Did you hear the sad story of the top dog who had a Best in Show and several Group wins disallowed by AKC because it turned out that his handler had showed another, unrelated dog under the top winner’s co-owner, who is also a judge, a couple of months earlier? That’s not allowed according to AKC rules, and the judge might have known better, of course, since it’s published in AKC’s “Rules, Policies and Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges” but when I was speaking to the dog’s handler at a show recently, he told me he was not even aware such a rule existed. If he had known, there’s no way, ethics aside, that he would have risked losing the win. Anyway, there were, no doubt, other shows he could have gone to that weekend without risking a conflict.

Recently I’ve heard several stories that make it clear that a simple, printed booklet titled, for example, “AKC Guidelines for Exhibitors” would be useful. A week after hearing about the “lost” Best in Show, for instance, I was judging a specialty and talked to the sweepstakes judge, who’s also a handler. She’s not, I believe, a full-time professional like the one mentioned above, but simply one of hundreds (thousands?) of talented part-timers who cover some of their own show expenses by handling dogs for others. She told me she didn’t know what the proper process is for filing an official protest against a dog that you feel has a disqualifying fault. There are very specific rules for how this should be done, but again, it’s something most exhibitors are not aware of.

Within a couple of days after the specialty, I was asked by a fellow breeder if I could possibly help her show a dog at an upcoming event. The dog is lovely, partly of my own breeding, and I would have been happy to help out, but of course as an AKC judge I am not allowed to exhibit any dog that I do not own or co-own. This experienced and very successful exhibitor had no idea there is such a rule.


How are exhibitors supposed to know all the rules unless they are made easily available for them? Sure, you can go to www.akc.org/rules and find a list of Rules and Regulations as long as your arm, a total of 45 titles with hundreds of pages that govern every possible area of our sport. A few of the most important are “Charter and Bylaws of the AKC,” “Dealing with Misconduct at AKC Events,” “Procedures for Registration Matters” and “Regulations for Record Keeping and Identification of Dogs.” The booklet that exhibitors and handlers would need to study the most carefully, however, is “Rules Applying to Dog Shows,” which consists of 75 pages (plus eight pages of insertions, all added in 2013, and carefully color-coded in green, cherry, pink, purple, orange, etc.).

Reading the Rules
Are you familiar with this document? It doesn’t hurt to read through the whole thing, even though much of it won’t directly concern you as a dog show exhibitor: How a club should apply for permission to hold a show, what the classification must be, how the judges’ panel is approved, what ribbons, prizes and trophies may be offered, what the premium list should contain, and a lot more. The basic thought behind the dog show rules is that AKC needs to “regulate the conduct of persons interested in exhibiting, running, breeding, registering, purchasing and selling dogs,” as the foreword states.

By the way, do you know the difference between “rules” and “regulations?” Most people assume they are the same, but they are not. A rule is simply “an established standard mandating or guiding conduct in a given situation” (to paraphrase the dictionary), whereas a regulation has more bite to it – some legal force. Disregard the former and your behavior will be frowned upon; break the latter and you may be subjected to penalties. In the following I’m not making a distinction between the two, though, since I assume that the reader will want to be in full compliance, regardless of the consequences.

It’s impossible to cover all the instances where specific rules guide correct behavior at AKC shows. It’s actually surprising that there aren’t more infractions, since the regulations are sometimes quite complicated and even experienced dog people appear to be unaware of many of them. Sometimes it is, in fact, necessary to consult not just “Rules Applying to Dog Show” but also, for example, “Guidelines for Judges” in order to get complete information. On occasion it’s really confusing, and if I had trouble figuring it all out for this article, perhaps there ought to be a simpler version that’s easy to understand? The following is just a sample, a few examples with particular reference to the questions mentioned above.

That a judge cannot exhibit at the same show he’s judging is pretty self-evident, but this also applies to anyone residing in the same household as the judge, and to dogs owned or co-owned by the judge or anyone in his or her household. This applies even to shows held three days before and three days after an assignment within 200 miles of that assignment. Members of a judge’s immediate family who no longer reside in the judge’s household may show, however, and while sweepstakes and futurity judges may not exhibit the same day they are judging, they may do so on the days before and after judging.

Judging Dogs You’ve Shown or Trained
A judge may not judge any dog which has been shown by him or her, or by a member of his or her immediate household or family, more than twice during the preceding 12 months, or to which the judge has provided handling or presentation instructions within that period. There are other rules that make it almost impossible for any judge to award ribbons to a dog he or she used to show anyway… but it’s frankly easy to get lost in the dense fine print.

AKC for these purposes defines “immediate family” as husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

If you show a dog that is owned or co-owned by a judge, you may not exhibit any dog under that judge for at least four months. This also applies to any member of your household or a handling associate. In addition, you may not handle a dog owned by a judge you have shown under during the past four months.

’Call the Wicket’
In breeds with height disqualifications, it is up to the judge to determine if he or she wishes to determine if a dog is “within size” by measuring it. However, an exhibitor or handler in the ring who feels that a dog in the same class appears not to be in accord with the breed standard may also request that the judge measure the dog (“call the wicket”). This must take place before every dog in the class has been individually examined and gaited. The judge must comply with the request, provided that the dog has not already been officially measured at the show, and must use equipment that meets AKC requirements. (All show-giving clubs are obliged to have this equipment available.)

If the judge finds that the dog’s height is in accord with the breed standard, he or she shall mark the judge’s book “Measured in.” If the judge finds that the dog’s height is not in accord with the breed standard, the dog must be disqualified and the judge’s book marked “Measured out – disqualified.” A dog that has been disqualified this way by three different judges may not be shown again.

This isn’t in the rule book, but one not-so-subtle way to make sure dogs that will not “measure in” are not shown when you are judging is to have the wicket clearly displayed by the judge’s table. Few handlers with over- or under-sized dogs would be willing to tempt fate in this case and are likely to have their dogs marked absent.

Similarly, in breeds with weight disqualifications, a competing handler in the ring may request that the judge weigh a dog to determine whether it’s within the specified limits. The judge decides if the dog is “Weighed in” or “Weighed out,” and in the latter case the dog is disqualified. A dog that has been disqualified by three different judges in this way may not be shown again.

There are many other instances when you as an exhibitor or handler have the opportunity to protest against a fellow exhibitor’s dog if you feel this is required – and, similarly, where another handler may do the same to yours. It’s up to you to be familiar with all these possibilities. And did you know that every exhibitor and handler has the right to request a veterinary examination of any dog within a show’s premises if it is considered to endanger the health of the other dogs in a show? This protest must be in writing and signed by the person making the request to the event chairman. The dog’s owner or agent will be directed to take the dog to the show veterinarian if necessary. Malicious complaints will be considered conduct prejudicial to the sport.

So Many Rules
Reading through all the detailed rules and regulations guiding AKC activities is frankly somewhat depressing. It does not present a pretty picture of mankind, at least not those involved in the sport of purebred dogs. Are all these rules and regulations really necessary? Why are there so many more rules governing AKC activities than those in foreign countries? The dog show rules I’ve studied in, for instance, Great Britain, Australia and Scandinavia are not nearly as detailed or far-reaching as AKC’s, and they don’t put nearly as many restrictions on judges as we do in the U.S.

Perhaps it’s all necessary, but one thing was clear after the publication of my article comparing American Kennel Club shows with those organized by the United Kennel Club: A lot of people obviously enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere at UKC shows precisely because they are less tightly regulated. It was sad to hear how many of those who commented on the article had tried AKC shows, but eventually decided they preferred the UKC events for this reason.

Is there a solution? Can AKC loosen up? I’m not sure, but I doubt it.

Finally, however, the most useful guidelines of all: AKC’s Code of Sportsmanship, published on the last page of “Rules Applying to Dog Shows.” They are worth reprinting in full:


PREFACE: The sport of purebred dog competitive events dates prior to 1884, the year of AKC’s birth. Shared values of those involved in the sport include principles of sportsmanship. They are practiced in all sectors of our sport: conformation, performance and companion. Many believe that these principles of sportsmanship are the prime reason why our sport has thrived for over one hundred years. With the belief that it is useful to periodically articulate the fundamentals of our sport, this code is presented.

  • Sportsmen respect the history, traditions and integrity of the sport of purebred dogs.
  • • Sportsmen commit themselves to values of fair play, honesty, courtesy, and vigorous competition, as well as winning and losing with grace.
  • • Sportsmen refuse to compromise their commitment and obligation to the sport of purebred dogs by injecting personal advantage or consideration into their decisions or behavior.
  • • The sportsman judge judges only on the merits of the dogs and considers no other factors.
  • • The sportsman judge or exhibitor accepts constructive criticism.
  • • The sportsman exhibitor declines to enter or exhibit under a judge where it might reasonably appear that the judge’s placements could be based on something other than the merits of the dogs.
  • • The sportsman exhibitor refuses to compromise the impartiality of a judge.
  • • The sportsman respects the AKC bylaws, rules, regulations and policies governing the sport of purebred dogs.
  • • Sportsmen find that vigorous competition and civility are not inconsistent and are able to appreciate the merit of their competition and the effort of competitors.
  • • Sportsmen welcome, encourage and support newcomers to the sport.
  • • Sportsmen will deal fairly with all those who trade with them.
  • • Sportsmen are willing to share honest and open appraisals of both the strengths and weaknesses of their breeding stock.
  • • Sportsmen spurn any opportunity to take personal advantage of positions offered or bestowed upon them.
  • • Sportsmen always consider as paramount the welfare of their dog.
  • • Sportsmen refuse to embarrass the sport, the American Kennel Club, or themselves while taking part in the sport.

If we all kept this code constantly in mind, would we really need all the detailed regulations we now have? I wonder…