The Double-Edged Sword of Dog Show Rules

From "At Large: Are We Having Fun Yet?" Dogs in Review, February 2012

Dogs in Review


Sometimes I wonder if the people in charge really care if the sport of dogs goes down the drain. Well, they must, but often it really doesn’t seem like it. What has the potential to be an immensely interesting and enjoyable hobby “for the whole family” is so circumscribed by rules and restrictions, so focused on the “in-crowd” and the top dogs, it’s no wonder that many people, even those who love dogs and might otherwise provide the new blood we so desperately need today, find something more congenial to spend their time on.

Let me give you a few examples of these self-defeating rules. You will have to forgive me if they are picked from my own recent experience; I guess it’s true that it doesn’t really hit you how insulting or downright stupid some of the rules are until they actually apply to you…

Like more than 3,000 other American dog show fanciers I’m an AKC judge. I don’t judge very often in the US, only a few weekends each year, partly by choice and partly because there just aren’t enough days in the week for everything else that needs to be done.

That makes me pretty average, I think: it has been shown in articles in this magazine that a very high percentage of the AKC judges only officiate occasionally. Yet, like all these judges I am treated as a potential criminal, or at least a miscreant, whenever I visit an AKC dog show, even one where I’m not judging. I can’t applaud a competitor’s dog at a dog show. (Why? Because my support would sway the officiating judge on the day?)

I can’t help a friend who is also a competitor by holding his or her dog by the leash for even a few minutes. I frankly didn’t used to take these things seriously, because they are not spelled out (as far as I can find) in any rule book, but I have learned better. Break ’em, and you may get into trouble.

Even more ridiculous is the rule that says because I’m an AKC judge I am not allowed to help a novice owner learn the ropes by handling his or her puppy in the show ring — not even one I bred. To do so I must also co-own said dog, and it’s explicitly stated that I may not co-own it just for the purposes of showing it. Try to explain this to your puppy buyer who is somewhat interested in showing. “You can’t help me? You mean we have to hire a professional handler? But you know the puppy, and they don’t…” Etc., etc. So that dog may never get shown, and we lose yet another potential new fancier.

Of course, many judges who are also breeders simply make sure they are listed as co-owners of puppies they have sold, just so they can help them start the puppy’s show career. That’s not going by the book; it’s in fact breaking a rule… but some rules really seem to be created only to be broken.

Here’s another one. I have two bitches, both champions, both spayed and therefore ineligible to be shown until they are veterans, and then only at independent specialty shows. One of them I decided early on not to breed from, so she was spayed after a brief and fairly successful specials career at a young age. The other one had a nice litter of puppies and was spayed immediately thereafter, but she’s one of the best I have ever had the privilege to own, and it’s a crying shame she will now have to sit at home, unshown, for several years.

So I have nothing to show, the breed loses some decent competition, and perhaps $1,000 poorer in entry fees. (I don’t show a lot, but two dogs over a few years… it adds up.) I know all the reasons we’re supposed to show only “breeding stock,” but do those arguments really hold water today? Isn’t it better that as many quality animals as possible should contribute to meaningful competition? And the rule probably doesn’t deter a lot of people from showing spayed bitches anyway, because how can you tell the difference? Nobody would know if you (or I) didn’t tell the rest of the world.

Can’t we all please just relax a little, be adult and civilized, allowing ourselves to enjoy the sport of showing purebred dogs as the hobby it was meant to be? It can be so much fun if we let it.

Article Categories:
Dogs In Review