Sportsmanship and Etiquette: Part 1

Getting The Best Out of The Sport of Dogs
by Claudia Waller Orlandi, Ph.D.

As with any activity which gives enjoyment or recreation, the breeding and showing of dogs is a sport. In the competitive world of today’s dog fancy, your success as a breeder or handler will be greatly influenced not only by the quality of dogs you produce and show but also by the perception others have of you as a sportsman and ambassador of your breed.


Webster defines sportsmanship as “qualities and behavior befitting a person who can take loss or defeat without complaint, or without gloating, and who treats his opponents with fairness, generosity, courtesy, etc.” Simply put, sportsmanship is another word for good manners. In the world of dogs, rules of etiquette apply to the judge as well as to your fellow breeders and exhibitors.

Sportsmanship in the Ring

All sports, from football to tennis to showing dogs, have “rules” of behavior and certain codes of sportsmanship which need to be learned by the “players.” Some of these are simply elements of common courtesy, others relate specifically to “how the game is played.” Following are “do’s” and “don’ts” in the ring with regard to fellow exhibitors as well as the judge:

Courtesy to fellow exhibitors

Never bring a sick dog to the show!

In the ring, whether your dog is relaxed, stacked or gaiting, allow sufficient distance between your dog and others at all times.

If you head up the line, others should set up in a straight line directly behind you and vice versa.

Never block the judge’s view of someone else’s dog.

Do not use squeaky toys or pieces of bait if they are distracting to other dogs in the ring.

While gaiting, never purposely “run up” on the dog in front of you.

Professional handlers are frequently the best examples of good sports. Follow their practice of congratulating winners, especially in the group ring.

Courtesy to the Judge

Exercise your dogs before entering the ring.
Be on time for your class and be sure your dog is clean and well-groomed.

Be prepared to show your dog’s bite or for the judge to check it him or herself.

If you are showing a bitch in season, alert the judge.

Don’t talk to the judge unless you are verifying his/her instructions or answering a specific question.

Don’t volunteer information about your dog.

Don’t converse loudly with other handlers in the ring or with people at ringside.

Don’t allow your dog to jump up on the judge.

Regardless of your placing, even if it is fourth out of four, smile and thank the judge. Never be rude or display anger in or out of the ring by using profanity or discarding a ribbon in the trash.

If you wish to have a picture of your win, ask the steward to ask the judge if he/she will have time. If so, request that the steward have a photographer paged. A judge may not have time for photos until after judging.

If you are interested in knowing why you lost under a judge whose opinion you value, wait until he/she has completed their assignment before approaching them. It is usually best to discuss the breed in general with the judge. Professional handler George Alston feels that asking why a judge didn’t use your dog may be answered with “I liked the other dogs better.” For future reference, it’s more useful to find out where a judge places emphasis in your breed.

Because many judges keep scrapbooks of their judging, it is permissible to send win photos to a judge with a little note saying something like, “We thought you might like this picture of a day that was special to us” (Alston). Alston feels a thank you for the win is not necessary. Do not include a dog’s history or show record. Never send flowers or gifts.

Don’t try to corner a judge to show him/her your scrap book of wins and never send photos of your dog to a judge before a show.

Friendships With Judges

If you have been in a breed or the dog fancy for any length of time, it is inevitable that you are friends with a certain number of judges. A lot has been said about the propriety of showing to one’s friends, or even acknowledging that one knows the judge. Following are suggestions regarding the more gray areas:

Avoid socializing with a judge who is your friend the day or night before you show to them.

If you know a judge and run into him/her prior to going into the ring, for appearances’ sake keep all conversation brief.

If you are friends with a judge do not hang around him/her before or after judging. This puts the judge in an awkward position.

If a judge who is your friend prefers that you do not show to him/her, respect these wishes. Some judges, on the other hand, do not care.

Be prepared to lose under a judge even though he/she is your friend.

The AKC is specific about certain restrictions, such as relatives or former clients showing to judges. If you have any doubts, don’t show.

End of Part 1