So I’ve done my research and there are a few unhappy campers in the grooming industry. Now what I’m about to write is no doubt going to ruffle a few feathers. And of course there are always good and bad in everything BUT… this seems like an issue too many groomers have had to put up with for far too long. So I’m going to call it out.
Is the competition world a big fix? Is what goes on in the competition ring fair and unbiased…Not always OK so not everything we organise is going to be perfect and spot on. But we should be striving for a balanced and fair competition. After all this is the olympics of grooming, and every sporting judge in the olympics follows a strict unified code of conduct and guidelines, so why don’t we?
I decided to speak to groomers in the industry who have competed. We spoke to groomers at every level of their competitive careers from beginners to judges.
The groomers will remain anonymous to protect them from any backlash and in order to get their point across without fear of judgement. And without fear of it affecting them advancing in their competitive career.
So when asked
This is what was said…
“I won’t compete under a certain judge because I groom a breed they specialise in. I feel like I’m never fairly judged because they don’t want me to take their place as the best in the field. They couldn’t critique anything about my dog other than that they didn’t like it.”
“I once had a judge who acknowledged me, but didn’t even bother to come to my table to judge me.”
“The judge stuck the comb in to the dogs coat and said ‘did you really think you were going to place with a dog like that’ then walked off without saying another word”
“The judge didn’t even walk around the ring, they just stood on their phone and I didn’t feel like they were taking it seriously”
“There is one judge I won’t compete under, because every time without fail placements 1st-3rd are their close friends.”
Why is this ever acceptable? Whether it happens rarely, or at every competition… how is this fair? There isn’t a ‘known’ complaints procedure for every level, so where does the buck stop? grooming competition
Let’s dive into this a bit deeper.
We will start off with the talent suppression. Now this is a complaint we had from our research group more than once. The groomers felt like the judge was ‘gatekeeping’ to protect their own position in the industry while suppressing the talents of up and coming groomers. Something that is totally unacceptable. Where would this industry be if our leaders are constantly belittling and stopping those just starting their career?
Judges have a massive responsibility to their competitors and one which they must never take lightly. EGA rules on judges conduct states:
When it comes to someone saying “did you really think you were going to place with that?” How was it possible for one of those judges to react to a contestant in that manner? There could be a number of reasonings behind an individuals actions, however none that can be excused in a professional environment.
With the groomer who accused a judge of not even coming to the table to judge a dog that had been groomed, we obviously asked more questions. As context is key. “Could it have been an accident”, “Did you make yourself known”, “Why do you think that happened?”
This groomer stated that they were on the end table, the judge had their back to them while judging the other competitors and went to every table in the row except theirs. There had ‘allegedly’ been bad blood with this judge in the past. Which the contestant mistakenly believed wouldn’t have affected judgement in a professional competition.
We always hear mutters in the ring of, “fix”, and “I’m not surprised they placed, they are close friends with the judge”. Is it fair that judges are allowed to judge their actual close friends? Does it then undermine that persons talent when they actually deserve the placement? After all it’s human nature to be bias towards your friends. So should this conflict of interest be discouraged?
There isn’t a known unified complaints procedure for competitions in the UK and our thoughts are echoed by those we interviewed when we asked “Why didn’t you complain?” with the resounding answer being…
If you complain to the organisers or the judges it’s perceived as you being a ‘sore loser’. grooming competition
So should there be a formal complaints procedure? One where you feel you can air your grievances without fear of being judged? If you did complain what will happen to the judge? Will there be an investigative procedure to determine the outcome? Would there be a disciplinary action? At the moment nothing of the sort is widely available. Particularly for those competing in ‘non EGA categories’ such as Asian freestyle, creative or beginners. Placement for those competitors is just as valid as those within EGA point groups. Placements for those in creative, or Asian are still career enhancing, and just as much importance should be placed within these groups as the traditional classes. grooming competition
There needs to be a national grooming competition board, that, regardless of level, has a plan in place when it comes to the feedback from competitors. Because that’s who it’s about, right? Should a competitor not feel safe, valued, respected and fairly treated in the ring? The competitors are paying. They pay for feedback that they more often than not have to ‘chase down’ the judge for. The judges who are half way out of the door by the time the show finishes. The judges who are ‘too busy’ or the ones that ask the competitors to ‘message them later’ Later? I’m sorry but no… thats not good enough?
To balance this argument, one of the judges in the research group stated “I waited around for the competitors to find me for their feedback, and not one competitor came forward.”
Ok.. thats a valid point, but should competitors have to do that? They paid for that service and competitors need that service as conveniently as possible. The competitor pays for the competition AND feedback and we wouldn’t groom a dog and say “Come back later and cut the nails” so why is it acceptable at a grooming competition?
One of the groomers helping the research of this article stated. “Please keep my name anonymous, if the judge in question read this I would never place again”
Doesn’t that say it all? A groomer in fear of speaking out against unfair treatment incase it affected their chances of progressing in their career.
Could the problem be that the judges aren’t paid enough?
Of course we need to balance out this view, and part of this is looking at it from the other side. Why can some of the judges become distracted or cranky? Why are they rushing off at the end? If they are getting paid fairly and properly for their time, then surely they would be willing to carry out their jobs thoroughly and gladly. We can only assume this isn’t happening.
Is blind judging something that could be introduced to stop favouritism? Would that work?
Should the classes be capped so the judges can provide the time needed to spend with each competitor? Or more judges to be available to deal with class sizes? As a competitor if I felt the shows were more structured I would be prepared to pay more for that experience.
We know that most shows make very little profit, if any at all compared to the amount of time it takes to put one together. So maybe it’s time to break that cycle to stop the amount of pressure on literally every person involved.
I don’t pretend to know all the answers but I think it’s about time someone asked the question.
It goes without saying that there are some absolutely amazing judges out there. Ones that are fair, give excellent feedback and encouragement to groomers and really boost morale. They are a credit to our industry and continue to shine a positive light around competitions. But it’s fair to say there are issues. And these issues need addressing.
We call for better payment for judges and better feedback for competitors. grooming competitions
A fully functioning board where well paid judges have to answer to their actions and provide evidence that they are not corrupt. For a fair explanation to be provided. And made publicly available for competitors to understand why a best in show won. Or why the reserve best in show fell at the last hurdle and to help fledgeling competitors understand what they are aiming for. grooming competition
Why is it that just because we groom dogs, that this part of our industry can be so unprofessional. No one is listening to competitors and what they want or need. If they were being listened to we might get better turnouts at our competitions. Whilst also encouraging those who live far away that its WORTH travelling for. Because ill tell you one thing right now… If i travelled from Scotland to Coventry spending a weekend, taking time off work and paying entry fees for a competition where a judge either didn’t bother to judge me, told me I would never place, or didn’t give me ANY feedback. I wouldn’t waste my money again.
This is the reality.
It’s time for it to change.
It’s time to create structure before we lose bread and butter contestants forever.