What Are Friends For?
David Fitzpatrick of Pequest Pekes says mentoring is as satisfying to give as it is to receive.
A friend called the other day to report that his new puppy had won a major, a first major win for his owner too. I was very pleased for him as I remembered his start in the breed a few years ago. He did not start at the top, his stock needed much improvement to get to the point where the results could compete for a major win.
Pekingese are a difficult breed to get a start in. Declining in popularity at shows, good breeding stock is hard to come by. Breeders do not always want to part with their best bitches as they need to carry on their own breeding programs. Litters are small, averaging two to three. A newcomer often has to accept the challenge of breeding up.
My friend whose pup had won the major has worked hard to improve his dogs and listened carefully to my advice. He was a good student who you could take pride in. It is enjoyable to share your experience and knowledge with new people in the sport.
“Will You Be My Mentor?”
Analyzing people showing dogs this past weekend, I asked myself some questions: Why do the same people always seem to have the better dogs? Why do some people usually have the same average quality animals? Why do some people improve their stock and move up the ladder of success?
Finding a good mentor you can work with can make the difference between success and failure, breeding average dogs or breeding outstanding examples of your breed. When I started breeding, my first litters were pets. In the ring if there were five in the class I would go fifth with my little dog.
Mentoring was not a word used commonly then in the dog world. If you wanted to learn you would help, observe, ask questions, did whatever it took to absorb knowledge from the people who were successful. Shows were often benched making it easier to pick the brains of the top dog people. Everyone was there for the whole day not just an hour or two. There was a captive audience and if you were willing to learn you had a unique opportunity. People did not realize they were mentoring, they were just sharing their knowledge and trying to help eager young people with a passion for dogs.
Today people come up to you and actually ask, Will you be my mentor? I always say yes, and many follow up on the request and stay in touch and learn. One mentor, or role model, I always think of to this day is the late Peggy Hogg, unsurpassed as a handler and breeder of talent. She was also blessed with a lovely nature and wit. I learned much from watching her work at the shows, she was always willing to share her experiences. To this day when having a problem I will ask myself, What would Peggy do?
Another mentor of mine is Mr. R. William Taylor, of Canada. A world famous judge and breeder, a true gentleman in a not always gentle sport. He is always willing to share his encyclopedic knowledge of dogs. From Mr. Taylor I have learned so much about the essence of breed type.
Also Bert Easdon, of the famous Yakee Pekingese, is another who freely shares his experiences. Though he lives far away in Scotland, I have probably learned more about dogs from him as anyone. A natural breeder of animals, he could probably breed rabbits and in a few generations have the best rabbits in the world. His funny, commonsense sayings are always ringing in my ears.
Make the Right Match
If you are hoping to climb the ladder of success, whether it be as a breeder of quality stock or as a successful handler, finding a good mentor willing to guide you and take you under their wing can help you follow the right path.
Try to find someone you admire and respect. You should feel comfortable with that person, as you will have to hear plenty of constructive criticism. Mentors love to pass along their stories of triumph and tragedy. Hopefully you can extract some pearls of wisdom. They may have to guide you through a difficult whelping in the middle of the night, teach you how to evaluate the subsequent litter, and probably give you advice as to how to socialize and train, when to start showing them, and help advise when it is time to breed them. You will be amused at times by your mentor and at times not pleased to hear the truth.
It is important to ask yourself, What are my goals? If the answer is to breed and show the finest stock possible, capable of competing on a national level, then find a mentor who has achieved that. Find someone at that level and figure out what they had to do to get there.
Mentors are more willing to invest themselves in someone who is sincere, earnest, hardworking, and that they can relate to, rather than someone looking for instant success. Keep your expectations realistic for your time spent in dogs.
Everybody makes mistakes and has failures—that is part of life. Your mentor can help you learn from the failures and hopefully avoid those pitfalls the next time around. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses; your mentor can point them out and help you develop your eye and skills to become a top breeder.
Without my role models and mentors I would not be enjoying as much success in this world of dogs. Many are not with us today. Many I am sure did not think of themselves as mentors but were just sharing stories, giving advice, taking an interest in someone young and enthusiastic, possibly much like themselves at one point.
Being needed and making a difference in a person’s life and in the dog world is a rewarding payoff. Seeing quality dogs in the ring, ones you had a small hand in creating, is the ultimate reward and your contribution to keeping the sport moving forward.
David Fitzpatrick, of Pequest Pekingese, is the American Kennel Club’s 2009 Toy Group Breeder of the Year recipient.