How much cheating — in the sense of coloring, cosmetic enhancement or surgical altering of dogs — is going on at AKC shows? According to some there isn’t a top dog in the country that hasn’t been tampered with in some way. This is obviously not true, but it’s a little disconcerting to hear respected individuals in a position of responsibility within our sport (show chairmen, judges) happily holding forth over a glass of wine about the “good old days” when people really knew how to dye a coat or fix a tail — as if cheating cleverly were somehow more defensible than doing it so badly it’s obvious to all.
AKC rules make it very clear what is and isn’t allowed. Quote from Rules Applying to Dog Shows, Chapter 11, Section 8: “A dog […] which has been changed in appearance by artificial means […] may not compete at any show and will be disqualified…” This includes, but is not limited to, changes to eyes, eye lids, lips, palates, ears, teeth, excess skin, hernias, testicles and tails. Any award won by a dog found to be artificially altered shall be cancelled, and the dog may not compete again until, following applicaton, the dog’s eligibility is reinstated. (How this can be achieved after e.g. a surgical intervention is not specified, however.)
I often wonder what would happen if a “60 Minutes” type TV program decided to expose the dirty little secrets of the dog show world. It could be pretty devastating for all of us, and we wouldn’t have anyone to blame but ourselves.
You will note, from the above, that altering a dog’s color is not, contrary to common belief, a disqualifying offense. Section 8-C in the above chapter merely states that the judge is to “withhold any and all awards” from a dog that in the judge’s opinion has had its color altered by any substance (“whether such substance may have been used for cleaning purposes or for any other reason”). The handler or owner, or both, shall be subject to disciplinary action, although this doesn’t seem to occur very often, in spite of the fact that I have it on good authority that a judge who withholds ribbons for color “enhancement” (to use a euphemism) in certain breeds may end up giving out almost no awards.
The mostly hands-off US approach is very different from that in Great Britain, where the Kennel Club not infrequently conducts coat tests at the shows of the winners in certain breeds. At Crufts, two Miniature Poodle and two West Highland White Terrier winners were escorted from the ring immediately after judging to have coat samples taken.
As Simon Parsons tells us in his column in this issue, one of Britain’s most successful exhibitors, Michael Gadsby, has brought a proposal for the Kennel Club to cease coat testing “for powder, lacquer and silicone-based grooming products,” on the grounds that it’s impossible to prepare many breeds for showing without resorting to what is there considered technically illegal substances. Mike has received tremendous support from the fancy, with thousands signing a Facebook petition.
My own views on all this are mixed. I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone who professes to love his dogs would subject any of them to cosmetic surgery. I think it’s dishonest to talk about “enhancement” when you really mean dyeing, although in breeds where any color is allowed it’s obviously a milder form of cheating. I also wonder how valid the “tests” really are. And I remember bringing a dog to a show and finding the co-owner’s make-up instructions carefully written on a chart, accompanied by three little dye pots. (I didn’t use them; we still won.)
Certainly, in younger, more thoughtless days, I could be found in a cloud of chalk, making sure my white dogs were whiter than white. It didn’t seem like cheating, but of course it was. Maybe I’m just lazier these days, or have I become more aware of the ethics? I hope it’s the latter.