Dog Show Judging and the AKC

An AKC judge discusses ethics, fakery and the AKC’s responsibility.

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Some people like to be contrary by saying, "Well, what one person thinks is cheating, another person thinks is fair." Yeah, well, not really. Is using white chalk in a dog to remove stains and brighten the color OK? Yes, we accept it because white is not normally considered a color that requires physical inspection to determine whether it is genetically desirable. If it were for a specific breed, then there would be a particular rule or standard of conduct for that breed. What about red, tan, black, blue, apricot? Here it is generally accepted that physical inspection of the color is required, because there are genetic determinants that can vary the quality of non-white colors and markings. Thus, if one alters these colors the physical inspection is misled and this is, indeed, fakery. Whether it was done with "taste" or not is of absolutely no consequence.

Can fakery be harmful to a breed? I will argue that indeed it can be very harmful to a breed. Without mentioning any names, I well remember being interested in a particularly charming Terrier breed and told, "That breed has terrible tail problems. Very few specimens have naturally correct tail carriage." Yet we see many of that breed being exhibited with what do appear to be correctly carried tails. Will that breed ever recover from having to be faked to enter the ring? I don't know how.

I use the terms ethics and morals because some activities fall into one category or the other. Surgically corrected tail carriage or ear carriage is unethical. Putting a coated dog on a conditioning regime of arsenic to increase coat growth may not be unethical, but because it endangers the life and invariably shortens the lifespan of the dog, it is immoral. None of those actions are honest or appropriate.

As the respondents to the survey indicated, fakery is tolerated by most judges in many breeds. This responsibility must squarely rest at the door of the AKC. I have been more than a little amazed that at an AKC eventan event in which specific rules are laid down you can visit any number of vendors who are selling products which, if used, would constitute disqualification. You can easily purchase nose-coloring kits, and black, red, and brown chalk. AKC representatives absolutely permit exhibits they know to be faked to be shown and receive prizes. They absolutely permit judges to award faked exhibits. So naturally, the cognizant are aware that there are the "rules," and then there are the rules.

Why, indeed, do we have two sets of rules and what purpose do they serve? I suspect this issue is germane to the whole concept of fault judging rather than virtue judging, which is the mentality most judges use when evaluating dogs. We allow certain deviations, of course, but blatant things or faults which are easily discernable to the most inexperienced person are not tolerated. Why? I have no clue, except to say that I believe this strongly speaks to the level of knowledge of the adjudicator. When one has true expertise in a breed, it becomes clear that the lines between what an uneducated person would identify as a fault and what the expert identifies become blurred. The expert sees with so much more clarity, so much more depth, that any and all faults simply factor into the overall assessment. The uneducated will see little to no detail, but that blatant fault, that easily discerned shortcoming, is easy for them to see and thus prey upon.

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