Showsight December 2017

Becoming: Encouraging Young People to Compete


chose the right path. Most of the people I know who have been hugely successful in the dog world played a combination game of politics and merit. I expected to get noticed for my good work, while they made sure people in the right places noticed them when they did good work – or any work. It’s been a real struggle to advance in a world that rarely identifies competence without being pointed towards it by somebody with a loud voice and lots of political connections. I learned a lot, but never made it into the inner power circle of that club. Fortunately the next club I joined operated much differently, though the occasional internal power struggles were still exhausting. This brings me to the question I raised with this

success would attract as many people as it always had. Surely the club would recognize competence and reward it with praise and plaques. Except it doesn’t work like that. Patience is no longer a virtue, it’s a hin- drance to forward progress. As with every social change, there are positives and negatives. While I love the world-wide connections technology has made possible, I am also discovering that depth of understanding and knowledge is not being transmitted at the same speed. I don’t know how to shorten the learning path for true understanding of a breed standard. It took me 5-10 years to truly under- stand the finer points in my breeds and to be able to distinguish great dogs from merely good-enough dogs. It’s been a life-long process of training my eye to see what I need to know in a few seconds. I did not rely upon pictures, I relied upon hands-on tutoring with mentors, some that I saw only once or twice every year. Sometimes I’d verify what I thought I was seeing in photos with hands-on examinations and eyewitness accounts of movement. That was useful until photo- shopping made virtually all photos irrelevant to deter- mine a dog’s quality. Yet shopping from photos and video is how current buyers are selecingt the breeders from whom they want to purchase a dog. It’s easier to shop the magazines than do the leg-work and study required to truly learn a breed, then search for the best to buy. Grooming breeds have particular challenges because so much can be hidden with good grooming and expert photoshopping. As I have been mentoring new breeders and judges in bedlingtons, I am con- cerned that none of them know the breed should have flat shoulder blades, or even what that means. Even fewer seem to understand how to recognize or breed a V-front, not just scissor one in. These are breed char- acteristics that are easily lost if breeders don’t pay attention. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Maybe, in our Fast New World, none of this really matters. Maybe we should just accept that breed judg- ing has morphed into a grooming contest, and a gener- ic understanding of movement. Maybe I am wrong – again – in my approach to dog show competitions. Maybe, to attract new, young exhibitors we should just give in to the world they are used to experiencing. If a dog looks like a picture of the dogs they see in mag- azines, or is ranked #1 then look no further – that must be the best one. If it has a head, four legs, runs fast and is beautifully groomed, who cares if it should have a rolling gait or flat shoulder blades, or a pendulum front or a prominent sternum? It’s still a pure-bred if not always a well-bred dog. Then all we have to do is teach grooming, conditioning and training to our sport’s newcomers. That will take far less time than teaching them the finer points of the breed standard,

article’s title. How do we interest and encourage the current generation of young people to join clubs and compete with their dogs? They are not used to functioning in a world that expects them to “pay their dues” for a long time before they are noticed. They are used to a world that is increasingly being influenced by technology, and they know they’re the ones who understand how to utilize the technology better than the oldsters they will replace. They are used to having a lot of options, and have no fear of moving to a different passion if the one they’re in isn’t paying back the emotional or financial

While I love the world-wide connections technology has made possible, I am also discovering that depth of under- standing and knowledge is not being transmitted at the same speed.

rewards they expect. The younger people today have witnessed changes happen at a phenomenal rate, and assume this is the way things have always been. They pay a lot less attention to the wisdom of older people, and a lot more attention to their peers in a world of rules they are redefining and making up as they go. This is really uncomfortable for those of us who learned the dog trade at the former snail’s pace. We studied with the masters, read books, attended a lot of training sessions, bred some puppies, learned some more, went to a lot of club meetings and Specialties and were generally content to wait our turn for great- ness to find us. Surely the good judges would find our superior dogs. Surely the public would want to buy our well-bred, predictable, healthy puppies. Surely the young people coming up after us would want to learn from our expertise. Surely a slow, measured path to


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