Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Future of Dog Clubs

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?


Cyndi and Stumpy January 30, 2011 at 11:19 PM  

It really is too bad that so many newbies walk into a group of insecure, pompousfools (not just in a canine arena) I hope there will always be people with an eye on the future to welcome and take an interest in others with an interest.

Great post!

Golden Samantha January 31, 2011 at 12:15 AM  

WOW! You probably opened up a big can of worms, but I wouldn't know as I have purposely not joined any clubs (gasp!). I have been asked, but horribly, have not responded, although I am actively involved as a volunteer at matches and as an exhibitor. So... I haven't gotten involved in any disputes or gossip and haven't heard these awful things - especially about Rally - even my obed. instructor does Rally and she has four OTCHs (I'm thinkin' that she's no snob here...) I'm getting pretty blunt, but you made so many good points, especially about younger recruits, that I have absolutely no argument!!! You are preaching to the choir!
Bless you!
Miche - Sammie's, Avalon's and Ozzie's Mom

hornblower January 31, 2011 at 12:38 AM  

I haven't bothered to join a club, mostly because one of mine is a feisty fido & the vast majority of clubs don't seem keen to accept a feisty dog. They occasionally seem to make exceptions for border collies, but other breeds - I just didn't get the 'come on over!' vibe.

I take classes from non-club based trainers & that's it. When I trialled with Daisy last year, the club hosting it seemed pretty happy about rally; I guess they would be since they went through the effort of putting the trials on.

Rally is IMO a big possible source of revenue & volunteers for clubs - it's fun & a lot easier than agility etc. I also suspect that for some people it might be a gateway drug to the dog sport world :-)

I'm glad you wrote this up & I hope your club deals with the snobby divas who make people feel unwelcome.

tula monstah January 31, 2011 at 1:36 AM  

we have no experience with dog clubs -only dog training. but on the reactive dog side of things, we were lucky that the trainer was flexible and started letting tula become 'included' in the regular obedience classes. many people in the class would cringe if they had to be near us.. which fine. I get it. that's why it was fun to have norwood & mango in class along with us. soo tula's training could continue & grow and they made even more money from us! and i recruited others too!

i guess, unfortunately the best thing is to find a club that meets your needs and values.

dee & tula

Sara January 31, 2011 at 6:19 AM  

Wow, that all seems quite sad to me. I purposely found a new, friendly place to train, after having a not so pleasant experience elsewhere. Too many prequisites and rules, when I simply wanted to attend classes to bond with my dog. Once I found that laid back place, I knew I'd never do anywhere else.

The league I'm in has people constantly griping and complaining on the message boards about various things. However, you never hear one complaint from the people where I train. The complaints are enough to make me want to quit league. I solved that problem by not reading the message boards. Ignorance is bliss. Life is way too short for all that animosity.

Unknown January 31, 2011 at 7:03 AM  

I have never really joined a dog club due to many reasons. One of the main reasons is there aren't many dog clubs and if there are, there are mainly for their own group of people as it is usually started by a few close friends who love dogs and they want to do something with their dogs, however they do give some OB lessons. Eva and I once joined an OB class but when we finished the basic session and wanted to move on to the second level, the trainer didn't want to teach us because the students he had left were me and EVa. He thought the class was too small and there wasn't any benefits for them to run the second level. So we left and never went back anymore. It seems what we have gone through is quite normal in other clubs too. So they basically just teach the basic class and that's it.
I do sympathy those beginners who enter into such a competitive and back stabbing classes for lessons. It's definitely scary for the newbies.

Anna the GSD January 31, 2011 at 11:37 AM  

Anna's mom here:

When we took Anna to the local dog club for basic OB classes, there were two types of trainers/people:

1. The trainer/member who was there to help you and your dog, nicely and with understanding. Knowing that you were probably just there for basic OB and nothing more, but happy that you were putting in the effort to TRAIN your dog.

2. The snotty, know-it all trainer/member who looked at the "pet" owners as losers and hopeless. Constantly put down the owner and/or dog and made a intimidating environment for the first timer that much more so.

I hated when the first questions out of peoples mouths was "What are you going to do with her? Agility?"

When my reply was "I'm not sure, probably just Basic OB, see how she does and go from there."

Then I got the snotty "oh you're one of THEM" looks and all conversation stopped. More issues would arise when Anna, who is a little weak nerved and doesn't do well in new/overstimulating environments, wouldn't do the "sit for exam". She doesn't want strangers touching her. That's how she rolls.

I was then accosted by one such snotty, old school trainer who said I must have abused my dog to make it this way. EXCUSE ME?? I replied no, she's never been abused, she just doesn't like strangers touching her. He then looked at me "Hmph, then why are you even here?" and walked off.

We had to take Basic OB twice, but she passed and that's all we wanted to do. I'm not sure if I'll go back there with another dog. The overall environment is stale, cold and not welcoming.

Diana January 31, 2011 at 12:54 PM  

I belong to a club. Im not sure what I think of it. There are long time members that are the main truck of the club. They do all the work, IMO, and so things never change. Because they were trained in old ways that people dont like, it turns people off. But new people cant seem to find there place. We are trying and Rally is actully turning our club memebership around with positive training methods. Obedience cant seem to change their training ways for some reason and it can turn people off. Agility just isnt our strong suit as we cant find good trainer to teach classes. They may teach one class and then stop so there is no progression for the students. Lots and lots of problems but I think people who complain are just over whelmed and frustrated from doing all the bluk of the work of a club. This is just my opinion of what I see, so take it with a grain of salt.

Kristine January 31, 2011 at 3:05 PM  

I don't know if there are any official "dog clubs" here for me even to join. I've never really thought about such a thing before. But in my personal experience, put in the word "club" and automatically I am on the defense. Clubs in general make me nervous as so often I have been on the receiving end of their exclusionary practices. Thus, I try to avoid them at all costs. Which is really too bad because a dog club sounds like it should be a great environment. A place to train with a whole bunch of fellow dog lovers? Sounds like fun!

It makes me sad that this isn't necessarily the case. It seems we never really leave the gossipy bullies of high school behind. I really hope this isn't always the case.

Sam January 31, 2011 at 3:35 PM  

Thank you all for your interesting comments. I'm enjoying reading about your perspectives.

I just want to say that I really do like my dog club. Especially in the past year or so, they've undergone some changes that have made the classes and activities they offer a bit more diverse than before. I think, that with the help of a lot of people, that can continue to expand.

The attitudes I portrayed in this post are also not representative of my club as a whole, but are more of a general feel that I get from some members of the competition community (both obedience AND agility).

Hornblower, I fully agree with you that Rally can be a great thing for clubs. Trials are easy to run and are great money makers. It also helps people to get involved with their dogs in a relaxing atmosphere. I am sad that so many people are closed to it. Besides, even if you don't like it, there's no reason to call it "retarded."

Diana, I definitely understand what you're saying about the same people doing all of the work for the club. But, I think that should make them more receptive to new people.. because new people are often willing to help. We've had several new "pet people" become integrated into the larger community/family feel of the club. I think that I am one of them.

Kristine, don't get the wrong idea about dog clubs from my post. There are many good clubs out there.. every club has a few bad seeds, but not all clubs are bad!

Kari in Alaska January 31, 2011 at 7:17 PM  

This is why I miss my club in Alaska. Up there the goal was training, even if it was for competition. In LA everything is competition and you can't find a decent place to train without spending tons.


KB January 31, 2011 at 8:51 PM  

I'm afraid that I've had a very bad impression of dog clubs from a distance... I never joined one although I was forced to register my dogs with the AKC so that their health information could be recorded at the Orthopedic Foundation for Dogs.

But, I do know that there are plenty of close-minded clubs around here. And, when I signed up for agility classes, one of the big selling points of the trainer was that she took non-competitors seriously. In my case, I wanted to do agility to help K get over some of her fears and gain confidence in general. It's turned into a lifelong hobby but I'm still not a competitor.

I'd love to see clubs that cared about making the lives of all dogs better by having classes that taught their owners how to train them to do basic stuff and more advance brain-teasing stuff. I don't know if they exist...

It is similar in pretty much every "sport". When I started bike racing, it took a long time to be taken seriously, and then I was part of the culture that didn't take recreational cyclists seriously. I don't know why it happens - in retrospect, it's super silly!

Brenda's Arizona February 1, 2011 at 9:42 AM  

A can of worms, indeed.
I know nothing about 'dog clubs'. Maybe it is the word 'club' that scares me. Yet, obviously, there are 'good clubs' and good people out there. Maybe it is a lack of the competitive gene in our family...
Or, maybe, just as some clubs are closed minded or eye-rolling of us ignorants, I am eye-rolling in fear of the clubs.

Love KB's comment.

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart February 1, 2011 at 10:52 AM  

We saw a bit of this, even in agility lessons, where WHERE you trained told people just how serious you are.

I thought it was tough, until we tried rally. That's when I realized how friendly (relatively speaking) agility folks were. Because our rally class took place at the same time (in a big building) as regular obedience and conformation show classes, it was a REAL eye opener.

Lilly had a hard time with all that energy and movement, so we didn't last long, but we did not feel welcomed at all.

AC February 1, 2011 at 11:51 AM  

This is a bummer and like you and KB touched on, it happens with every hobby (perhaps careers as well). You have to work your way in, then snub the outside when you're there. I've left activities I loved because I couldn't handle the elitism. I now intentionally stay at the fringes of what I'm involved with so as not to burn out by bad attitude.

But...I recently joined a group that does an amazing job at welcoming newbies. It's part culture (kindness is contagious) but I think it also helps that they have a designated "new members coordinator." This person responds to inquiries, answers questions and generally plays "tour guide" while you're still figuring things out. This might work well for a dog club that wants to support new members. It could help get newbies plugged in and provide a friendly face even if others prefer to stay in the competition corner.

Sue February 1, 2011 at 2:54 PM  

This seems to be a problem in many clubs. Our breed club is currently going thru these same growing pains. It may actually split the club because the 'old guard' won't allow new members to get full membership rights.

People seem to be afraid of losing their power by sharing. Politics always seems to get nasty. I try to stay out of the fray.

Sam February 1, 2011 at 7:54 PM  

Roxanne, I'm surprised and saddened that you experienced such coldness at Rally class. Rally class is definitely one of the dog training environments that I like the best; we have an awesome, knowledgeable teacher who really makes it fun.

AC, the idea of a mentor or tour guide for new members sounds so great. I've done a little of that with some of my students from my For Fun Agility class, and it's really nice to see new people become interwoven with old. Directing them to websites, telling them about training opportunities, alerting them to trials in the area that they can visit, all make SO much of a difference for someone who wants to get involved, but is unsure how to. I also made a couple of hand-outs that were useful for them to figure out what class offered at my club would be best for them and their dog.

Sue, I stay out of drama and politics, too. I don't like to be on any one's "bad side" and don't want to make enemies with anyone. I keep my mouth shut when controversial issues come up and any gossippy information told to me doesn't get repeated. In fact, the only thing that I really had a lot of input on at my club was the agility class that I'm teaching now. Otherwise, I'm there to train my dog, and that's all.

I'm unsure how I've opened a can of worms with my post... by raising the idea that some members of some clubs can really be detrimental to the growth and expansion of a club? Interested in some clarification on that, for sure, because most people who've commented seem to all agree with each other.

Thank you all for your awesome, insightful comments. What a great discussion this is.

Kathy Mocharnuk February 1, 2011 at 9:38 PM  

I used to love my dog club, but lately can not stand it. It is dominated by justs a few people that complain and complain and complain about all they have to do but they do everything they can to not include anyone else. People get tired of feelingleft out and leave and the ones complaining about how no one else helps out are once again left with tons of tasks-it seems to me that dog clubs, what ever type of clubs need to open themselves up more and let others help and feel a part of things for the club to grow and change and keep alive, keep old memebers happy and not burned out and keep up with the times. I dont even think it matters so much what type of activities they include as long as they let others feel they are valuable and belong.

BRUTUS February 2, 2011 at 8:53 AM  

Sounds all too familiar.

We too started as "just pet people", ended up getting hopelessly addicted to all the wonderful things training and competition can do for us. Part of me is proud to have been accepted into the "inner circle" of the local competition circuit, having proved we are a worthy team. Then again, it's sad to see how intense these people can be now that we know them - forgetting that the whole idea is to go out there, have fun & foster the relationship with your canine partner. All too easy to forget, I'm afraid, but that's what it's all about, right?


Kirby, CGC February 2, 2011 at 3:12 PM  

I don't know of any dog clubs for Kirby and I here, but I know if there was one I would look into it. It's hard to socialize him (and he needs the practice)here in the winter of Michigan where it seems like no one by me walks their dogs! I can't take him into pet stores yet because he can go off on a moment's notice. He has gotten somewhat better but we have a way to go.

Anyways, we will start Rally classes in March and we have a instructor that is totally cool with Kirby being dog reactive. She told me she can help me with that and I'm looking forward to working with her and the other people that just enjoy being with their dogs!

I love the pic of Marge in this post!

Kirby's mom

Lavinia February 2, 2011 at 6:15 PM  

I'll admit, I'm poking my nose in the conversation just like a clueless newbie.

The issue you pointed out though is very present in a lot of hobbies or social groups that have a common activity or interest. It's all about people's attitudes and common sense...

But they should also put it the other way: if they don't encourage and try to keep their newbies, how will they get great experienced members? We all have to start somewhere.

Natasha February 2, 2011 at 8:29 PM  

Good points and interesting discussion. I do think that the dog world, not only dog clubs, needs to do more about finding newbies to get involved. I've read about obedience especially beginning to die out. Doesn't seem like there are any of those kinds of worries for agility, but I am a bit concerned about how agility is evolving to be more serious, fiercely competitive (not always a bad thing, but it can be), and focused on results.

D.K. Wall February 6, 2011 at 8:37 AM  

I went to my breed's national specialty and found two worlds.

1) - Because I owned "rescues" and only a couple have their papers and NONE are show quality, there were a group of snobs who looked down on us.

2) But, more importantly, I found a couple of mentors who explained to me what I should and should not do (where my dogs were welcomed and where I should refrain from taking them). These mentors had as much experience - and some more - than the people in the first group, but took the time to help me understand the culture.

Funny, as I listened to the second group, I found more and more people at the show who were great to talk to and fun to be with - and who thoroughly enjoyed meeting my crew.

So thanks to the mentors - and shrugs to the snobs.

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