Dog owners are nothing if not fickle in their tastes. Breed popularity is cyclical through the years and, too often, based on a dog’s random star turn in a movie, TV commercial, or YouTube video (with little research done on the breed’s exercise and grooming needs.)
What Happened to Afghan Hounds?
Most people are surprised when I tell them I have Afghan Hounds. In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s they were all the rage. They stretched out glamorously on leather furniture and oriental rugs in upscale magazine ads, and no fashion model looked complete without a brace of well-coiffed Afghans accompanying her on the runway.
A typical Afghan Hound entry at the all-breed shows ranged from 100 to 150, with Open classes of 30. You spent the day at the Afghan ring. Today, they might as well be on the AKC’s official low-entry list of breeds. Entries at all-breed shows from coast to coast are often in the single digits, and even specialties draw modest numbers.
When I was a kid in the early ’60s, most urban families chose a dog from a handful of popular breeds we’d see on the street, like Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherd Dogs, and Poodles. My own family chose a Beagle and a Standard Poodle — one at a time! — while I was living at home. There was no internet, no personal computers; I read through magazines and encyclopedias, and we made decisions based on the size of our home and backyard.
Today, I work in a large, progressive veterinary clinic in a medium-sized, affluent Southern city. On any given day, we are sure to see Cavaliers, Frenchies (many of them a lovely shade of disqualifying blue), Bulldogs, Great Danes (99 percent of them uncropped), Maltese, Shih Tzu, Yorkies and, of course, oodles of doodles.
If I happen to mention, in conversation, that I have Afghans, I am usually met with, “Oh, I think my mom had one of those growing up. We never see them anymore.”
No, we don’t see them anymore, unless pet owners attend a dog show in person or watch one on TV. So how do we, as breeders, exhibitors, and fanciers, reintroduce our once-familiar breeds to a new generation of owners? It takes some creativity to expose our wonderful breeds to today’s dog-loving public.
How Do We Make an “Old” Breed “New?”
Running errands around town? Take one or two of your dogs along! No one will care that they’re not in regulation show coat. In fact, a cutdown version makes the perfect live model to explain that grooming of a longhair breed does not have to become an all-consuming chore. From Starbucks to Home Depot to the bank, dog lovers still clamor for a look, a hug, or a selfie with a sweet, friendly representative of a purebred dog. Bring business cards, be approachable, and offer to help guide them to a good breeder of whatever dog they are considering.
Schools still have career days and show and tell. Find out when the next one is scheduled at your local school and volunteer to come in to discuss the life of a dog breeder, groomer, veterinarian or dog show judge. Bring a grooming table, some clippers or shears, and work in a demo. Make the presentation relevant by discussing what subjects (biology, genetics) would be helpful to a student wanting to pursue this career path. I guarantee that a low-tech visit with a couple of dogs will be infinitely more fun for students and teachers than a dry PowerPoint presentation. Today’s kids get a ton of those. If there’s a local dog show coming up, be sure to promote it, with a flyer or coupons for free admission.
Community parades are a fabulous way to include purebred dogs. From St. Patrick’s Day to Gay Pride to Halloween, there are opportunities to dress up your canines and get in on the action (and the great PR!) with purebreds. Don’t forget to call the local cable news station and offer to do a short segment to promote the event. Irish Setters for St. Paddy’s Day, a Canaan Dog to plug a big Passover exhibit… turn your imagination loose!
If you’ve never experienced the joy of visiting a hospital ward or senior citizens’ home with a retired show dog, you owe it to yourself to explore this activity and see the human-animal bond at its best. These are troubled times we live in; we can all benefit from an extra dose of kindness. The one afternoon or evening a week that you commit to this activity will warm your heart and put pep in the step of an older dog. Be prepared to hear older residents and patients tell you, “Why, I haven’t seen a Saint Bernard [or Collie or Afghan] in years.”
As a new year draws closer, let’s reintroduce our wonderful breeds to the public and make them more visible.
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 approved judge of Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Tibetan Spaniels.