I can’t help but think the Kennel Club is taking a hefty sledgehammer to crack a nut in its ‘concern’ for the German Shepherd Dog in the UK. Among the items deserving of special attention by the General Committee is the practice of double handling. I am sure the GSD fraternity is thrilled that the KC will offer advice and guidance on ‘the KC required method of exhibiting and presenting the GSD in the ring’. In the spirit of the level playing field so often quoted from Clarges Street I am keen to see how other breeds are also assessed for unfair advantage gained from outside sources as well as any enhancing assets that may already be lurking in corners of the show ring.
There is no better beginners guide to double handling in GSDs than Fred Lanting’s article on the subject; Fred Lanting is an internationally respected show judge, including the UK KC, he is also an author and trainer, and I think it would be fair to say Mr Lanting has sufficient experience to be a trusted commentator. He explains that double handling has a different importance to different groups as well as attitudes that vary considerably. “At its root, the term means that there is some influence from outside the ring over the appearance/behaviour of a dog in the ring – a second (or double) handler.
“On one end of the spectrum is the extreme position where if someone at ringside blows his nose, the AKC rep is likely to give the judge hell for allowing such ‘interference’. At the other extreme it may appear that someone has let all the lunatics out of the local asylum. Example: at one GSD national specialty in the Orient, as the judge was looking at posed dogs several yards further down the line, I watched screaming owners jumping into the ring to get their dogs (being shown by paid handlers) ‘animated’– which means that the dogs are supposed to be looking especially alert. Balls, squeaky-toys, and the like were excitedly shown to the dogs – one double handler even had a rabbit in a cage that he shook in front of his dog’s face!”
Let’s be clear here, there is no ‘proper’ way to behave at a dog show in post-Mao China. What was happening was a copy of the way GSDs are shown and handled in Germany but as imperfect a copy as it could be! My question for the KC and for anyone who exhibits dogs is, where is the line drawn when it comes to double handling? Is giving your dog to another handler while you stand in a strategically good spot to see your dog, double handling in every case? If so, I can think of examples in almost every breed where this happens. Is the use of squeaky toys thrown across the ring by the handler unfair to other exhibits, or the use of bait, or vying one dog against another to make the dogs appear more on their toes unfair to the dog’s welfare or the comfort of others?
While we ponder those points, add the whole question of whether it is detrimental to a dog to be so strung up on a lead that his throat and neck are in danger of injury and whether it is good for a dog to have its natural coat bound close to its skin in bands and wraps? You could protest that all of those things are a different matter but all are aids to make the dog appear as we would want them to. Clever grooming, artful handling, herbal supplements, coat enhancing shampoo, the list goes on. We do not exhibit our dogs in a natural condition because it is a show and we try our best to give the best chance of success to our dogs, live with it!
When it comes to GSDs at their own separate breed shows they have had a ring or track that is designed to allow this extraordinary dog to show its pace and endurance – I actually thought the KC was promoting fit for function. I am not so sure you can appreciate a GSD’s athletic ability in a postage stamp sized ring but if you do squeeze this breed into a ring the size of a double parking space at least no double handling needs to go on, so that’s one article ticked.
I am not advocating undisciplined, dangerous attraction from outside or come to that, inside the ring. It is a question of degree, overzealous abuse of a stricter regime will be as decimating to the breed as no action at all. The falling numbers of exhibitors in this magnificent breed should be of even greater concern to the KC, last weekend at a breed club show only eight males were there to compete for the dog CC and at Blackpool championship show there was a total of 14 males for another dog CC and yet on the previous weekend the entry was 150 at the GSDL show. I am quite sure the enthusiasts didn’t just make those entries so they could run like feral cats outside of the ring, whistling and shaking choke chains, in fact very little double handling was observed, the atmosphere was relaxed as were the dogs.
The KC and the GSD contingent have not enjoyed the best of affiliations but there have been significantly outstretched hands from both sides. This latest report to the General Committee should surely be seen as a starting point for constructive negotiation and not as the decree absolute on such a troubled relationship. I do think that many dog exhibitors see the GSD and his followers as truly a breed apart but right now they have more affinity with the rest of the dog showing world than at any other time. The individuality, health and welfare of the breed must be protected but that cannot be achieved by treating the breed’s guardians as naughty school children, I believe that stands true for every breed. You have to offer respect to earn it.