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As the Wheels Turn – The New Normal

I once got a C in my French class in high school. My father posted the report card on the wall in the dining room for anyone and everyone to see. The original shaming technique. In our home A’s were expected and B’s brought a lecture about studying harder. C’s were definitely not an option.

Unfortunately, for a vast segment of today’s society, participation ribbons are what’s expected. Self-esteem is granted, not earned. Kids are not disciplined and dogs are not corrected. Positive reinforcement of mediocrity is favored over the brutal hard work required to achieve excellence.

This is a recognized and remarked upon trend in American culture. Sadly, it is playing out even in the purebred dog fancy.

“My Puppy is absolutely perfect! Is the judge blind? How could he beat her to that creature? Clearly this idiot only puts up professional handlers,” cries the self-described doggy-Mommy.

Sound familiar?

It should. I hear it and read it every week. If Orange is the New Black, then Perfect Puppy was Beaten by a Pro is the New Normal in dog shows.

Now comes time for some tough love, as my father liked to call it.

Puppy ain’t perfect. None of them are. That’s what dog shows are all about. We’re sorting out one person’s opinion, on the day, of the best of the not quite perfect.

And therein, I think, lies the crux of the issue. We need new exhibitors in the sport. Badly. But in a society that values winning over learning, dog shows rarely provide the validation folks are seeking.

We’re now back to our recent conversation on the dearth or death of mentorship. If it isn’t DOA, it’s on life support as a concept. I had a veteran dog man ask me recently, “Why are new people trying to learn from other new people? What, we got old and forgot everything we ever knew?”

I think the answer, surely, lies partly with us. The older generation does not pull punches. If asked for an opinion, we give it. It’s how we learned. I have some awesome mentors. I learned a great deal from them. But that doesn’t mean they were nice to me.

Of course, the flip side rests with an incoming tide of folks, too many of whom who aren’t talking to humans, putting their hands on dogs, learning with all of their senses. They read gossip lists and social media rants and simply take the words without any grains of salt.

I honestly don’t have a solution for this one. If I was that smart I’d be doing something other than showing dogs for a living.

Respect each other, new and old alike. Learn from people who learned the hard way. And no, I’m sorry, Puppy, really isn’t perfect. That’s all I got, man.

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.
  • Deb August 13, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    I am sorry Laura, but on this point I have to disagree somewhat with you. I am not new to the sport of dogs having participated for over 20 years. One of the things I am seeing more and more is dogs being finished by Professional Handlers that I would have put in a pet home because they are so far from our standard. I have Shetland Sheepdogs. They are supposed to converge on a V when gaiting, but not single track or cross over. I have seen dogs finish that cross over in front and rear win, and they are handled by a professional or a well known breeder (yes this does happen too). There were better dogs in the class also , some handled by professionals. I know my dogs aren’t perfect, and I will tell you their good and bad characteristics, but like others I do get upset when I see this kind of travesty. I have usually had my hands on the dog and I do know what is under the coat and on the head. Some handlers will turn down dogs that are of poor quality, and I respect those people. However, some, as a well known sheltie handler has stated, feel they have to “prostitute” themselves in order to make a living showing dogs. She went on to explain that she meant she had to show and finish poor quality dogs. Thank you for listening to my comments.

    • Laura Reeves PHA
      Laura reeves August 13, 2014 at 12:57 PM

      Deb, I actually agree that too many handlers are taking on too many poor quality dogs. But someone, somewhere thought their Perfect Puppy should finish. In a perfect world, breeders wouldn’t sell pets as show dogs, owners wouldn’t desire to finish these dogs and handlers wouldn’t agree to show them. I can say I’ve taken a few dogs over the years that I questioned, but the owners begged. I always sent them home within a couple shows….

      • Rhoda August 14, 2014 at 10:39 AM

        I am finding the same things that Deb mentions, above. I have been in my breed for more than 20 years, and our ring has now been taken over almost completely by professional handlers. What is being shown by these professionals is often what I would have placed as a pet. And while I acknowledge your point, Laura, that the handlers are taking into the ring what the owner or breeder has designated as ‘show quality’ and we as breeders need to be more selective; I have to say that what we may be seeing is a result of what works. Years ago, some dogs began to appear in our ring with pros and many of us stood ringside thinking that there was no way that entry would take the points — but they did. This snowballed, and now most quality is in the Bred by ring and the rest (right down to the 6-9 month puppies) are handled by professionals. And the professionals are winning. The owners of the dogs don’t even bother to go to shows so it is very difficult to mentor them on anything if we tried.
        There are certainly those who will always complain if they don’t win and use whatever excuse is popular — and some of them aren’t necessarily new to the sport! But as a breeder-owner-handler, I have to say I feel that every time I walk in the ring, I am working with a ‘handicap.’

  • Bob Pierce
    Bob Pierce August 13, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    Its about the passing of the public phone!

    Today everything is instant, there is an app for it all and the validation that so many seek is often too slow in our device run world. Of course the same thing was said about instant grits or instant breakfast cereal, oh what has the world come to! However back then they had pay phones!

    I will admit I liked the old days, I liked that AKC licensed us, I like that we had to work as an assistant, I like that we exercised, cleaned up, fed, loaded the van, medicated, marked catalogs and yes made our dogs feel good about themselves. I look back and like the learning curve although as a young man I too wanted it yesterday but somehow understood that I had to put in my time.

    Perhaps we should reach out to the breeders, they have a unique opportunity to explain the dog game to new exhibitors, perhaps they can offer some guidance. I would like to think that these folks could make a difference and cultivate the interest and longevity that is clearly needed. Maybe articles like this will cause some to ponder and act.

    As I said…its about those pay phones, we used to stand in line to use them at exhibition halls, sometimes in the rain , explaining to owners about the major or the group placement or that dreaded reserve ribbon :) But standing in line slowed it all down and hey we managed just fine!

    I still look for pay phones and smile when I see them…I remember the rewarding noise when a bunch of quarters went in….

    PS… I now teach 4H kids :) watching them grow and learn is actually more rewarding than a BIS ( at least it seems that way these days)

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