Author Kathy Lorentzen and her Springer, ‘Benny,’ totally enjoyed the Breeders Showcase experience. Photo courtesy Diana Hadsall.
Many longtime, well-established breeders lament the current lack of breeder education in America. In some instances, it seems unavailable even to those who seek to learn. In others, we watch as total newcomers to the world of breeding take off running with little or no guidance from experienced mentors. The pool of truly qualified mentors in individual breeds grows smaller as ours becomes a graying sport. Those of us who are seriously invested in keeping our breeds true to their standards stand by and watch as uneducated (or uncaring) people produce animals with glaring faults and failings and then promote those faults as being correct. And with promotion comes acceptance by many in both the breeding and judging community.
We Were Like Them Once
I made a lot of mistakes. I remember I had a class bitch at a show and the above-mentioned mentor commented, “That bitch doesn’t have a good puppy in her.” I was so offended! How could she make such a sweeping comment about a bitch that I thought was a pretty good one? Well, I finished that bitch, she had three litters, and guess what? She didn’t have a good puppy in her. Oh, she made some champions, but that doesn’t mean they were correct specimens of the breed! And by then I had learned enough to realize it and ended up not going forward with a single one of her offspring.
Ways to Revive Breeder Education
A year or so ago, a bright young woman who has a passion to learn set up a “Students of the English Springer Spaniel” group on Facebook and invited everyone she could find (from many countries) to join and participate. She set guidelines for conduct and structured the group in a manner that would encourage discussions from longtime breeders. Over the past year, we have discussed dozens of issues, posted hundreds of photographs, offered learned and varied opinions on a multitude of questions, and most importantly, we have done it with great civility and have all learned many things. We have discovered that many people around the world are interested in bringing our breed together again. There has been no separatism; instead there has been much more unity than most of us thought could ever happen. The group has been, and continues to be, a wonderful tool for both teaching and learning.
We recently had our annual National Specialty. This year we made a move to bring fun, fellowship and learning back to our National. It was a wonderful success. The night before judging began, we had a welcome party, and after everyone had stuffed themselves with food and drink, we had a “Parts Competition” in the breed ring. We had 10 tables labeled with different parts of our breed: Best Head Planes, Best Coat Quality, Best Proportion, etc. Two members of the Judges Education Committee judged each Part, and we had to agree on which dog was best in our category. We worried that no one would participate. We were thrilled to see that almost everybody participated! Dogs went from table to table to have their parts judged, and what was so encouraging was the comment made by so many people when they put their dogs on the table, which was, “I’m here to learn.” This competition turned into an old-fashioned, stand around and talk dogs evening of the sort that happens so rarely now. I looked around the giant ring and saw legends in my breed and newcomers to my breed talking, laughing, looking at dogs, sharing knowledge and totally enjoying themselves.
We had a ring-bound book that contained a cover page for each kennel, with contact info, year that the kennel began, breeding philosophy, a list of mentors in the breed (and the sport), a list of the kennels whose dogs the breeders used to begin, a list of what health clearances they routinely do on their dogs, and a listing of what they consider their most influential dogs, dogs currently at stud and upcoming litters. Behind that cover page, there was a page on each of the dogs present at the showcase, listing date of birth, health clearances, a three-generation pedigree, two color photographs of each dog, its show information, best virtues, wish list (what they would improve or change about each dog if they were able) and finally, the dogs’ production records.
To top off the show, we also had some fun competitions for things like Best Decorated Grooming Space, Best Dressed in the Sweepstakes and Best Dressed in Best of Breed. The decorations in the grooming area were extensive, elaborate and educational, as many people created banners and posters, brought tons of photographs of their dogs in books or frames, and others created handout cards or keepsakes to pass around. I was lucky to be on the committee that judged the grooming room contest, so I got to study and applaud everyone’s efforts!