I have an assignment for those of you
reading this article. Sit back in your chair, close your
eyes and just for a moment, think back to that time when you
obtained your first dog. Remember the joys, the
frustrations, the highs and the lows.
Now, take just a moment to reflect on where
you are today; what you know and how you got your
education. Did you have to learn through trial and error?
Or, were you fortunate enough to have a mentor, someone who
smoothed over the rough spots. That person who let you watch
while they groomed, and answered the myriad of “stupid”
questions that more experienced dog people would take for
granted. For those of us blessed with a helping hand, the
trip was considerably easier.
My introduction to the world of dog shows
began with my first German Shepherd. She joined me in the
spring of 1955. She was my best friend and constant
companion. Having been raised with family dogs all my life
and having read almost every dog book ever written, I
thought I was pretty savvy. Actually, I was a really good
pet owner. I didn’t know I didn’t know much until 1957 when
I decided to join a dog training class with Kadee. That
class led to membership in a dog club. Then I discovered
that attending dog shows was really fascinating and was an
endeavor in which my entire, young family could participate.
Wow, this was neat. But in fact I was really
ignorant. I knew nothing about showing. I didn’t even
realize that my dog, although AKC registered, wasn’t a show
dog. I didn’t know what to do in the show ring! I was a
rank amateur! Fortunately a wonderful couple recognized
my interest; appreciated my lack of knowledge and took me
under their wing. They became my mentors and the time they
spent with me; the hours spent pouring over GSD Reviews in
their den on Sunday afternoons, are indelibly imprinted in
They talked to me of bloodlines. They showed
me how to read pedigrees. They introduced me to genetics and
we spoke of genotype and phenotype in breeding. They helped
me in handling classes (even though my wonderful Kadee’s
conformation couldn’t have won her a booby prize in a
sanction match); they didn’t even laugh at me when I
took Kadee into the ring. They were helping me by
encouraging me to work at handling a dog that was far from
easy to show. They taught me to love the art of showing
whether I won or lost.
That’s how I learned about my chosen breed.
My mentors were right there helping when I needed to select
a stud that would improve my plain bitch. I was like a
sponge, soaking up every morsel of information that they
were willing to share. I read the books that they suggested.
I took their advice in the ring. And, because I was willing
to learn, others started sharing what they knew about the
breed. It wasn’t long before people were asking me to show
their puppies for them. Soon I was getting to handle dogs
that did have a chance of winning. Eventually we went on a
search for a really good dog, one I could show with pride
and that I won with!
Today, I show Corgis. Most of what I know
about breeding and showing I can still attribute to my
friends in those long ago days who were willing to help a
rank amateur. Today, those friends and what they shared
meant so much to me; they still impact what I do in
terms of dealing with newcomers to our breed. Thanks to
them, I learned the value of having a mentor. Now I am in a
position to return that favor to others.
I am sure that most of us have been at
ringside and heard the grousing about the way someone was
handling his or her dog. Or how that newcomer crowded
someone else in the ring. Or how poorly groomed that dog
was. Or look at the equipment those folks are showing with.
Or, too bad the dog is too fat/too thin/out of coat, etc. We
criticize others and what they are doing, how they are
breeding. But do we offer a kind word, a bit of advice and
even more, become a truly interested person with more
experience who could be a mentor.
One of the problems with many dog clubs is
that the “old guard” leads the way. After a while the club
dwindles in size as those folks get burned out from having
to do most of the work. One day we wake up and there is no
one left and the club folds. It is a pretty simple problem
to remedy. Just mentor new people. Help them learn, assist
them in becoming knowledgeable members of the club and the
Everyone who sells a puppy has an
opportunity to mentor a new member. Not everyone who buys a
puppy is going to show it. Great, that means that there will
be workers to do tasks that those of us showing can’t do!
A number of years ago, a lady joined one of
my training classes with her Corgi. She had no intention of
showing, as it didn’t interest her in the least. However, I
encouraged her to attend the Golden Gate PWCF meetings with
me and she found she enjoyed socializing with other Corgi
people. She became interested in titling her dog in
obedience. Then she attended a herding test and qualified
her dogs (yes, by then she had added a second Corgi to the
family). Now, years later she has held several offices in
the organization and she has chaired the annual Herding
Instinct Test for several years! Not only that, she is
always available to help with club information booths at
various events because not showing leaves her free to help
other places and being involved in many aspects of the
breed, she’s become a valuable resource person. I am proud
to have mentored her.
We are missing the boat by not mentoring new
people. But, to mentor new people, we first have to get to
know them. Sometimes I think that we become so insulated in
our cocoon of familiar faces, that we fear reaching out and
broadening our horizons. Some of the best friends I have in
the world of dogs exist because I said hello to someone I
didn’t know. It is easiest around the Corgi ring because at
least there is a common denominator right there. It takes no
effort at all to approach a new face and introduce oneself.
When I show in a new area, I automatically say hello to
people I don’t know and introduce myself. Admiring their dog
is a guaranteed door opener. When I see someone at ringside
with that blank “I wish I knew what I was doing” look, I
definitely stop and strike up a conversation. When I see
someone struggling, I offer to help.
Yeah, your helping just might help them beat
you in the ring. It has happened to me, and it has happened
the other way around. Back in the German Shepherd days I
took a five-point specialty major from the American Bred
class at the American Royal Building in Kansas City because
a breeder offered to help me with my handling technique. The
lesson was valuable and I went on to beat his class dog the
next day. Thankfully he was laughing when he said that
“damned if he’d ever help me again”. But that is also part
of the sport of dog showing. Win with grace and style and
lose the same way.
If you don’t want to mentor someone, at
least graciously be willing to offer a helping hand when
someone needs help. Remember you didn’t come into the game
knowing it all. The choice is to learn it the hard way
(which may not be the best way) or to have help in learning
it the right way. We with experience can help pave the way
for the next generation of breeders, handlers and
competitors. My theory has always been that if we are going
to have competitors, let them be worthy competition. We can
help them along that road with a friendly word, a valuable
piece of information or by becoming their mentor. In the
long run, we help ourselves as well as others. And that just
makes things better for our beloved Corgis!
ANOTHER ARTICLE ON
"MENTORING" PREVIOUSLY ON DANELINKS
CHOOSING A MENTOR,
by Claudia Waller Orlandi, Ph.D.