Finding Our Replacements
I think we all cheer for the Juniors in the sport of purebred dogs. These young men and women, boys and girls, are the future. Many of them go on to become handlers and breeders. They become club members and delegates. If they don’t go into the sport, they are still well versed in purebred dogs and can share their knowledge with others. Yet most of us still worry about the future and the “graying” of our sport. Is there enough interest in purebred dogs to keep them viable in the decades to come?
There are other avenues that lead to purebred dogs besides dog-show participation. A study led by researchers at North Carolina State University and published in The Journal of Wildlife Management might provide some insights.
The researchers conducted a nationwide study of college students’ interest and participation in hunting. They surveyed 17,203 undergraduates at public universities in 22 states from 2018 to 2020 to measure their perspectives on hunting.
The study found current, active hunters were more likely to be white, male and from rural areas, and to have family members who hunted. But they also found a group of potential hunters – with no hunting experience but an interest in trying it – who were more diverse in terms of gender, race and ethnicity.
Approximately 26 percent of students were active hunters. The largest group of college students were non-hunters, at 50 percent. The smallest group, at 3 percent, were lapsed hunters. Twenty percent of students were potential hunters, which meant they said they might try it once, or they might hunt rarely or regularly in the future.
Potential hunters were a more diverse group than might be expected. Forty-seven percent were female, and 38 percent identified as either Black or African-American, Hispanic or Latinx, Asian, American Indian or other.
Forty-three percent of potential hunters were from urban hometowns, and 74 percent did not have immediate family members who hunt. Seventy-nine percent were majoring in fields outside of agriculture or natural resources.
Many of the potential hunters didn’t share the same background as currently active hunters. The questions become: What is motivating them, what is limiting their participation, and how can they be connected to hunting and wildlife conservation?
What kind of messaging can be used to reach these potential hunters?
Hunting and fishing provide the majority of wildlife-conservation funding in the United States through licenses and fees. Without new hunters and anglers, the current conservation model won’t continue to work, so it’s important to find new participants.
In many ways, those of us with purebred dogs are looking at the same situation. We know there are many people in the public – all races and ethnic groups, all ages – who are potentially interested in our sport and in owning a purebred dog, but how do we reach them? What do we know about them? What is stopping them from getting a purebred dog now? How do we encourage them? What kind of messaging should we use?
Some of you might be thinking that this is a matter for the AKC and a big-bucks advertising agency, but it should be something that we all think about. How do we present ourselves to the people we meet? How do we talk to people about our dogs and explain to them the value of owning a purebred dog?
We are preservation breeders, and that is our primary mission. We are preserving breeds that have historical importance and that can do jobs that have been important for a long time. Some of those jobs are still important today and others have been adapted, but the dogs can still do them. In order for those dogs to continue to be important, we need owners and breeders for the future who will appreciate them. We have to find those people and teach them why our dogs are important.
How do we do that? We can’t just sit back and hope people call or text us.
The truth is, we won’t be here forever, and we have to find the breeders, fanciers and breed enthusiasts who will take over for us in the future.
Our dogs can do so many diverse things. They come from all over the world originally. They are hunters, farm dogs, water dogs, working dogs and more. We need to increase our outreach to some of these communities. Some of these people already know the value of an AKC dog. Now let’s bring them into our fold and get them involved in our sports. Do you know a rancher who uses AKC herding dogs? Encourage him or her to compete in scent work or rally. Do you know a hunter? Get him or her to bring their dog out to watch an event and meet some people. You get the idea. Start making some connections.
We need to reach out to kids in college, too. Do you have a college-age son or daughter? Would they be willing to help you at a show? Can they bring some nice friends? You never know when the dog-show bug might bite someone. (It always helps to pay or at least feed kids.)
These are just a few ideas, but we need more. Our breeds are so important to preserve, but we need people in the future who will be as dedicated to them as we are. Start trying to think of the ways we can reach out to new people.