The July 27 issue of the popular all breed publication, Dog News (the “other” DN), contained an article titled, “Be A Nice Human.” It’s such a simple task, yet why is it so difficult for some? The article was written by PHA member Stacy Threlfall and pointed out how easy it really is to just be nice to each other. If you haven’t seen her article, I would encourage you to look it up online.
I would like to take this practice one step further, and press us all to be nice to our animals, both physically and mentally. Those of us who exhibit or care for dogs at the shows are the front line of our sport. We are the ones being watched and modeled. Many of us, whether we know it or not, are role models for new people and younger generations. Our behavior and actions are very important!
When I began showing Dobermans, I spent time with a few different handlers who thankfully taught me the basics of animal husbandry at a show. Sweep your set up. Close crate doors when you take a dog out – for two reasons (no one else runs into the open door, and there’s no worry the dog broke out). Wipe or vacuum crates out after each show. Never leave a dog unattended on a table. Clean exercise pens immediately. And for crying out loud… pick up after your dog!
As I spent more time at more shows, I began watching different handlers, hoping to pick up one little trick, one piece of information to make my skills and understanding better. I will never forget the first time I saw Andy Linton, Linda Hoff, Michelle Santana, Moe Miyagawa, Cindi Huckfeldt and Marj Brooks – all in one place at one time at the Rose City Cluster in Portland, OR. I was in awe! These were people I had only ever seen in magazines before, and there they were all in the same place at the same time. Every day of that cluster, I sat and watched in amazement.
Thus began my infatuation with observing different handlers, both in and out of the rings. What started as a learning tool to understand various handling styles, and why not everyone can show a Terrier or a Poodle or a Chihuahua or a Doberman, developed into general observation and learning about people and their relationships with their dogs. The more time I spent at shows, the more I learned, both what to do and what not to do!
There are several people who immediately come to mind as being role models in the ring. These are the people who I look at and think, “They love their dogs, and their dogs love them just as much.” These people aren’t hard to spot. They are usually playing with their dogs and genuinely having fun. The dogs respond, and you can see the magic the great handlers work particularly with young puppies or with dogs lacking confidence. Carissa, Esteban, Hernan, Michelle Scott, Rindi Gaudet are a few of those people, but there are many, many more handlers who I admire and respect both for their handson talent and their love of the dogs.
Being kind to your dog should be the easiest thing to do! It should not be a challenge. Nevertheless, there are some who need reminding. The things I have witnessed over the years at dog shows leave me gasping for air. The handler in the ring popping and jerking and correcting his/her dog for no apparent reason. The handler behind me who is so sharp and nasty to his dog to the extent that it starts to bother my exhibit. The handler showing a dog that was hot and panting, so she spat directly into his mouth while in the ring! The person “training” a 10 week old puppy by dragging it off the grooming table and hanging it. The person jamming her fist into her dog’s mouth. The people who call their dogs stupid, crazy or other foul adjectives. The handlers who say, “I don’t understand how you can show this breed. I hate them.” (as they’re holding one and getting paid to show it).
Then there are the grooming set ups that make me cringe. Hair balls and garbage on the floor or blowing into crates. Dogs who are crated without bedding or water. Filthy, stinky crates or bedding. Exercise pens that need maintaining. Don’t even get me started on what I see in the parking lots as I walk past vans, trucks, RVs and set ups! Being dirty is not being nice to your dog.
Surely people don’t believe our dogs sign up to be treated like this or live like this while on the road? And surely if you do not love the dogs in your care, you need to reevaluate your criteria for showing dogs and accepting clients.
I have reached a point with these unacceptably not-nice situations where I no longer hold my tongue. Without confrontation, I now simply say, “Can you please be nice to your dog?”This usually results in an immediate change of behavior, and very little retort from the offender.
We have to remember that the American Kennel Club promotes its events as family friendly. Therefore, we must ALL behave as professionals. Breeders encourage prospective owners to attend dog shows so they can look at different breeds of dogs, understand the care that goes into grooming them, see a variety of representatives from a particular breeder or bloodline, and sometimes to encourage new owners to become involved in dog sports. Collectively, we are the people representing our dogs, clients and breed. Make it count, and show the public how wonderful owning and showing dogs is, both for human and canine alike!