Navigating Juniors and Social Media

By Jessica Freni

Photos by Karen Hansen

Navigating social media is a tight rope walk in the “dog world”. It is a useful tool for breed visibility, reaching prospective pet families and keeping in touch with old ones, an opportunity to see a wider community of dogs in your own bed beyond your local shows, but it is not without risks and politics. Bullying and politics go hand in hand with social media, they’re nearly impossible to avoid, especially in a sport with competitiveness being intrinsic. As an adult competitor there’s ambiguity and gray area surrounding proper etiquette with judges and exhibitors. Is it OK to “friend” judges? Is it proper to show to a judge you’re friends with on social media, is it even possible to avoid? Should you “tag” judges in pictures- are there different feelings on acceptability of tagging in a candid or prior to exhibiting versus tagging judges in a win pictures? All things we must grapple with in ever evolving social media and how things “appear” to the judges themselves and to fellow exhibitors.

The topic of propriety on social media and dog shows is rapidly evolving and ambiguous, but can be even more frustrating for Juniors. They have grown up with access and presence on social media, most have Instagram and TikTok from a young age, many have Twitter and Facebook accounts. So, when social media is pervasive in their personal lives, how should Juniors navigate their hobby and social media?

Recently, a judge posted in a show forum concern and frustration surrounding Juniors and social media, the comment read “I just got a friend request from a Junior I’ll probably be judging on Thursday.  When will they learn?” The response to what seems a simple comment was overwhelming and mixed garnering over 600 comments in under 24 hours. There were lots of strong reactions, people were divided.

Patty Alleman, has over the years frequently mentored Juniors and was herself brought up through the Juniors program. Patty explains social media etiquette and best practices is a topic she touches in her mentoring. Patty says her advice on how to  navigate dog shows as a Junior on social media is,

“In the case of who you friend, always err on the side of caution. If you don’t know them in person, what is there to gain adding them and letting them see your posts and interactions on the daily? If you know a judge personally and have conversed with them and consider them a mentor, I think there are instances where that is permissible but you should be asking them first. Judges are tasked to be ‘above reproach’. We, as exhibitors, should never put them in a place to jeopardize their image. If you’re sending a request out of the blue because they are part of “Dogbook” and you see it as some kind of power play or even just expanding your social media presence, beware as it could backfire pretty quickly.”

At present, there is not a “Safe Sport” equivalent for Juniors in dog shows. AKC is lagging in this area with providing resources for Juniors and their mentors around safe and “”proper”” navigation of social media. Best practices are for parents and mentors to have a proactive discussion about social media presence and “appearances”, to monitor who is on their Junior’s social media circle,who is OK to send that “friend” request and that their Junior feels safe on social media from unwanted contact or bullying. Have spoken with the Junior in your life about social media, if so, what were your guidelines, rules and recommendations?