A phrase we hear more and more these days is helicopter parents — people who micromanage their child’s every decision and movement. Often they take control and do tasks on their offsprings behalf no matter their age. In fact, for many helicopter parents, their grip grows as their children get older according to experts.
Today we have our share of helicopter breeders, too; just replace the word “child” with novice or prospective show dog owner. Just as helicopter parents obsess over the quality of friends their child will make, the quality of teachers who will be privileged to instruct their brilliant offspring and the national academic standing of the schools they attend, so helicopter breeders micromanage the day-to-day activity of their new puppy buyers. In truth, helicopter breeders will proudly tell you that far more would-be owners are turned away than accepted.
Is it any wonder that many novices, in their frustration, end up buying a dog from a less-than-stellar breeder but one who will actually relinquish the dog without crippling contracts that read like pyramid schemes, demanding half a litter back from the next two, three, or even four breedings? Others look overseas to breeders who maintain a high profile on social media and are prepared to send a dog here without the lifelong stranglehold than many American breeders impose.
Facebook show dog groups and dog club newsletters abound with first-person accounts of serious novices who have been refused a dog directly because they’ve never owned the breed before. Classic Catch-22. How will they ever become owners if good breeders deny them the opportunity? These novices are often smart, university-educated professionals with well-paying jobs and fenced backyards. They are willing to take handling classes to show their own dog or else they can afford to hire a professional handler. If they were resourceful enough to reach out to a top breeder, why wouldn’t they be considered smart enough to learn how to groom and care for the breed they love?
Helicopter breeders will mistakenly call themselves responsible mentors. But a true mentor, after assessing a novice and considering her worthy, takes the leap of faith and sells her a dog, trusting her to put into practice what she has learned at the mentor’s knee. Mistakes will inevitably be made, but with the mentor’s guidance, they will probably be small, fixable ones. While friendships can last a lifetime, active mentoring is a finite process. Successful mentors eventually push fledglings out of the nest and sign off on dogs when protégés have lived up to their commitments. They act on behalf of the breed and want to see new fanciers blossom and thrive, eventually mentoring their own new generation of protégés.
The large foundation kennels that gave many of the old-timers our start in dogs are a thing of the past. Most active breeder-exhibitors today keep just a handful of dogs and might produce two or three litters a year, if that. It might be argued that having bred more litters, the large kennels of yesterday could afford to be more generous to novices, and less controlling. Maybe. I think the old benched shows were a more positive vehicle for fostering face-to-face friendships and a generosity of spirit. It’s easier to ignore faceless email requests.
However many or few litters each of us breeds today, part and parcel of the process is finding great homes for all the puppies, teaching grooming and breed care to every owner and encouraging any novice who expresses an interest in showing. We would have far fewer mentors and experienced fanciers around if generous breeders back in the day had not taken that all-important leap of faith to welcome us into the sport.
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. Allan is an AKC permit judge of Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Tibetan Spaniels.