Monday, April 25, 2011


On April 4 I posted an item entitled "Inquiring Minds."  It was my third stab in less than a decade at learning the rationale behind the AKC's regulation that forbids a dog from wearing his everyday collar in the obedience ring -- the collar with the dog tags suspended.  In the obedience regulations (Section 17), the statement is: "Nothing may be hanging from the dog's collar."  Again in the judges' guidelines (the section headed Collars), there's one simple sentence: "Nothing may be hanging from the collars."

But why?  The question -- which has been posed all the way to the wisest, most veteran heads in the AKC obedience department -- always elicits some version of, "We haven't the foggiest."

In response to my April 4 query, a couple of veteran obedience competitors guessed the rule might have something to do with the utopian supposition of anonymity of the dog and handler as they enter the ring .  Incognitoness which would be blown when the judge saw the dog's or handler's name on the tag.

Silliness which conjures up a vision of the judge down on his knees, fumbling with the tags only to discover that the name tag is so worn that it's illegible anyhow. How ridiculous is that?

If the reason for the no-tags rule is in any way related to the tongue-in-cheek scenario I've offered above, oh how I wish I'd been a fly on the wall at the meeting where some august group dreamed that one up.

But let's look at this matter of anonymity in general.  Theoetically, when a competitor walks into the ring, the judge has no clue as to the identity of the person or the dog.  That's the intent of the rule that forbids the judge from looking at the catalog until judging is finished.  In theory, when Bravo! and I walk into the Utility B ring we're number 504. Period.

The last time I showed my judge was a friend from long ago when both of us were struggling on the OTCH trail with our Novice A dogs.  We battled over those precious points regularly, and loved it.  Too bad the warm fuzzies from those good old days didn't blind her to a bunch of lousy fronts as she judged us in four rings that weekend.

And then there was the judge in California several years ago.  Before her ring started that morning, she hustled over to our tent.  " I just wanted to tell you how much I love your books," she gushed.  "I wish I had known you'd be here this weekend, I'd have brought them so you could autograph them."  As it turned out, she was more enamored with my writing than she was with my dog's heeling.

Realistically, how valid is this anonymity stuff once you get past Novice A?

When Petra Ford walks into the ring with Tyler, is there a judge alive who doesn't know he's about to score the defending two-time national obedience champion team?  And how can any judge not recognize Dick Guetzloff, who at one time showed a border collie to just a shade under 8,000 OTCH points, and still sports that trademark black hat?  The fact is most active, accomplished competitors are hardly secret agents in the obedience ring.

There's an underlying message here, and it isn't pretty.  The implication is that if the judge knows me, knows my dog, I'm going to get preferential treatment, a break on the scoring.  Or the converse, a hosing.

Is that what we are to believe about AKC judges?  I hope not.  Better still, I know not.  I'm in my 21st year in the sport -- hundreds of rings, hundreds of judges.  I have yet to experience anything which reflects negatively on the integrity of AKC judges.  A lack of competence here and there, yes. A few personalities that would better have been kept in the closet.  But nothing that reflected a dearth of integrity.

Which brings us back to the no-tags rule . . . and a conclusion.  That rule is a stipulation that no one can explain or justify.  Then why is it embedded in the AKC regs?  Best guess:  "We've always done it that way."


1 comment:

  1. Hi Willard!

    How exciting to have just discovered you have a blog! I read both of your books about 2 years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed them. Ironically, 5 years ago, I lost 14 month old golden retriever puppy to a vicious cancer (so rare, none of the half dozen vets who tried to save her life had ever seen anything like it), and, being so overwhelmed with grief, I began to write a book about her, as my way of moving on in my life.

    Shortly after that, I did get a new puppy, but not a year later I was diagnosed with cancer myself. The book project was shelved for several years while I fought my own battle, but reading your books got me going on it again, and it is now about halfway done, having morphed into a much larger project about all of my dogs, and the struggle of training and titling through some of life's most severe adversities.

    Anyway, to get to the subject of THIS blog, prohibiting tags hanging from dogs' collars, I had a thought. Obviously every dog going into the ring should wear the same "clothing", and adding tags to some dogs' collars but not others changes things. Tags usually clang and bang to some degree, and I could see a situation where a handler might be able to use that noise to his advantage as some sort of cue.

    I have no idea if that might have gone into the original reasoning, or, as you said, it's just done that way because it's always been done that way!

    Thank you for your wonderful books, and now, your wonderful blog, which I have only just begun to read. But most especially, thank you for the inspiration to finish my own book.

    Warmest regards,
    Madeline Mason
    Kingston, NY