Sat, 08/27/2022 - 5:34pm

To Thine Own Self

Know the truth about how your dog measures up to the competition

One of my very special friends responded to a previous article of mine that talked about the plethora of ringside fault judges by asking, “What is to be gained by tearing apart your competition?” and thought this could be the blueprint for another article.

So, SS, this is for you. 

A sales-training company says: “Knocking the competition can be defined as any statement intended to diminish a competitor's appeal to a prospective customer. The operative word here is intended. Done wrong – as it often is – knocking the competition can backfire, explaining why it has been roundly pummeled as a sales tactic.” In our community, the “prospective customer” is most often the judge, although it could also be a prospective puppy buyer or someone looking for a stud dog. 

According to Juice, a recruitment company, “One of the first rules that I learnt in sales was ‘don’t knock the competition.’ It makes you look petty and gives the impression that your product (whatever that is) isn’t good enough to stand on its own two feet and beat the competition in a direct comparison.” In our case, “our product” stands on four feet, but the concept is still valid. 

A very significant, intelligent and pointed question asked by SS was, “If you are the one complaining, and being asked that question, would it not provoke the thought that maybe you need to look at what you are holding at the end of your leash? If you are tearing apart your competitors every day of a show weekend, would it not make you look at your exhibit and recognize that the dog you are complaining about holds different virtues than your own? It may not carry the same virtues as your dog, but that doesn’t mean it is a bad dog. Some breeders/exhibitors can’t see past their own nose, and where they once had ‘GREAT’ dogs, they now have average, but want to be treated as if everything they walk into your ring as GREAT.” 

Wow, there is a lot to chew on there. First of all, do you really know your own dog? Removing the fact that you love him, and he has a wonderful personality and temperament, can you assess his structure, proportions, nuances and traits as described by the breed standard? It is not easy to do. I will never forget my wife telling an interested party what the strengths – and weakness – were on one of our very special dogs – just before this person was to judge him in Best in Show competition. No, she did not know he would be judging BIS, but I don’t think it would have made a difference. That’s the difference between someone who truly loves her breed and wants to see it at its best – and someone who just wants a win and a ribbon. Which one are you? 

The statement talks about virtues – not faults. Isn’t that what we should be judging? A dog that I have judged over the past couple of years – and love – has the tendency to flip a foot on occasion when moving, and his detractors – either though ignorance or jealousy – would gladly point that out. What I saw was a dog whose virtues absolutely personified the breed standard. I’d rather consider the 99% of the dog rather than the 1%. Which judge would you want looking at your dog? Remember, a significant part of judging is evaluating the trade-offs and deciding which virtues deserve more weight.  

The last part of SS’s statement talks about “kennel blindness” and “used to be … .”  I think to some extent, kennel blindness exists in all of us because we see our dogs with love in our eyes. That is absolutely understandable, but must be overcome when judging. “Used to be” is an even more difficult thing to overcome. For the breeder/exhibitor/handler who has had great success with previous dogs, it is difficult not to subconsciously see the current dog with the eyes that saw the previous “great one.” I have admitted that has happened to me as a judge on occasion when I am judging and a handler shows me a dog that is a breed in which this handler previously showed me what I thought was an exceptional one – and I subconsciously finding myself comparing the present dog to the previous dog.   

Maybe your dog does have similar virtues to the dog that continues to beat you. Here’s another thought: Is your dog ready? Maybe it is a question of maturity. Maybe the dog doesn’t have enough confidence yet to show well. Maybe you and the dog just have not meshed yet, and so there is no smoothness in the way you appear together. A very good English Setter friend of mine says, “The judges will tell me if my dog is ready.” He also believes it take a significant number of shows for dog and handler to work together well. His consistent success would indicate he is correct. 

What do you hope to gain by knocking the competition? Are you looking for someone to agree with you – the judge, other competitors or puppy buyers? Are you trying to influence future judging decisions (because this one is over)? I know of a handler who would try to “educate” a judge who just did not use his dog, or even to berate a newer judge and intimidate her for the next show. All this would do for me is make me remember you in a very negative manner, and I’ll bet that will stay with me subconsciously the next time you enter my ring. I must admit that in more than 48 years of judging I have only had two people attempt to sway me. Neither of them won, and I always remembered them – negatively – when they entered my ring. 

Aside from the fact that we are “supposed to be” judging breeding stock, there is also a very personal aspect of showing our dogs. For some, insulting their dog is akin to insulting their children – sometimes worse. I learned my lesson in the early part of my career – sometime in the late 1960s. A friend – Joanie – won with her Irish Setter, defeating me and my dog. Furious, I stormed out of the ring and stood there, mouthing off to another friend, “How could that judge put that piece of crap up over my dog?” I turned, and Joanie was standing there. The pain and hurt in her eyes are something I would remember forever, and made me feel like the absolute jackass that I was!  

She loved her dog as much as I did mine, and she felt it as worthy to win as I did mine. And she was probably right. Even more importantly, did I really want to hurt someone I loved over a piece of ribbon? So, if I lose with my dog now, I just try to go for a walk with my dog, and then put him in his crate, and take time to cool down. There is nothing to be gained by tearing apart the competition – especially in the heat of frustration and disappointment. 

What do you think? 



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