Regardless of what dog sport you compete in, it’s important to have good sportsmanship when engaging with fellow competitors. But good sportsmanship should extend beyond in-person shows and include how dog owners interact online. The AKC Code of Sportsmanship explains that good sportsmanship involves respecting the sport, club officials, and other competitors, as well as being welcoming to newcomers to the fancy.
Most competitors are thoughtful about being good sports when on showgrounds, but when sitting at a keyboard in front of a glowing screen, good sportsmanship doesn’t always remain front and center. Regardless of if you’re in a private group for your local kennel club or part of a Reddit forum focused on your breed or dog sport, it’s important to center ideas on good sportsmanship.
Maintaining positive interactions online matters as much as it does in person and is key for keeping dog sports welcoming. In all interactions online and in person try treating fellow dog people the way that you would want to be treated.
Respecting differences and diversity should always be at the forefront of your mind when engaging with dog people—or any person—online. Try to remember that as long as someone’s dog isn’t being hurt or endangered, it’s perfectly OK for people to approach an aspect of training or competition differently than you do. One of the beautiful things about the online dog community is the opportunity to engage with a wide range of people and their dogs who are coming from different places and experiences.
Some people are just looking to do something fun and casual with their dog, while other dog owners are striving for top scores every time they enter the ring. Both approaches to dog sports are valid and it’s important to remember that there are different goals and priorities when training.
It’s necessary to aspire to be welcoming and inclusive of all people and dogs interested in getting involved in our sports and community. For some, online spaces are their first interaction with the dog community. The comments you say, the way you treat people, and interact with them can have a very real impact on how those people will feel about joining a sport or training, and if they want to stay involved.
Even if those people look different or have different backgrounds from you, they and their dogs should feel welcome. There can be a lot of insider language, abbreviations, and acronyms that can be confusing to people new to dog training or sports. Try to be patient and welcoming with answering questions people might ask online instead of just telling them to go read the sport’s rules and regulations. These initial impressions of a sport and interactions with other competitors can be the difference between a dog owner continuing to train their dog or walking away.
Online training classes have become increasingly popular since the beginning of the pandemic. Virtual classes have been a fantastic opportunity for seasoned competitors to work on skills with their dogs from home, and for those new to dog sports to start building skills. Similarly, as virtual titling options in sports, like Agility, Trick Dog, Rally, Obedience, and Scent Work, become more common, it’s especially important to treat any of those videos shared online the same way you would react standing ringside at a show.
One of the challenges of virtual titling is that other competitors can rewind and rewatch to closely scrutinize a dog and handler’s performance. This is very different from being at a dog show where you might catch someone’s turn in the ring, but there’s a limit to how closely you can watch. Plus, with online comments, it can be difficult to read the tone behind what is being said, which can lead to unintentionally hurt feelings.
If you’re an instructor or a participant in the online class, be generous and thoughtful about what you say and how you say it when giving feedback, critique, or criticism to other dog owners.
Seek Consent Before Critiquing
All of us have opinions, and dog people understandably have very strong opinions about the right and wrong way to do things. If you’re an experienced competitor or a professional trainer it can feel tempting to want to share your knowledge with others online. But unless you are the instructor and someone is in your class or a handler is doing something that is immediately putting their dog in danger, ask consent before giving training feedback.
Once you have permission for feedback you can give gentle criticism, but respect the handler if they say “no.” Although you might know how to teach something or have suggestions that could improve performance, part of good sportsmanship is recognizing that people don’t always want your opinion and that sharing suggestions without consent can be incredibly off-putting.
No Bullying Allowed
Bullying of any kind isn’t acceptable in the dog world and shouldn’t be tolerated online. If you moderate an online discussion space or Facebook group, consider creating an anti-bullying policy for the group. Ideally, people will choose to communicate respectfully but that isn’t always the case. Having clear rules that bullying will not be tolerated and moderating group interactions can help make your online groups safer and feel welcoming to a diversity of people.
When looking at videos people are posting of training sessions, experiences in the ring, or submissions for virtual titles it’s important to be encouraging and supportive. Always consider if what you are typing to someone is something you would say to their face at a dog show. Otherwise, you don’t need to say it to someone online.