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Dog Show Newbies

February 7, 2023

Newbies, it is a term that has been tossed about forever, some people use in with distain, some with excitement, some with empathy and some with just downright meanness.

Dog show people always say young people are the future of our sport, yet they fail them time and time again. So, I thought to look inward and outward on some of the reasons why dog people can be so weird.

Once upon a time before the internet, finding a nice show dog was a weird and sometimes time-consuming process. You had to go to shows and meet people, you had to make phone calls and make personal connections, you had to know people to help you on your way. You had to join kennel clubs or training clubs. It was more in person or at least more personal communication. People could put ads in the newspaper or flyers up on their local areas and those already in the show world could use their club/show publications. National Parent clubs would have breeder referral person to return calls about finding quality puppies, but it wasn’t an easy road if you wanted to get into the “Fancy”. You actually had to know about the Fancy so often times the “newbie” wasn’t really all that new.

But those were the old days, not 2023, where the “young” people who want to get into dogs have a whole different path to enter the “Fancy”. Today, in our 24/7 instant access, people have a different mindset. They see our dog sports on Television (which the Fancy loves and hates at the same time), and think, I love dogs, that looks cool, so let’s give it a try. If you are a “young” person aka anyone under 40, you have always lived in a world where there was information available, everyone has an online presence, they have Social Media, businesses have QR codes that provide instant info, experts have blogs, podcast, YouTube and Tic Tock channels if you want to know or buy something you just go to the website and BOOM there is your info or entry into the information that you want or need. Easier and friendlier, too.

But…… The dog Fancy isn’t modern, it is controlled by an over 40 mostly female crowd who often don’t give a rat’s butt about social media or an online presence (other than gossip and bragging, I said I was looking inward) and they are busy and won’t answer your questions via text. The Big Daddy of all dog sport things aka the American Kennel Club and its website leaves much to be desired and many Breed Parent clubs may not be as helpful as they should be, this leaves a big hole open for those dog people who are often driven more by profit and ego to be the people that the “Newbies” can communicate and acquire dogs from in a way they are used to acquiring and learning things.

We have a new person who is excited to get started, they see the beautiful dogs, they have fallen in love with a breed, and they want to go play in the ring. They see adorable puppies and generation of winners sporting Kennel names and winning top prize, and they think, I WANT THAT! So, they go online and start researching. Lord help them if they start with the AKC website as all of us who use it know just how cumbersome it can be. So, they search and the find websites that are nicely done, they are updated with upcoming litters and lots of fun pictures, they have some show dogs on their pages and an easy way to contact them. The new person says, “Wow, cool, they are friendly and welcoming, and they have show dogs, and they answered my email or text. The new person now has a puppy they either paid a bunch of money for or signed a contract with the breeder for puppies or breeding rights, and off they go to the shows. With the ego or profit breeder as their mentor or with no help or support at all.

They go to the shows many times without support because the folks they got their puppies from are either not knowledgeable since they are only interested in the next litter, or the new person feels like they can do it on their own without help. They go to the shows, and they lose, and they lose again, and then again. They lose to the old ladies or the professional handlers again and again, and pretty soon, it is no longer fun, they don’t really understand why they are losing, and then they are disillusioned and bitter. Maybe their breeder keeps telling them that they are losing to “Faces” They blame the system, “only pros win”, the established breeders are nothing but gatekeepers trying to keep them out and from winning. They either don’t ask or stop asking for help or knowledge because they have decided the game is rigged and their dog is just being overlooked because they’re not a pro or part of the establishment. They don’t stop and really look at their dog or try to find out why they are not winning, not believing that just maybe, their dog isn’t up to the competition, maybe isn’t the dog they had hoped for when they got their puppy but instead of taking a step back they go ahead and breed their dogs and offer the puppies to other who may be their peers or even newer newbies and that does the breed NO FAVORS.

So how can we stop the cycle and welcome people into dogs? Performance people are much better at it than conformation folks. Is it because conformation folks feel like they really are gatekeepers? I have heard that more than once, where a long-time successful breeder actual say that, they say they are gatekeepers and dog snobs and are proud of it, shoot I have said it and been proud to say it and in some cases will continue to say it because as a heritage breeder it is my job to preserve, protect and promote my breed. But are we protecting it by locking people out? I am not talking about those folks who really are unsuitable based on their circumstances or goals, but what about those that we just do not take the time to know? Those that maybe do have a mediocre dog and could use some knowledge, do we blow in and tell them that their dog is “trash”, or do we try to get them to see the difference between a breed worthy dogs and beloved companion or sport dog? If we know their show dog came from Miss Make Money Mary’s kennel do, we automatically paint them with the same brush or do we welcome them into the grooming area, or sit with them during groups or invite them to lunch? Do we answer their questions with respect and kindness? Or do we just look at them and shake our heads and let them flounder away until they either give up or become just like Mary?

We know there are always going to be people who can’t or won’t take critique. They can’t or won’t look inward to see the differences between their dogs and the winning dogs. We know there are people who are just going to make excuses and there are going to be people who will paint everyone with the same brush and not see people and dogs for who there are, not who you assume they are.

So here are some notes:

Notes for Newbies – Don’t get in a hurry. This is a long game hobby. Don’t always go for the first or easiest puppy. Your long-time breeders generally don’t have a need to advertise, so it may take some time for you to get that winning breed quality show dog. If you have a dog already and it isn’t winning, stop and compare your dog not only to the standard of your breed but the consistent winners in your breed. How are they groomed and presented? Make yourself a mentee and become the lifelong learner, not a know-it-all newbie. Respect the knowledge, and again, no matter how bad you want it don’t be in a hurry. This is a passion and not really something you can buy your way into, even if it seems like that sometime. Don’t always assume that everyone is out to get you, or all the cards are stacked against you. Sometimes and a lot of times, the other dog is better.

Notes for the “Classics” or the Established Fancy – Answer the dang email or text! Put up a rudimentary, informational, and educational website. If a new person ring side, speak to them, don’t just look down your nose at them or their dogs. Don’t judge them based on their appearance! So, what if they dress differently or

have body ink or colored hair, just because they don’t look like your version of a dog show handler doesn’t make them less. If they ask you about their dog, be honest with your opinion and give the “why” and do it kindly, there is enough snark in the world. If you have a new person who wants to learn from you, teach them, don’t try and turn them into an acolyte. If you have taught them well, they will be a credit to you and your kennel.

Here are three stories I will tell; these are 1st hand stories about how the establishment shoots itself in the foot.

At a show stewarding for a foreign judge in a non-sporting breed with hair. An obvious newcomer walks in with a dog not groomed correctly. The judge takes the handler aside, get his comb, shows him how to comb and then points around the ring and says “ask these people for help with grooming, they can show you how”. After the breed was finished not one exhibitor spoke to the new person, I heard them discussing where his dog came from but not one offered to assist and gave off the vibe that he was not welcome to ask.

I am helping a friend by taking a dog ringside. I was new to that area, and this was not my breed or group, as I am standing ringside a couple of exhibitors in the breed said hello, or smiled at me and gave off some welcome vibes until my friend came up with their special who was winning quite a bit. Not one of those previously welcoming faces would make eye contact.

A Kennel club had a match during an all-breed weekend, they accepted the AKC’s email blast to purebred registered dog owners. A family who did not fit the stereotypical dog show demographic showed up with a toy dog and two little girls dressed in Easter Sunday finery. I didn’t see what happened at the match, but as the next club meeting, there was much fun being made of the family. It was years ago, and I still hold a grudge against them for their words and attitudes.
These are just a few of the things that I have experienced, I have been in the “Fancy” for almost 30 years. I am an old lady now who fits the demographic. What others who don’t fit the demographic must have experienced; I can only imagine.

This cycle must stop on both sides, newbies, and the classics. For the health and safety and longevity of our breeds.

I would love to hear some positive ideas. What have you as a breeder or exhibitor done personally to welcome newer people? What has your kennel or training club done to welcome new people? Let’s get busy and really advance the dog sports we love, not just for today but for the future.

Post a comment on the blog or hit me up on social media.

Twitter @Solsticecwc or on Insta @solsticecardigans

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 7, 2023 6:58 pm

    Jinnie & I “grew up” together in conformation as “young” owner handlers & breeders. It was a different world indeed! I’m in my 60s so had to learn from my younger puppy peeps @ social media, PayPal & more. Remember we are struggling too on our end! I always try to be welcoming & am willing to be helpful. I’ve offered my own equipment when folks showed up with a show lead etc. I’m always willing to help “the competition” cross over. Etc. Now as well as 30+ years ago. But I will say some things have changed IMO not in a good way. There is too much emphasis on the wins & too little on the breed: in too many ways it’s too much an “instant” vs “in the the long run” kind of thing in this century vs the last. The other thing, very much related I think, is I didn’t really expect anyone to be particularly friendly when I started out. I figured most saw a lot of folks come & go; plus I was a stranger to them (& it’s no surprise a lot of “dog ppl” aren’t exactly “ppl ppl”?). I figured I’d have yo show up, smile & simply pay my dues. And that did work, but I grant you a lot were just as stand-offish then as now. I’ve tried therefor yo not being that way & to always support my puppy peeps. But I’m more of an extrovert than many on dogs. So I’d advise folks to not take it personally. As Jonnie said, get a decent dog from a supportive mentor & life in show dogs will proceed a lot easier! Good luck all! 😁

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