Sportsmanship in the Dog Game
by Executive Field Rep Wayne Bleazard
Lately there have been several unfortunate instances of field trial and hunt test misconduct meetings having to be called at a performance event due to misconduct of a handler. The misconduct ranges from unsportsmanlike treatment of dogs, contestants and/or judges of the event. It is at this juncture, one has to stop and attempt to reason why this is creeping into our sport.
As a dog person for more than 30 years now, I have served on many boards and committees at events, but it wasn’t until approximately 5 years ago that I witnessed an actual field trial committee hearing concerning an individual who was in the field and mistreated his dog in front of judges, gunners and gallery. Now we hear about event misconduct meetings more frequently, and it is not only because of my position in the American Kennel Club, but it has, unfortunately, invaded the clubs where I used to run dogs before becoming a Field Rep.
So, what seems to be the reason for the increase and what can we do to alleviate these situations from filtering into the sport we all love and do for fun? Some quick answers that pop into mind are: (1) temper; (2) handlers’ egos riding on the back of their dog; (3) a paranoid feeling of "that judge/gunner/bird thrower is out to get me".
Breaking things down, temper seems to be probably the biggest culprit. If we can curb our tempers, it would likely take care of the other two problems. As a new handler, I was fortunate to get a very nice pup. Our club hosted a Tri-tronics training seminar with Jim Dobbs presenting how to use the collar properly. One of the club members questioned him about how her dog was deliberately avoiding the water. "(The dog) knows he’s supposed to get in, but he tries to run around it nearly every time! So then I have to yell and run out and drag him into the water so he doesn’t get away with it."
Jim quietly looked at her and said, "You have to understand, our dogs are out there just trying to please us. They truly don’t have the mentality to be out there and think, ‘I’ll run around this water, that’ll get the old lady’s dander up!’" He then went on to give her advice on how to let the dog know exactly what it was that she wanted him to do, and that included praise, praise, praise when the dog did it.
After 30 years, I still remember those words of wisdom! They were words I tried to live by and still try to encourage new handlers to understand, too. Remember, these canines are "Man’s best friend" and all they want to do is please us.
Check your ego at the gates as you enter the trial grounds! Every dog has its day, and it’s not necessarily going to be EACH and EVERY day. Just because Fido didn’t get today’s blind, or had to handle on the third mark that had the same concept you had trained on all last week, just remember, he’s only trying to please you.
Again, as a new handler, I would go to a trial and come home dejected and complaining more times than I ever came home elated! Finally my wife taught me how to get my victories, which wasn’t necessarily measured by how many ribbons I won. My young dog had a tendency to break on the honor, so we worked and worked on that aspect all week, only to have her go out on a water blind, or else miss a mark. "Did she break on the honor?" my wife asked. "No." "Then there’s your victory!" Plain and simple. This week the dog messes up an over-the-point mark. We work on it all week in training, then go to next weekend’s trial and she goes over the point! Victory!!! Handler comes home happy, dog is happy, wife is happy – what more counts in life? So bring your ego down a notch and recognize your victories in small increments!
Now for the paranoia that comes with the dog game. Put yourself in the judges’ shoes. These are two guys giving up a weekend of running their dog so they can judge yours. I honestly believe 99% are out there trying to do their best and not trying to "get" someone. And if you don’t believe that, ask yourself when you judge, are you out to "get" someone or pay them back for dropping your dog? If your answer is yes, then maybe you had better rethink what you do for fun and relaxation, because the dog game is much better off without having someone judge who has a vendetta. If you have honestly asked yourself, "Do I try to get revenge when I judge", and your answer is "No", then what makes you think someone else is trying to get revenge on you?
If you’ve run under Judge A and you don’t train the way s/he tests – search for another weekend trial to go to, or stay home that week and train. If you think your dog did better than one who was called back when you were dropped, politely ask the marshal to check with the judges, and when you learn it wasn’t a mistake, realize every dog has his day, then go home and train on the concept. If your dog placed lower than another, recognize that the judges are holding the book, there are at least two judges, and they have the notations to work from, while you likely have only memory. I have also had many competitors who think that since their dog did the best water marks in the last series, they have won the whole field trial or have passed the hunt test. Unfortunately, that same handler "forgot" the three cast refusals, and missing the point on the water blind, or the gorilla hunt on the first series flyer. Remember dogs are judged on every series, not just the last one.
And while we’re on the subject of paranoia, there seems to be more and more problems with people sending derogatory emails and/or posting blogs degrading judges. Two words of advice here: (1) practice a higher degree of sportsmanship and please honor the sport–a mean–spirited email or blog makes the writer look much worse than the target of his/her anger. (2) If you receive or read a blog of this sort, consider the source and take the criticism with a grain of salt.
In summary, remember that every dog is just trying to please us. Count your "victories" in smaller increments, not just the number of ribbons you put on your trophy wall. And remember why we are all doing this sport – it is our love, passion, and what we do for fun...some people golf, others bicycle or run, we run dogs. Knute Rockne summed up sportsmanship in one brief sentence: "One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than a hundred teaching it."
It would be well-suited for new-comers and old timers as well to keep this in mind next time you are competing in a trial or hunt test.