Sometimes, in our preoccupation with major events like Group Realignment and changes to the Judges Approval Process, it’s easy to forget some of the basics needed to participate in our sport and enjoy it safely. These fundamentals must include the socialization of prospective show dogs and the knowledge to read a dog’s body language. At a recent show I witnessed a situation where both owner-handler and judge failed to demonstrate a grasp of these basics, and paid the consequences. The third casualty, of course, was the dog.
At this show, a senior puppy of a sighthound breed entered the ring with its owner-handler. As the owner struggled to stack her dog, the puppy began leaning into her, refusing to look at the judge and clearly wanting no part of the examination. The owner attempted to work through her exasperation and embarrassment as the puppy roached, bucked and tried to get away. All the while, the dog judge poked and prodded, determined to move forward with her exam.
A savvier, more confident exhibitor would have asked to be excused. A smarter dog judge would have sent the dog to the end of the line, left unplaced. Instead the owner tried to hold the puppy still while the dog judge approached her again, now from the rear.
Finally the puppy had had enough and lunged at the judge’s face. Thankfully, the dog judge was wearing glasses, which protected her eyes. She got a big welt on the bridge of her nose and became a little dazed, but no further physical injury.
Upon hearing that the puppy would be disqualified, the owner nodded as if processing the information, but then asked if she could still show her dog through the weekend. AKC officials quietly and kindly explained that a DQ is just that, and starts immediately.
As for the dog judge, she owns a breed that can display feral tendencies so why would she ignore the puppy’s body language and force an examination that could get her bitten and further traumatize the dog? One look into those puppy’s eyes and everyone at ringside knew this wouldn’t end well.
This is a troubling situation for many reasons. Years ago, there were matches where owners could take their puppies for dog-show practice at nominal cost. Today, matches have all but disappeared, but there are handling classes to attend. At $30 a pop and with two minutes allotted per dog, a point show is a very expensive place to train an unschooled puppy. It is also noisy, crowded and stressful for both dog and owner.
This is when good communication between buyer and breeder pays off. If novice owners have aspirations to show their puppy, surely the first place to go for advice would be the breeder, who can demonstrate ring procedure, recommend classes and mentor an aspiring exhibitor.
As for the dog judge, she conducted her ring in a manner that not only risked her personal safety, but could do irreparable harm to a young, frightened dog. She certainly left the exhibitor with little motivation to continue in conformation.
A properly socialized puppy, a well-informed exhibitor and a confident dog judge respectful of a dog’s boundaries and mental state are all essential to the safe enjoyment of our sport.