From the ShowSight Archives, April 2015 Issue. Click to subscribe.
For years I have had the nagging thought that something in our AKC system just wasn’t doing what it was supposed to be doing. The judging system has been okay at various times and will get better again. The system of member clubs holding matches and shows is okay. The system to track and register dogs is pretty good and the junior showmanship program is okay. The monitoring and promoting of canine health is okay and even the marketing of our breeds to the public is getting better. But something has always been missing. For as much effort as we have put into canine health, fixing a judging system, encouraging young people to be exhibitors, expanding the venues in which we can participate and introducing the public to our breeds, one essential element has routinely been ignored. We have fewer people exhibiting, though there has been a little resurgence in the number of people becoming interested in owning well-bred dogs after many less-than-successful “adoptions” of the retail rescue dogs. To its credit, the AKC has finally realized it is in the business of marketing our breeds.
What we are missing, however, is a system to identify and encourage young people into the art and craft of good pure-bred dog breeding. We don’t do much to encourage young people to become interested in becoming purebred dog breeders. We do even less to educate the merely interested in how to become viable, quality breeders. There is no organized program to identify the interested kids, much less introduce them to the joys, work, heartaches and ecstasy of producing top-winning, quality purebred dogs. We rely upon serendipity to bring us more breeders, and the system has just about aged itself into non-existence as the current top-producing breeders reach retirement age.
The AKC must now realize that they are also in the business of identifying and nurturing the next generation of young people who will have the ability, tools and enthusiasm to continue breeding programs. If the dogs are there, the competitions will continue. Humans have always found a way to compete with everything they have—from plants to cars, to our children. We are a competitive species, and that is not likely to change any time soon. What is changing is the drastic reduction in the number of purebred dogs being produced by people who understand the art and science of breeding quality purebreds.
Anybody can produce a purebred puppy, but producing quality, competitive purebred puppies for generations is a skill not currently known by many, nor taught in any kind of organized fashion. We have some wonderful seminars offered by past and current breeders, and we have some informal mentoring going on. We don’t have any system in place to identify that spark of interest in a young person with the curiosity to learn more. We know kids love animals. The Animal Rights movement knows it, too and they have co-opted that spark and turned it into a system promoting their own self-interest of ending animal abuse, puppy mills, and ultimately all breeders. We (AKC and AKC breeders) have not been there to encourage those same young animal lovers to join us in our ecstasy of producing healthy, well-bred animals that enrich people’s lives. They only know how it should not be done, but there is a vacuum when it comes to teaching them how it can be done well. We can do better.
I have been talking with a friend in another state. Her 16-year-old granddaughter has assisted me at shows when I have travelled to that state, and she has a genuine interest in the dogs. She had loved her involvement with horses, but the family could no longer financially support that interest, so the girl was feeling lost and confused. She is a twin, and while her brother was busy excelling in school and sports, her interests were left languishing. She has been withdrawing into herself, and is beginning to show signs of a serious depression coming on. She loved the horses, and does not know how to transition into an area that could be equally exciting for her.
I suggested they send her to me for 4-6 weeks in the summer. She can live with me, work in my boarding facility to learn how quality multiple-pet care is done and she can help in my home-based breeding kennel maintenance. We can go to shows where she will be expected to help get dogs ready and help in their showing. She can take dogs to my training classes, meet other breeders in the area, talk to me about my breeding programs, learn some basic grooming, visit with a reproductive vet in the area, and go through old magazines, watch videos on movement and structure and read books on how to improve handling skills. She can learn the joys of hard work and the accomplishment of doing something well. And at the end of her visit, with her parents’ permission, we will find a brood bitch to send home with her. If she does not want one of my breeds, I will work to locate a breed she does like, and we will introduce her to a community of dedicated dog breeders who will love to take her into their family.
This immersion into the world of dog breeders can be called an Academy for Junior Purebred Dog Breeders, and ultimately we can formalize the curriculum. The AKC can look into providing scholarships to young people they identify in secondary schools, and parents can be asked to help support the cost of providing instruction and educational materials. It can work on a model similar to the foreign exchange student model where local families are recruited to host the young person (or persons) for their stay. Written expectations for the students can be designed with the option to send any student back home if they do not fulfill the requirements of the program. Local breeders can be recruited to give presentations on their breeds, and certification of course completion can be offered. It will require a boarding or relatively large breeding kennel environment so the students learn to provide quality care to multiple dogs. The AKC can develop standards for facilities accepted into the program, and basic course curriculums can be designed. Each facility will have its own unique flavor based upon the breeds the owner possesses. One core requirement, however, will be that the person operating the Academy be an AKC Breeder of Merit, and operate in a facility inspected by the AKC.
When I began proposing this idea to people, most were really excited about a program to develop Junior Dog Breeders. One person, however, suggested that if I do something like this that I “fly under the radar” and not let the state get involved because that would invite the Animal Activists in to protest against us. My initial reaction was to wonder why we should be running scared from those people. The public still wants their puppies, even if they don’t want puppy mills. How foolish will protesters look if they are trying to close down good, well-run facilities that produce healthy puppies and people who are trained in their proper care and breeding? My boarding customers love to see my young puppies in exercise pens in my lobby, and I have never hidden from them the fact that I am an active breeder. Maybe I just don’t get the customers who have a problem with dog breeding. My customers are very interested in my dog’ careers, and most love to watch Westminster and Eukanuba.
When I served on the Wisconsin state committee to design dog breeder rules, I asked the state veterinarian why they were so interested in implementing rules that would drive the good breeders out of our state. I suggested that maybe Wisconsin could, instead, become a magnate for good breeders—breeders who breed healthy dogs, pay taxes, support communities and become valuable members of our society. If our rules were based on science and experience instead of emotion and hearsay we would be doing everyone a service. I was not successful in changing the animal-rights mindset at those meetings, but at least the idea went out for someone to hear. In the years since those rules were developed, the leading animal rights proponent on the committee has been, like PETA, disgraced, and I am still breeding quality dogs and paying taxes, though I am not a state-licensed breeder. I consider that a small victory.
People are getting tired of hearing what we’re against. They want to hear what we’re for. We are for teaching people how to be better breeders. We are for healthy, well-bred purebred dogs. We are for allowing people to pursue the occupations and avocations of their choice, and we are for supporting our communities with our products, our taxes and our commitment to excellence. We are for the public’s right to choose a well-bred purebred without feeling guilty, and we are for ALL the fun things our AKC structure allows people to do with their dogs.
I am for finding those young kids who want to know how to breed a good dog, not just buy, own or show one. I am for passing along a generation of knowledge and experience that will soon be lost as our great breeders retire. I am for encouraging kids to follow their passions without guilt or trepidation. I am for publicly loving my dogs, their accomplishments and my ability to produce good ones. If opening my business and my passion up to young people is what it is going to take to get us to the next level, then I am ready for the challenge. I am ready to open the first Academy for Junior Dog Breeders—and I am looking forward to tapping into the advice and knowledge of other breeders who can help design the program and curriculum.