A Myriad of Mentors

By Cindy Vogels

Defining your current priorities is key to choosing a mentor.

Afriend was keeping me company while I was stewarding at a recent show. When I expressed interest in learning more about one of the breeds that was being shown, she immediately suggested I contact a mutual friend who is in charge of education for that breed's parent club. "Gee," I said, "I haven't seen her for ages." "Well," my friend said, "she's kind of burned out on dog shows and doesn't go much anymore." Hmm, I thought to myself. We have so few shows in our area; this one is in her backyard and she's not here. Should I contact someone who is so out of touch?

I thought about this question as I looked at the recommendations on selecting a mentor that are provided by the breeders' education committee. I realized that qualifications can vary. It occurred to me that different types of mentors might be useful at different stages of a breeder's development. Some qualities are absolute requisites. A mentor should enjoy interacting with others, be able and willing to communicate in an understanding, compassionate manner, and be good at evaluating breeding stock.

At the most basic level, in other words, a mentor needs to have a good "eye" and the ability to pass on knowledge. So, you might find very useful mentors outside your breed or even outside the world of purebred dogs. This kind of mentor is not going to be able to tell you where to breed your bitch, but sometimes an outsider's viewpoint can contribute unbiased, useful opinions. You might have a friend who breeds cats, horses or some other animal but has no specific knowledge of dogs. This person could nonetheless be a helpful mentor.

Mentors From Other Breeds
On a different level, mentors who are in the sport but not necessarily involved in your breed might possess extensive experience in many important areas, including planning breedings, handling both natural and artificial breedings, stud-dog management, and whelping, rearing, training and placing puppies. Such mentors know how to locate useful generic resources, and have familiarity with the rules and regulations of the AKC, particularly registration forms and breeding-record requirements.

Joining an all-breed club is one way to take advantage of the vast wealth of knowledge possessed by experienced breeders outside your breed. Such an alliance allows you to interact with fellow breeders in a noncompetitive forum that can be mutually beneficial.

Mentors From Within Your Breed
A mentor from within your breed is invaluable. In addition to providing breed-specific knowledge in the areas mentioned above, such mentors should also have a solid background in the history and function of the breed, an in-depth knowledge of important bloodlines, and the ability to discuss the pros and cons of particular breedings and provide advice on possible stud dogs. They should have extensive knowledge about breed health, including any genetic problems and the availability of testing and registries.

Novice breeders need the kind of help that can only come from mentors who actively breed and exhibit. Most often, the breeder of your first show-quality dog will be your first mentor. If your breeder does not live near you, you should find a local mentor with whom you can attend shows and evaluate breeding stock and litters. When your primary mentor does not live near you, you should plan to meet at a specialty show so you can watch the entry and talk together in person.

After some time in the sport, a breeder can make use of an experienced mentor who is no longer active. Such "old-timer" breeders offer a valuable historical perspective, and they are less likely to be affected by whims of passing fashion. Longtime breeders generally turn to mentors outside their breeds and sometimes outside the sport, as described above.

Judges
Judges who serve as mentors generally fall into one of two categories. Active breeder-judges are much like other breeders. They possess an intimate knowledge of a breed, enhanced by the additional insight that is acquired through judging. Breeder-judges who are no longer active provide a slightly different slant. No longer influenced by their own breeding programs, they tend to have a broader outlook, looking for a whole dog that closely fits the standard. Although they might not feel comfortable advising someone on breedings, these judge-mentors do get to go over a lot of dogs. Thus, they can often provide information on dogs in various parts of the country (or world) that might otherwise be unknown to a breeder.

Getting back to my original query concerning whether a mentor who is inactive in the sport can be useful, I believe such mentors can be an excellent resource for experienced breeders. Nevertheless, I think the ability to provide the kind of extensive, up-to-date information that is necessary to aid a new breeder, or to chair a national club's education committee, requires participation at dog shows in the form of exhibiting or judging. Just as we advise potential puppy owners, whether they are looking for a pet dog or a show dog, to purchase their dogs from an active breeder-exhibitor, we should also encourage newcomers to seek the counsel of those who are most actively involved in the sport.

Cindy Vogels is a breeder-judge from Littleton, Colo. She has bred Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, Kerry Blue Terriers, Welsh Terriers and other breeds for almost 30 years, and she judges 18 terrier breeds.

AKC GAZETTE articles are selected for their general interest and entertainment values. Authors' views do not necessarily represent the policies of the American Kennel Club, nor does their publication constitute an endorsement by the AKC.