A dog trainer friend of mine once said, "I believe there is a place in dog clubs for non-competitive people."
This seems like a no-brainer to me, since one of the goals of an organization that trains dogs (including pet dogs) should be to mold pet dogs into good canine citizens and promote responsible ownership, which, in turn, will protect our rights to own our own dogs, take our dogs to public open spaces, compete with our dogs at various indoor and outdoor venues, regardless of breed, size, etc.
But apparently, to some, there is one focus and one focus only: winning and competing.
Hey, listen. I compete. I sure as heck like to win. I am thankful to have the opportunity to train for competition-level activities with my competition-loving dog.
But recently, I heard a comment from someone that really bothered me. A new student sent an e-mail asking whether her registration had been received for a pet obedience class. However, she directed her inquiry to the registrar for competition classes, rather than the registrar for basic classes. An honest mistake, but some people found this completely appalling and unacceptable, for some reason unbeknownst to me. I'm still not sure what was particularly bothersome about it and, quite frankly, am a little surprised that a simple mistake elicited such a reaction.
Maybe it's because I'm not so far removed from those humble, confused beginnings in my dog club, in which I frequently sent e-mails regarding what classes to take, whether my information had been received or not, and things like that, but I didn't think it was a big deal at all. The competition registrar simply directed the student to the correct person, and it was over. No need for hysterics.
This recent exchange goes along with a series of negative things I've heard people say about non-competitive or less-competitive dog club members.. including that they are "clueless," and, my personal favorite, that "Rally is for retards" (which I don't think could possible offend a larger number of people!).
Coincidentally, another topic came up at the same time that this conversation unfolded. Someone mentioned a kennel club that, essentially, is now defunct because the members essentially "aged out." Now, a dog training club is slightly different than a kennel club, but the premise is the same - we need new blood!
By bringing in "pet people" (just like myself, when I started out two years ago), a dog training club accomplishes quite a few things. For one, they make money; the money made on basic obedience classes is what fuels the competition obedience and agility programs. In addition to that, they potentially score volunteers to help run their events. And, perhaps the biggest benefit of all, they stand a pretty good chance at reeling in some new people who want to train their dog in an advanced activity and can thus be active members in the club.
Some clubs don't offer basic classes at all. That's OK - in that case, they've made their mission clear and can focus on the aspects of dog ownership that they enjoy or specialize in. But, when a club does offer basic obedience classes, I feel that the new students should be welcomed and encouraged to participate rather than talked about behind their backs or treated as lesser.
I feel like many members of the dog training world are close-minded to new people. Certainly not everyone is - we have a lot of dog club members who are very active in the pet training world and who handle themselves appropriately when discussing things other than competitive dog training. I don't think this is exclusive to this hobby - I've been a newbie in other hobbies before and can remember the difficulty in getting myself established, being taken seriously, and making connections with people. But what is going to happen when my club's older member base is no longer active? If we are not going to recruit new people, who is going to step up and help run our club?
Hoping to gain some insights from people from all different dog ownership backgrounds and have a little discussion. What does a dog club mean to you? Should it be a priority to draw new people in? If so, how should it be done?