Jabberwock Cairn Terriers of St. Paul

Ethics and Sportsmanship

Some say that, owing to intense baby-boomer competition for status, jobs, and income in the current economy, a belief that "anything goes" has become rampant. But, time and again, what people report, at least, as core values (ie. The Golden Rule), have been shown to be stable across activities, cultures, and time. (1)  The modern reaction to moral relativism has been a resurgence in interest in teaching and applying ethics, based on solid core values, in many settings. It is important, as well, to apply solid-core ethics to the hobby of breeding purebred canines and to sport involving purebred canines.

While ethics of "right versus wrong" includes identifying clear violations of various "codes of conduct," much of "doing ethics" concerns thinking through and resolving conflicts between two or more attractive choices, the "right versus right" decisions. (1) This is the less-black-and-white, more thought-provoking arena where codes of ethics and law fear to tread: manners. (2)

The effect that poor ethical manners have on our canine-related activities needs to be examined.

In sporting events, there are rules and limitations agreed to by all entrants that make the game fair and interesting tests of skill.  There are the "no hands" rules in volleyball and international "football" (soccer), for example.  In addition, focusing on the hobby of purebred dogs, in the "games" or "sports" of conformation (dog show) and performance events (agility, obedience, etc.), simple courtesy, welcoming, and promise-keeping are crucial.  Most agreements are formalized by a hand-shake and a verbal promise between friends. When honoring promises and maintaining trust take second place to competitive advantage, manipulating de-facto ownership, or simply "stealing a dog," to win more shows, the manners of the hobby and purpose of the game are violated. On the ethical side, the relevant term describing appropriate, game- and opponent-respecting behavior, or ethical manners, is simply "sportsmanship." (3)

As in all human activity, the assumption of fairness is regularly challenged, and ethical manners must be upheld. In the heat of competition, to some, winning has unfortunately become more important than cordiality and fairness of the sport itself.  Ignoring both rules and manners, the cheater decides to do whatever it takes to win.

Inadvertent or thoughtless, spur-of-the-moment violations are normally dealt with during the event by some form of judging or confrontation.  More intentional, even planned, lapses, must also be confronted.  If not by judging, these violations need to be addressed by club ethics committees or, as in 19th century Britain among gentleman cricketers, peer sanction.  It may be enough that a serious lapse in ethical manners is exposed and a reputation muddied.  Cheating was just not good form.

Serious violations of sportsmanship amount to disrespect for the game and for one's fellow competitors. (3)  Ironically, violations also indicate a cheater's lack in confidence in his or her ability to compete on a "level field."

Ethical lapses redefine the game as not fair; in fact, cheating transforms the sport from a collegial celebration to a cynical manipulation.  Any variety of serious cheating, including a currently-alleged campaign to arrange judges’ favorable decisions at Club and national specialties months before the events, defeats fairness and guts the meaning of the competition and the meaning of any awards given, especially to the cheater.

The "Perfect Storm" is the meeting of intense competition and a few unmannered breeders and handlers within canine hobby organizations that are voluntary associations.  People join voluntary associations because they anticipate enjoyable, meaningful, and ethical activity.  Participants anticipate fellowship with people whom they trust.  When sportsmanship is not valued and practiced for its own sake, there is no paycheck to hold disappointed new or long-time members.

Some of these folks, often citing "nasty politics" or "selfish behavior," just vote with their feet. Clubs cease to grow, budgets disappear, and the club becomes a collection of clueless "old hands" left to wonder why membership and show participation have faded.

We desperately need a "new normal" in the hobby, based on the primacy of solid-core ethical manners and sportsmanship and relating "winning" to second place!

Moral relativism? Anything goes? Would you spend hundreds of dollars and weeks of free time preparing and presenting your purebred canine for a conformation show (or even a performance event) that was unwelcoming, unpleasant, or even "fixed?"

For the preservation of the hobby and sport of purebred canines for the vast portion of ethically well-mannered participants, any behavior based on unmannered cynicism with clear evidence of violation of the word and spirit of the CTCA Code of Ethics needs to be exposed and severely sanctioned.

Let's all have the moral courage to respect the game and respect each of our well-mannered colleagues!

1.  Kidder RM.  How Good People Make Tough Choices. New York: Harper. 2003.
2.  Moulton JF (Lord).  Law and Manners. The Atlantic Monthly, July, 1924:1-5.
3.  Butcher R, Schneider A.  Fair Play as Respect for the Game. In Ethics in Sport,
   Morgan W. (ed).  Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics. 2007.