How easy do we make it for novices to know what’s acceptable behavior at a dog show? How easy do we make it for the person without a mentor or accessible breeder to know what is preferred conduct?

Are the people who whelp puppies in their motor home at a dog show in violation of the rules? How about the person who whelps puppies in a crate on the dirt-floored grooming area of a dog show held at a fairground?

Was the man seen stripping his terrier’s coat after hours at a dog show in violation of the rules? We can agree, of course not. What if I told you that he was using a straight razor blade and drawing pin pricks of blood on the dog’s skin, a dog that winced with every pull?

And finally, what would you think if you saw several freshly wash-and-dried dogs standing on their respective grooming tables, each attached to a grooming arm, each with a plastic wash tub situated under their bellies to prevent them from sitting and mussing up their furnishings? You would probably think they were minutes away from entering the ring. What would you think if you saw the same dogs standing in the same positions two hours later and learned that they hadn’t been moved in all that time?

This is a random photograph and not the dogs I saw standing on their tables

This is a random photograph and not the dogs I saw standing on their tables

The aforementioned scenarios evoke responses that change once we know “the rest of the story,” but how many new fanciers realize that what may be standard grooming procedures for them is, in fact, a violation of a show rule? More importantly, how many of us will take an exhibitor aside to suggest that what they’re doing is wrong when they’re a complete stranger to us?

We learn our sport from people we assume know how it all works, our breeders and mentors, but if they didn’t learn it correctly, they’re simply passing along bad habits. Novices eventually become tomorrow’s seasoned exhibitors. Will they become poorly informed experts perpetuating the cycle?

Guidelines about dog show conduct were once routinely included in a club’s printed material, but printing costs have likely forced some clubs to omit this information in their catalogs or premium notices. This same information is available on-line at the AKC ‘s website, but to learn if a litter can be whelped at a show site, for example, one must jump through navigational hoops which are not obvious road signs leading to the ultimate destination: “Rules and Regulations.”

Of the 50 options listed under Rules and Regulations, information about whelping a litter at a show site was eventually found under, “Dealing with Misconduct at AKC Events.” Personally, I don’t attend an event intending to screw up, so a booklet on misconduct isn’t where I’d look first to determine acceptable behavior at a dog show. Whelping a litter at a show site, by the way, is against the rules punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. I’m not sure if this includes a motor home whelping, but I am certain that the information wasn’t as easy to locate as it should be.

Staying with the whelping business for a moment longer, we presume too much if we believe that common sense should prevail among people entrusted to have dogs when some owners simply lack any. The person whelping a litter in a crate sitting on the dirt floor of a cow barn later said she had no choice when her bitch went into labor at the dog show. Others, however, took a difference view, and most grew saucer-eyed at the specter of Brucellosis in such proximity to a vulnerable dam and her newborn puppies. This breeder had evidently “missed the memo,” about show rules and basic sanitation when whelping puppies. One wonders if she would have adhered to the rule, anyway. Would she have embraced the notion that some rules exist to protect the best interests of the dog, and not to inconvenience the exhibitor?


There was a time it was incumbent upon novices to learn the rules of our sport because they wanted to have a purebred dog, they wanted to participate because they wanted to join our clubs, and they wanted to get it right. Times have changed dramatically. We are no longer the beneficiaries of a sport the general public regards as accessible, let alone desirable. The media has come to portray fanciers as elitist pariahs of the dog-owning community. Our ethical breeders are lumped with substandard breeders by legislative fiat, our main registering body regarded as enablers of poor breeding practices, and in the minds of too many, buying a dog from a breeder results in the death of a shelter dog. Any sport in which participants don’t know the playbook and feel no urgency to learn it typically ends badly. Rules broken, even unwittingly, put us in a bad light. Do we really have the luxury of acting as if it’s business as usual in our sport?

The groomer stripping his terrier with a razor blade was in all likelihood instructed by someone else who stripped his or her terrier with a razor blade. While it’s possible that the man violated a clause under “Inappropriate treatment of an animal” of the “Dealing with Misconduct at AKC Events” booklet, I would bet he thought he was just grooming his dog. It’s been over thirty years since I saw the man with that terrier (and yes, I intervened), but how many others has he since instructed to use a razor blade?

I’m loath to suggest that our sport needs to be policed, but it’s happening anyway, and by entities which are not our friends. Perhaps it’s time for each of us to step beyond our respective comfort levels and to adopt the phrase, “See something, say something.” If not for the dogs, then for the sport.

This article first appeared in DOGS IN REVIEW 9/14.  It never hurts, either, to check in with the rules book on occasion:


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Note: This week, I’m posting a guest column because the inherent message of this article is too important not to share with everyone who has a dog, friend, neighbor, acquaintance or relative. The author, Tray Pittman (whose kind permission I have to share it)  wrote the piece in response to a couple of incidents involving Shelties […]

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A common joke within the dog fancy community is the tongue-in-cheek assertion that when we’re not looking, every leash we own is feverishly mating and reproducing inside tack boxes and while hanging on hooks. There is no other explanation for how it is that when most of us started out “in dogs,” we had a […]

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