Much has been written on how to invigorate the purebred dog game, both at the breed and organizational levels. I can barely keep track of the articles I have filed on genetics, gamesmanship, and breed health. Likewise, rarely a month goes by without new AKC initiatives, calls from the dog press for better judging and fewer shows, and editorials glorifying the good old days. As a national and regional breed club officer, I often feel overwhelmed by the obligation to do something to “save our breed and the sport,” so frequent are the doomsday reports. In this two-part column, I will discuss the limitations of competition, advocate for the value of fun in building our dog community, and present a model for such community building.
For those of us most committed to the purebred game, competitions and competing seem to be the stars around which our satellites revolve—and most our efforts seem geared towards shows and show dogs. Entry sizes, judging quality, show calendars, titles, and top ten lists are still the way we keep score. In all of the political machinations, budget concerns, and commitment to competition, I wonder if we frequently overlook what may be the most basic answer to our concerns—fun?
I mean, real fun. Not just competition dressed up as fun.
We dog show people love our competitions. Even our “fun” activities become “events.” We have show rings and titles for agility, fly ball, obedience, earth dog trials, lure coursing, etc. Though some of these may only require competing with ourselves, it is difficult to escape the culture of competition.
I do not mean to devalue the importance of competition—I will be the first to admit that I enjoy a little head-to-head every now and then. Indeed, most of my work colleagues and dog show friends would probably use “competitive” as a primary descriptor for me. And, I recognize the value of competition in reinforcing excellence and maintaining high standards for human and doggie competitors. There are many good things that come of it. And more than a few downsides.
I think there is real value in convening as a “dog community” outside of the show ring. By definition, competition, whether with others or ourselves, demands that we remain vigilant to threats, minimize/obscure flaws, and retain a competitive advantage. Though helpful in winning inside the ring, these demands undermine what is essential to the on-going viability of our breeds and the dog community as a whole. There must be spaces where breeders, owners, handlers, judges, and friends come together to discuss challenges, limitations, vulnerabilities, and life outside of the show ring. Only through such open and safe conversation will the collaboration, respect, and honesty required for the dog world to remain resilient emerge.
Yesterday, I encountered such a space. In my next column, I will share more details about the first ever “Gleneagle Farm Dachshund Fun Day” and why I think such gatherings may hold the key to the longevity and renewed vigor of both the dog community and even our beloved competitions.