The Resolution Solution: Show Your Support for the Dog Sport
From the January 2018 Issue of ShowSight Magazine.
Here we go again. Another New Year’s Day has come and gone, and we’ve told ourselves that this is the year we’re going to get in shape, lose weight and give up caffeine. Nevermind that by the third week of January most of us will have already had our cake and eaten it too — and washed it down with a steaming cup of café au-lait or a Diet Coke. But don’t fret, all is not lost. Though failure to stick to a New Year’s resolution can bring about a post-holiday melancholy for some, it can just as easily cause a reassessment of priorities. Maybe our waistline isn’t what’s really important this year. Maybe we should focus instead on a goal that’s larger than ourselves?
Here are 12 resolutions to consider for the coming year that anyone in the dog sport can embrace for the benefit of everyone else.
Breeders—Choose an Heir
Forty or fifty years is a long time to commit to a family of dogs, so why risk it all when you’re unable to continue? If you haven’t done so already, consider sitting down with your most trusted protégé to discuss the past, present and future of your kennel. Open those scrapbooks to introduce your eager student to your foundation bitch, most influential sire and the watershed dog that fixed “the look” of your dogs. Talk about the pitfalls that exist in your dogs’ pedigrees and where the greatest strengths are to be found. Prepare to pass on the records of every registration, health test, semen collection, microchip number and DNA profile. Provide a contact list of the veterinarians who know you and your dogs well. Hire an attorney to make the transfer of your life’s work legal and binding. Your legacy — and the future of your breeding program — depends on you.
Owner-Handlers—Extend an Invitation
You enjoy showing your dog, so why not tell a friend or coworker to join you at your local show? They could assist you with loading and unloading, and you can offer to buy lunch and answer their questions: No, we don’t have to wear clothes that sparkle. Yes, the dogs are (usually) having fun. Yes, the handlers do put dog treats in their mouth and hide squeaker toys in their brassiere. Your friend’s perspective may help you to see your hobby in a whole new light, and there’s a chance that she may want to join you next time. Just be sure to introduce your friend to your show pals and their dogs. Who knows, you might end up playing matchmaker to a coworker and a Coton de Tuléar.
Professional Handlers—Lead by Example
It’s no secret that the true professionals in the dog game work harder than just about anybody else. Along with your 24/7 workload and grueling schedules comes a commitment to the ideals established by organizations such as the PHA. Care of your animals is paramount, of course, but also expected from you is the highest level of engagement with those who may not be as dedicated to the rigors of life on the road. This includes novice exhibitors and judges alike. The desire to win should never become a zero-sum game, and it should never result in poor sportsmanship or bad behavior. Top professionals deserve the respect that’s earned, but so does everyone else. Always lead by example.
Assistants—Listen and Learn
Handlers’ assistants have a front-row seat (alright, maybe a back of the cargo van seat) to the very best talent in the business. You get to participate in everything that goes into the care, preparation and presentation of show dogs. You learn to bathe, brush and blow-dry to perfection and, if the stars align just right, you get to step into the Best in Show ring and beat your employer. Although a behind-the-scenes role might seem insignificant to some, there’s really no better place to view a great performance. Though the audience gets to experience the “magic,” the “craft” can only be observed from the other side of the curtain. Keep your mouth closed and your eyes and ears open and you will learn your craft. Remember, even Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tom Brady and Gabriel Rangel had to start somewhere.
Juniors—Get in the Whelping Box
Although many junior handlers come from dog show families—and some even get to show dogs bred by parents and grandparents—only a lucky few participate in the whelping and raising of litters. This apprenticeship is not as common as in days gone by, but it remains critical to the future of purebred dogs. If you’re a breeder in need of someone to entertain the puppies, find a youngster who has some time to spare. And if you’re a junior with an interest in breeding, don’t be afraid to reach out to a breeder with a dam in whelp and offer to help. There’s no better way to understand that behind every great show dog is a dedicated breeder with a lot
of experience to share.
Breed Clubs—Organize a Meet-the-Breed
Promoting your breed to a general public that’s beseiged with designer dogs, doodles and rescues is no easy task these days. It’s harder than ever to compete with a “purebred dogs are bred for function” message when a dog’s primary function today seems to be that of a “furbaby” in need of pampering. Perhaps the only solution for this predicament is to reinforce the idea that every dog deserves a good home, even those that come with a pedigree. If breed club members and their dogs gathered once a month to hike through a local park or stroll through town, the attention created would be a PR boon. Imagine the positive reaction generated from the sight of a bevy of Bouvier, a horde of Havanese or a pack of
All-breed Clubs—Retool your Website
News flash! It’s the digital age. This means it’s time to bring your club’s website into the 21st century. Although having a “member’s only” dropdown can serve a useful purpose, search engines today will bring more visitors to your site if you include “pet friendly” features with plenty of photos. If part of your club’s purpose is to promote your breed, there’s no better way to do this online than with images that showcase the dogs. Photos of Herding dogs running with children, water dogs swimming alongside surfers or Toy dogs playing with bigger toys are the kinds of memorable images that appeal to today’s tech-savvy dog lovers. Think of Instagram as a classified section of a global newspaper with an expanding circulation and you’ll begin to understand how a picture can become to useful tool for breed preservation
Ring Stewards—keep smiling
Every exhibitor’s experience in the show ring begins with an interaction. By asking the ring steward for an armband, the exhibitor has iniated a conversation that can quickly go south if the steward isn’t in the best of moods. If you’re the steward, any shortness on your part is understandable. After all, how long can you be expected to remain civil when you’ve yet again been asked, “What class is the judge on?” Of course your patience is stetched to the breaking point. However, deep breathes and a well-rehearsed smile could see you through. Not only will they appease the most unprepared exhibitor with two left feet and four dogs to show, they will also do wonders for your blood pressure and prevent you from sneaking a drink between breeds.
Judges—Study the Standards
It’s great to reward a dog when it’s level of presentation is of the highest calibre and its performance on the day raises the bar to a whole new level. But it’s equally important to remember that the job of judge is to reward the exhibits that most closely meet the breed standard. Having every hair in place and “nailing” a free-stack are not good enough reasons to award Best of Breed (unless the dog in question is free from disqualifying faults and possesses the details of correct type to a marked degree.) If you judge, please remember that any ringside spectator can appreciate a good performance. However, only you are tasked with making the kinds of selections that impact
Field Reps—Introduce Yourself
Most interractions between exhibitors and AKC Conformation Field Reps happen when something has gone wrong. In many cases, a grievance of one kind or another leads to the introduction, and this usually results in a bad first impression on both sides. Angry exhibitors eventually learn that Field Reps are familiar with the rules and regulations of conformation shows and are well-prepared to respond to disagreements that arise between exhibitors, judges and show committees. They also learn that Reps are deeply devoted dog people who’ve traveled many miles in their shoes. So, instead of waiting for a crisis to occur, introductions could be made well in advance of any alleged infraction. A genuine “hello” is still the best way to start a relationship.
Superintendents—Deliver Good Customer Service
It’s easy to think that dog shows simply “happen.” Superintendents do such a fine job to ensure that everything runs smoothly that it’s easy to imagine those rosettes appear on the judges’ tables out of thin air. However, dog shows are not so much about ribbons and rosettes as they are about dogs—and people. As you’re working hard to keep the show running smoothly, you’re increasingly being asked to deliver results in real time to a global audience that’s demanding more and more. Setting up the gates and tents is the easy part. Delivering good customer service, on the other hand, requires a skillset that can meet hi-tech expectations and keep a low profile on the ground.
AKC—Consider a Little Rebranding
The story of the American Kennel Club spans three centuries and is deeply rooted in tradition. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that the organization can sometimes appear to respond slowly to outside forces that impact the lives of many dog-loving Americans. The AKC has been undercut by various online “registries,” and the “adopt don’t shop” mantra has all but tarnished the image of dog breeders in the eyes of many. Nevermind that “rescue” dogs have replaced purebreds as a status symbol. Given these realities, maybe now is the time to consider a little “rebranding” of the AKC for an America that prefers to shop online for dogs that have their own Facebook page. Maybe it’s time to launch a new marketing campaign that meets the demands of today’s devoted dog lovers. Maybe it’s time for AKC to represent “All Kinds of Canines.” Maybe it’s an idea
Volunteer! Everyone who participates in dog shows can make a difference by committing to just one resolution in 2018.