Fri, 02/10/2023 - 7:58am

Loyal to a Fault?

Sid Marx explores how blind devotion can sometimes go astray in the sport

Some of you may be aware of my constant battle with Facebook because of my unfailing lack of techno-knowledge. When sufficiently frustrated, I often say that I am done with Facebook, and vow never to try to sign on again — until I do.

I am not at all interested in most of the things posted on Facebook, and I think there are far too many people who think the world is interested in every facet of their being. Not so. But occasionally I do find an interesting comment or idea that gives me a lead-in for an article.   

Recently there was a post by someone I consider a friend, a very good handler and a true dog person. Since it was posted for all the world to see, I assume it is OK to reprint what was said here. (Yes, I did get permission.)

This last weekend was a lesson in loyalty ...

Loyalty by clients to their handlers and handlers to their clients. 

Judges to their friends. 

Judges to dogs. 

Mentors to mentees and also in reverse. 

Friends who have become family and family who have become estranged. 

I saw and heard the best of it and the worst this weekend. I'm so sorry to those whose trust is broken due to a lack of loyalty, and so happy for those who have found it. 

Loyalty is an interesting concept, and many writers have used it as a theme in their work. American writer John Steinbeck III wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” published in 1939, and the novella “Of Mice and Men,” published in 1937. In all, he wrote 25 books, including 16 novels, six non-fiction books and several collections of short stories. In 1962 Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature. “Of Mice and Men” is “a book about friendship and shattered dreams. So beautiful, so poignant. His language is amazing, the characters are all realistic and painfully so,” says Amazon. Loyalty is a main theme of the book. Google says, “In ‘Of Mice and Men’ Steinbeck shows George and Lennie's loyalty to one another when George says ‘... because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why.’ … This quote shows that even if no one else cares about them, George and Lennie will always stay loyal and have each other’s back.” 

When it comes to our dog community/family, “loyalty” is an interesting concept. Loyalty is a general term that signifies a person's devotion or sentiment of attachment to a particular object, which may be another person or group of persons, an ideal, a duty or a cause. When I replied to the person who originally posted about loyalty at a specific show, she replied, “… judges’ loyalty to dogs is a mixed bag. Some are loyal to the dogs themselves because they really think they are amazing animals; some are loyal to the handlers who show them. The unfortunate truth of showing dogs ... the right dog with the right handler but without the proper support system will never see its true potential. It takes an entourage to be successful in this sport. Which means an incredible amount of loyalty from many corners. I do not begrudge those who are able to have that. It alas is a solid foundation for EVERY top-winning dog.” 

There is a lot of truth in her reply, but I don’t think a lot of what she is talking about is loyalty. She is touching on a negative aspect of our shows and judges, but that is not loyalty or a lack of it. Actually, I think she is talking about judges who are simply not judging only the dogs in front of them on that day. What? Yes, I have heard that it happens. We all certainly have the right to exhibit at whatever show we wish to and at any place in the county. However, I think there is a limit. Going to shows in Florida or other warm-weather (not always) places in the winter is certainly understandable. Criss-crossing the country to show a dog to specific judges is a bit over the top. As one exhibitor said, “I have never gone to a show just for a judge. I've gone farther if the entire panel is what I consider good, but by farther, I mean a several-hour drive farther. Those who seem to have more money than they know what to do with, who fly their handler/dog to specific shows because they know those judges will do exactly as they are expected to do, and those judges DO as they are expected to do, not only leave a bad taste in most exhibitors’ mouths, but it's a disservice to whatever breed it is, as a whole. We all know it happens. We all see it happening. I have little respect for judges who consistently reward it, especially when there are other really worthy dogs that are also in the ring, and I add them to my DNS list.” 

All these statements contain many elements of truth. Much of it is a condemnation of some of our judging community, and to deny that it exists at all is simply burying your head in the sand. And it is indeed a poison for our community. But here is the question: What is a judge supposed to do if there is a dog in the ring that he truly loves — no matter what part of the country? Does he put up the dog he loves, or does he consider that the handler has obviously chased this judge, and then not put up the dog he thinks is the best because of this? I have had it happen a few years ago, and at the third show where I felt the handler had “followed” me, I later told the handler to knock it off and not to chase me. 

There are various aspects of loyalty in our community, and most of it is good. I am talking about professional handlers being loyal to their clients. This means taking the best care possible of their dogs and showing it to the best of their ability in the best condition. Owners owe loyalty to their handlers by not jumping from one handler to another at a whim – and handlers are loyal to each other by not trying to steal clients. Handlers need to be loyal to their dogs by showing them properly, and giving them rest when it is needed. And handlers owe loyalty to judges — and to our entire community — by showing the best dogs they can, and not showing what is commonly referred to as “gas dogs.” 

I consider myself a loyal person, and my friends are very important to me. But I am not judging my friends – and they know it. I have had dogs in various breeds that I believe are very close to the living embodiment of the breed standard, and I have rewarded them many times, and I do not believe the handlers of these dogs have ever followed me or gone to shows that they would not normally have attended. I have also had the difficult pleasure of having two or more dogs that I truly love in a group. Obviously, only one can be first. What did I do? I followed my wife’s advice and “let the dogs decide.” The way they showed ON THE DAY made the decision. But I never put these dogs – or any dog – up because of loyalty to the dog, handler or owner. The dog wins because I believe it is the best representative of its breed on the day, and I believe that is what my peers do also. I also have not put up a dog because it just won its national specialty or another big show. Maybe I am just not smart enough to keep up with who is winning what or who owns what or who runs which show. I simply don’t care about that.  

Very simply put, I believe a judge’s loyalty should be to the betterment of the breed, and so he must judge the dogs in front of him on that day to the best of his ability. Does that mean I never have doubts or never question myself afterward about whether I found the right dog? Of course not. And there have been times when a dog I loved just looked like it was time for retirement. He did not win that day, and I told the handler I thought his dog’s time had come to enjoy the rest of his life on the couch.

We all hope for those times when there are legitimate choices to be made between or among good breed representatives. A judge summed up this happy event when she wrote to me, “Recently while judging Collies I had a delightful quandary. Bear in mind almost half of the standard is devoted to head and expression. A lovely puppy appeared in the puppy class very sound with a good head. Same exhibitor then showed in BBE a very similar puppy with a better head not quite as good down and back … Which one would you use for WD? I used one, a well-known Herding judge used the other. There were other class dogs, but these two were obvious (catalog shows them as littermates).” 

So, our loyalty — whether we are breeders, exhibitors, handlers or judges – is to the dogs. To the breed!  

What do you think? 



© Dog News. This article may not be reposted, reprinted, rewritten, excerpted or otherwise duplicated in any medium without the express written permission of the publisher.

Stay Connected

YES! Send me Dog News' free newsletter!