By Love Banghart
As you become involved with a new breed, it helps to seek out an individual who can share their knowledge and experience with you.
Having a mentor is very much like having a good friend in a foreign country. They speak the language of the country. They know where to find the good things to buy. They know which items and what areas of the country to avoid, and they can educate you about the problems of the area. All of this knowledge is based upon firsthand experience. This friend's experience and knowledge will save you unlimited time, money, and heartache. And it's free to you - all you have to do is ask.
All too often, we are unaware of the great value that a knowledgeable individual can offer as we become involved with a new breed. As you grow and learn more, you will add additional mentors to your list of trusted resources, and you may disassociate yourself from early mentors if you find they have misguided you or lack the experience level you now are seeking. This is very much a normal pattern of learning and growing within the breed.
There are several ways to find a mentor. One is to contact the AKC Breed Referral representative for the breed. Each breed's national club designates an individual to serve in this role, and that person can put you in contact with a mentor in your geographic area.
A second method is to visit local dog shows. Ideally, you can attend six to 10 shows and become acquainted with the exhibitors whom you see consistently competing and placing favorably, and who are well thought of by their peers. These folks have obviously had some experience and have used it to move toward success. If the person you ask is not comfortable serving as your mentor, they will likely refer you to someone who helped them in the past.
A third method is to obtain a subscription to the publication of the breed's national parent club and become acquainted with the regular advertisers and club participants. Our breed's parent club, the Chow Chow Club, Inc., has a list of club-approved breed mentors on the club website. These individuals are recognized by the club to have met the required experience levels to attain the role of mentor and are always happy to help you.
When selecting a mentor, make certain that the chosen individual is truly breed-oriented, rather than kennel- or self-oriented. A breed-oriented individual will find good things to say about their competitors' dogs and dogs from other kennels and breeding programs, while a kennel- or self-oriented mentor will find goodness only in their own or associated bloodlines. Objectivity is a virtue of a good mentor.
Learn everything that you can from each and every experience, avoid making mistakes that have been made before, and talk, read, and listen - and vow to one day in the future share all that you have learned with a newcomer to the breed!
—Love Banghart, firstname.lastname@example.org, Chow Chow Club, Inc. (June 2013 AKC Gazette)