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Should the AKC rule be enforced against cosmetically changing a dog’s natural appearance? What about surgically correcting a health problem?


Aug 2009

Barbara "BJ" Andrews, Editor-In-Chief


According to your responses below, the fancy is split on whether there should be any rule against dying, enhancing, or faking color but clearly, that's because the rule is difficult, if not impossible to enforce.


Most breed purists believe shows are for comparing breeding stock whereas other readers pointed out the commercial nature of shows today. One subscriber said AKC rules were no better enforced than those for the Miss America contest. Another said it’s “a sad state of affairs and not what dog shows are supposed to be.


There was once an AKC rule against any form of surgical correction, even for injury.  It was rarely enforced.  Then, a decade ago, a flurry of competitor complaints erupted about dogs that were alleged to have been surgically altered.


One involved an Akita that had correction for entropion (eyelid problem).  It was a no-brainer because her novice owner made no secret about having done the right thing for her dog.  She had the minor surgery done to relieve the constant eye irritation and no one cared - until her handling skills improved and the bitch won big majors and finished.


AKC disqualified the bitch retroactively, rescinded the wins and her title, therefore another bitch that had twice gone reserve finished her Championship without having ever won a major!  Think about that...


Regardless of one’s viewpoint, AKC rules on surgical or cosmetic altering puts the American Kennel Club in a tough position, particularly in today’s litigious society.


Then there was a big-winning Mastiff that had leg surgery to correct a torn cruciate ligament.  Mastiff fanciers were divided on whether the limp was accidental or genetic but nonetheless, AKC ruled the dog ineligible for further competition. 


There were also complaints about a spayed Doberman bitch winning Groups, and with the onslaught of Animal Rights legislation, that could become more common.  Who would know other than the owner and the vet?


I hadn’t shown Akitas in ages but was “elected” to complain about a nice dog that finished his title owner handled and was then turned over to a handler.  Suddenly the dog went from dull, washed out fawn-brown to rich glossy black.  The AKC Rep said there was nothing they could do.  I reminded him of the Standard Poodle that had just won Best In Show at Crufts and had the win rescinded by The Kennel Club after a dye test.  He shrugged and said "We don’t do hair analysis here" and explained that the owner could not be forced to give a hair sample, etc.


So, where does obvious dying or trimming (in breeds that disallow coat trimming) put the judges? One judge summed it up thusly:


On more than one occasion I suspected a dog was drugged but excusing an exhibit for drugs or color is out of the question.  I have recently been approved for more breeds.  One of them, a sporting breed, is rarely shown without markings enhancement but I would find it hard to get the assignments needed for advancement if I failed to put up the best dog because of suspected color or razoring.  My wife and I enjoy your publication but you should make clear that such violations must be controlled from outside the ring.”


A long-time subscriber put it this way:

Nix the rule.  Showing dogs today is about advertising, a great handler, and knowing which judges to show under.  Every body uses chalk and grooming spray.  Most use some kind of coat conditioner.  So where do you draw the line?  A handler would be cheating the owner if they tried to compete with a natural dog.”  Kerry Wilson


Indeed, the AKC rule on color enhancement is a complicated unless the application of color is credibly witnessed and the handler admits to the infraction.  The solution seems to be to leave the rule in play but ignore it because after all, today it is just a public relations sham.


One much admired group judge grinned at me and said "Having the rule makes the sport look cleaner but looking the other way makes the dogs look better."


Altering appearance by inserting a hairpiece, “texturing” the coat, chalking, outlining markings, or changing the primary coat color is routine.  Some judges don’t notice, some ignore it, some expect it; and a good handler uses his knowledge of a judge’s preferences to good advantage.  That’s what he or she is paid to do.


Asked about hairpieces, a prominent Non-Sporting group judge said: It is not our job to enforce a universally ignored rule. We are not the rule police.  It is up to the exhibitor to respect the rules and the rep to enforce them.”


The subject was opened by a Letter To The Editor in the last edition.  Over 400 of you voted and votes were still coming in when I left for the Carolina Cluster.  Ringside responses to the question were evenly divided between those who said “change the rule, for God’s sake, look at poodles!” and those who felt that color faking is genetic deceit and the rule should be enforced.


The following is from the brave owner who brought this subject to the forefront:

I am the owner of the dog that this note was published on. The person that sent in the note does not have all the facts down correctly. For the record, I WAS NOT ringside, I have a bitch that if I am ringside and she sees me, well, forget about her showing. I had no clue what had happened until AFTER the show. I was mortified and tried though my Parent Club, the Host Kennel Club among others to give the awards back. No one would let me. My Handler was suspended for 6months, fined $500 and my bitches awards were revoked, all was appropriate and I agree with what AKC has handed down. My Handler did show my dogs for the rest of the weekend, with this suspension, it was reviewed by AKC and so the suspension went into effect a couple weeks after that show. I received the notice to return her trophies and ribbons, which I have done so promptly. Would I have stopped him if I knew what he was going to do? You are darn right I would have! She did not need the color, she was what she was, her coat was not back completely from having puppies 3 months prior to the show. She is a very nice bitch and was worthy of the awards, but not in the manner she received them.


“Dog shows were NOT originally set up to be 'Beauty contests' - they were started so Breeders can see what other Breeders had to offer, now it has become a business to win win win.  Maybe if we go back to why we show dogs in the first place, much of the controversy surrounding shows now-a-days would disappear.”

Julie Seaton


I think it is disgusting and cheating to change a dog's natural hair color. Even worse is the practice of adding false hair in the form of hair pieces to poodles' top knots. Then there are braces to change bad bites, leather glue to get and maintain the correct ear drop in a puppy, tattooing eyelids to get the correct dark color. What you see is NOT what you get when you buy a puppy from a Conformation Champion line. The fact is that with these alteration rules not being enforced you have no idea of what the ultimate appearance of your puppy will be. With the complete indifference to following and enforcing the AKC rule against changing the dog's appearance it is impossible to breed the best to the best, because you have no idea of how much altering has been done to the so called "best."  It's a very sad state of affairs and damaging to those who do follow the rules, because who knows whose dog has been altered artificially.  Ursula M. Walsh


BARBARA "BJ" ANDREWS BIOAlso in support of enforcing the rule: “I firmly believe that the rule against altering or using color should be kept and enforced.  I also believe that all breeds should be shown as natural as possible and that the groomers for show dogs should drastically reduce the grooming aids used.”  Mary Carter


Dennis (who isn’t doggy) selected this handler’s comment: “My wife would never go out in public without makeup although I love her either way.  If this whole idea bothers you, then you need to take up canasta or golf as a sport.” Ted Regent EST 2002 © 0914081610198



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