The White Noise in our Sport

by Susi on March 25, 2015

in Corded dog, Dog bath, dog fancy, dog show, Eukanuba, purebred dogs, show dogs, Uncategorized

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Two women had no business trying to lift such an awkward piece of furniture, but what could I do. The lady had wandered through the open front door of my new house and insisted on being a good neighbor by helping move a chest of drawers. Despite my objections, she lifted the end nearest her and looked at me expectantly. Dumbly, I did the same. With my knuckles turning white and unable to see much past a drawer that kept sliding into my face, we inched along awkwardly until my new neighbor made an abrupt and hard stop. She’d bumped into a pristine wall of my brand new house and dinged the drywall with a corner of the chest. My heart sank when I saw the crater left behind by the impact. “In another week, you won’t even notice it, “ she blithely said.

I was incensed, and I doubted it, but she turned out to be right. Before long, the dent had become visual “white noise” that I noticed only when someone new to my house saw it for the first time, and then I would see it through their eyes and wince. What did this blemish say about the people who lived here and hadn’t done anything to fix it?

It’s been many years since I lived in that house, but for some reason, memory of the incident flooded back to me when I attended a dog show with a novice recently. The novice was an old friend who’d gotten her first show dog, and I simply wanted to be supportive of her new endeavor. There are those who maintain, however, that veterans of the fancy should go to a dog show with a newbie every so often; seeing our world through their fresh eyes revitalizes a jaded exhibitor’s enthusiasm. The buzz of competition, a panoply of beautiful dogs and different breeds, the camaraderie of friends – it’s all rather exciting and infectious, isn’t it.

To a neophyte, the competitive side of our sport is enthralling, if not baffling: Why are dogs placed in front of bitches in the BOB ring? Why is a dog gaited in the left hand when 70% of people are right handed? Why can a Shih Tzu be shown with the hair over its eyes tied up, but not a Komondor?

As puzzling as all this can be to a novice, things get really interesting “behind the curtain” of a dog show: The grooming area. Most of the time, practices that elicit a novice’s double take are benign and rooted in practicality: The glamorous and glittery snood worn by an Afghan Hound; paper wrappers on a Yorkie’s face; a Puli’s corded coat trussed up with rubber bands; a Schnauzer standing in a basin as his furnishings are washed.

WE get it, but when you're visiting your first dog show?

WE get it, but when you’re visiting your first dog show?

Less comical, and in my view, detrimental to the sport, is when there is no good explanation for something: A dog tethered to the grooming arm of a table with nary an owner or handler in sight; a harsher-than-necessary jerk of a lead; a dog left languishing in a crate for hours; the rough handling of a dog being groomed. Happily, none of this is the norm, but those of us who’ve been in the sport long enough have likely seen something at least once that would have raised our eyebrows as novices (and probably should now). If we were experienced exhibitors at the time, did we speak out to protect the integrity of our sport, or have we come to mind our own business for so long that we’ve become inured to what’s around us.

It’d been a long time since I strolled through a grooming area with a beginner as I did in December at Eukanuba; As we weaved our way around crates and tables, I was struck by the details my friend noticed: Open D-Flight grooming boxes kept so orderly that leashes arranged by color resembled surgical instruments lined up and ready for a skilled hand; a dog on a table looking frantically around for its missing person; the busy groomer who looked up at us as we passed and smiled pleasantly; food on a grooming table left to grow cold and odiferous; a child tasked with tidying a set up by sweeping up hair; the person blowing chalk out their dog oblivious to the black coated dog in the line of fire.

Is it fair to assess a sport by the mental snapshots taken during a walkabout in the working end of it? Probably not, but the reality is that this happens every weekend at every show where amateurs compete with professionals, and the public is invited.

The fancy is aging, and clubs are hemorrhaging new members. Registrations are dropping and the sport is in crisis. We can blame the animal rights movement and an aggressive rescue agenda, but is that the entire picture? There are challenges we’ve never faced before, and the advice that each of us should experience our sport through the eyes of a “baby exhibitor” has more value than just reenergizing the juices of old-timers. It’s possible that seeing the sport through the eyes of a novice could help save it, but only if we’re willing to open our own eyes and see our own culpability. Glossing over facets of our sport that defy reasonable explanation to an inexperienced participant doesn’t say as much about that person’s naiveté as it does about the people who’ve “lived” in the sport and haven’t done anything to fix it.

It could mean that we no longer notice the dent in the wall.

This article first appeared in Dogs in Review March 2015

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

julie March 25, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Susi, once again you’ve given voice to thoughts that many of us have that often go unspoken. I’m, guilty. I’ve cringed at seeing dogs blown out and left to stand on tables straddling a wash tub, least they crimp a hair or two. I’ve also cringed at the amount of “product” seen flowing when the rules are clear about their usage. I hate that a newbie could pick up a item from a vendor and ask, ‘wtf is this for?” and I’d have to explain it’s a nose stick used for artificially coloring a nose and masking missing pigment. We do so many things right. That half eaten sandwich is often shared with a dog, There is sweet talk and gentle hands offered for green dogs, More than one nose has been smooched whilst on the grooming table. However, I admit I’m guilty in not having the balls (or I guess more accurately, ovaries) to speak up and say ‘please don’t’ when I see things that are not quite right.

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Susi March 25, 2015 at 12:27 pm

I appreciate your thoughts, Julie, and agree that it takes courage to “see something——>say something.” Our sport is unique in that we live in a fishbowl and what is said today may be remembered (unkindly) another day when the person to whom we said the remark is now a judge or an AKC rep. Social mores change and we all recognize that things that were once ignored or tolerated (bullying, ethnic jokes, etc) just don’t “cut it” anymore. We need to change the culture of our sport not by dumbing down the public (I’ll be damned if I tell a Scottie person to stop handling their dog the way it’s been done for 75 years) but by encouraging each other that to say nothing is to doom the sport. At least, that’s how I see it wearing my Pollyanna hat.

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Heather Whitehead March 25, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Never again.

The last time I went to a show, when I picked up my current dog from his breeder, her setup was next to several poodles. I was waiting at the setup for some reason which escapes me now, but I watched with my own eyes as a woman sorted through a series of hair weaves, laid several alongside the dog’s topknot, finally found one that matched, and proceeded to “weave” the extra hair into the topknot to make it look fuller.

I know it’s a common practice, I know “everybody does it” – but that doesn’t make it right, especially when the regs specifically forbid such items. I seriously considered going to the superintendent, but chickened out. I didn’t want to be identified as a tattle tail (pun intended).

I started showing eighteen years ago, but I am still very much a novice. I fight hard to do the right things, but I compromised my ethics that day. Never again.

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Susi March 25, 2015 at 5:08 pm

This would all be so much easier if everyone could be trusted to speak out only when a situation warrants it, and not, say, out of sour grapes or personality conflicts. Your story reminds me of what one clever mother of a teenager advised her daughter upon learning that ‘the boyfriend’ was pressuring her to “do the deed.” “Mom,” she cried, “He says that everyone I know is doing it.” To which her mother replied as she wiped her daughter’s tears, “Well honey, you just tell him that if that’s the case, he should have no trouble finding someone else with whom to go all the way.”

I don’t think we ever regret doing the right thing.

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Kara March 25, 2015 at 3:05 pm

In 2010 I showed my first conformation dog. We beat THE handler our 2nd show & THE handler harassed me for 5 months until I walked away vowing never to return. I turned my pup over to a handler to finish him & that dog ended up being ranked for 2 years & showed at Westminster. 15 months after I retired him, I returned with my imported pup. THE handler started on me on day 1 with the lies she made up about my retired dog. Ive turned my pup over to a handler. Not because of the bully handler–she’s just an annoying gnat to me now. It’s all those who see wrongs, who watch those who lie, cheat & steal and say nothing.

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Susi March 25, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Agreed, Kara, and I’m exceptionally pleased to hear that the handler has gained “gnat” status, still too high in the food chain in my estimation.

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Marcia March 25, 2015 at 4:46 pm

Such a good article, thank you. I am a true novice – AOH with only a couple years in the sport. I brought my friend to a show recently. She is the quintessential dog loving every-person-USA. As is typical of these persons, she doesn’t grasp the value of a purebred dog versus the shelter mutt that is so glorified in our current culture. That is not a knock on her (or loveable mutts) but rather just a statement about the average dog lover out there. She was fascinated as we walked through the grooming area but I also saw flashes of horror at what she deemed cruelty – dogs posed on blocks required to stand motionless, others being reprimanded for moving, being spoken to harshly while being clipped and sprayed. She commented that they didn’t seem like real dogs but were closer to the little girls we see all made up for beauty pageants. Sadly I agreed that it often felt like that to me too, even though I enjoy the sport. I am thankful to have a breed that calls for natural minimal grooming. I suppose my point here is to underscore the benefIt of seeing a show through the eyes of not only the novice but also the plain old dog lover. It might make us rethink some of our practices.

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Susi March 25, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Welcome the sport, Marcia! I’m of the opinion that there will always be those people who sully whatever endeavor they’re in, from the athlete who despite having talent, wants the edge that blood doping, steroids, HGH, etc gives him or her, and our sport is no different. When caught, those people are typically suspended or thrown out of the sport entirely, but I’m not sure that happens enough in our own sport, and for understandable reasons:Judges want to be hired, but if they earn a reputation for withholding ribbons or excusing entries, their assignments may suffer. Without being made empress of the world (which has a certain ring to it, lol), I can only shrug my shoulders and suggest that it falls to each of us to establish a culture of excellence, fair play and integrity. That’s a mighty tall order for competitors who come from all walks of life when each of us is also vulnerable to criticism from people who may become tomorrow’s judge or AKC rep. I fall back on “do the right thing for THE DOG” as long as we recognize that it behooves us to understand an action before condemning it. The puppy learning to stack on Happy Feet a few minutes a day is not being abused. The dog left to stand on the blocks for an hour, in my view, is. We have to learn about each other’s dogs and why things are done the way they’re done. Only then can we speak from a position of power (read: knowledge). Keep doing the right thing and we’ll all be better for it. I appreciate your thoughts, Marcia!

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bestuvall March 26, 2015 at 8:37 am

While some of these seems egregious some do not.. is there something wrong with a child helping to clean up a grooming area? It’s not like she was Cosette straight out of Le Miz. And food left on a grooming table? What is so wrong with that.. maybe the owner had an emergency or had to walk the dog.. or just plain forgot and I wish my grooming box were that well organized..( where is my show leash etc). I have learned many good things from handlers .. one of the most important.. never leave a crate door open even if it is empty .always latch it… always check twice after putting the dog in the crate to be sure the latch is locked. ( lesson learned when my dog was found nosing around the poodles while looking for treat) meanwhile some of the points are well taekn…. we do not have the luxury of a “locker room” or private area in which to work. So yes it behooves everyone to be as pleasant as possible and to make sure the public sees us in a positive light.

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Susi March 26, 2015 at 9:58 am

I wasn’t suggesting that each case was egregious, only that it’s a mixed bag, and only that perceptions can vary from newbie to visitor to old pro. I love it when children are given tasks, it’s a good thing; as for food left on a grooming table, well sure, someone can be called away, but an hour later and the food is still there? You make a great point that we don’t have “locker rooms,” but finally, that it never hurts to be pleasant.

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