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Reclaiming the Spirit of Sportsmanship in an Age of Online Bullying

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Reclaiming the Spirit of Sportsmanship in an Age of Online Bullying

There has been much talk lately about measuring and weighing dogs, which has turned into a vociferous, mean-spirited mudslinging contest. Whoever has the sharpest tongue seems to win the battle, but the Sport loses the war.

There have always been unspoken rules of dignity, kindness, and decorum that govern the Sport. When the AKC Code of Sportsmanship was crafted, I wondered why one had to put into words basic common sense and the unspoken rules of the Sport that have been in effect since it began in our country in the 1800s.

Surely, even before that era, exhibitors were highly competitive, wanting their dog to be the best at whatever contest was at hand. However, they did not stoop to the levels I have seen on social media in the 21st century. It appears no personal lines are drawn by those posting, even though the AKC came out with a “no online bullying allowed” declaration.

Make no mistake, the level of exchange I have seen is most certainly bullying. These posts are not merely opinions.

A little basic knowledge can go a long way, so here are a few AKC Rules and Policies along with plain common sense that you should know before posting on social media. These policies have governed our sport for the 23 years I’ve been a judge and over 25 years as a breeder.

  • Judges are trained and tested for knowledge of the scales and wicket.
  • Weighing, measuring, and determining disqualifications are at the judge’s discretion. An exhibitor in the ring may call a breed disqualification protest. No one else has a say in the matter.
  • It is nonsensical to wicket every dog in the ring; wicket the largest and/or smallest dog in the ring per the Breed Standard.
  • The withers is located at different places on different dogs. It is always the highest point of the shoulder blades. Some dogs’ withers are up in their neck. In many breeds, the ideal is on a vertical line drawn directly above the elbow.
  • AKC has a system to address issues of weighing and measuring when a judge does it incorrectly. The dog’s owner or handler is responsible for using that system, not the haters on social media.

Judges are human; they make mistakes. What if you were hung out to dry for not stacking your dog correctly or in good time? I saw one post which said that the judge should be measured! As you may know, judges are tasked with staying on time, so a show’s schedule stays fluid. Should the same hold true for exhibitors? Should exhibitors be tested and timed on how long it takes them to stack a dog? I am joking, but not kidding.

These points have been weighing on me. I wonder when people will start taking responsibility for their own actions and stop being in everyone else’s business. In my own FaceBook group, Dog Show Mentor Owner Handlers, I decided to turn off comments in one post. A rather new owner handler had her dog measured out and posted a picture of the judge placing the wicket. Very quickly, the comments went from being helpful to angry and entitled. These comments help no one.

The essence of dog shows lies in celebrating the bond between dogs and their handlers, the meticulous care in breeding, training, and presenting the dogs, and the camaraderie among enthusiasts. The current trend of hostile exchanges overshadows these positive aspects, replacing them with negativity that detracts from the experience for everyone involved. We must remind ourselves why we are in this Sport: the love for dogs, the joy of competition, and the friendships we forge along the way.

In light of this, fostering a culture of compassion and mutual respect within the community is crucial. Constructive criticism can be beneficial, but it must be delivered in a respectful way and aimed at helping, not hurting. If we genuinely care about the future of dog shows, we need to lead by example, showing kindness and understanding, especially to newcomers who are still learning the ropes.

Moreover, the advent of social media has amplified voices, giving everyone a platform to express their opinions. While this democratization of voices is valuable, it also comes with the responsibility to use that platform wisely. Before posting a comment or critique, consider the impact your words will have on the person receiving them. Will your comment help them improve, or will it discourage and dishearten them? Striking a balance between honesty and empathy is vital.

The AKC’s stance against online bullying is a step in the right direction, but it requires the collective effort of the community to enforce these principles. We must all be vigilant in calling out inappropriate behavior and supporting those who are targeted. Creating a positive and supportive environment will not only improve the experience for all participants but also attract more people to the Sport, ensuring its growth and sustainability.

Education is another vital component. Many of the heated debates stem from misunderstandings or a need for more knowledge about the rules and standards. By providing more educational resources and opportunities for learning, we can equip exhibitors with the knowledge they need to compete fairly and confidently. Hosting seminars, workshops, and open forums can help to bridge the knowledge gap and reduce the instances of conflict and confusion.

Finally, let’s remember that at the heart of dog shows are the dogs themselves. They bring us together and deserve to be at the center of our focus. Their well-being and the integrity of the Sport should be our top priorities. By fostering a community built on respect, kindness, and a shared passion for dogs, we can ensure a brighter future for dog shows where everyone feels welcome and valued.

As a community, let us continue with a renewed commitment to compassion and integrity. By setting a positive example and supporting one another, we can reclaim the spirit of sportsmanship that has long been the foundation of our beloved Sport. Together, we can create a future where dog shows are competitive but also uplifting and inclusive for all who participate.