In a recent magazine survey the question was asked about fakery, such as coloring used on some show dogs. The answers were disturbing, if predictable - that many people felt if the "enhancement" was done "tastefully," then it was probably OK. Isn't that a question that we all struggle with throughout our lives, namely, "Is it OK to cheat?"

 

This is a much more dynamic issue than the simple surface concern, and is driven by core values we learn and develop as we travel through life. Certainly, we have millions of people who subscribe to the belief that you should "try" to be honest, but if, at the end of your life you ask forgiveness for any transgressions, then you will have passage to a peaceful eternal resting place.

 

To me this is a simplistic and inaccurate view of the whole existence question, but it is what governs probably most of the population on this earth. It provides much too much of a loophole - which is, well, if you feel you are justified in cheating, then just be sure to say you're sorry at a later point in time and it will probably be OK. After all, if the only judgment choices are heaven and hell, you just need to try to keep your score on the positive side of the checklist. Surely, no one is in hell simply for coloring his dog!

 

For me, the life experience is far more complex and far more longitudinal. I theorize that you assume responsibility for every action and every decision you make - you generate positive and negative energy from these actions and they determine what future lessons you must learn. You don't have to be caught by anyone, because the simple action generates the cosmic response. It allows me to live my life believing that every time I make a choice I must choose the right answer for my own good. It also frees me from feeling a need for retribution against others who have wronged me, or someone important to me. The universe has my back covered, so to speak.

 

So I think everyone must first extend themselves outside of their immediate daily toil and determine their own philosophy of their life experience. It is this fundamental understanding that will steer you in your choices.

 

Now we can come back to the question of cheating and fakery. First of all, what is it? How is it determined? Certainly a good measuring stick is to ask yourself how an ethical person would choose. A really good test is simply, "Would I talk about this freely amongst strangers?" In other words, would an objective source determine your actions to be ethical and moral? Of course, in circumstances of uncertainty, we have another reliable resource, "What do the rules say?" The AKC and every other kennel club have specific rules of conduct that specify what is considered fair and what is considered unfair.

 

Some people like to be contrary by saying, "Well, what one person thinks is cheating, another person thinks is fair." Yeah, well, not really. Is using white chalk in a dog to remove stains and brighten the color OK? Yes, we accept it because white is not normally considered a color that requires physical inspection to determine whether it is genetically desirable. If it were for a specific breed, then there would be a particular rule or standard of conduct for that breed. What about red, tan, black, blue, apricot? Here it is generally accepted that physical inspection of the color is required, because there are genetic determinants that can vary the quality of non-white colors and markings. Thus, if one alters these colors the physical inspection is misled and this is, indeed, fakery. Whether it was done with "taste" or not is of absolutely no consequence.

 

Can fakery be harmful to a breed? I will argue that indeed it can be very harmful to a breed. Without mentioning any names, I well remember being interested in a particularly charming Terrier breed and told, "That breed has terrible tail problems. Very few specimens have naturally correct tail carriage." Yet we see many of that breed being exhibited with what do appear to be correctly carried tails. Will that breed ever recover from having to be faked to enter the ring? I don't know how.

 

I use the terms ethics and morals because some activities fall into one category or the other. Surgically corrected tail carriage or ear carriage is unethical. Putting a coated dog on a conditioning regime of arsenic to increase coat growth may not be unethical, but because it endangers the life and invariably shortens the lifespan of the dog, it is immoral. None of those actions are honest or appropriate.

 

As the respondents to the survey indicated, fakery is tolerated by most judges in many breeds. This responsibility must squarely rest at the door of the AKC. I have been more than a little amazed that at an AKC event - an event in which specific rules are laid down - you can visit any number of vendors who are selling products which, if used, would constitute disqualification. You can easily purchase nose-coloring kits, and black, red, and brown chalk. AKC representatives absolutely permit exhibits they know to be faked to be shown and receive prizes. They absolutely permit judges to award faked exhibits. So naturally, the cognoscenti are aware that there are the "rules," and then there are the rules.

 

Why, indeed, do we have two sets of rules and what purpose do they serve? I suspect this issue is germane to the whole concept of fault judging rather than virtue judging, which is the mentality most judges use when evaluating dogs. We allow certain deviations, of course, but blatant things or faults which are easily discernable to the most inexperienced person are not tolerated. Why? I have no clue, except to say that I believe this strongly speaks to the level of knowledge of the adjudicator. When one has true expertise in a breed, it becomes clear that the lines between what an uneducated person would identify as a fault and what the expert identifies become blurred. The expert sees with so much more clarity, so much more depth, that any and all faults simply factor into the overall assessment. The uneducated will see little to no detail, but that blatant fault, that easily discerned shortcoming, is easy for them to see and thus prey upon.

 

I have a theory that many judges would actually prefer that the obvious fault be faked so they don't have to deal with it. My gosh, what wrath will the judge receive by giving the group to a Terrier whose tail is carried over its back? "Can't that judge see?" will be the roar of the ignorant crowd. I am still amazed that appeasing ignorant people is important to some judges.

 

As a handler, the professional's duty is to advocate for his or her client's dog. If the dog's appearance can be improved, the handler's duty is to improve the appearance so that the dog will have a greater chance of winning. This modification should be contained within the boundaries of what the governing body decides is acceptable. When we have judges who ignore those boundaries, then handlers and exhibitors will extend their correction to those areas that they are permitted to invade. While many handlers and exhibitors are governed by their own set of values and morals that respect the laws, others may have other philosophies of life and will venture into whatever territory they are permitted. Many people are driven to achieve their goals of public adulation at any personal cost to their spiritual growth.

 

The role of the judge is not to determine if the rules of the governing body are enlightened or correct or well-advised. They are required to uphold the rules. Personally, I believe disqualifications in most cases are moronic, as I believe fault judging is ignorant and self-defeating. Disqualifying a dog from being judged, if we are indeed judging breeding stock, says in effect that the particular animal should not be considered as a breeding animal. Breed clubs which institute disqualifications are saying they are so knowledgeable that they know without question which animals should never be included in a breeding program, and I feel this is the height of arrogance and conceit. But as a judge, one must operate within those rules. It is an overt agreement the person agrees to when accepting the license to be a judge.

 

The AKC representative is charged by the AKC to ensure that its events are held according to its rules. Why the AKC permits substances to be sold on the grounds of the show, the application of which constitutes disqualification, is well beyond my ability to cognate on the issue. By doing so, the AKC implicitly is permitting fakery in the ring. If the AKC feels it cannot even control the sale of these items on the show grounds during one of its own events, it should not have rules which say they are not allowed!

 

I will summarize my points here:

 

1) Judging dogs as breeding stock requires that we judge the genetically determined traits, and we cannot tolerate fakery that interferes with the accuracy of judgment;

 

2) Do not fault judge - judge for virtue, and you will encourage exhibitors to show their exhibits fairly;

 

3) Have the fortitude to award outstanding dogs even if they exhibit noticeable faults;

 

4) Adhere to the rules of the game - an even playing field requires everyone to be treated the same;

 

5) Enforce the rules of the game - do not make exceptions. Fix the rules if they are wrong; don't circumvent them;

 

6) Honesty will always pay off in the end.

 

Yes, we live in a very confusing and conflicting world. In the end, we must examine our own ideology of this life experience to help guide our actions. Admittedly, you don't get to choose the reality - you can only try to make the most educated guess you can about the rules that govern life. Realize that you cannot truly enjoy fruits of success if you do not do the right thing in every action you take.

 

I believe honesty is ultimately rewarded, and those who practice fakery are ultimately held responsible for their choices, and "Yeah, sorry," isn't going to get it. Make your choices carefully.

 
* This column first ran in the AUGUST 2005 issue of Dogs In Review