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As the Wheels Turn

“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

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…

Written by

Our family always had dogs. Mutt dogs, purebred dogs, but always dogs. I grew up with dogs everywhere. My mother eventually enrolled me in dog care 4-H because I was “shy and retiring and lacked people skills”….. I am the living testimonial to the success of the 4-H program! I continued into AKC shows as my family transitioned from “dogs” to the wonderful world of Purebred Dogs. I showed all of our family dogs in conformation and participated in Junior Showmanship competition. I went to college, earned a degree and worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer. Today, I am an AKC Breeder of Merit and a member of the Professional Handlers Association.
  • Karyn Cowdrey June 4, 2014 at 12:54 PM

    What goes around eventually comes back around in life I believe so if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t try to help out your breed either by holding a newly finished dog in the ring to hold a major after asking competitors if they want you to OR who won’t move the dog up when it is not needed to hold points, well, eventually you run out of people willing to help you out down the road.

    I’d rather do a few favors now so down the road I can call on those I’ve helped in the past to help me out when needed… That is the true meaning of sportsmanship I think… Understanding that helping one another gives us all a win!

    Thank you for AKC link… Printed and packed where it will be seen regularly!

  • Shari King
    Shari King June 4, 2014 at 2:23 PM

    A very timely article.I am constantly amazed by the lack of respect exhibited not only in the dog show world but everywhere you go these days. I’m also concerned by the attitude that it’s ALL about the win. Just remember your behavior the next time you need a favor.

  • Sharyn Hutchens June 5, 2014 at 5:06 AM

    So true. And it’s so important to be a humble winner as well as a graceful loser. I know a couple of folks who are very gracious when they lose, congratulating the winner and leaving with smiles on their faces. However, although one of these people is a friend, I dread when she wins…the arrogance and ha-ha-I-won attitude would be more befitting a five year old! She tells and re-tells the details until everyone wishes she had just LOST! Excellent post as always, and much to think about. I too was involved in one of the social media conversations about this topic and was amazed at the several people who readily admitted that they do what’s best for their OWN dogs. They really do seem to think that the competition on the day is all that matters.

  • Freddies Mom June 6, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    Also being in a “minor” breed, where majors can be very hard to come by, if I do finish a dog, I always ask other exhibitors if they want me to keep a dog in the classes, or move him/her up. I find it extremely rude to have a finished dog staying in the classes, when it would not affect the major, just to say you won at the National Specialty. We have an exhibitor in our breed that has done this twice. If you really want that specialty win soooo bad, bring the dog in needing at least a point. Don’t finish the dog at a show the week before for one point to finish the dog, then show up at the national and go Winners. Not a great way to make friends, and I do believe what goes around comes around.

  • Sheryl Roach June 7, 2014 at 7:27 AM

    Thank you for writing this article. I lost getting wd at my national because I went reserve to a dog that was already finished. I had held mine out from competition beforehand to be able to show my dog in bred by, but the professional handler who’s name was on the bred by dog and the breeder felt it was their right to show their finished dog in the classes even after they finished him. Sad day for ethics!

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