Changed wording of rule regarding extreme and unnatural moves in Great Britain

The British Kennel Club recently (7th August 2012) published a Press Release regarding what they call extreme and unnatural moves in Heelwork To Music and Freestyle.

The Press Release says: 
The Kennel Club has banned extreme or unnatural Heelwork to Music (HTM) moves that carry a risk of injury to dogs, following concern expressed by a number of competitors.

Following a proposal by the HTM Working Party, the Kennel Club has approved amendments to the Heelwork to Music Regulations, which clarify the rules relating to activities in routines which may be injurious to the dog.

This amendment will formally take effect on 1st January 2013, and competitors are reminded that the existing Regulations require them to safeguard their dog’s health and welfare at all times, and they are therefore advised to observe the spirit of the new Regulation with immediate effect.

The amended Regulations make it clear that extreme or unnatural moves are not acceptable, particularly if they are potentially harmful or injurious to the dog, or not beneficial to the dog’s conformation. The amendments also prohibit extreme or unnatural moves which are degrading to the dog and are thus inappropriate to the role of Heelwork to Music as a sport. Any such extreme or unnatural moves will result in elimination from the competition.

Elimination under the new Regulations will only be applicable if all the judges come to the same conclusion. Where eliminated, the dog and handler will be required to leave the ring immediately, in order to avoid the possibility of any further extreme or unnatural moves.

Judges’ education seminars will continue to make judges aware of their responsibility to ensure that dogs are not asked to undertake moves which may injure them or which are degrading, and instructors and competitors are advised to consider the amended Regulations when reviewing and planning their routines.

Regulation L10.j. is changed from:No activity shall be conducted which may be injurious to the dog.” toNo activity shall be conducted which may be injurious to the dog.  Extreme or unnatural moves which are not beneficial to the dog’s structure and conformation and which may be degrading, harmful or injurious to the dog must be avoided and if used will result in the dog’s elimination from the ring.”

Regulation L17.i. is changed from: “Any activity that may be injurious to the dog will result in an elimination.” toAny moves not permitted by virtue of Regulation L10.j. or any activity that may be injurious to the dog must be penalised by immediate elimination from the ring.”

I think we all agree that health and safety is very important in our sport, but I find this new British rule very vague and therefore difficult for the judges and competitors to comply with.

What is an unnatural move? It is not natural for many dogs to walk on hindlegs, so is hindleg work now banned? I have seen poodles walk on hindlegs without training, so it must be natural for some dogs, so how can the judges know if it is natural or not?

And Heelwork… It is not natural to a dog to walk with the neck stretched up and high leg lifts… So is that an unnatural move? Or maybe even an extreme move? It does look rather extreme to me, even though I think it is beautiful when done well.

Also I wonder how the judges are meant to come to an agreement and ask the handler to leave the ring immediately? According to the press release, the rule will only “be applicable if all the judges come to the same conclusion“. But the judges need to watch the routine in order to be able to judge it – in case one judge does not come to the conclusion that a move is extreme or unnatural. So they can’t discuss the moves until the routine is finished and then it will be too late to ask the handler to leave the ring.

I love that the British Kennel Club is putting focus on health and safety in our sport, I just wish they would educate rather than ban and legislate their way out of this challenge. 

I believe in educating the judges so that they learn to see which moves are dangerous to the dog or the handler and become confident enough to mark those moves down or eliminate if necessary. We don’t need a rule change to do that. The British (and all other countries that I have judged in) rules already give us the option to eliminate if we see something which may be considered harmful or injurious to the dog 

HTM is a very complex sport to judge. It already takes thorough education to be good at it, so let us include knowledge about anatomy and physiology in the syllabus, so that we know enough to judge fairly which moves are unacceptable and which are not. Judging should never be based on personal preferences, so we need knowledge.

Thought or comments on health and safety in our sport? Please send your comments to me on emmy[at]hazyland.dk – then I will be happy to post them on this blog!

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