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If you show dogs, judge or breed dogs, you may agree that the dog sport has turned into a political circus and this well-known fancier is right but...


September 7, 2017

Carol Hawke, Guest Columnist


As someone who wrote for the dog sport for well over two decades, I realize that what I am going to put into words is a virtual epitaph.


The sport of showing dogs, I mean breeder/exhibitor conformation, is dead. The grave marker has not been inscribed because no one has so far defined the cause of death. Multiple forces, both greedy and ignorant, combined to murder the victim formerly known as “the Sport of Dogs.” Among them, the politically correct pressure cooker, AKC’s creation of its current judging pool, whom I refer to with sorrow as “the clowns.” Add to the plot the lure of greed essential to commercialize dog shows and voila!


Prior to the year 2000, the dog sport was composed primarily of old guard breeders and judges who held a mutual tug of war over integrity within the sport through their individual breed efforts. They kept the essential checks and balances within the system that allowed it to function in good health. It wasn’t perfect by any means but at least it worked. Good (standard correct) dogs were bred, good (standard correct) dogs were recognized (won) and the sport thrived in those decades prior to 2000.


There was no incentive to win beyond a championship and the adventurous potential for breed, group and BIS rankings. Nobody in that old guard ever went to a dog show to be featured on television, get a check or win a new car. We all ventured to see if our idea of the breed standard matched up to the best eye of the best judges in this country.


That was the incentive and a win was the reward. The chintzy ribbon never did matter, it was the recognition by the experts. Today, it is an oddity when any breeder wins with a good dog on their own. The old guard is mostly dead or sitting around watching from the sidelines if they haven’t grown entirely disenchanted and moved on.


The only way a good (standard correct) dog can win in this era is if:

  1. The breeder comprehends the standard and breeds to it

  2. The standard is understood foundationally by the club members and is used to properly educate, not simply influence or confuse incoming judges

  3. The judge actually has an eye for a dog

  4. The judge is sufficiently honest to use that eye for a dog

  5. The judges in the above category are approved and promoted both in house (AKC) and in the sport (by clubs) through regular assignments

  6. The breeder can get the best dogs into the ring and finish them without a handler

There is no incentive for AKC to choose ethical and competent judges as long as breeders are willing to hire handlers instead of showing their own dogs.


The only way integrity can be maintained in the sport is if that alphabetical short list above is rigorously adhered to. Clearly, it is not. In fact, that short list does not exist in practice at this point in time. The old guard judges as a generation - are - with a few notable exceptions, dead or retired.


The era of competency in American dog shows also died. The only thing remaining was to “send in the clowns,” so AKC did just that. For the most part, this is your modern judging field. The clowns, overall, do not realize they are clowns but the few judges with an eye for a dog do and so do the remaining breeders of integrity.


What you actually have is a ‘handler show.’ Every AKC dog show from the most inconsequential 300 dog entry to Westminster is a handler show. Buy your ticket, get your popcorn, hoist your drink and let the handlers great and small, duke it out.


There should be a new ribbon category at every AKC dog show, “Best Clown in Show,” for the judge that sends the most longtime breeders out of the ring without points while putting up the most handlers – that includes the handler wannabe’s or weekend warriors who don’t even groom or train their entries drag them in and win anyway.


Special recognition should be given for the clowns that put up lame dogs or those with obvious DQ’s because a familiar face drug it into their ring. Every show today, from the most inconsequential 300 dog entry to Specialties, is an incentive show. What incentive will bring the most handlers to that show? That seems to be the primary objective of every dog show committee. Not breeder/exhibitors, handlers. Every detail of the show is geared for handlers.


I began breeding and exhibiting (again) five years ago. In those five years it has taken to acquire breeding stock and recreate a bloodline, I have discovered it doesn’t do a lick of good to breed quality dogs that fit the breed standard. The new generation judges cannot find them. I mean they could find them if I paid a handler to show the dogs to them. However, that defeats the purpose of showing dogs. I expect the judges to have studied their standards and mentored with old timer’s long enough to actually recognize good dogs.


I expect judges to have an eye for a dog and not require the help of a handler to enable them to find breed type and reward soundness.


AKC, I place the blame squarely on your shoulders. You committed sport suicide by courting breeders and puppy millers simultaneously and not putting people in charge of the judging pool that actually knew what they were doing. Your field reps were nearly all former handlers…what did you think they were gonna do? They had buddies and they had enemies but what they usually didn’t possess was objectivity.


The AKC Board deserves to take the deepest impact, however, because they made the final calls. The exploitation of the sport through commercialization was the product of greed and it took away the moral incentive to show dogs. Gone is that precious integrity factor that made it all worthwhile. Each of you in charge and influence; from AKC to member clubs to the magazines deserve equal blame for killing this sport.


It takes courage to admit the truth in order to change the course of this game back into a sport for the future. It all depends on who is at the helm and whether anybody left actually cares enough to admit this is a pathetic game nobody really admires anymore. Just so you remember or perhaps need to hear it for the first time; showing dogs is about choosing the breeding stock that best fits the breed standard!


Today’s breed standards express modern trending instead of breed foundation and purpose.


The clubs don’t care because the members would rather win than breed to the standard anyway.


Handlers are the only consistent way of winning at AKC dog shows today.


The illusive eye for a dog has been exchanged for an eye for familiar faces.


Dog shows are now a politically charged game, not a sport. So go ahead, “send in the clowns!” because that is all you’ve got left in this circus. EST 2002 © 1708


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