I HAVE recently been contacted by an ex-junior of great experience and expertise who is now a highly successful breeder, exhibitor and judge in their own right. Their wish is for me to air an issue that they have come across while keeping the anonymity of those concerned, as it is the general issue not the specific circumstances that are important in this case.
The circumstances I have been told are that recently at a club show the finals of the junior handler of the year were held. There were three contenders, two girls showing male dogs and the third girl showing a bitch. However, the bitch, by the handler’s own admission, was in full season. As you can imagine the handlers of the two males were unable to do a thing with them which had the result of handing the title on a plate to the girl showing the bitch. Now all three handlers are of an excellent standard and the bitch handler is more than capable of winning in her own right. She had apparently been offered another dog to show but preferred to stick with her usual charge. In fact the handler’s family own at least two other dogs they show themselves.
So the question this raises which I’ve been asked to look at is: “Is there an unwritten rule about showing bitches in season in junior handling or is it just down to the handlers’ discretion? I know that bitches are shown in season in single sex classes, but I do feel that it really is not sportsmanlike to show an in-season bitch in mixed classes. I was wondering if you could shed some light on the etiquette of showmanship in junior handling. Your thoughts through your column would be gratefully received.”
Well here goes. We are definitely back in the grey area here! There are no firm and fast rules, so in effect the handler is free to decide for themselves. This is exactly the same in breed competition, it is the exhibitors choice whether to show a bitch in season and if so in which circumstances. These can vary and you will find that there are different norms in different breeds. I suspect many would now quietly show an in season bitch at championship shows in single sex classes. These days with the cost of entries being so expensive and having to be made well in advance the temptation to show is taken probably more than was the case in the past. Of course, those who are campaigning males will still have quite a lot to say about this and you will hear the words greedy or selfish. Other breeds are often judged in the same ring, shows are held over more than one day and you still have the issues of being at the show during dog judging. Those of us who show regularly know all the arguments for and against.
So, with no clear cut policy to follow from breed perspective, where does that leave junior handlers? Technically in exactly the same place, it is the choice of the individual. However, my own personal view, and I hope I would be in the majority here, would be that this would be most unsportsmanlike. Handling is always judged as a mixed class and so the dogs are in the ring with the bitches, to show a bitch in these circumstances is hardly fair on any scale. I would hope that handlers wish to win on merit and not by default. How could a judge assess in this situation? Impossible, I would have said. When you add to this that other dogs were easily available I find the handler’s actions even harder to understand. Unwritten rule or not I know where I stand on this one. Whatever you are doing in breed, in junior handling classes if your bitch is in season find yourself something else to handle or don’t go in the class. I’m sorry if this sounds harsh but it is where I would stand on this one.