Four decades ago, when I first became interested in Lhasa Apsos, I sought out experienced breeders and exhibitors whose dogs I admired and who were willing to share information. They shared their time and knowledge and answered my endless questions, and I learned from watching and listening. There were far fewer dog shows per year then, and there were plenty of weekends free for visiting, attending fun matches, and learning from one another.
Fast-forward four decades, and we find seasoned fanciers and newcomers are hard-pressed for a spare moment, much less a weekend. Top show dogs log enough air miles to qualify for premier frequent-flyer status. American workers are spending more time on the job than ever before, and the daily commute consumes hours formerly spent with family, friends, or enjoying our dogs.
We spend less time talking to one another or reading books, and more gleaning information from the Internet at odd hours. The information age has presented boundless opportunities for learning—but at a price. We rely less on relationships with others to learn or solve problems, and we tend be more isolated. Too many newcomers and many not-so-new to the breed fail to recognize that experience is based on growth, which makes the difference between one who has many years of experience versus another with one year of experience repeated many times.
Mentoring is a time-honored way to promote learning, but it is more than tutoring. It involves sharing vision and values. The guidance provided to me by my early mentors went beyond how to whelp a litter, groom a show coat, or study a pedigree, though I learned all those things. I learned that no one escapes problems; how one deals with them is what sets us apart. Most importantly, I learned that how we reach our goals is more important than the records we achieve.
Opportunities abound for those seeking mentors, but they’re not going to come banging on your door. Seek out breeders or exhibitors whose dogs you admire—not for just their winning record, but also for their good reputation. Ask when they have time to answer questions. Observe. Be a good listener.
Find more than one mentor based on what you want to learn. One may represent the breeder you wish to become, while another may be a master groomer. Having a mentor in a different breed is invaluable for learning the subtleties of conformation and movement. In exchange for the time a mentor gives you, offer a helping hand when they’re busy, based on your skills and abilities.
Successful relationships require mutual respect. Establish yourself as a person of integrity who can be trusted to use what you learn for the best purpose. A good mentor will help you develop to achieve your goals, not theirs, provided you share the same values.
The ribbon one wins today is quickly forgotten. The knowledge we share and relationships we nurture last beyond our lifetimes. Find a mentor, or become one.