Longtime dog people will tell you one of the smartest things you can do to learn the sport from the ground up is to join your local all-breed kennel club. This continues to be great advice, even with the wealth of online information available today. An all-breed club will teach you what it takes to put on a dog show, and most offer handling classes at a nominal cost where you can hone your skills.
However, it is very possible that no one in the club owns your breed. National parent clubs typically have strict requirements for membership, including a certain number of years of documented showing and breeding experience. Regional breed clubs offer that important bridge to newcomers, allowing you to meet other fanciers in an informal setting and learn at the grassroots level.
What Regional Breed Clubs Offer
Owners do not always buy their first show prospect from the closest breeder. That means the breeder may be located at the other end of the country, or even a continent away. They will be supportive through emails and texts but can’t help with hands-on grooming or training advice. This is where the regional breed club can be invaluable, matching up newer exhibitors with experienced mentors who can guide you through the specifics of growth spurts and coat changes; training your young hopeful in fieldwork, lure coursing, or herding; and planning your first litter. Club meetings are relaxed, putting novices at ease and making them more inclined to ask questions and volunteer for committees.
The educational opportunities are limitless. Depending upon your breed, there may be the chance to try carting, water work, Earthdog, and a host of other AKC performance disciplines; attend grooming demos; and learn about, and from, pillars of the breed who reside in your part of the country.
Decades ago, a few regional clubs in my breed, Afghan Hounds, would hold “wet matches” during the summer months. We’d get out the water hose on a hot day, wet down the dogs, and judge structure under all the hair. It was also fun to bring out the older, long-retired dogs so new people in the breed could put their hands on influential hounds of the past that would otherwise just be names on a pedigree. These events were both educational and entertaining, typically ending with a barbecue or potluck dinner. There are lots of other creative themes that can be explored by clubs.
Dog shows are stressful. It’s a costly sport and the stakes are often high. Matches are a rarity today, and the Beginner 4 to 6 Month class at shows has time constraints and requires appropriate exhibitor attire. It’s important to give yourself an outlet to enjoy your dogs and the people who share your passion in a relaxed setting away from the tension of dog shows. Business executives attend retreats to clear their heads and decompress. Regional breed club meetings provide a similar, much-needed time out.
Learning and Growing
Organizing a club meeting around a puppy party, where members’ litters are graded, is highly educational for all participants, not to mention a great way to socialize puppies. To have several longtime breeders weigh in and share their knowledge provides an unparalleled opportunity to learn. Putting a first trim on puppies would make for an equally educational meeting. The conversations around the room cannot be replicated by sitting at your computer and watching a Facebook video.
Volunteering for a regional breed club teaches important skills to future parent club officers, stewards, and aspiring judges. How to run a meeting according to Robert’s Rules of Order; how to run an election; how to present a brief, well-organized report; how to produce a newsletter that informs the members, or write press releases that successfully bring out the media to your next event; all are skills that can be learned by taking on a job in your regional breed club, and will give you the confidence to volunteer for these positions at the parent club level.
Inviting a local stewards group to attend one of your meetings and share its expertise on the subject will benefit the club and its members, as would a talk by a breeder-judge on the process of applying to judge. These are important goals many breeder-exhibitors think about, and it’s especially useful to hear the conversations such topics would generate.
The flexibility and informality of a regional breed club make it a perfect educational vehicle. Go to your parent club’s website to find the regional clubs closest to you.