The American Kennel Club has recently approved its first written code of sportsmanship for the sport of purebred dogs. The fact that the AKC saw fit to write such a code gave me pause to think, and gave me a subject for this month's column.
My dictionary defines sportsmanship as "conduct becoming a sportsman, involving honest rivalry and graceful acceptance of wins." Notice that neither the adjective good nor bad appears in the definition. But they are implicit in it, and common usage does refer to both good and bad sportsmanship.
According to the code, Sportsmen commit themselves to values of fair play, honesty, courtesy, and vigorous competition, as well as winning losing with grace. How many times have we seen a person who is both a good loser and a graceful winner? It is not an easy task to be either, and when we encounter someone in the ring who is both, it is a heartwarming experience.
Is honest rivalry disappearing in the ring? How about those who try to upstage another exhibitor? How about the handler who carefully stands in such a position that the judge cannot see a competitor's dog? There is also the individual (not common in Bulldogs) who throws liver all over the ring while baiting his dog, so that the other dogs will lunge for it while being gaited. These are some examples of the "tricks of the trade" that have no place in the sport of dogs, as stated in the very definition of sportsmanship.
Now we have the phenomenon I like to call "barking on the Internet." It seems that anything can be said online about a dog or a judge. Judges are vilified for their decisions, dogs are criticized, people are disparaged, and on and on it goes. And let's not forget the bragging that takes place on those e-lists.
Is it proper for licensed judges to give their opinions about other judges' decisions or to extol the virtues of their own dogs? The AKC
Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges says, Judges are often singled out for critical observation by the fancy. Therefore, always keep in mind that a perfectly innocent action or discussion can be misconstrued."
Perhaps, if the definition of sportsmanship were to be observed by everyone, dog shows could be concerned with the merits of the dogs, and the dogs could stand or fall on their merits. Utopia, you say? Maybe it's idealistic, but it's a goal that is within reach if we try.
Finally, our national specialty weekend will be held November 19-26 in Orlando, Florida. It's a chance to see the best dogs in the country and to meet old friends.
Amelia Averil, 8 Willow Brook Rd., Hillsdale, NJ 07612.