Find Your Niche
A great many years ago, when I was working as an insurance investigator, I worked with this particular supervisor in a small regional office. Let’s call him Dan. Dan had been at this office for more than 20 years. He had been offered multiple promotions – all requiring him to transfer to another location – at considerably more money. Dan turned them all down. He was happy in his job. His family was happy in their home and where they lived. Dan couldn’t see any reason to want to change. He and his family were happy and content. Dan had found his niche in life.
As I write this, Shelly and I (Frankie, too) are in our RV camping at Fool Hollow Lake in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Show Low, Arizona. As I got into bed last night, I had the windows open (because it is cool enough to do that here), and I heard the call of a frog.
I burst out laughing, because the image of “Cousin Vinny” hearing the owl’s hoot as he and his fiancée (Mona Lisa Vito, played by Marisa Tomei) were staying in a cabin in the woods flashed in my mind. I could see Joe Pesci running out of the cabin, firing his pistol in the air at the imagined dangerous creature. Being in the woods was not his “thing.” His niche was as a “city boy.”
Today’s world seems to be about people wanting more and more money and power. And yet, they never seem to have enough or to be happy. I think the key to happiness is to find your niche in life and enjoy it.
The same holds true in our dog-show community. There are some – probably too many – who are determined to do more, go to more and more shows, win, win, win, and climb the rating ladder. Are they truly happy or are they constantly under stress?
What is your niche in our community? Where are you the happiest? What are you best at? (Yes, I know – incorrect grammar.)
I recently had the opportunity to sit with a breeder of Toy breeds. He had bred more than 137 champions. I also know other remarkable breeders of various breeds who continue to preserve and improve breeds in our world. They all have my undying respect and gratitude. When I first became a member of this community, I wanted to be a breeder of quality. But it was not to be. The bitch who was to be my foundation developed pyometra and had to be spayed. The wind went out of my sails, and although I did breed a few champions in four different breeds, breeding was not to be my niche.
Have you found your niche in our community? Do you have to show the number-one dog, or are you happy showing quality dogs and enjoying the rapport, companionship and the sport? Do you need to show multiple dogs, or is one good one your happy spot? Does a breeder’s goal have to do with quantity or quality? Does a judge have to yearn to be an all-rounder, or is it okay to be happy judging the breeds and/or groups that he enjoys?
I have often said that I believe it is impossible to be fully versed and knowledgeable in all breeds. There are breeds and groups that I truly believe I know as well – if not better – than most, but there are also breeds and groups that are not my forté and that simply do not interest me. Is that a weakness, or is it a strength to know that? Because I understand that, I try to watch all the groups as often as I can to get the “feel” for other breeds. And when I am scheduled to judge Best in Show, I quickly read up on the breeds that have won the groups in which I do not consider myself an expert. I respect those who judge more groups than I (and do it well), and I also equally respect those who have decided that judging one breed or one group is what makes them happy. Just be the best you can be, and do it with knowledge, love of the breeds and integrity.
How about those of you who show? What’s more important – winning or seeing a quality dog win, no matter who shows it? I recently had a breeder-judge give the highest compliment to someone I consider a friend. She said that this particular handler, who is also a breeder, loves her breed, and cares more to have a good dog win – whether it is hers or not. How many of you can say that?
Can you love a breed – or your breeding – too much? We all know what kennel blindness is, and sometimes we love our dogs so much – partly because we live with them and know their personalities – that they are perfect in our eyes. I feel that way about ALL the dogs I have ever had, but that doesn’t mean it should overshadow what is best for the breed in the show ring.
I have a friend who is an excellent breeder and a very successful owner-handler. I cannot remember him ever being overly – or unfairly – critical of someone else’s dog that may have beaten him in the ring. He has often said, “The judges will tell me how my dog is.” Of course, he wants to win, but he also wants what is best for his breed.
A few years ago, my wife’s Flat-Coated Retriever won a big supported entry. While she was in the group ring, a judge sitting ringside started asking her about her dog. She told him the dog was really a very good one in many ways, but she might make little changes to him here or there – pointing out certain nuances that were not his strengths. She went on to win the group under a breeder-judge. Guess who was judging Best in Show? Right – the judge that she had just told about some of the minor faults on her dog! When she didn’t win Best in Show, I was furious about what she had told the judge. She simply said, “Well, he wanted to know about my breed.” Of course, she was right. Her love of the breed was – and is – more than the love of a ribbon.
Can you love a breed too much? How about a breeder-judge? I truly believe that part of a judge’s job is to “protect” the breeds he judges. But is it possible to be too zealous in this pursuit when it is your own breed? Can the judge be too critical? I think there is a fine line that is sometimes crossed.
For example, the decision between Best of Breed and Best of Opposite Sex is often very close. Does the breeder-judge make the decision based on knowledge of weaknesses and strengths within the breed, leaning more on this than on the two dogs in front of her? Does she reward a nuance that she was unable to produce in her breeding program, while overlooking other attributes in the other dog? Is she so intent on her own breed that she simply judges it more harshly than others? Is this fair, or is it correct in wanting to protect her breed? Has her love for the breed become a weakness rather than a strength?
When I first started judging – there was Moses, Socrates and me – I was told that a judge should never second-guess himself after making a decision. I agree with that only to a point. Second-guessing to where a judge becomes unable to make a decision – or loses confidence – is not a good thing. Thinking about what you have done in an attempt to always want to make sure you have done the best you can for the dogs and exhibitors is a strength, in my opinion.
We all need to find that sweet spot. We need to find our niche. Do you know yours?
What do you think?