A young family I know recently made a commitment to quality time by banning cell phones at the dinner table. It started as more of a dare than a serious lifestyle change. The husband is a marketing maven, the wife a high-powered lawyer, and the two kids own every electronic device on the market. One set of in-laws 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 art of conversation again each evening. Now, they even take an occasional low-tech weekend off to bicycle, hike, and picnic. Before the experiment, they came close to burning out. Today, they believe their family is much stronger for tossing phones in a basket before sitting down to nightly meals.
The sport of conformation is every bit as fast-paced. As we double- or triple-enter our specials around the country, check real-time show results online, and book hotel reservations a year in advance, traveling in the fast lane takes its toll. Leaving for a cruise may not be feasible for many of us on a tight budget and 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.
Back in the day, every club offered matches so young puppies and new exhibitors could learn the ropes. It appears, from recent posts on social media, that matches could be making a welcome comeback. If there is a match in your area, take advantage of it and commit to a day with one of your new puppy owners.
No matches available? Find a handling class. Leave your own dogs at home so you can give undivided attention to the owner and puppy. If you don’t have an owner to work with, offer your help to the newbies attending. Bring some show leads and bait. Remind yourself of the days when you were the new kid on the block.
Did you win a fabulous trophy at your last specialty or supported-entry show? Perhaps an original piece of breed-related art? Take a few minutes to browse through the catalog to find out who donated it. Then, show your appreciation with a handwritten thank-you note. Not an email, not a text full of emojis, 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 likely inspire them to donate again next time. It may even motivate you to pay it forward and do the same.
Read a Favorite Book
Long before e-books and blogs, venerable publishing houses offered breeders a treasure trove of educational volumes, written by many of the icons in our sport. Pick up one of those timeless books and curl up with a beverage to read or reread it. If you’re snowed in and have a fireplace, so much the better. 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. On top of that, she was an acclaimed cookbook author and former executive editor of Gourmet magazine. Reading Seranne’s book is like chatting with a wise favorite Aunt. There was no kennel program software in her day, so she instructed readers to use index cards for quick reference. Find books of similar vintage and enjoy the journey back in time, preferably with a dog’s head resting in your lap. Sage advice is always needed.
Great breeders know enough to be humble. They 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 out to lunch or dinner occasionally.
Years quickly turn into decades. 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.
Brush Up On Breed Standards
This one may sound like a surprising suggestion. However, you will be amazed at how important it is to reread your breed standard. Separating the printed word from the assumptions and preferences you’ve formed over the years is crucial.
Recently, I commented on the wonderfully big feet and thick pads of an old Afghan Hound on Facebook. A fancier of 40-plus years responded, asking when big feet became so important in the breed. I reminded her that in the first paragraph of the breed standard, “large feet” are stated as a requirement. She was gobsmacked. It’s easy, over time, to internalize what we believe is correct in our breeds. Rereading the standard regularly is an important way to guard against those natural tendencies, and reinforce printed priorities.
Write Out Pedigrees
We often get lazy about memorizing phone numbers because those details are programmed in our smartphones. Similarly, we may forget pedigrees because it’s become easy to call up names in online databases or using software. Back in the old days, we wrote out pedigrees by hand, and the information stuck. Today, not so much.
Recent studies have shown that we retain far more information when we write it out than when we type it. You may be sure no one is giving up their laptops and tablets. But just for the 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.
Make Time for Senior Dogs
For all the hopes we pin on our latest show prospect, or the endless hours we invest in conditioning an up-and-coming special, don’t overlook the white-faced senior in your pack that remembers when they were the show ring star.
Consider a playdate for your seniors at your local school when you give a talk on Career Day. Or, sign up for a weekly pet therapy visit or library reading program. It will put a new spring in their step and serve to remind you that there are simple pleasures in life that simply can’t be measured in ribbons.
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-approved judge of Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Tibetan Spaniels; on permit to judge a number of other Hound breeds.