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Russell Terrier having a spa day with a towel and cucumbers on its face.
©Sonja -

A family I know recently decided to get serious about spending quality time together. It began with banishing cell phones at meals in favor of face-to-face communication. The husband is a high-powered lawyer, the wife a university professor, and their kids own every electronic device on the market. One set of grandparents got tired of seeing everyone’s dropped heads hanging over smartphones and jokingly issued the challenge.

Not only did the family meet the goal but they have come to enjoy the lost art of conversation again at mealtime, and even take an occasional low-tech weekend off to hike, bicycle, and picnic. They came close to burning out before the experiment, and now believe their family is the stronger for tossing their phones in a basket before sitting down to a nightly meal.

Conformation is every bit as fast-paced. As we double-enter, and even triple-enter, our specials around the country, check show results online in real-time, and book our national specialty hotel reservations a year in advance, moving in the fast lane can take its toll. Taking a cruise may not be realistic for many of us on a tight budget with a houseful of dogs, but there are ways we can step away to catch our collective breath, slow down, and renew our love of the sport in the process.

Go to a Handling Class Without a Dog

Remember matches? Back in the day, every club offered them so young puppies and new exhibitors could learn the ropes. Matches are much less common nowadays, but if you hear of one in your area, take advantage of it and commit to an evening with one of your new puppy owners.

No match? Find a handling class you can help at. Leave your own dogs at home so you can give your undivided attention to the owner and puppy. If you don’t have an owner to work with, offer your help to the newbies attending with whatever breed. Bring some bait and extra show leads, and remind yourself of the days when you were the new kid on the block.

Saying ‘Thank You’ Never Gets Old

Were you lucky enough to go home from your last specialty or supported-entry show with a fabulous trophy? Take a few minutes to browse through the catalog to find out who donated it. Then demonstrate your appreciation with a handwritten thank-you note. Not an email, not a text full of emojis and abbreviations, but an actual note that requires an envelope and stamp.

In this day and age, it will be cherished. This simple gesture will warm the heart of the trophy donor and inspire them to donate another trophy to the next specialty. It may motivate you to pay it forward and do the same.

Appreciate a Mentor

Great breeders know enough to be humble and acknowledge that they stand on the shoulders of the master breeders who came before them. Honor the mentors who have made a difference in your life by inviting one to lunch or dinner. Years quickly turn into decades, and we all have special people in our hearts who no longer breed, exhibit, and come out to shows. Make time for them while you can, and express your appreciation for the knowledge they shared unstintingly.

Dust Off a Favorite Book

Long before blogs were a thing, the dog world could rejoice in venerable book publishing houses that offered breeders a treasure trove of educational volumes, written by many of the icons in our sport. Pick up one of those great books and curl up with a hot cuppa while rereading it.

One of my favorites is The Joy of Breeding Your Own Show Dog, by Ann Seranne, published by Howell Book House in 1982. Seranne was, with her partner, Barbara Wolferman, the breeder-owner of the hugely successful Mayfair Barban Yorkshire Terriers. In her “other life,” Seranne was an acclaimed cookbook author and an executive editor of Gourmet magazine. Reading Seranne’s book feels like chatting with a favorite aunt. There was no kennel program software in her day, so she advised readers to use index cards in a recipe box for quick reference!

Find books of similar vintage and enjoy the nostalgic journey back in time, preferably with a dog’s head in your lap. Sage advice is always needed.

Write Out Your Pedigrees

Just as we get lazy about memorizing phone numbers, even our own, because those details are programmed in our phones, we can forget pedigrees because it has become so easy to call the names up in an online database or using kennel software. It was only a few decades ago that we wrote out pedigrees by hand, and the information stuck. Today, not so much.

Studies have shown that we retain far more information when we write it out than when we type it (or dictate it to text!). You may be sure no one is giving up their laptops and tablets but just for the sheer pleasure of it, and to test your own memory bank, write out some pedigrees by hand. You’ll find yourself picturing those dogs in your mind’s eye as you inscribe their names. It is a simple yet meaningful exercise that will reconnect you with the long-gone greats behind your breeding program.