Dog Shows: Pursuing Excellence or Finding Faults?

AKC Gazette breed column: Our columnist’s fictional alter ego, the distinguished Mr. Waneforth,...

AKC Gazette breed column: Our columnist’s fictional alter ego, the distinguished Mr. Waneforth, waxes eloquent on the topic of ringside faultfinding.


“Even money?”

I glanced from the venerable Wax Waneforth to the ingénue couple, straddle-legged puppy in tow, even now making their way under the grooming tent toward him.

I shook my head in disbelief at what he predicted and then shifted my neck to a vertical nod.

“You’re on.”

After a gee-shucks self-introduction to the great Mr. Waneforth, the novices finally got around to what they had come for: a genuine Wax Waneforth assessment of their puppy.

Wax bowed his body forward and pulled his bushy eyebrows together in a fierce, contrived peer at the pup. He was stalling for time, and I knew it. My heart sank as soon as the novices began to speak.

“We already know his faults,” the male novice said, and began to list some obvious problems with the dog.
All Wax said was, “I see,” and the female novice took it as an invitation to jump right in and attribute faults to the dog that wouldn’t have bothered breeders of great experience.

“Well,” Wax held out, “he has a nice headpiece. You might reset those ears and see if he doesn’t grow out of all those other issues as he matures.”

The couple went away in a joyful blither as if they had just heard a personal reading of the Sermon on the Mount.
The corners of Wax’s eyes crinkled with laughter as I forked over my money. “What made you think those people would voluntarily rip their own dog?”

“Part of it is that they want to ingratiate themselves into the circle of dog-people by showing what they already know. But most of it is the culture of the negative. No good comes from it, and once you start down that path, it’s hard to change course. Here comes a higher-level case in point.”

A young exhibitor waved and came over. After a round of hellos the exhibitor began to physically examine the dog Wax had on his table. Within a few seconds the criticisms and faultfinding of the dog began. Wax steered the conversation in another direction until the exhibitor wandered away.

“What my mother taught me,” I said, “was that if you don’t have anything good to say, then don’t say anything.”
“Hard to learn what’s right with a dog when you’re studying what’s wrong with it.”

A thought seemed to amuse Wax. “Imagine coming to a show to see what’s wrong with dogs instead of what’s right with them.”

“Yeah,” I mused, “How much can you learn about excellence if you sit ringside with people who can only point out what’s wrong with a dog but are incapable of or unwilling to point out excellence?”

“Or,” Wax asked, “Why would people even want to play this game when so many players are obsessed what is wrong with dogs?”

“So, how do we start to fix that?” I asked.

Wax smiled. “What your mother said.”


—Ellis West, Irish Terrier Club of America


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