When I was younger I trained dogs to compete in different dog sports because I loved dogs. I began by learning about Schutzhund, French Ringsport then competitive obedience, agility, weight pull and many more very cool dog sports. I loved watching training of any kind. I truly enjoyed learning by watching people that truly understand a particular discipline. I was discovering and learning and it was a very cool new world! I viewed the judges, decoys and helpers along with the top level competitors in these sports with high regard. Frankly, I was in awe of them.
My brain was working on all eight cylinders. I was learning and having fun. The moments of awe and discovery were some of the greatest times in my life. It was fun, connecting the communication dots between human and canine in order to achieve a team goal.
The funny thing is… As I got those moments of discovery more and more, they finally peaked and began to come less and less often. The newness and discovery was beginning to wear off. I knew there was more to learn I just didn’t know how to get to the next level. So I keep working. I trained, doing what I could while trying to find more people to learn from. I attended trials from USPCA Police K9 trials to Earth dog trials and everything in between. These trials were great for the novice aspiring dog trainer to watch even though the understanding wasn’t complete.
Later that year I decided to compete or certify at some entry level events. First was a CGC/TDI certification. No big deal. At the time I was nervous and excited. I passed. I was thrilled. Some didn’t pass. The judge explained why and nicely encouraged them to keep trying. After the event I talked to the judge and found out she was a UKC competitive obedience and agility judge. She had been working in herding, agility, and competitive obedience for over 35 years. As I was talking with her, one of the competitors that didn’t pass came up to the judge and interrupted our conversation. The competitor was angry, he felt that he had done better than the judge thought he did. He was rude. He was closed minded. He was hurt and embarrassed that he didn’t pass. The judge asked him why he was upset. He responded, “Because you failed me!” The angry man spewed a few rude comments about the judge’s choices in wardrobe and questionable ancestry. Then, he walked away.
I was shocked. I stared at the judge for a few long seconds and then finally I said, “What just happened there? Why did he get so mad at you?” She just smiled and said… “He isn’t mad at me. He is just frustrated because he wants something and doesn’t know how to get it the right way.” Then the judge politely excused herself and went on her way. For the record, I thought the guy was an ass. The judge handled the situation better than I would have. I guess that’s just one of the reasons she was a judge in many dog sports. She had class.
As time went by I began to train in dog sports clubs. Some clubs were about the training and some were about being a winner. Others were really just social clubs that gave folks a reason to get together. I learned a bunch about the rules of individual disciplines of dog sports. Cool stuff. But I wanted to learn about all training of all kinds not just one discipline. When I started to compete I won some and I lost some. I didn’t care either way. I just wanted to learn more.
Now I wanted to compete in trials and I began to see things I hadn’t noticed before. I saw helpers at Schutzhund trials giving a great presentation to their friend’s dogs and a crappy presentation to other competitor’s dogs. The difference in presentation was very subtle, impossible to see if you don’t have experience of being around for a while. I saw pretty much the same kinds of thing at a few ring trials decoys helping competitors that were friends. Then I saw something I thought was impossible, Judges cheating. I was a ring steward at a ring trial and watched judges changing score sheets after they were scored to give titles away. I was heartbroken! The judges that I had thought were above reproach were cheating! Nothing really bad, just little cheats here and there.
The deeper and deeper I got into competitive dog sports the more and more cheating I saw on many different levels. After a few years I guess I just began to accept people cheating as ordinary. I wanted a fair shake but didn’t always get one. After all what can be done? Sadly, it was true. Nothing could be done and nearly everyone was doing it!
As I began to compete more and more I began to train dogs and compete for very different reasons. At the time I had no idea that my reasons for training had changed. In fact, it would be many years until I even realized the change had happened at all. If someone did happen to tell me that my reasons had changed (and if I recall correctly, a few did try to tell me.) I wouldn’t have believed them. I most likely would have become insulted and gotten upset with them for even suggesting such a thing. It’s funny how the people that try to tell us truthful things and try to help us seem to be the ones we avoid or get upset with when they tell us something we need to hear but don’t want to hear. Anyway, I really wasn’t aware that my reasons for training and competing had changed. But they had. Looking back I can tell you that seeing all the cheating was a part of the reason for my change. I was getting bitter.
I started to take advantage of “grey areas” that rules didn’t cover. I tried to befriend judges and decoys in hopes that my dog would get a “fair” shake. I guess as time went by I wanted different things. Instead of wanting knowledge I wanted titles. I wanted certifications. I wanted recognition. I wanted respect. I started being disrespectful and irreverent to judges, decoys and competitors. I was under the impression that this was just “how it was” in the world of dog sports. If everyone else was cheating so why shouldn’t I? That kind of thinking can lead to falling down a very slippery slope.
Some very cool people in the dog world slowly but surely pointed these things out to me and I began to remember why I had started training in the first place. I did it because it because I loved dogs!
As I have gotten older I have enjoyed dog sports more and more because I cared less and less about winning and more about the learning the people and the fun! Sounds corny? Maybe it is. But it’s the truth. Just like when I started years ago, I win some and I lose some. I guess I’ve come full circle.
Lately I have seen a new kind of cheating in the dog sports world. At least it’s new to me. It’s the unannounced, private trial. What has gone wrong with a person’s honesty and integrity that they hold secret trials to get titles, decoy certifications and judge certifications behind closed doors? I have seen this now in bite work sports, obedience and weight pull competitions.
What do these titles and certifications mean? What value do they have? Why not just go out and buy the trophies and tell everyone you did it. Where are the honor, history and legacy? Where is the sportsmanship? Where is the test? Where is the competition? Oh yeah…. The competition wasn’t invited! At least a public trial lets people see the cheating if there is any.
Acquiring titles this private or secret way ruins every aspect of the sport in question. This attracts the wrong kind of trainer and rewards a lower standard across the board. Point standings become questionable and unreliable. Championships become a charade and National Championships become a farce. Titles attached to pedigrees become meaningless. These secret trials are hosted by trainers that have no integrity. These trials are hosted for all the wrong reasons. Dishonorable reasons like arrogance, cowardice and false pride. Remember the story of the emperor’s new clothes? Well welcome to the age of The Emperor’s new title. Everyone around you tells you how great you are and marvel at your accomplishments. It feels great while the compliments are cast upon you. But you have to look at yourself in the mirror and see that nothing is there!
We live in an imperfect world. Human nature is just that, human nature. There will always be cheating and stretching the rules. Secret or unannounced trials… It’s just disgraceful.
We all make mistakes. We are all human. So doing what’s right comes down to personal choice. Just because you can hold a secret trial or certify a judge over the phone doesn’t mean it’s morally right. There is a bigger picture to think about. The damaged caused to events, organizations and dog sports across the board. On one level this is why we Americans lag behind other countries in dog sports. We take the easy way to the title.
I think back to the first judge I met when I earned my CGC and what she said when the angry man yelled at her. “He is just frustrated because he wants something and doesn’t know how to get it the right way.”
I guess she would say the same thing about the people that hold secret trials…
““They are just frustrated because they want something and don’t know how to get it the right way.”
Unlike the folks that host the secret trials, that old judge had class…