For the Newbies
In a former life as a national training director, I taught many classes and seminars on “What Is Success and How to Attain It.”
Inevitably, we would discuss the importance of setting goals – realistic goals – and having intermediate steps to achieve these. We would also talk about learning from mistakes and “failures,” which are simply steps along the way.
So why do so many people enter our dog-show community and leave quickly? A friend told me, “Today's competitor seems to want instant success. A study showed that the average new competitor goes to six shows and, if not successful, quits.”
The expectation of instant gratification is one symptom of our present-day “digital civilization,” but maybe we can suggest a few blueprints for “success.”
One reason for this quick dissatisfaction might be caused by the breeders who sell every puppy as a “show prospect.” Just as we all are not born to be athletes, not all puppies are born to be show dogs. That doesn’t mean they can’t bring joy and love to their forever homes, or be shown at some level. Even though there is no plan for instant success, that doesn’t mean each step along the way can’t be enjoyed. As Zig Ziglar said, “There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.”
Will everyone who has become a successful owner-handler, professional handler or judge without putting in any time, effort, work or “paying your dues,” please raise your hand? I don’t see any hands.
Obviously, I don’t have all the answers (really?), so, as I often do, I reached out to others for their input on how to make newcomers stay as contributing members of our community.
One person says that if someone joins a breed or all-breed club, “I think there has to be some incentive. The whole point is to get people involved. For club incentive we tell people we have 10 meetings a year, a picnic in the summer, and educational presentations at meetings.”
Many people talked about mentors. One said, “Boy, that's a tough one. Sadly, I do not feel many folks in the sport are very welcoming. The internet has really made it easy for people to sit behind a keyboard and say nasty things. And so many people expect to win (immediately). BUT that being said … Find a great mentor. They need to be an honest person who gives both positive and negative (constructive) criticism. They need to be someone who will guide them and help them make good decisions. The new person must have the attitude to WANT to learn. They need to put in the hours and money needed to succeed. They cannot think they can walk into a ring and WIN, and especially not every time. The new person needs to put forth effort. They need to have tough skin, as not everyone will be in their court. [My mentor] didn't sugar-coat ANYTHING. She taught me how to keep my chin up and not be a wimp! She taught me to get up and WORK, ask questions, WATCH the successful folks and learn! Times are different now. I feel there just isn't the work ethic instilled in kids these days. We're a throw-away society.”
Another said, “My first suggestion is to find a mentor/friend, but that isn't always easy to do. I do think Facebook can help, as people can put out there that they are looking for mentorship and people do respond. My second suggestion is to read all of the ‘old great books’ that are out there — like Pat Trotter's ‘Born to Win,’ etc. Those resources help you to understand the game and talk the language and really help with understanding.”
A professional handler says, “Find a realistic long-term mentor who understand dogs, the sport and likes to have fun.”
A breeder responds, “Have mentors and friends in your breed and from other breeds who can help you keep your perspective. The most important to me is doing more than just conformation. Find another activity you and your dog enjoy. This will increase your network of dog friends. Always look for learning activities — seminars, classes with different trainers — attend your national, and be willing to volunteer.”
Another breeder says, “Realize it will be costly and time consuming but worth every bit of that. Do your research for a dog from a good kennel. Cost of the dog will be the least of money spent.” Breeders have to be better mentors or find one for them in their area.
Finally, an excellent breeder says, “We sell every puppy as a pet! The most important thing to us is that the dog is a treasured member of the family no matter how it turns out. Everyone's invited to our puppy evaluations. We find that our companion homes are willing to come and listen to all the input. They hear many people talking about the potential puppy they're getting and that it could be a champion. And they become intrigued. We explain to them that dog shows are something you can do a little or a lot. That they might want to give it a try. Some of these ‘pet’ homes have turned into dog-show enthusiasts.”
A breeder-judge called to tell me about someone who called and asked her to be a mentor. When asked how she had gotten her name, she was told her veterinarian had recommended her. A good vet can be a prime resource for a mentor – especially a reproductive specialist. This breeder said she felt this was another way she could help our community, so she helped the “newbie,” who has now finished her dog.
It is obvious that many of us realize the value of mentors for those new in our community. And therein is the problem. From where do these mentors come? My wife’s idea is for clubs to have experienced people that new members can shadow at shows and other events. These mentors would take new people “under their wing,” and help them find which dog activity appeals to them.
Parent clubs have lists of those who are qualified to be “ringside mentors” for those wanting to become judges. Why not have a list of experienced people throughout the country who can be mentors at shows, or available for people who may just have questions or need guidance?
Since keeping new people who enter our community is important for all of us, why can’t AKC provide a list of mentors and actually work with them to teach them how to be mentors and to approach new people? At the very least, maybe AKC can offer a program to clubs on how to establish a mentor program. These would not necessarily be breed experts, but rather they could walk new people through how to enter a show, explain what is going on at a show, help the new person find a conformation class, etc. These mentors could be long-time breeders, exhibitors, or even professional handlers and judges.
Of course, some responsibility falls on the shoulders of the new exhibitor. How many new people have asked for mentors? How many accept their own accountability?
Kelly Bromelkamp is a lovely young lady who is relatively new to dog shows, and has become a valued member of our community. She shared how she got to this point. Her story could be the blueprint for every incoming member.
“Five years ago today, I walked into my first show ring. It was my first competitive dog event —ever. I was scared. My puppy was untrained. I didn’t know anyone. I had NO CLUE what I was doing. I got there early to observe. I asked questions.
“Indee raced around the ring, and I tackled her to show her bite. It’s a miracle we weren’t excused. Still, I showed up. The next day we did a little better and went Reserve to the major. (Woohoo! There’s hope!) Here’s the thing … You have to be willing to show up and suck, in order to learn. You have to show up and introduce yourself, to meet new people. You have to put yourself out there, or you’re never gonna grow!
“Five years later … That puppy finished her championship in under five months of showing and has show- and field-titled puppies of her own. I now own/co-own four champion or higher dogs (and have helped put majors and points on a heck of a lot more), and Frankie is coming out this spring to (hopefully) finish. I’ve volunteered to help at any event I’m able and have attended every national since I got involved. I’ve run dogs in hunt tests and improved my own handling and training skills in several areas. I’ve attended and volunteered at several field-trial specialties.
“I’ve gone into business with some of the ‘family’ that introduced me to this crazy world.
“Most of all … I’ve made lifelong friends and found a family that I didn’t even know I was searching for. Five years may not sound like a lot (or it may sound like an eternity), but your life can look COMPLETELY different in only five years.
“You have to be willing to go alone, at first.
“You have to be willing to do it, scared.
“You have to be willing to volunteer.
“You have to say heck yes! Even when it’s way more comfortable to say hell no.
“You have to keep showing up, even when you aren’t winning (yet).
“What you start doing today will compound.
“Make sure it’s worth compounding.”
Those words should be printed and handed out to every puppy buyer who may think about showing their new dog. As a matter of fact, we should all re-read those words to consider what new people are going through, and maybe we can help make their road a little smoother, because not everyone will have the courage or mental toughness that Kelly has. Thank you, Kelly.
Before we leave the subject of mentors, there is another area that should be considered. I know that many new or limited-breed judges show up for their assignment and feel isolated and left out. Many times, the “older” judges congregate and have their own discussions — kind of like the “cool kids table” in high school. We need to be more open and welcoming to the newer judges.
In general, our community needs to be more welcoming.
What do you think?