If you’re interested in learning as much as possible about dog sports and want to participate in a meaningful, hands-on way, joining your regional breed club is an important connection to make. It is a natural complement to membership in your local all-breed kennel club. The all-breed club will afford you the opportunity to learn what it takes to put on a dog show and will probably offer handling classes where you can hone your skills. However, no one else in the club might own your breed. National parent clubs typically have stiff requirements for membership, including documented breeding and showing experience. Regional breed clubs provide the perfect stepping-stone, allowing newer fanciers to meet those with more experience and learn about their breed at the grassroots level.
Owners don’t always buy their first show prospect from the closest breeder. That means the breeder may be on the other side of the country, or perhaps even a continent away — supportive by email but unable to provide hands-on grooming or training help. This is where the regional breed club can be invaluable, pairing up newer exhibitors with experienced mentors who can guide them through the intricacies of their dog’s growth spurts; teach them about lure coursing, field work, or Earthdog trials; and help them prepare for their first litter. Club meetings are informal, putting new people at ease and making them more inclined to ask questions and volunteer for committees.
The educational possibilities are endless, limited only by the imagination of the members. Depending upon your breed, there might be opportunities to try herding, carting, water work, and other performance events; attend grooming demos in the coated or corded breeds; and learn about pillars of the breed who live in your part of the country. Decades ago, a few regional clubs in my breed, Afghan Hounds, held “wet matches” — getting out the water hose on a hot summer day, wetting down the dogs, and judging their structure under the coat. These events were fun and educational, typically ending with a barbecue or potluck dinner. There are lots of other creative themes that clubs can explore.
The tension at dog shows is palpable. It’s an expensive sport, and the stakes are high. It’s important to give yourself an outlet to enjoy your dogs and the people who share your passion in a relaxed setting, away from the show venue. Business executives organize retreats to clear their heads and find that these are enormously productive. Regional breed club meetings provide a similar, much needed time-out. We can form great friendships when we spend the day together, breaking bread over a common interest. The rushed, “show and go” events favored today make forging such friendships more challenging.
Organizing a club meeting around a puppy party, where members’ litters are evaluated, is hugely educational for all participants. To have several longtime breeders weigh in and share their knowledge provides an unparalleled opportunity to learn. Putting a first trim on puppies would make for an equally educational meeting. The conversation around the room at such an event can’t be replicated by sitting at a computer and watching a Facebook video.
Volunteering for a regional breed club teaches important skills to future parent club officers, stewards, and judges. How to run a meeting; how to run an election; how to present a brief, well-organized report; how to produce a newsletter that entertains the members or write press releases that successfully bring out the media to your next event — all are skills that can be learned by taking on a job in your regional breed club, and will give you the confidence to volunteer for these positions at the parent-club level.
Asking a local stewards’ group to attend a meeting and share its expertise will benefit the club and its members, as would a talk by a breeder-judge on the process of applying to judge. These are important skills many breeder-exhibitors think about, and it’s especially useful to hear the conversation they would generate in a meeting.
The flexibility and informality of a regional breed club make it a perfect educational vehicle. If you are fortunate enough to have one in your region, support it, and enhance your own knowledge at the same time by joining.
Allan Reznik has been an Afghan Hound fancier since the early 1970s and also owns and exhibits Tibetan Spaniels. He is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster, who has served as editor-in-chief of several national dog publications. He appears regularly on radio and TV discussing all aspects of responsible animal ownership. Reznik is an AKC permit judge of Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Tibetan Spaniels.