Whether you are just entering the world of purebred dogs or have been a breeder, exhibitor and participant for many decades, joining your local and national dog club is hugely beneficial. You will derive different benefits from different organizations but all will contribute to your ongoing education in the sport.
Your Local All-Breed Kennel Club
If you are just getting your feet wet and need to learn the basics, your local all-breed kennel club is your go-to source for knowledge about the sport. Go online to find your nearest dog club, reach out to introduce yourself and you will be invited to attend the next meeting as a guest. Don’t worry that the members don’t own your breed; the knowledge of raising dogs, training them for competition and putting on shows transcends any one breed. If the club runs weekly handling classes, start dropping in with your puppy. You will learn how to handle your dog with confidence, and hear about upcoming shows and seminars. You will also make many friends and find a mentor to guide you. In the early days, having some friendly faces at ringside rooting for you unconditionally, as well as offering some useful handling tips, is so important.
Established breeder-exhibitors are the lifeblood of any club. Your willingness to teach a session of handling classes or take a newbie under your wing will help the club prosper and the sport to carry on. No doubt a local club contributed to your dog knowledge as you were coming up through the ranks, so it’s important to pay it forward and help the club continue to sustain itself.
Your Regional Breed Club
Fanciers of popular breeds are lucky to have a host of local breed clubs around the country, serving their breed at the grassroots level. For breeds that are less popular, there is usually a regional Group club offering breeder-exhibitors of Terriers, Hounds, Toys, etc., the opportunity to work on specialties and attend meetings that feature knowledgeable guest speakers. Making friends with people in related breeds will broaden your circle, improve your grooming and handling skills, and give you the confidence to take on some volunteering work for the club, whether it be stewarding, hospitality or producing the newsletter.
Experienced members are needed to help choose judging panels, put on annual specialties and organize performance events. Don’t wait until club officers burn out to run for a position that will make use of your skills. We all have commitments to our jobs, our families, and our own dogs, but if we love this sport each of us needs to step up and do some heavy lifting. Part of our responsibility is also to guide newcomers who will become the mentors for future generations if they are treated with respect and encouragement.
Your National Parent Club
Parent clubs are the national organizations that oversee the welfare of their breed. They host an annual specialty which is typically the largest breed event of the year, sometimes lasting a week, often rotating around the country, and including everything from seminars and field trials to art auctions and lavish banquets.
Some parent clubs are very inclusive about welcoming new members to the fold. If you have an interest in the breed, you are treated like family with a minimum of red tape. Others are more formal, requiring prospective members to have five or more years of documented involvement in the breed. Happily, most all parent clubs offer an associate-level membership for newer people with less experience; associate members can’t participate in elections but receive all the same educational benefits and perks that regular members do. They can also volunteer to work on committees and contribute to the club newsletter or magazine.
Since it is parent clubs that approve the formation of regional breed clubs, I’ve always thought it makes sense to be a member of both. Newcomers who want to learn about their breed and get to know the elder statesmen and women who shaped the breed should join the parent club. Introduce yourself to the club historian, the newsletter editor, the specialty show chair, and volunteer your skills wherever you think you can contribute.
For established breeder-exhibitors, membership in the parent club shows longtime commitment to the breed. A club’s membership directory should read like a who’s who of noteworthy fanciers. Annual membership dues are less than the cost of a weekend’s dog show entry fees.
Facebook chatter is no substitute for membership in dog clubs. It’s the clubs that put on events, and if that tradition is to continue, breeders and exhibitors must support our hardworking clubs. Whether a newcomer or revered breeder-exhibitor, there is a place for you in your local and national clubs.