Is Your Dog Getting Noticed in the Show Ring?

From "Hey, Look at Me," Dogs in Review September 2011

I got my first Irish Setter in 1963 and my young Irish bitch won a blue ribbon at our first show. OK, she was the only one in the Novice class, but it was enough to hook me. I was absolutely thrilled with my AKC-registered dog. Now she was a “show dog.” So the love of purebred dogs and the “sport” of dog shows has been a significant part of my life for almost 50 years.

I moved from exhibitor to breeder to professional handler and now to a multiple Group judge. Many of you probably followed a similar path, perhaps deciding to go in a slightly different direction. As I look at it now, though, I am seriously worried about our future. Unfortunately, we have heard over and over about the financial difficulties facing the AKC due primarily to a huge drop in registrations. These problems are being faced every day by the AKC leadership as they take steps to adjust to the new economy.

Some have pointed to this as being a serious threat to both the AKC and our beloved sport of dog shows. I think there is a larger threat to the dog show fancy. If people don’t want to show their dogs anymore at AKC venues, why do they have to bother registering with the AKC?

There has always been a dichotomy to some degree, separating those who win consistently and those who do not. We know we lose a percentage of exhibitors every year, and these have always been replaced by more newcomers to the fancy. And this is where the danger lies. We are not getting enough new people, and those we do get do not stay around very long.

At every show I hear unhappy and disgruntled exhibitors exclaim that they will never show again because they don’t even get looked at. I have heard exhibitors complain to AKC reps that “the judge didn’t even look at my dog.”

Many of the Internet breed lists have had discussions about how much it costs to show a dog these days, and how frustrated people are getting at what they perceive to be an unfair contest. And now, when those people stop showing, we do not have their replacements. Many of them either no longer breed dogs or they choose not to register their litters with the AKC — instead going to shows put on by other organizations because of their displeasure.

Times change, and so do attitudes and economics. Things that were accepted 30 to 40 years ago are soundly questioned now. There was not the plethora or acceptance of other registries that there is now. I still show my own dogs. Truth be told, this old body mostly confines me to showing my Beagle while my wife shows the bigger-moving Sporting dogs, but it still counts. Not only do I enjoy exhibiting because I am proud of our dogs but I think it keeps me grounded in the realization of how hard and expensive it can be for an exhibitor.

By no means do I intend to pontificate or to hold myself above others. I still believe that AKC shows are head and shoulders above any other venue. I have been fortunate to judge in many countries, and for the most part, our judges rank with the best in the world. However, perception is reality and when exhibitors see judges sitting at ringside reading a dog magazine before going in to judge the Group; or have a judge say to them, “That is the most beautiful (fill in breed) I have ever seen” and then not even look at it in breed or Group competition … what are they to think?

When a judge’s apparent or perceived attitude is one of not caring or an air of dismissal when it comes to less popular breeds or classes, what does that say to the exhibitor who has worked as hard and spent as much money as the next person to get ready for the show?

We judges owe the same treatment to every exhibitor who spends money, time and emotion to show to us. We need to be the best that we can be. I do not believe it is possible for every judge to be expert in every breed, know every nuance, but each of us can study, learn and … at least show every exhibitor the same consideration and time.

If we don’t give every entry and every breed the same chance to win, we simply won’t have their entries anymore. If the average exhibitor feels he has absolutely no chance against a handler or a specific dog, why should he continue to enter? Why continue to breed? Why continue to register with the AKC? And the downward spiral continues.

So, I thank the AKC leadership that is working on some very difficult issues under trying conditions. And I thank the breeders and exhibitors who work so hard and spend so much to proudly show their beloved dogs. And I respect and am proud to be a part of the great majority of judges who study and work very hard to increase their knowledge and always try to find the best dog in the ring. But to those in the minority (a very visible minority) I ask that you consider the following:

Dear Judges:
Am I invisible? I go to training class every week so I can stand out. I stand, stay, bait, do what is asked of me so HEY … Look at Me.

I stand for hours on the grooming table getting pretty so you will notice me so HEY… Look at Me.

My owner works hard to afford entry fees, hotel bills and gas bills to show me. I may not have the unlimited advertising budget for you to see my picture every week, but you can see me in the ring too if you will only HEY … Look at Me.

My owner may not be a big-name handler who you see many times a day in the ring, but we too work very hard on training and conditioning, so HEY … Look at Me.

I may not be one of the more popular and recognizable breeds, but please take the time to learn about me and HEY … Look at Me.

I may look different from the others, but I may be the correct one. HEY … Look at Me.

You may be pleasantly surprised when you give me the time to shine because HEY … You Looked at Me.

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