From the monthly column "BECOMING" by By Jacquelyn Fogel, ShowSight Magazine, October 2017 Issue
I am no longer too shy or embarrassed to talk about being a dog breeder. Much as I’d like to blame my former quiescence on the AR people and their disdain for breeders, the problem was internal to me. As a former white collar professional, I was a little embarrassed to say proudly that I was a dog breeder. It sounded, so, well, mundane. I didn’t think it sounded interesting or special. It was just something I did that made me happy – like sailing a boats or playing poker make others happy. I knew how much I didn’t enjoy heating about those hobbies, so I naturally assumed nobody wanted to hear about my passion, either. The animal rights movement added another layer of doubt onto my willingness to talk about breeding, but the reluctance had started long before that movement took hold in this country. I don’t know why other people’s passions seemed so much more interesting than my own, but they did.
Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that most people own or have owned a dog, and perceive themselves as canine experts. Someone with a passion for sailing can be assured that few people in their audience will share this passion, or even own a sailboat. Everything they talk about is new to the listeners. Same thing with people’s occupations. Even an accountant can seem interesting to people who do not deal with numbers and finance every day. And anyone with a CPA is at least widely respected. While most of us can balance a checkbook, few of us know anything about managing the finances of a corporation. The stories these people tell are interesting because their listeners readily admit they don’t know much about the topic, and will often ask interesting, if not mundane, questions.
Then there are dogs. I have learned over the years that everyone who has ever owned a dog considers themselves to be an expert on all things canine. Even worse, if they find out you own a dog, they all think you want to hear about every cute thing their dog Fido has ever done. They immediately pull out their phones to show you dozens of Fido photos, and excitedly tell you every detail of their pet’s life. It was always easy to not talk about my own life in dogs because everybody else always had their own Fido stories to share. I just had to listen, smile and nod as they droned on. Nobody ever asks you how you manage your 18 dogs, or wonders about how you plan a breeding program or manage the genetics of your bloodline. They don’t want to know any details about whelping a litter, or the critical life-stages you monitor as the puppies grow. Few people train their dogs, so they don’t even ask you for tips or advice on training. Some want to tell you why their Goldendoodle is the best dog they’ve ever owned, even though they know you breed pure-bred dogs. I used to try to inject something about most dogs being wonderful, but usually got shut down with the F1, F2 hybrid nonsense the producers of their dogs fill their heads with. One thing is certain – few people want to know about the life of a breeder. Even most veterinarians look at you sideways when they find out you’re a breeder. You can almost see their thoughts as the words come out of your mouth, “Oh, you’re one of THOSE.”
Yes, I am the same person who has spoken often about developing an elevator speech for why purebred matters. I can talk for hours about the problems in retail rescue, and why monitoring dog-related legislation is important for every pet owner. I often discuss problem behaviors and dietary issues with people, but it’s usually related to their dogs, not mine. I can talk about what’s happening in the AKC, and I am often asked about whether or not I go to Westminster, though that conversation usually devolves quickly into what I like about New York City, and there’s a lot to talk about on that subject..
What I rarely lead with is. “I am an AKC breeder of Basset Hounds and Bedlington Terriers, and I own a boarding kennel.” Usually the kennel part comes first and that immediately opens the doors to the other person’s Fido stories. Lately I have reversed my traditional response to the question of what I do. I have decided to lead with my life-long passion instead of the occupation I chose to support that passion.
This week I had a meeting with an advisory board for a local career college. Several of the board members were new, so introductions were required. I tried out my new opener when they asked for my name and occupation. The room went completely silent. Nobody there knew how to react to a breeder being on their board. I was fine as a groomer and boarding kennel owner, but breeder was not what they expected. The committee members were polite as we did the work we were there for, but none of them tried to engage me in conversation. When the meeting ended and most of the members started leaving, I positioned myself near the new young veterinarian who was overseeing the programs. I explained that I was not spending time in the cat rooms because of my allergies, and I was disappointed that there were no dogs on site, so the people learning to become vet techs had no opportunity to work with multiple dogs. He is a very pleasant young man, and our conversation quickly morphed into a discussion of vaccination protocols and canine nutrition. Before he could start to lecture me on his beliefs, I started telling him about my 45 years of practical breeder’s information. He started to contradict a couple of things I said, but I quickly told him that my 45 years of real-life experience had taught me otherwise. He was shocked to learn that I had a current Merck Manual and a Plumb’s Veterinary Medication Handbook – and even more astonished to learn about a widely used protocol that prescribed daily fenbendazole for pregnant and nursing dams. I suggested he refer to his Plumb’s Manual and he would find it there. He said he was astonished at my medical knowledge, and I suggested that he get out and meet more breeders and animal farmers in real life.
Our conversation then shifted. He began treating me like a co-professional instead of a novice, and he started to ask me some very different types of questions. My favorite was when he asked if I knew anything about German Shepherds. I responded that I was no expert in herding dogs, I breed hounds and terriers, but I would try. He said his German Shepherd was sort of high-strung…… at which point I stopped him and asked if he knew what the pure-bred dog he kept in an apartment was developed to do. “Well, they herd, of course! “ he responded feeling quite smug. And I countered with, “You know, of course, that not all dogs in the herding group were bred to move animals around, right?” I got a blank look from the vet and I continued. I explained that German Shepherds were bred to be perimeter guards and not only did they have to travel great distances, they had to have highly tuned instincts to distinguish in a moment who was prey and who was predator. They were bred to be herd guards, not herd movers. Now just imagine why all of the German Shepherds you see have such beautiful long strides, and always behave as though they’re looking for something. What you are calling high-strung has been bred into these dogs to make sure they can do their work. Then I asked him what he was doing to make sure his dog had plenty of exercise and intellectual stimulation appropriate for his breed. The young vet looked me directly in the eye and said, “I feel really stupid. They don’t spend any time on behavioral issues in vet school, and I really don’t know anything about why certain dogs behave differently from others. Thank you.”
I then went on to briefly describe the Early Neurological Stimulation program that Carmen Battaglia writes about, and explained that Carmen is a German Shepherd breeder, and he may want to address some of his questions to a real expert on the breed. I also talked about the reproductive work done by Marty Greer, and pointed out that she is a Corgi breeder. Then I told him that AKC breeders of pure bred dogs were becoming extinct, and he should start now to figure out where the next batch of breed-related statistics was going to come from since nobody collects good data on mutts. I finished by suggesting that he get to know the younger Amish breeders in Indiana who are trying to make a difference in the world of pure-bred dogs because when the AKC breeders are gone, they may have the only purpose-bred dogs left in this country.
By then the young vet’s head was swimming, and I had taught myself to be proud of my work as a breeder of AKC dogs. I followed up by sending the vet links to Carmen’s ENS articles and a link to a “Dog Talk” interview done with Craig Curry who is an advocate for the Indiana Amish breeders. I hope he reads and listens, though I have not heard back from him.
Breeders must learn to own and take pride in what they do, and be confident enough to talk to people about being breeders. Too many people think breeders are bad. Don’t fall for the, “I only buy rescues,” – and respond with a variation of, “If that dog wasn’t pulled from a burning building or a flooded rooftop, then it wasn’t rescued. It was intentionally bred by somebody who didn’t care one bit about it’s health, behavior or purpose, and was sold to make money. So-called rescues perpetuate the growth in poorly bred dogs by supplying endless buyers for those intentionally, and poorly, bred dogs.”
We have to take back our story, and we need to start telling it out loud, to as many people as we can. We cannot afford to be shy or embarrassed. We need to be proud of the hard work we do as responsible breeders of well-bred, purpose bred dogs. The people in this country still love their dogs. Many of them are beginning to realize that there are significant down sides to purchasing recycled dogs of unknown origin. So I want to suggest that the next time somebody asks you what you do, look them straight in the eye and lead first with,” I am an AKC breeder of purebred (fill in this blank with your breed).” Then begin your own story about how you chose that breed, and why they are such great dogs. You don’t have to just listen to all the other Fido stories because you have your own story, and it’s way more interesting.