When we heard that Sue Cox would be one of our judges at the Phoenix Field & Obedience trial last fall, we all began measuring each other's dogs. We even took a yardstick to a fun match two weeks before the trial and had the judge measure our dogs as they prepared to enter the ring.
The idea was to desensitize them to being measured -- to having a stranger stop them just outside the ring gate, hang over them and use a measuring stick to determine their height at the withers. That process can spook a dog who isn't accustomed to it. And none of our dogs had ever been measured.
Time was when measuring was mandatory under AKC regulations, but it became optional in 1998. An AKC obedience judge was no longer required to verify a dog's jump height, but could choose to do so.
Sue and John Cox, well-regarded veteran judges, are among the very few who still measure. So we got our dogs ready.
As expected, Sue measured every dog entering an Open or Utility ring. Which elicited a fair amount of grumbling, particularly from those who got caught trying to sneak their dogs through at a few inches below the required jump height.
Let's face it. If you don't know your dog's jump height by the time you'r ready to compete in Open, you're too stupid to be in the sport to begin with. Either that or you're trying to pull a fast one. I think mostly the latter.
"Neither John nor I prefer to think of any exhibitors as cheating," Sue told me when I talked to her in preparation for this item. "But we'd be naive if we really thought that was the case." She did allow, however, that "there seem to be a fair number of people who are confused about their obedience jump height versus their rally jump height versus their agility jump height." Was that statement made with raised eyebrow? I couldn't tell.
I asked her what percentage of competitors she catches with their paws in the cookie jar. She said she's never counted, but concluded it's "not significant."
Then I asked why, when the overwhelming majority of the competition obedience world is on the honor system, she and John choose to measure?
She explained: "We've decided that one of the minimum requirements is that (the dog) jumps the required height. If we are also charged with making sure they meet the minimum requirements on all the other exercises, then certainly the height they jump has to be considered, too."
Then she added: "We're aware that there are some people here locally who will not show to us because of our measuring. That kind of tells us they aren't jumping the required height."
So while the Coxes may lose popularity points as a result of their principled approach, they're keeping everybody honest. Think there's no need -- in any sport -- to keep participants honest? Think again. Think about the steroids scandal in major league baseball. Think about all the testing that goes on in horse racing, in the Olympics.
Why do I bring the subject up here and now? Because of a little paragraph Linda MacDonald wrote in the May 2011 issue of Front & Finish. Linda, too, is a veteran obedience judge. She's also a darn good competitor in obedience and agility. Which gives her a well-rounded perspective. She writes a column, "Turnpike Trail," in Front & Finish. Buried in her May column was this:
What is taking so long to get the AKC to have jump height cards for dogs? It's not rocket
science. Many folks already have permanent cards for agility that actually record the dog's
exact height using a wicket (attended) by a certified person. Have them copy the card and
mail it to the AKC to record an obedience height. Then the AKC can mail (obedience jump
height cards) to the owners. Then have VMOs (volunteer measuring officials) certified to
measure at trials. How come the agility program at the AKC can be so progressive and get
things done, and the obedience department is so slow?
Once the program was implemented, Linda told me in a followup conversation, the handler would be responsible for carrying the card to trials. If Fluffy looked too tall to be jumping 18 inches, the handler could whip out the card and the matter would be settled promptly, with no furr flying.
Linda's right, this isn't rocket science. So what's the delay?
Sue told me she was a member of the most recent AKC obedience advisory committee. "We talked about (jump height cards) at great length," she said. "The only answer (the AKC) could give us was that there's no money available for jump height cards."
Anyone else find that hard to swallow? There's money available to fund the cards in agility, isn't there? Ah, but it turns out the agility cards program is sponsored by Iams.
Now then, Iams is owned by Procter & Gamble, one of the world's deepest-pocketed companies. P&G has a strong relationship with the AKC -- as well they might if they want a leg up as they market their Iams and Eukanuba pet food brands. And it should be noted, Procter & Gamble isn't the only pebble on the sponsorship beach.
What we have here are judges John and Sue Cox bolstering the integrity of competition obedience by verifying jump heights -- albeit with a needlessy cumbersome process. And we have a simpler, more efficient process already in place in agility. And we have the AKC saying, "Uh, we don't have the money to extend that process to obedience." Here we go again, obedience as a stepchild.
So I congratulate the Coxes and I join Linda MacDonald in saying, "C'mon AKC!"