Editor's Page: Handling Newbies Kindly

Let’s accept the present and work constructively to make today’s exhibitors and judges the best they can be.

By Allan Reznik | Posted: August 19, 2014 9 a.m. PST

Allan Reznik Editor
Photo courtesy Julie Lynn Mueller.

Any of us who have been active in dogs for 25, 30, 40 or more years need to make a greater effort to welcome newcomers. Our cynicism is showing, and it just might be driving novices away, something our sport cannot afford today. We’ve all been guilty of rolling our eyes when we see a new exhibitor or judge commit some "infraction” that "never used to happen” when we entered the sport. The eye roll is typically followed by a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about how things used to be. There’s a time for history and a time for acknowledging the fact that the sport has changed, and we need to embrace the novices who have found their way into dogs, gently steering them in the right direction.

Most of us can remember the days when we did the bulk of our grooming at home and went to dog shows with a lead, brush, comb and spray bottle of water. So when newer exhibitors stand admiring their grooming artistry and ask for an opinion, we gulp. All we can see are the stiff, moussed hocks, the side coat newly released from the straightening iron and the ratted topknots in a breed that’s supposed to be a primitive hunter. How we respond is all-important. We can read someone the riot act, condemning them for destroying the breed, or calmly reply, "That might be a little over the top.” The first response will make you feel better for 5 minutes but is guaranteed to either embarrass or anger the exhibitor. The second approach might prompt some positive dialogue. With any luck, a knowledgeable judge will also use diplomacy to express the opinion that the dog has been over-groomed in defiance of the standard. If a judge tells an exhibitor, "He’s a nice dog and doesn’t need a ton of product in his coat to impress me; now take him home and give him a bath,” the advice will probably be taken to heart. A rude, condescending remark from the judge may convince the exhibitor this was not the right choice of hobby.

As we watch judges assess dogs every weekend, there are those seasoned fanciers who will shake their heads in disbelief, and make comments like, "He is no Alva Rosenberg or Louis Murr; she is no Winnifred Heckmann or Anne Rogers Clark.” These observations remind me of Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen turning to Dan Quayle during the 1988 VP debate and delivering his famous line, "Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.” Alas, today we have too few Rosenbergs, Heckmanns and Kennedys in our midst, but we do have many dedicated judges determined to navigate the circuitous and costly path AKC has unrolled for them. Perhaps they would benefit from your parent club’s educational materials or an invitation to be mentored at your next specialty. Being dissected on Facebook by disgruntled exhibitors in various report-card groups serves questionable purpose.

Pining for the good old days won’t get anyone to lobby for the return of benched shows or to leave their noisy monster dryers at home. Let’s accept the present and work constructively to make today’s exhibitors and judges the best they can be.

From the August 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.

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R   York, Maine

11/24/2015 7:34:39 AM

As a relatively new exhibitor, the biggest issue I see is that judges continue to award professional handlers and breeders who show inferior dogs. I am extremely lucky that I have a large group of seasoned exhibitors that mentor me but I see others become disillusioned when watching a dog that can barely move, let alone do the job it was bred to do, be given the ribbon. Many have gone to performance because it is an even playing field. Until the judges start awarding the best dog and not the handler I don't see the trend of driving novices away ending in the near future.

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Alice   phoenix, Arizona

11/19/2014 10:11:58 PM

I was run out of this sport after 5 months of harassment by a handler I beat as a total novice. Those on the sidelines knew exactly what was going on and said nothing. The AKC said shucks, nothing we can do to help you.

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Dana   coto de caza, California

8/26/2014 7:09:46 AM

Thanks, Allan. As a relative newcomer, myself, I have almost been driven out of the sport by exactly the kind of opportunistic negativity you write about. I feel that it comes from small people who need to make themselves feel better at others' expense, so I do my best to let it roll off my back. But biting remarks do take a toll, and more than once I have wondered why I bother to endure them. In the end, I rely on good friendships with wonderful dog people to get me through; and, of course, the dogs themselves.

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