It’s September, and everyone is in back-to-school mode. Are you looking to get your pup involved in a few extracurriculars? Here are some suggestions for ways you can become further ingrained in the dog community, either through your breed club or another organization.
Handling classes are always in demand. Many new owners are embracing the beginner 4-to-6-month-old puppy classes offered at more and more shows. But novice dogs and their owners in need of practice don’t always have access to nearby handling classes. If your kennel club has considered giving classes, you could offer to help find a suitable space, such as a church basement, community hall, parking lot, or baseball field. If the need exists among local exhibitors, but there is no club holding classes, take the initiative and organize your own classes, gathering a small group of experienced breeders to alternate as instructors.
Purebred dogs and hobby breeders benefit from positive exposure, and school is a great place to get our message across. If you have school-age children, you already have an “in” with the teachers. If not, make an appointment to visit your local elementary school with one of your well-groomed, well-mannered show dogs in tow. Offer to give a presentation to students and teachers on responsible pet ownership, or maybe a talk for Career Day about working with dogs as a handler, groomer, trainer, or veterinarian. Your dogs are sure to captivate the audience, while your talk may inspire a few young people.
More shows are offering “Meet the Breeds” presentations, and they are hugely important for allowing the public to get up close and personal with our dog breeds. Volunteers and demo dogs are always needed. If you haven’t staffed a breed booth before, this is an easy way to give back to the sport and your community. Sign on for a half-day or one day of a two-day show weekend. Rotating people and dogs keeps everyone fresh and engaged. Be sure to stock the booth with parent club breed brochures, membership forms, sample newsletters, and information about your next specialty or supported show.
When did you last hold office in your kennel club or regional breed club? If you answered “can’t remember” or “never,” isn’t it time you stepped up to the plate and took on a job? This is especially true if you’ve been known to complain about the typos in the club’s published minutes, disorganized meetings, lousy refreshments, ho-hum judging panels, etc. Take on a job and help improve things. Computers and social media have made many of these tasks much easier. Volunteers can feel underappreciated after years of doing the same tasks, so offer some relief before friends burn out and are lost to the sport.
What are you doing to encourage newer people to enter the sport? Some of the most exciting moments at a dog show take place in the Junior Showmanship ring. If you don’t have children, or your kids have no interest in the sport, but you see youngsters at the shows who hang out at your breed ring to watch the judging, think about offering one of them a co-ownership on that nice dog of yours that finished quickly, but isn’t likely to be your next special. Parents of juniors, already immersed in their own breed, may have little interest in taking in a puppy of a different breed for their child, but might be fine with a young champion. Or you can keep the dog at your house, but have the junior (or his family) pay entry fees and groom the dog at shows.
Therapy visits are a phenomenal way to do a good deed, be an ambassador for purebred dogs, and give an older dog a new lease on life. The medical community endorses the many benefits that visiting dogs can bring to long-term patients. Seasoned show dogs are already accustomed to meeting and being stroked by strangers, so they can often be well suited to the activity.
Finally, why not make good on your promise to explore a new dog activity? If you feel like you’re on autopilot, showing your dog in conformation weekend after weekend, maybe it’s time to dabble in Earthdog, lure coursing, agility, or rally. They’re informal and fun activities, can prove that your dogs still retain the instincts the breed was bred for, and don’t require hours of intricate pre-event grooming.
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.