We dog people can be an emotional bunch. We care very deeply about our dogs and every aspect of the sport: their breeding, their health, their assessment in the show ring, and their influence on future generations. We don’t sit idly by when criticism is aimed our way, but that’s where dog show etiquette comes in.
Learning to take a pause and count to ten before speaking is an invaluable skill. It can enhance our enjoyment of the sport and keep it a positive, recreational environment. While we are experts at cultivating coats, cultivating restraint is an equally important skill.
All of the following situations may elicit an emotional response. But we could have avoided conflict had we practiced a bite-our-tongue moment (or perhaps a bite-your-fingers moment for those who are more inclined to sound off at the keyboard).
Critiquing an Exhibitor’s Dog
You arrive ringside and see a new exhibitor brushing a puppy you’d consider a total pet. Maybe so. But offering an uninvited critique of the dog will not impress fellow exhibitors with your knowledge of the breed standard. Instead, you will alienate those exhibitors, particularly the dog’s breeder, and very likely discourage the owner from entering a future show.
We can’t afford to lose newcomers to the sport. A much more productive approach would be to reach out to the exhibitor, introduce yourself, and offer tips on grooming or a more suitable show lead. Your kindness will be appreciated; their next show prospect may come from one of your future litters.
Complaining About Club Volunteers
Show-giving clubs want to constantly improve their events. They often place suggestion boxes on the show committee table for exhibitors to use; clubs typically hold a post-mortem meeting after the show to discuss how things went. Hardworking club volunteers can handle constructive suggestions but it’s all in the approach. (“Next year, we might want to try…” is a nice, neutral way to begin.)
Blindsiding club volunteers with complaints on social media about the judging panel, lousy food, and cramped grooming space will accomplish little. Unless you are prepared to accept a job on the show committee, go easy on the volunteers; they are not plentiful these days. More than a few exhausted show chairs have gotten burned out from dealing with what they saw as ungrateful members. Phrase your suggestions diplomatically, and if you are attending the club’s post-show debriefing, practice those count-to-ten moments.
Venting to a Stud-Dog Owner
We all know that when a great breeding on paper yields less-than-stellar results in the whelping box, the puppies have only one parent. Most experienced stud-dog owners have grown a thick skin over the years, but that still doesn’t make gratuitous cracks aimed at the litter’s sire acceptable. Breedings can sometimes be disappointing, and Mother Nature gets the last laugh. Be kind, take the matter philosophically, and place the puppies in great pet homes. There will be other litters.
Getting Confrontational With the Judge
Entering a dog show buys you the judge’s opinion on the day. You are entitled to disagree with that opinion and choose not to give them another entry in the future. Getting confrontational with the judge or steward should never happen.
Back in the day, it might have been your word against the judge’s, with few witnesses. Today, the steward, the judge, fellow exhibitors, and spectators at ringside can all pull out their smartphones and record the exchange.
Responding to Reporters
As passionate breeder-exhibitors, we know dog shows are a wonderfully fun and wholesome sport for the whole family. Sadly, not all TV reporters think that way. Smart, proactive clubs assign a polished member the job of publicist; that person will escort reporters and camera crew around the show, direct them to talented Junior Handlers, introduce them to rare breeds, and explain the history and tradition behind what might look like a beauty pageant. The result will often be an upbeat, colorful two-minute segment on the six o’clock news that does the show, the community, and the sport some good.
On the other hand, a microphone stuck in the face of an unprepared random exhibitor who hates public speaking is a recipe for disaster. The exhibitor may blather on at length about their dog’s long rib cage and short loin, pointing out how absolutely square he is from sternum to point of buttocks. The reporter might snap out of their coma, gather the camera crew, and leave the fairgrounds.
The news editor concludes that this segment was a total snooze-fest, and none of it airs. Should a reporter stop you unexpectedly for a news byte, direct them to the show chair. Alternatively, find the nearest steward with a walkie-talkie to summon the club publicist.
We can all benefit from counting to ten when it matters, cultivating restraint, and treating others in the sport as we would like to be treated.