really don't know what they are doing, just touching."

As for a webinar on How to Show a Dog, "So much of the younger generation is "into" videos, might be a good way to educate them.  Also good for people in remote locations."

The AKC breed webinars offer many pluses. For someone new to a breed, the webinar can be a foundation for further learning. For those who already know the breed or want a better overview of a breed they may judge in Best in Show, the webinars are of great value. They are even very worthwhile just for people who want to learn more.

What they can't do is replace in-depth knowledge of a breed. There is some value to hands-on learning of a breed, but for the more experienced judge it may not be mandatory, other than for breeds who are examined very differently — such as the Pekingese or a spannable terrier. I urge all judges who want to truly understand the nuances of a breed to find a way to get hands-on education via a kennel visit or with a mentor. But to think that the few minutes of hands-on that we get a seminar is non-replaceable is incorrect thinking.

I will let my Argentine friend's words close this out: "I think it is just great. The amazing possibility of listening (and watching) these breed authorities right from home, as comfortable as we can be, wherever we are in the world! it should continue beyond quarantine."

What do you think?


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