Did you know that the American Kennel Club has a code of sportsmanship? Almost every point in the document is one that most civilized human beings, at least in theory, aspire to when participating in a sport they love. On the other hand, in the heat of competition, and when what many of us want more than anything is to win, I think it’s a good idea to review this code of sportsmanship now and then.

The preface to the AKC Code of Sportsmanship reads: “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.”

No one likes to be preached to, and everyone makes mistakes now and then or has occasional lapses in judgment. I have a few thoughts about the code of sportsmanship, but bear in mind that they’re just that…my thoughts.

“Sportsmen respect the history, traditions and integrity of the sport of purebred dogs.”
Our history and traditions are what ground us. Without integrity, what have we got?

“Sportsmen commit themselves to values of fair play, honesty, courtesy, and vigorous competition, as well as winning and losing with grace.”
Courtesy is crucial to everyone enjoying the sport. Losing with grace is sometimes a challenge, but winning with grace may be even more so.

“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.”
We can all think of situations where we could have an advantage over our competition for one reason or another, or when judging, by pointing to a certain individual’s dog, we can get something in return. Better not to take advantage of those situations. It can mar your reputation and rob you of your integrity.

“The sportsman judge judges only on the merits of the dogs and considers no other factors.”
I believe that judges who are consistent, whether we agree with them or not, are those we’re more likely to show to again. Judges who consider factors other than the merits of the dogs aren’t appealing. And though they may not know it, everyone talks about those judges behind their backs.

“The sportsman judge or exhibitor accepts constructive criticism.”
Constructive criticism is a difficult task to master on the part of the critic, but for the recipient it can be a terrific learning opportunity. And another thought: people will respect you more if you admit that you don’t know something or need help learning more about something, rather than trying to fake your way through. If you need help or guidance, ask!

“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.”
I think this should go without saying, although we’re all aware that it sometimes doesn’t.

“The sportsman exhibitor refuses to compromise the impartiality of a judge.”
So, since it doesn’t go without saying, if you’re close friends with someone who is judging, maybe it’s better to do your friend a favor and not enter under him or her. If the breeder of your dog is judging, even though it isn’t against the rules, don’t show the dog. Do you think no one will notice? They notice. There’s always another dog show next weekend.

“The sportsman respects the AKC bylaws, rules, regulations and policies governing the sport of purebred dogs.”
I think we often don’t really know all the rules and regulations. They’re important because they give the sport integrity.

“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.”
This should be our ideal – to appreciate both the merits of our competition because the competition almost always has merit, and the efforts of our competitors, which often mirror our own.

“Sportsmen welcome, encourage and support newcomers to the sport.”
We’ve been preaching it for years, but it can’t be said too often that without newcomers we won’t have a sport. We have to be welcoming, encouraging and supportive.

“Sportsmen will deal fairly with all those who trade with them.”
Being a courteous and fair sportsman doesn’t end when you drive away from the dog show. We have to be fair with everyone we do business with relating to breeding and showing dogs in order to be good sportsmen.

“Sportsmen are willing to share honest and open appraisals of both the strengths and weaknesses of their breeding stock.”
Such appraisals will ultimately lead to improvement in your breeding stock.

“Sportsmen spurn any opportunity to take personal advantage of positions offered or bestowed upon them.”
This is embodied in several points above, but it clearly bears repeating.

“Sportsmen always consider as paramount the welfare of their dog.”
We have no sport without the dogs. Their day-to-day, individual welfare is of primary importance. The future of our breeds is also paramount, and we protect it with honest appraisals of the strengths and weaknesses of our breeding stock, by utilizing available health testing, and being open and honest with the results.

“Sportsmen refuse to embarrass the sport, the American Kennel Club, or themselves while taking part in the sport.”
If something you’re doing would embarrass you if people knew about it, don’t do it. When you embarrass yourself, you embarrass your sport as well.

It may be difficult to remember each of the points of the AKC Code of Sportsmanship, but they’re all more or less embodied in the Golden Rule. Just remember what your elders taught you: treat others the way you want to be treated. If you wouldn’t want another exhibitor or breeder to do it to you, don’t do it to them. It makes our sport stronger when we’re all good sportsmen.