Dog Shows, Business or Sport?

From "You Said It," Dogs in Review, January 2012

In the beginnings of the AKC, dog show “exhibitors” were mostly managers of large kennels owned by the wealthy. The sport grew exponentially when the average family became involved, showing their beloved pets; competing and socializing. Dog shows were in their heyday.

Has the pendulum swung back? Is the sport now driven by money? If so, what effect does this have on our dogs? How has the business aspect of dog shows affected various breeds in terms of standards, grooming and temperament? Can the average person still compete? Most importantly, have we unthinkingly turned our cherished companions into commodities?

There’s a dog show held practically every day of the week. Can the average working family afford to attend? Can your family dog compete with the top dogs that have “backers,” making possible nationwide travel and unlimited advertising campaigns? Of course, the advertising shouldn’t matter, but what is the reality? If a judge is not secure in the breed he is judging and has seen pictures of such-and-such dog winning again and again, what do you think will happen?

Judges are not the only ones affected. What about the dog breeders? If a number of bitches are bred to one dog simply because of his record, what now happens to the breed? It is the combination of judge and breeder who help determine the course of a breed’s future quality.

For the most part, everyone can compete on a more-or-less equal footing when it comes to winning in the classes. But some dogs silently carry the badge of their advertising budget with them into the Breed and Group ring. I was disheartened the other day to hear a friend of mine state, “I guess I have to give in and buy some advertising to get ‘Fluffy’ better wins.” Group wins and Best in Shows seem to go to the same small circle of dogs. Are they really that much better than everything else in the ring?

The number of years that an exhibitor remains part of the fancy has greatly diminished. How much of this is caused by disillusionment? How many of you have attended a dog show and felt the negativity in the air? Professional dog handlers are under pressure to win to keep their clients. Owner-handlers feel they don’t have a chance anyway. Everyone’s nerves are on edge. Not much fun, is it?

What do you think when you hear that such-and-such dog has amassed a record of more than 100 Best in Shows? What I think is, “Holy cow! How many shows has she attended? Does she ever have family time or is she now just a commodity?” A friend told me she spent in excess of $100,000 to get her “woofenhound” the No. 1 ranking. I didn’t know how to reply. Still think everyone can compete? Sounds like the Yankees payroll versus the Pirates.

What are the dangers if this continues? If Dog X is seen winning in every advertising source possible, doesn’t it make sense that others will try to make their dogs look like the big winner? At every judges’ education seminar I attend, the presenter states, “Our dogs are to be shown in as natural a state as possible. We do not want them to be sculpted or appear with blown-out coats.” Really? Look around. It’s bad enough that dogs are now being groomed in a manner that is not right for the breed — certainly not in a way that would allow them to function properly — but are we now breeding for those very incorrect traits? We are seeing more and more generic show dogs, flashy with lots of coat, but not necessarily with the nuances that are so important to breed type.

It may be naive to say we should still be looking for the best “breeding stock,” but do we now just surrender breed type to money? This is not to say that many of these top winners are not of excellent quality, but not all represent true breed type.

It is not just the advertising that seems to be turning our dogs into commodities. I know and respect a great many professional dog handlers. Most of them are hard-working, knowledgeable dog people who care about their dogs. But what if they show in Texas on a Wednesday and Thursday, then drive 19 hours to Ohio for a four-day cluster, and complete the triangle with a 39-hour drive to Colorado for specialties and two big all-breeds?

While this may be a bit of an exaggeration, it is not way off. And why is this done? Well, the dog handler needs to keep “Fido” or “Fifi” in the top rankings. That’s what she gets paid for. Doesn’t this sound exhausting? So, I ask my same question — “what about the dogs?” Yes, most handlers try very hard to exercise the dogs to keep them in shape, but it’s not the same as a romp in the backyard with buddies. Are Fido and Fifi still our friends or just a number in the rankings — just a commodity?

If ego is the driving force, then rankings are the Holy Grail and money is the fuel. What can be done? I have spoken to the powers that be about limiting the number of shows in which a dog can compete, but I was told there would be too many lawsuits. How about limiting the number of miles a dog can travel in a month? Again … is that restraint of trade? Ahh, yes … restricting the commodity.

And now my two cents is done — probably to no avail. It will not change anything, will it? But maybe it will make one person think and re-evaluate what is really important. If so, I am pleased.

Do you have something on your mind regarding our sport? We’d love to hear from you. Send your 1,000-word think pieces to We cannot confirm receipt of entries nor guarantee publication.

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