The 'just an idea' show!

Virtual dog shows are becoming more and more popular and what a nice solution they are in the absence of the face to face events we are so fond of. Not only do they give us a great excuse to get together, but they have been a great opportunity to raise vital funds for charities that have needed our support more than ever!

Back in April 2020, Agria Ambassador Gareth Lawler decided to hold the very first Virtual Breed Championship show for the English Springer Spaniel Club of Wales. You may recognise Gareth as he’s been involved in dog shows for 36 years and he has spoken at two ESS international symposiums, both in conjunction with the World Dog Shows in Stockholm 2008 and Helsinki 2014.

The ESS Club of Wales Championship show was due to take place on the 19th of April 2020.  The show was set to have the best of exhibitors within the breed attend along with mentoring for those new to judging. It was a shame that like every event across the country it was cancelled due to the current COVID-19 situation.

In Gareth’s words “If the Government can run the country virtually, then I can put on a dog show virtually.”

Within 10 minutes of posting the update on Facebook Gareth was on the phone booking judges for his virtual show and the response was overwhelming, including sponsor support from Agria and Ourdogs who donated prizes to the overall winners.

To date the ‘Just An Idea Show’ received the highest number of entries in any single breed online show, with an outstanding, 558 entries from 10 different countries.

It was free to enter and dogs competing were past contenders too. The show ran in the same format as a face to face show and classes were given out in order as they would have been judged, judges were also given a time constraint depending on the number of dogs in the class. Only the dogs were shown in the images and Gareth made sure that owners and handlers were cropped.

I was also asked to judge, I admit I found judging a dog by a photo very challenging, but a new experience none the less and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Gareth had similar thoughts saying, “You can’t fully judge a dog from a photograph, but the comparison has the same basis, you judge what you see in front of you. This was also relevant as an educational basis for those who are new to judging, this acted as social distant mini mentoring as it gave judges the opportunity to justify why they placed a dog a certain way. A highlight for me was that everyone took it seriously which added to the professionalism”

Mr Tony Allcock OBE, KC Executive Chairman said he saw Gareth’s post on Facebook and personally messaged him, not as the KC chairman, but as an individual with an interest in the dog world.Gareth asked him if he would do the honour of judging Best in Show and he was delighted to accept, especially as the proceeds were going to charities.

Tony Allcock continued… “I am a group judge and award CC’s in over 24 breeds, but I have never judged a ‘virtual dog show’ before!  As a judge, it felt rather strange assessing dogs from a photograph rather than putting hands on the dog or watching them move.  The concept of this show generated fantastic engagement and particularly the way Gareth encouraged aspiring judges. This was inspirational and kept the prospect of our hobby alive during a time when activities are being cancelled or postponed. At times like this we all need some motivation and stimulus which this provided. Congratulations to the winners, thanks to those that entered and finally a special acknowledgement to Gareth on his tremendous efforts”

£630.00 was raised purely by donations, Gareth was overwhelmed by the generosity and support it has received. The money raised will go to the KC Charitable Trust and a large percentage will be reinvested for ESS health research, which will benefit the breed all around the world. There were suggestions that the money go towards UK rescues or the NHS, but Gareth felt as there were entries from overseas it should be something that supports everyone.

Committee member, Dave Mitchell thought that the idea was fantastic,

“It was open to the world and the entries were wonderful. All the hard work that Gareth put in is incredible, advertising the show, taking entries ensuring that the photos were clear, making it easier for the judges.”

Helen McGregor was also asked to judge and as she lives in the USA this was an opportunity she did not want to miss. She said that virtually she had been following shows all over the world and was thrilled to be asked.

Helen said “We have never had a place for such a collection of wonderful dogs. And what a library of information to discuss the breed”

Helen added that “There can be a divide between the show, working and pet world of ESS. Not all dogs within a litter will be show or working quality and without pet owners’ breeders would not have a breeding programme. As this show was open to the world, it was interesting to see how the breed is developing in each country.”

Yvonne Billows was also a judge, she has been judging for almost 40 years and teaches the ‘Requirements of a Dog Show Judge’ seminar for the Kennel Club.  Yvonne said “I am always open to different approaches and thought it was a great idea. It was extremely well received and met a definite need for the many ardent show goers who are not able to go out to the shows. Well done to Gareth on coming up with the idea, I know that it was a lot of work and he certainly rose to the challenge and I for one thoroughly enjoyed taking part.”

The success of this event is testament to Gareth and his ability to connect exhibitors, enthusiasts and judges from around the world, to bring people together in a time of uncertainty.

The ‘Just An Idea’ show is a part of history and something that should be remembered forever when we think about 2020 and how the world shut down.

Since the success of the show, many Breed shows have followed suit, it’s opened the door to start a movement to bring the dog showing community together. I was delighted to be a part of such a memorable event – thank you to everyone who as involved.


Reported by Sarah White – Breeder Channel Manager, Agria Pet Insurance