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Ring stewards are critical to the smooth functioning of any AKC dog show. Most are volunteers. None are well paid. The job includes everything from keeping the judge on time to keeping the exhibitors in line. It is the type of largely unnoticed effort that, when done well, is invisible. But, when done poorly, inevitably leads to a major malfunction.

I am a firm believer in taking care of our volunteers. Too much of our sport depends on them. I work very hard to be courteous, polite and patient in a variety of situations with people who are doing the very best they can in whatever the position. Sometimes I fail. The list of these instances is short, but I am notoriously protective of the young people who help me. If someone should be unkind, uncooperative or unwilling to assist a kid, to the point of reducing a 10-year-old to tears, I have been known to lose track of my “better angel.”

And, we, as handlers, too often find ourselves, despite our best efforts, in time management crises that simply have no easy solution. It is my very least favorite part of the job and a major reason why I choose to limit the number of dogs we carry.

When all of this comes to a collision, it is never a good thing for anyone.

So, my “Monday morning quarterbacking,” review the film sort of solution is to try to educate, plan better and make sure it never happens again. Everyone has a piece of the puzzle.

Suggestions for Clubs:
Locate a nearby chapter of an organization called the Stewards Club of America. This group produced an excellent handbook in conjunction with the AKC defining all points of the Steward’s job. Local members of the group should be well-informed and able to help keep rings moving like well-oiled machines. If no local group exists, consider creating a “Ring Steward 101” course for your upcoming show.

Clubs hosting large shows with over a dozen rings and major entries should always make a concerted effort to have both an inside and an outside steward. There is just too much to manage for one person.

Suggestions for Stewards:
Always err on the side of getting a dog in the ring for judgement if at all possible. Everyone paid their entry fees and deserves a chance, within reason, to have the dog shown.

Be helpful to little kids, newbies, crazed handlers, demanding judges and anyone who approaches your ring. It’s part of the job description.

Suggestions for Exhibitors:
Get to the ring on time! And on time, in this case, means no less than five minutes before the posted judging time. If there is a significant entry ahead of your own class, check in with the steward when the set begins to see how many dogs have “picked up” ahead of your class. Then, check back at a time equivalent to one minute per dog picked up to see how the judging is progressing.

This sport is one in which, you snooze, you lose. The extra time built into your schedule allows you and the dog to settle, relax and focus on the judge’s pattern, how he or she runs the ring and more.

Suggestions for Kids:
If you can’t get the ring steward to answer your question or help you with an armband or any other situation, look around for the nearest adult who can assist you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Polite is very important. But sometimes you have to stand up for yourself and your dog and make your plight known.

Suggestions for Handlers:
Bottom line is this: no matter how badly the superintendent jammed your schedule, which dog is having a meltdown in the rig, what assistant is over-tired, no matter what, period, the responsibility for the dogs getting in the ring is ours. If we have to sprint from ring 1 to ring 21, it means the best laid plans of mice and men have failed yet again. That’s why clients pay us the big bucks. But that buck *stops* with us. Be accountable for the failure and do better next time.

Special note: (especially applicable to myself) Do not yell and wave your arms like a demented sailor when something goes awry. Particularly after the fact. It solves nothing and makes you look stupid.

Onward and upward.

As always, this is JMHO.