“Many believe that these principles of sportsmanship are the prime
reason why our sport has thrived for over one hundred years.”

–AKC Code of Sportsmanship

Author’s Note: Reprinted in tribute to a couple of shining stars in the professional handler system. Shea and Tiffany Skinner, Stanwood, Wash., are young people who I watched grow up, start dating and mature through the years. They both come from dog families and have been involved in the sport since childhood. Like most of us, they have had some good and some bad days in the last dozen years. Of late, they are certainly seeing more of the former than the latter. 

Sunday at the Clackamas Kennel Club show, there arose one of those awkward moments that a best case scenario will sometimes produce. Shea won the sporting group with the ASCOB Cocker. Tiffany won the toy group with the Affenpinscher. The Best in Show judge? Their Alaskan Malamute client. 

Shea and Tiffany both gaited their dogs around the ring in a lovely tribute and graciously asked to be excused from judgment due to the clear conflict of interest.

Kudos to two young people who have learned and grown and become what we all aspire to in the profession.

Thirty something years ago I met professional handler Dee Hannah for the first time. She was, is and always will be a class act and one of my very favorite people in dogs.

Dee was showing a little Clumber Spaniel bitch that needed a major. I had just finished my first champion, Lilly, and was so incredibly proud of her. Since major entries in the minor breeds are very difficult to acquire, Dee asked Mom if we’d be willing to leave Lilly in the classes the next day to hold the major. Typical teenager, I was sad to not get to show my puppy in Best of Breed. Nonetheless, we agreed and rounded up the cutest little boy to run around the ring with Lilly so as to give Dee’s bitch a better chance to win. Now Lilly was a very pretty bitch and nearly won without any assistance from her young handler. But Dee’s bitch prevailed and finished her championship as well. I never have forgotten that lesson, or the appreciation Dee showed for our willingness to help another exhibitor.

Fast forward in time many, many years to a national specialty show in a different breed. I was showing for a client whose glory days were faded, but who had bred a very competitive bitch for her last national specialty show entry. Her exhibit went RWB that day to the winner of the American Bred class. A nice win, but deeply bittersweet as the WB had finished at the Regional the day before. Certainly, the newly minted champion wasn’t needed to hold the major. And the “professional” handler had flat refused to move the bitch up to Best of Breed when requested to do so. I’ve never forgotten that lesson of arrogance and “all about me” attitude either.

A recent social media discussion brought this particular topic to mind. It was fascinating to read the comments, pro and con, on the question of holding a finished dog in the classes, specifically at a national. Interestingly enough, there was a pretty obvious point of divergence between the opinions. With the under 40 crowd, particularly those who are comparatively new to the sport, the trend seemed to be that it’s a national and it’s a big deal, so folks should get to do whatever they want. The long-timers, the been-around-the-block folks, the people I know, were consistently opposed to it.

All of which brings us back to our ongoing conversation on ethics.

“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a
right to do and what is right to do.”

– Potter Stewart

While it is “legal” by AKC rules to show a finished champion in the Open class, or in any class until the championship is officially recorded, ethics tells us whether or not it is the right thing to do. If it helps someone else, it is right. If it hurts someone else, it may be your right to do so, but it is wrong.

Ethical behavior frequently walks a very fine line. Judges and exhibitors, professional or otherwise, are given regular opportunities to display ethical, or wildly unethical, behavior.

In one well known case, a new judge at a famous dog show politely asked an exhibitor to excuse himself from the group ring because of a perceived, if not legally codified, conflict of interest. This tactful, beautiful handling of a potentially difficult situation garnered both judge and handler tremendous respect.

AKC has a Code of Sportsmanship.


It is printed in nearly every dog show catalog. Take a minute to peruse it from time to time. I can find areas where I need to work a bit harder and expect most other folks can as well. On the other hand, I routinely see people who clearly don’t know it even exists and act that way. Print this and tape it to your grooming area, your tack box or your practice mirror. If we could all attempt to adhere to these points, the next hundred years of our sport would look much more promising.

As always, this is JMHO…