From ShowSight Magazine, February 2016 Issue. Click To Subscribe.
Many breeds—mine included—have a height disqualification, and measurement can be called for by either the judge or an exhibitor. Personally, in 13 years of being around conformation shows regularly I have never even seen a wicket called, let alone experienced the process, but I’ve heard some pretty ugly rumors—wickets being called after points had been awarded, judges getting contacted about a dog being out of standard, etc.
The regulations regarding measuring are quite clear: if an exhibitor calls for a wicket, the request must be made by an exhibitor in the ring at that time, and made before all of the dogs in the class have had their individual exam. The judge can also call for a wicket if he or she has concerns about any entry being out of size.
The judge calling for a wicket makes total sense—evaluating the quality of the dogs in the ring and how well they fit the breed standard is, after all, the whole purpose of dog show judges. But what about fellow exhibitors? I asked some dog friends their opinions, and got some very interesting and well-thought-out responses.
My gut reaction was that it feels wrong, and borders on being a conflict of interest. We don’t have exhibitors telling judges to count Dog X’s teeth or check the dimensions on Dog Y’s white marking. Several people agreed with me that it feels uncomfortable, and the request for a wicket could come out of malice from a competitor who doesn’t want to lose. But then again, if a standard does have a height disqualification, the dogs in the ring should be within the standard, and it is the responsibility of breeders and owners to know if their dogs are or are not. Even if a measurement request does stem from less-than-noble sentiments, the act of measuring provides black-and-white information on the dog’s height. The reputation of a dog within the standard can’t be injured by being measured in the ring, and some felt that would even be a boost for that dog because it has been objectively proven that the dog is the correct height.
Some very compelling responses, however, emphasized that the standard is the standard—what good is it to have height limits if that information is never used? Requests for measurement could be made purely from that perspective, not out of any ill-will toward a specific dog or handler. The original purpose of dog shows was to evaluate breeding stock—calling a wicket should be about trying to follow the standard, not about who wins and who loses. And unlike many traits described in breed standards, height is an objective value that can be measured quantitatively.
Another suggestion that sounds promising was the idea of having official height cards for conformation dogs just like in agility. In agility, preliminary measurements are done to determine which jump height a dog can compete in the short-term, and permanent height cards are issued after the dog turns 2 years old. At this point the dog must be measured twice by an official, with forms signed and submitted to the AKC. For the purposes of agility, both measurements need to place the dog in the same height class, or a third measurement becomes necessary (the only exception to this is the 24" jump height—dogs jumping at this height only need one measurement since that is the highest height). A possible system for conformation could be to require that all dogs in a breed with height DQs be officially measured at 2 years or maybe 18 months because that is the cutoff for being in the puppy classes. Measuring could be done to get an exact value, or dogs could just be checked with the relevant wicket(s) and get a yes or no on whether or not they are within the required range. Dogs that measure out would be automatically disqualified and prevented from further entry in shows. It would still be the responsibility of judges to measure any young dogs that they suspect are not within the specified ranges.
The Havanese standard has a neat addition. Their standard has both a maximum and minimum height limit, but stipulates that the minimum only comes into effect at 12 months of age. This allows slow-maturing dogs to show as a puppy without being penalized if they haven’t met the standard yet. The one concern that comes to my mind is that a dog could potentially finish its Championship before turning a year old and never actually make size. Then again, there are plenty of things that could go wrong after a dog has finished—bites go off, vitiligo can cause DQ white, temperaments turn ugly, etc. It just falls to the owner and any breeders considering using that dog to verify the height at adulthood and be honest when going forward with their lines.
What it all boils down to is that if your breed has height disqualifications, you really should know your dog’s height. I compete in agility, so my dogs have all had official measurements done for that. If at a show that also has agility, you can measure your own dog, just don’t go right at the start of the day when the judge is doing measurements for competitors. Many clubs also possess wickets or other types of measurement devices that you can use to check your dog’s height. Don’t rely on the pencil-and-a-stick method, as there is a lot of room for error, especially if trying to do it on your own.
Another point to keep in mind is that if a dog freaks out over the wicket and is unable to be measured, it must be excused. So practice using a wicket with your dog if you haven’t already! The proper procedure for using a wicket is described in the Rules, Policies, and Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges on page 24 (accessible under Rules and Regulations via the Events tab at akc.org).
There is a lot of negativity associated with wicketing, but there really doesn’t need to be. The wicket is a tool used to measure a dog against its standard, and our show-quality dogs should all be within the required ranges. Anyone showing an out of size dog runs as much risk of being called out by a judge as by a fellow exhibitor, and exhibitors calling for wickets out of spite can’t do any harm if the dog is, in fact, within the standard. Know how your dog measures up, train him or her to be comfortable with the measuring process, and you’re good to go.