The Baiting Game: It’s Ring Time, Not Dinner Time!

The Baiting Game: It's Ring Time, Not Dinner Time!

AKC Gazette breed column: A longtime fancier wonders, when did the show ring become an all-you-can-eat buffet?

Why is it that many exhibitors feel compelled to stuff their dog with bait just when the judge is examining him?

There’s the familiar scenario where the judge wants to check the dog’s bite but has to wait till the dog has downed the lump of bait the exhibitor shoved in his mouth just as the judge approached. Or the occasion when the dog is so engrossed with the treat the exhibitor is holding that he resolutely refuses to face forward so the judge can assess expression, eye shape, and so on.

A few judges have become so fed up, they’ve banned bait in their rings. But what if the bait transgressions happen in the ring next door? In a couple of breeds (mentioning no names, of course), handlers are notorious for showing their dogs some bait and then pitching it away so the dog’s eyes follow its flight. Unfortunately, the handler often doesn’t watch where the bait goes (or he has rotten aim), and the occasional ringsider or unwary steward gets beaned by low-flying liver. Sometimes the bait lands in adjoining rings, prompting dogs there to break gait in order to gobble up the treats falling from heaven.

Tired of such disruptions, one popular judge called time out in his ring, walked over to gather fallen goodies from his mats, and then leaned over the fence into the ring where the treats had originated. Holding them aloft, he bellowed, "If anyone needs bait, I seem to have plenty over here!"

There were no takers.

The whole idea behind baiting is to elicit an alert, interested attitude from the dog. The more unobtrusive the bait, the better. Old-timers may recall the perfect picture Jimmy Moses presented as he casually baited the incomparable Hatter (Ch. Covy Tucker Hills Manhattan) from several feet away, at the end of a long lead. All eyes were drawn to the poised dog.

Though edibles are the bait of choice for most, other items can invoke the same reaction. Many years ago I owned a jacket with pockets held closed by Velcro. I rarely had to remove the bait from those pockets; just the whisper of the Velcro opening extracted a Pavlovian response, and my dog would pull herself into an animated state of anticipation.

Another of my Briards would use her ears most expressively at the simple sound of crinkling cellophane. Then there was the one who baited for ice cubes, but I never figured out how to transport them into the ring. Squeaky toys, tack-box rats, and various other items can make some dogs perk up. Even just talking to the dog can enliven him, especially if the words used might be "cookie" or "squirrel."

And there is the tale, perhaps an urban legend, of a handler who kept a live mouse in his pocket in a small wire soap-holder and would surreptitiously sneak the rodent out just long enough to rev up his charge. Not a good idea in the Terrier Group.

In simple terms, bait should be used judiciously and sparingly. Its use should never interfere with the judging process, nor should the handler inconsiderately distract other dogs with it. That’s why it’s called "bait" and not "dinner." —Alice Bixler, Briard Club of America

Browse the archive of AKC Gazette breed columns here.