Competing in Subjective Sports: Dog Shows vs the Olympics
Amanda Kelly is back with host Laura Reeves to look at dog shows, which as we all know are an incredibly subjective sport, through the eyes and the lens of the subjective sports that we watch in the Olympics. This first of a two-part conversation examines the topics of “substances” and “subjectivity.”
“I think of substances from a dog show point of view, I think it's maybe not a whole lot different than from an Olympic point of view,” Amanda said. “Maybe the type of substances differs, but the underlying issue is the same. So we talk a lot in the dog show world about foreign substances and in the sports world in general cheating and drug use always comes up. It doesn't matter what sport it is, there is always some way to cheat.”
“There's some shading, right?” Laura asked. “There's the cheating (that ranges) from ‘I put in an extra nuticle in my dog's scrotum because he only had one, to I put some white chalk in my dog after it was muddy.’ So there's a range here.”
“So, it's always an interesting thing when you kind of take yourself out of something,” Amanda noted. “We take ourselves away from the dog show world and we look at an example in another context and then come back and reapply it, what a different perspective that you can get.
“What I think of when I look at this whole idea of substances and cheating at the Olympics and then I turn from that and I look at the dog world, I think I see maybe from a more Bird’s Eye view the scale and how we've normalized things that are on one end of the scale. So, for example, I don't think any of us would blink at chalking a dog, putting hairspray in its hair, any one of a number of things. A little bit of chalk to cover up that scar or the white bit on its nail or a nose kit to darken in a nose. What about a hair switch in a poodle? So, these are things that I think that we have normalized.
“I think that all of us will, in a conversation, say there are things that are absolutely wrong and lines that we absolutely will not cross. Having that conversation with yourself early on and then sticking with it is important. It can be very difficult. I think what we can do here, in this conversation, is just put it in front of people that everybody is going to have their own line.”
“One of the things that I read was that in the aftermath of having changed their judging system (for Olympic Figure Skating in 2002), what they observed was that in the elements of scoring that had a subjective element, so a more subjective element say the artistic aspect, there was an observer bias that they noted. They could replicate it across many competitions and it indicated that that observer bias determines about 20% of the mark given by a judge.
“This isn't my bias that I like such and such a person or I like such and such a dog. It might be a bias like an unconscious bias that I like black poodles more than I like white poodles, or I like this trim more than that trim, or I like a dog presented in a certain way or I prefer this particular head style or those sorts of things.
“When we ask a (dog show) judge to interpret words like ‘slightly’ or ‘moderately,’ where is the clarity as a reference for them? To me it's a compounding issue because we're asking them to interpret things that we don't always equip them to do and on top of that they also have their own personal bias that comes into play.”
Listen in for more of this absolutely fascinating and enlightening conversation. And check back for the "rest of the story" when we talk about sportsmanship and courage.