Social Media and Dog Shows

From "You Said It," Dogs in Review, March 2012

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The beast that lurks behind every corner is what many refer to as the “social media network.” It’s a cagey creature that has many forms. Quite honestly it appears to be a shape shifter of sorts to me.

One day it appears as a kind and gentle soul willing to impart wisdom to all who seek it. The next day or, for that matter, moment, it shows itself as a villainous monster ready and willing to destroy all in its path. The social media network is instant, spontaneous, ever-changing and always evolving into a new and more powerful form. 

How to deal with this beast is the question we all ask. Some choose to embrace its worth by allowing it to offer information of value quickly, succinctly and accurately. Others choose the sinister side of the monster perpetuating misinformation and malicious slander.

Take, for instance, Judges Lists, report cards and forums. There are many of these public forums where anyone can post an opinion regarding any and all dog judges. Is there a value in this type of forum which allows any comment to be made from praise to utter condemnation? My opinion is yes…but of course with the caveat that public forums should be constructive and thoughtful. 

Now, this is not to say I am opposed to negative commentary. It’s a necessity. Such commentary keeps us grounded, realigns our focus and provokes thought and discussion. But when making any post positive or negative it should always be with care, not with the rashness and lack of forethought that this type of media allows all too many to fall prey to.

I myself am a new dog judge. I have been in this sport all my life. I was a dog breeder who met with great success. I was an apprentice with some of the most talented handlers in this country. I was also a professional handler who was privileged enough to show some truly quality canines throughout my career. I was in relationships with brilliant dog people of my generation. But to this day I can say I learn something every day in the sport of dogs. 

I do read these forums. I study the comments whether they pertain to me or not. It’s a learning tool. It speaks to the pulse of the dog world. Often we may lose touch with certain aspects of our sport because of diverted focus or simply being preoccupied with something more pressing.

I truly believe reading these forums give us perspective. You do not have to agree with everything said. That’s not the point. But to discount them as the idle drivel of the ignorant masses is to lose a valuable learning tool.

A case in point was a post regarding my judging of a breed. The poster, to her credit, was thoughtful while posting. She commented that I seemed to like a certain shape in the breed. Furthermore she felt that while judging I chose that shape consistently, and then when it came to her dog that was slightly lacking in that shape I was hesitant in awarding her the breed.

She went on to say that while I still put this exhibit up she felt as if it might not have been my favorite style of dog. This was all reasonable commentary which I could follow and agree with. The last line of the posting said I may have foregone type while looking for this “shape.”

That is where thought is provoked! And I mean that in a good way. I thought about this person’s comments, going back over my judging on the day and realized only one key fact was missing from the posting. What she failed to grasp was that by seeing the style and shape of dog I wanted, I was judging based on type. In this breed outline is paramount.

I, however, appreciated that while judging dogs, my placements were consistent enough for her to be able to recognize what type or style I was going for and maybe on further thought she will realize that I consider shape of this breed part of type.

Postings such as this are where the lists are valuable. The exhibitor posted something thoughtful with intelligent observations of my judging. I would never take that as an insult. I may not have completely agreed with her final analysis of my dog judging, but that is why dog judging is subjective. I enjoyed reading the post because it made me think. I re-examined the entries in my head and came to my own conclusion.

At the other end of the spectrum are the posts that violate every principle of decorum and sportsmanship. Such posts as “So and so is a crook” or “They are a terrible judge of my breed” have no merit in being read or thought about.

All too often I see a post claiming someone is “the worst judge of my breed.” OK, now that may be true in your opinion, but such a derisive posting needs to be addressed with a bit more substance than a basic blanket comment. First and foremost, to say something in such a manner is not sportsmanlike. It accomplishes nothing for the reader. If in fact the dog judge is as terrible as is being suggested, why?

Instead of lambasting a dog judge for poor judging in your opinion, wouldn’t it be more constructive to say what the exhibit’s merits and flaws were from your standpoint? Explain how you saw the dog judge’s priorities. Compare and contrast the exhibits. If you feel the need to be negative in commenting on such lists, be detailed, in-depth and thoughtful. It will accomplish much more.

I know if I read a negative comment about myself I want to know why? What do you see that I may have missed? I want to be able to reflect on such commentary and understand why my opinion was so far on the opposite end of the spectrum from the observer’s. At least at that point the reader and the poster can possibly realize where the other is coming from. It does no good to be so short-sighted as to post blanket condemnation of someone without thought and reflection.

Many people will say that such lists shouldn’t even exist. That is not the reality we live in today. The social media network is growing and expanding by the minute. What one chooses to do with such a resource is the question whose answer will be evolving for years to come.

I hope that everyone who elects to play with and tame this beast of many faces does so in a manner that can allow us all to learn and grow from the experience, without getting bitten.

Do you have something on your mind regarding our sport? We’d love to hear from you. Send your 1,000-word think pieces to areznik@bowtieinc.com. We cannot confirm receipt of entries nor guarantee publication.

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