Bait And Switch … And Bait Again

Bait And Switch … And Bait Again | Treats Can Offer the Owner-Handled Dog ‘Mixed Signals’

As a dog show exhibitor, there’s a good chance that you’ve never gone into the ring without a few “must-haves.” You’ve never entered the ring without your dog, of course, or a show lead, and you’ve likely never been without your dog’s favorite toy or a reliable “command” to keep the focus on winning. There’s also a good chance that you’ve never gone into the ring without a pocket full of treats or a carefully selected piece of bait. But have you ever wondered how effective your use of bait and switch really is? Might the “now you see it now you don’t” use of bait that is so often relied upon in the ring be sending mixed signals to your dog?

At a recent specialty, the judge gave an impromptu speech to the exhibitors before the Best of Breed Class entered the ring. The judge’s message was simple: “There will be no baiting of dogs in my ring.” The judge explained that his job was to evaluate the dogs and that the use of bait (or its misuse) made his task more difficult. In particular, he stated that he wanted to see the dogs standing naturally on their own four legs, without the need for the dogs’ handlers to poke and prod them into a “perfect stance” or pose them dramatically through the use of force feeding or flying bait. The judge’s direction was delivered in a calm yet impassioned voice, one that both the handlers (and the dogs) seemed able and willing to hear. The focus in the ring was going to be about the evaluation of breeding stock. It was not going to become a “performance.”

As the exhibitors entered the ring unencumbered by a stash of liver treats or cheddar cheese cubes, the energy was lively, yet controlled. Since baiting as a means of presentation had been eliminated, the handlers had to use their hands (and their hearts) to exhibit their dogs. As a result, the dogs appeared more “settled,” though no less animated in their actions with their handlers. Without the “feeding frenzy” that comes with a bonanza of bait, the dogs did, in fact, appear more natural. Their overall proportions, head carriage, tail set, front and rear angles, and movement were plainly evident. The balance (or lack thereof) of each dog in the ring was on full display, as was the degree to which they possessed correct breed type. The judge was able to manage a ring full of specials that were alert without being over-the-top. It was a pleasure to watch this ring full of purebreds.

Many years ago, I was showing an owner-handled Rhodesian Ridgeback at a regional specialty. This bitch was a wonderful companion and show dog (not to mention a BFF like no other) that had only recently finished her championship. At this particularly show, a last-minute change of judge put many of the already nervous handlers on edge. To make matters worse, an announcement was made by the steward that the replacement judge would not tolerate the use of bait in the ring. No baiting was to be done to encourage a free-stack and no bait was to be used during the exam. For many exhibitors (including this breeder/owner-handler) the news came as a bit of a shock. How were those active and ornery hounds going to be managed in the ring without the use of bait?

Bait And Switch … And Bait Again

With a single announcement, the excitement that had been growing around the ring had been transformed into one of doubt—if not downright despair. Surely my young special with a mind of her own would have a “field day” with me on the other end of her lead. However, without the use of bait as a distraction, my bitch stood perfectly during the exam, and without relying on bait to entice her to do a down-and-back, she moved with efficiency and ease in both directions. She even managed a free-stack when it mattered most. Without my using bait as a lure—a bribe—my Ridgeback seemed more focused on me, on our teamwork, and on the things that we were doing together. Without a pocket full of bait, I too had more focus. I was even having more fun. And when the judge made her final selections, my bitch was in the ribbons with a Best of Opposite Sex award… and I had learned a
valuable lesson.

Doing a “bait and switch” to your dog in the ring isn’t always helpful. In fact, it can be downright confusing from the dog’s point of view. Though bait can be a useful tool when utilized by experienced exhibitors with experienced dogs, it can just as reliably become an owner handler’s biggest crutch, preventing the development of an authentic and effective level of communication that is more likely to be rewarded in the ring.

So, when you get to ringside and learn that bait is not allowed in the ring, just be aware that the bond you share with your dog does not depend on mixed messages or the “bait and switch ” approach
to handling.

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  • Dan Sayers covers the sport of dogs with a particular interest in purebred dog history and breed preservation. His articles feature notable icons of the past as well as individuals who work tirelessly to promote purebred dogs today. A self-taught artist, Dan’s work is represented in collections worldwide and his illustrations appear in the award-winning Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology by Ed and Pat Gilbert. Since 1981, Dan has been an exhibitor of several Sporting and Hound breeds. He’s bred Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix and judged Sweepstakes at the parent club’s National Specialty twice. Dan is a member of the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America and the Morris and Essex Kennel Club.

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