Conduct Unbecoming?

by Susi on September 17, 2014

in AKC, Bitch in labor, Breeders, Breeding, dog shows, dogs shows, Mentors, Whelping

Post image for Conduct Unbecoming?

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:

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Cindy Cooke September 17, 2014 at 11:41 am

I agree that we should speak up, but if you do, be prepared to deal with show chairs who are reluctant to back you. Years ago, at a show in Ohio, I saw an Irish Terrier sitting on a grooming table with clothes pins on its ears, holding them in place. I stopped at the table and suggested that the owner should remove them for two reasons; 1. It had to be painful to the dog, and 2. Mr. and Mrs. America attending their first dog show would be shocked. The owner told me to mind my own business. When I went to the show chair, I practically had to drag him by the ear back to the Irish Terrier’s table. I did and the pins were removed, but it’s tough for most people to deal with anger or aggression from the wrongdoer especially if they are not backed up by the show chairs. If I get some time in the near future, I think I’ll put together a program about what constitutes misconduct at a dog show and how to deal with it.


Susi September 17, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I couldn’t agree more, Cindy. People worry about getting sued, “pay back,” “blow back,” and any number of repercussions of “ratting out” bad behavior. We just don’t have the luxury (if we ever really did) of turning out backs on this. In my world, my black and white “rules to live by” are pretty simple. No dog should ever suffer in pursuit of this sport without a compelling reason (see docking/cropping/debarking) – end of story. As I see it (and I’m pretty simple minded on this point), failure to “say something” on behalf of a miserable dog who can’t say anything at all makes us as guilty as owner or handler doing what it is that’s causing the suffering. Next: Anything that makes the sport look bad to Mr. and Mrs. America attending their first dog show is bad enough to warrant action. We all suffer when the sport is under fire (and it’s exponentially worse when it’s deserved). After that, I’m open to discussion, lol.


Jeff September 26, 2014 at 6:10 pm

I can’t agree more. I have so many stories. Some with a positive result. Some negative. Some ended with words (mostly profane). Some even came to blows. But more then once – I’ve been labeled Loud Mouth Troublemaker. But each and every time I’ve had the sport and the dog at the center of my focus.


Susi September 26, 2014 at 6:13 pm

Oh behalf of the dogs and the sport, Jeff, thank you. More of us need to speak up when circumstances warrant it. The danger is, of course, that people will abuse the “see something say something” motto to even a personal score, or just to be contrary, but that’s the risk I fear we take in a free society. I’ll take my chances if it means defending dogs or the sport.


Betsy September 28, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Speaking of the terrier guy stripping his dog with a razor, OVER grooming a dog is also way beyond IMO. What’s up with that? And how about the rule “No products on the dog?” Not sure how it’s specifically stated, but the poodle exhibitor ringside spraying hairspray again and again comes to mind. RIGHT AT THE GATE TOO! There are rumors of a judge who dismissed the dogs with obvious product on the dog/in the coat, and everybody ringside was quickly trying to remove padding in topknots, etc before they had to go in. (Not just the poodles either, and yes, I know, everybody points at the poodles, but seriously, while they are the poster child for “product” they are not the only breeds “guilty” of it.) It IS a rule, and either it should be enforced, or removed from the rule book. I for one, believe it should remain, but it should be strictly enforced. The dogs and I both come home with gooky/goopy eyes from a show from all the powder/chalk and other products floating around the grooming area…not necessarily confined to the grooming area either.

I did once see an obvious newbie at a show with a pinch collar on their dog. I informed the AKC rep present and then watched. It took a few minutes but the rep did show up and inform them the pinch collar was not allowed on show grounds. She even walked them to the vendors with chain collars so they could change it out.

And yes, I do need to do more outside of my comfort zone in this area. However, I also have no desire to be lynched by a pack of angry poodle exhibitors.


Concerned Exhibitor October 7, 2014 at 10:09 pm

You are so correct. Here are a few more examples. Our breeds national specialty, and a long-standing “pillar” of the breed has a litter of one week old puppies in their MH, and another bitch whelping in the MH. This made me sick. I don’t care if it’s breaking a rule or not. Common sense should prevail, and I don’t believe anyone in their right mind would want to expose newborns to whatever the 3000+ dogs at this show may have been carrying. I did approach an AKC rep regarding this, he didn’t want to deal with it….

You note dogs with plastic wash tubs under them. Here’s one better. Dogs on “happy legs” for HOURS. At a show several years ago, one of the exhibitors had every dog on happy legs for their entire groom time, then some. Besides being dangerous since they’re put on happy legs, then attached with the grooming noose (now there’s a real lesson to be learned by the dog, not only might you fall off the happy legs, you might choke yourself at the same time). I don’t think there was anything “happy” about this experience for the dog, as they were there for hours. When I questioned one of the assistants about it, I was basically told to mind my own business. Mind you this person is not only an exhibitor, but a judge as well.

We’ve got to start policing ourselves. So many times I think people are afraid of confronting those that are very well known in the breed, for fear of repercussions, so the behavior just continues, and it’s business as usual. If we don’t start policing ourselves, someone else is going to do it for us.

I’ll never claim to be Pollyanna when showing my dogs. Do I use product? Yes. Am I extremely competitive? Hell yes. But…I always promised myself and the dogs that I would never do anything that would harm them either physically or mentally just for a win. After 40+ years, it hasn’t been hard to keep that promise to them.


Susi October 8, 2014 at 1:37 am

Thanks for writing, Concerned Exhibitor, it’s good to hear someone else who’s in agreement that we are hurting ourselves by not speaking up when seeing something not in the best interest of the dog, and therefore the sport. I totally agree that fear is at the root of this reluctance. We live in a litigious world to begin with. Add to this a competitive environment and it doesn’t make for many Kumbaya moments. I’ve gotten just old enough to where I have no compunction about reported a judge or handler for conduct unbecoming (and horrid for the dog). We learn by example and if the judges are setting a bad one, what does that say to the newbies?


TS aka Chuck October 8, 2014 at 11:14 am

“We learn by example and if the judges are setting a bad one, what does that say to the newbies?”

Or to the spectators coming to see the dogs who CAN recognize pained expressions on animals’ faces and who then leave disliking dog shows and breeders, lumping good and bad breeders together because they don’t know there are differences. What are happy legs? I gathered not something good…….


Susi October 8, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Given the circumstances under which the “Happy Legs” were used, I’m not sure I WANT to explain what they are, Chuck. But I’m a knowledge kind of girl, so here you go. Happy Legs are, in essence, four blocks large enough to accommodate a dog’s foot (they’re sold by size). Used properly, one positions a dog’s foot on each block to simulate the desired position all the while gushing praise and offering treats to let the dog know what a good job s/he’s doing. It was never intended to be used for very long at a time, and I’m horrified that the items were used thusly. I would have been delighted, actually, to have reported their abuse. It makes me seethe just thinking about it.


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