It was the fifth day of a five day circuit. We were hot and tired and wanted to go home, but the day’s schedule dictated that we didn’t get our wish. My friend and I sat in our grooming space, casually chatting, waiting for our ring time to come. We were minding our own business when a stranger approached us. She saw my Weimaraner in his crate and opened with, “I used to have a Weimaraner.”
“Great,” I thought to myself. “So did everyone else who approached me today.”
I peeled back my sarcastic thoughts, put a smile on my face, and engaged in mundane pet dog conversation. During the next ten minutes, we learned a lot about this stranger. She has a chocolate Labrador. She bought it from a breeder whose name escaped her. She has three kids and lives on a farm in rural Georgia.
We listened and half-engaged with the polite woman when she asked how she could get involved in this.
My friend and I offered the typical suggestions of contacting the breeder, taking classes or joining a club, all of which this stranger had tried in one fashion or another. She didn’t really know anyone doing dog sports, so she drove almost 100 miles to come to the dog show and see what she could learn. She didn’t want to do conformation, but rather try dock diving or coursing or even field work. She had seen other dogs doing these things, and just wanted to know how she could start.
STOP. Change of attitude. Stammering. Stumped.
After twenty years of involvement with purebred dog sports, I really didn’t have a good, concrete answer for this inquisitive woman. I realized that I take for granted the knowledge and ability we seasoned dog people have to “just do it.” For example, we see dock diving or lure coursing at a show and off we go with our pets or our top show dogs, and we sign up. Heck, with the AKC’s new Trick Dog titling program, we even march over to the AKC booth and teach our dogs new tricks. We aren’t intimidated because we are among like people with like interests, and we all know someone at the show if we need help.
Giving advice to a complete newbie with a different breed in a different area wasn’t as easy as it should be. Yet, this is something we should all be able to do if we are to encourage people to support our hobby and our industry.
Thankfully, my friend suggested the stranger go to the AKC Field Rep and pick up some literature. However, that was in a different building. Given that we had a quasi solution, I happily accompanied the stranger and introduced her to the Field Rep, explaining the question at hand. Mary Dukes, who was on duty at the show, jumped up and greeted this stranger with enthusiasm and quickly engaged in an conversation to help.
It occurred to me at this moment that the AKC could benefit from a program, perhaps in conjunction with Meet the Breeds, that helps new people understand the opportunities and activities, sports and titles within the AKC. For those who purchase their animals from breeders that already support AKC events, the need (in theory) isn’t as great. However, for all of the dog owners that buy animals from other breeders or pet stores, and we know there are many, this could help the AKC reach a much broader audience.
Certainly, this experience made me realize that I need to be able to answer this simple question much better in the future. After all, we should be able to help a genuinely interested person and be capable of bridging the gaps between performance and conformation.
If we are to see our sport prosper, we all need to band together. So, I ask… what advice would YOU give to a stranger that wants to get involved? I’d love to hear your thoughts and put them together in our next issue.
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