241 Bad Behaviour at Dog shows

by   David Hancock

 In the pedigree dog world, quite rightly, unacceptable behaviour, bad temperament, unwanted aggression, the desire to dominate and other character defects are under increasing scrutiny. Experts working in this field now abound and disciplinary cases are not rare. In most cases it is a matter of bad upbringing, rarely bad breeding. Why do humans misbehave like this? What is really desirable now is for standards of behaviour to be raised at every level of dogdom, if the humans involved are to reach the standards set by their dogs. I rarely see a dog misbehaving at a show; I see humans misbehaving at every show I go to. This is hardly new, but what is new is for the good exhibitors to turn the other cheek, to look away, to tolerate it, not to speak up. The baddies are winning!

 Of course, it can be argued, society's standards have slipped and the dog-show fraternity mirrors society. That, frankly, is the argument of the weak, we have a higher duty when we deal with subject creatures. We are attracted to dogs quite often by their sheer selflessness, their desire to give and their power of instant forgiveness. Most days we let them down by our own inability to match those priceless qualities. But we let them down too when we fail to condemn bad human behaviour and low standards of human conduct in canine activities. It is easy to spot blatant double-handling at the ringside; it is less easy to spot double-dealing outside the ring.

 Double-dealing, doubtful standards of conduct and duplicity may not be indictable offences, but they usually facilitate wrong-doing. The sheer selfishness of some owners and exhibitors can be almost breathtaking. The ruthless rush for rosettes, the single-minded chase of challenge certificates and the dedicated pursuit of committee power can bring out previously hidden depths of unpleasantness in people. Two recent letters to the dog papers make some points for me, as these selective quotes demonstrate: "I write this letter with a mixture of sadness, despair and anger at many practices I see going on throughout the dog showing fraternity in my breed...Too many exhibitors, breeders and judges are concerned only with lining their pockets at the expense of the dogs...I am sick of people who have litter after litter from a bitch...I am sick of people allowing their stud dogs to be used willy-nilly...I am sick of people acting like sheep" and, in the second letter: "As a first time visitor to a dog show, I am shocked and appalled by what I saw...During the judging, many of the owners not running inside the ring with their own dogs were ringing bells, squeaking balls, banging, clapping and yelling loudly to attract their dog's attention...what was most shocking and unforgiveable, was the lack of compassion for the dogs left in the car park...I will NEVER again go to a dog show..." The dogs apparently behaved well!

 Human behaviour which appears questionable also needs to be avoided if reputations are not to be put at risk, rightly or wrongly, e.g. awarding a challenge certificate to a dog at a major annual show and then accepting a puppy of his a few months later; transferring ownership of a dog to allow someone to judge it then transferring it back so the roles can be reversed; interpreting breed type in the ring to favour a divergence from the standard and subsequently becoming the owner of a puppy of that type. Public rectitude has to be seen to be whiter than white, as well as being so. The sheer transparency of some unscrupulous people in the dog game takes some beating.

 Nice people try to avoid unpleasantness and that is why the baddies often win. Nasty people are usually cunning people too. I once spoke at a shepherd dog breed seminar and really enjoyed the lively discussion at the end; but when the breed notes came out, the boot went in! Why didn't these brave people disagree with me face to face? A recent newsletter from a breed I favour contained these heavily sarcastic and needlessly offensive words from one member about another: "...is now promoting himself as THE authority on the breed...either a practical joker or the (breed) Messiah...would have us believe that he is its last chance for salvation...claiming to be the 'one' and have all the right answers." How can any society of any stature tolerate such low grade material?

 I'm all for free speech but not alleycat-level diatribe directed by one member against another. It is time for breed worthies to strive for much higher standards of human behaviour in their societies, not silently disapproving but speaking up bravely. Just as unseemly, and even more dishonourable, is the breed club official who, whenever he lacks courage or shows the side of himself he's not proud of, writes in the breed newsletter hiding behind a nom de plume. The club members usually know who it is and wonder why he humiliates himself in such a way. Perhaps the poor old Kennel Club needs a new offence under Rule A42 : conduct unbecoming...or bringing the game into disrepute.

 At the Hound Show, at Stafford in August 1996, a lady exhibitor was weaving her way through the crowded aisles with her Deerhound when a Basset hound snarled and lunged at her dog. It was not a serious incident but it clearly upset the lady and her dog as they were making their way to their ring. She reacted rather too strongly, but quite understandably. Yet, instead of a quiet apology, all she received was muttered antagonism and hostile glares from the Basset hound people. This may be a tiny incident of little consequence, but whatever happened to courtesy, charm and friendship at such a show? Who is going to set an example and raise standards?

 Three really serious incidents at recent shows reveal  the darker side of human nature at its worst -- when it harms dogs. One concerned valium being administered to a Chihuahua without the owner's knowledge at a show; how the national press enjoyed that! But the other two involved something far worse: poison. A Pekingese bitch was given a constipation pill for pigs, the packet being found on the floor. The victim's vet said it might so easily have proved fatal; the dog's suffering was bad enough. A Bouvier des Flandres was fed poisoned meat at the Leeds Championship Show and was only saved because the owner recognised the symptoms, having had her Giant Schnauzer killed in the same way! Minor nastiness left unchecked always progresses to major nastiness.

 Indirect nastiness can be just as appalling. My writing a book recently on the Bullmastiff has had one very sad sequel. Seven different people, none of them connected, have contacted me in a six month period over losing young dogs of this breed to inheritable diseases, mainly lymphosarcoma, leukaemia and hip dysplasia. One of them experienced the double sadness of having successive puppies from the same north country breeder -- both with distressing inherited conditions. The breeder concerned agreed the first pup had entropion and then offered to halve the purchase price but only if she could have a pup when the dog was bred from!

 Each of the worried people who contacted me asked, with considerable feeling, what is being done in this breed to stop such terrible suffering? The answer is nothing. This is despite some carriers of such defects being known; the famous dog 'Major of Stanfell' died of leukaemia, but the breeders closed ranks and refused to acknowledge its consequences. There is one well known breed official who regularly writes of his past stock's virtues without ever mentioning that his line carried leukaemia. Not surprisingly, there is not one scheme in the breed to monitor inherited diseases. The interests of the dogs come LAST! Perhaps the breed needs a new breed society to remedy this.      

 There is far too much talk of breed standards and far too little of standards in a breed. Behind the glamour of the shows there is the gloom of inactivity, indifference and insulting behaviour, most of it condoned. A start could be made by the goodies if steps, effective steps, could be taken to curtail the operations of those who breed dogs in great numbers and so often in great discomfort. It is easy to aim at puppy-farmers in West Wales, not so easy to speak out against the well known show breeders, sometimes club officials, who cynically over-produce. It's the worthies in the rescue business who really pick up the tab; they deserve more courage and outspokenness from any of us who care -- really care.

 Silent disapproval of unacceptable human behaviour will never bring change. It demands brave determined true dog-lovers taking action every time they feel strongly, every time they come across the darker side of human nature. It's not enough anymore just to judge the dogs to a set standard; setting standards for humans to conform to is long overdue. In the meantime, on with the show -- that seems to be more important, but is that what our consciences are telling us? It's time to stop the poison -- and the poisonous.