Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Couldn't have said it better

Moose smells, some days he just reaks. No he doesn't need a bath. He's just spoiled rotten, per my son. And the boy has every right to be. I couldn't ask for a better dog or a better breed ambasador. He's a champion, has performance titles and is a therapy dog. Plus he's always got a stupid grin on his face. One of his favorite past times is going to dog shows. Ask Rus about his adventures in the Megan ring at last year's National Specialty. Moose in his usual manner, entertained the crowd by showing how spoiled cardigans take it easy in the ring-on their back, feet waving in the air and snoring.

As a breed ambassador, he's perfect. He adores little kids. The smaller the better and he really likes to crawl into strollers and clean faces. Most Saturdays when we aren't showing, we go to Petsmart and he plants himself in the main aisle, all ready for tummy rubs.

At the show, he pouts until you put him out on the grooming table. Such a well trained dog, he never thinks about jumping off, knows down/stay and waits for "his" adoring crowds to pass by and offer up pets or tummy rubs.

That's what a dog show should be about. The following article is reprinted with permission from my dear friend Scot Northern. It talks all about being an "ambassador" and welcoming the public into our world. One comment that he shares is perception is reality. Too true. If we always look like we are sucking on a lemon, are gruff and well, not inviting, the public not only takes that as your persona, but also what most dog show people are like.

Up in St Paul this winter, we had an end grooming spot. I love those and try for those most times. Puppy Russ after his little oops in the rally ring, redeemed himself by being the most outgoing, loveable kid magnet of the day. I think Moose was a little jealous to be honest. Russ is really a great dog and in his element, which oddly enough is out in the public, he's exactly the dog everyone wants to have. Moose and Eddie are the same way. But I digress to the human aspect. Remember it's our responsiblity to be open, offer to answer questions and definately not be rude. Our breed, our hobby and our registry-the AKC, needs that now more then ever.

Enjoy the article and at the end is the link to it on Scot's website. The article in a shortend form is in the Dogs In Review magazine. And yes, Scot asks you to please pass this on as it's very important!

Perception Is Reality – How we are shooting ourselves in the foot with the public

When I worked for GE Commercial Finance, I had a boss that loved to say “Perception is reality.” He used it in nearly every team meeting we had, and even sent out surveys to our own internal customers asking them for feedback on how our team, and team members, were perceived. Since I’m a computer programmer, the bar is set pretty low
for inter-personal skills, but I’d like to think of myself as the exception to that rule, and always went out of my way to be very social with the departments I wrote applications for, and to explain to the users what the programs did. (Lets face it; most computer programmers would prefer a dark basement, some Star Trek DVDs, and a couple of slices
of pizza to the thought of having a conversation with a “real” person.) For over a year, nearly all of my surveys came back with glowing reviews, but then I got one with very low scores, and the comment “Scot gave me exactly what I needed, and it works perfectly, but he consistently talked down to me, and made me feel stupid.” I didn’t give it much thought, but my boss printed the comment and taped it next to my computer. He explained his actions by saying, “9 out of 10 people may love you, but that 10th person will spread their negative opinion more strongly to others who don’t know you than the other 9 combined. Perception is reality.” When you think about it, it makes sense. The last time you had a good meal at a restaurant, how many people did you tell? Probably a couple. But, I bet the last time you had a terrible dining experience, you told everyone you knew that could possible ever eat there. If this meal was during a dog show weekend, you probably told everyone near your set up, your fellow exhibitors, and maybe a couple of judges too.

Right about now you are thinking, “What does this have to do with dog shows?” Good question. The answer is EVERYTHING! If you haven’t noticed, the AKC is in a Public Relations battle with not only PETA, but dozens of other dog registries, and many high powered state/local politicians. Right or wrong, the perception the general public has of
us is their reality. You can’t talk Public Relations, without using the word PUBLIC. (I have a feeling that “Public Relations” will be quite the buzz word to the new Board of Directors, as it should be.) This PR battle begins and ends on the front line. A front line that isn’t in a far away country or on Capitol Hill, but one that is found at every dog show, next to every ring, all over the United States. The problem is that, as dog show participants, we stand on BOTH sides of this line…and John Q. Public is caught in the middle. “Can I pet your dog?”…“Is that dog fast?”…“Is this a Greyhound?”…“My brother has a Golden Retriever that looks just like this.”…”Do you ever put a Sherlock Homes hat on the bloodhound, and fake pipe in its mouth?”…”If your dog were a football player, what position would he play?”…”Guess how much I can bench press.” Without a doubt, we have all heard questions and statements like that from a well meaning spectator at a dog show. Our reply is what will either win us the PR war, or lose us everything we hold dear about showing dogs. Unfortunately, by the time this article is printed, both Westminster and the Chicago International Kennel Club shows will be over, and thousands of people will have either left with a positive experience, or a negative one. Those that left feeling good will tell a couple of people about the cute dogs they
saw, or the Saint Bernard they got to touch. But, those that left having a negative experience will tell everyone they know about the “snobby dog show elitists”, they will NOT care when the AKC comes under fire, they will NOT care when BSL laws are passed, or when PETA compares us to the KKK. The John Q Publics of the world will sit back and watch as laws are passed which limit our ability to own dogs, and they won’t just watch, they will probably feel good about it…all because of a bad experience.

The challenge we all face, from big time handler to long time breeder to owner handler, is to provide the public a positive experience, to share with the public everything we love about showing dogs. Why do we do this? Why do we have the breeds we do? What is it about those breeds that we adore? Why do we like showing dogs? It only takes 2
minutes to influence their opinion…for the better or for the worse. Judging from the decline in entries, kennel club membership, and new exhibitors, we need to get a lot better.

You’re knee-jerk reaction is most likely: “They should know better!” or “Why isn’t the show giving club making announcement?” When the general public is at a dog show, they are in sensory overload, they are seeing dogs they have never been exposed to, they are seeing that their Cocker at home doesn’t quite look like the Cockers at the show, and much like the masses walking through a mall at Christmas time, they are just there in body, and might have checked their head at the door. After all, this is their family day together at a dog show. As far as announcements go, well, most of the time, the announcement is muffled or too quiet, and sounds much like Charlie Brown’s teacher
“Wah wah wah wah, wah, wah, wah.”

“Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image” - Goethe As I sat at the St Paul shows, the first weekend of Jan, and watched the general public meander through the show building I was appalled at how they were treated. The treatment ranged from slight disgust, to a reaction that seemed to be a cross of nausea and a bad allergic reaction to shell fish. If you’re a professional handler reading this, you’re thinking that you have a string of dogs to show, or groom, or exercise, and you don’t have time for “them”. Although, I’m pretty sure that if you’re able to text on your “Crackberry”, while clipping the PWD, all while listening to your Ipod….you’re able to answer a few simple questions…or at least smile politely. I realize that there isn’t anything worse than having someone come up to as you are rushing to the ring to ask you questions, most likely it’s a small child with a half melted chocolate ice cream cone and you just groomed your Samoyed. But, all it would take to give you peace is: “I’m about to go in the ring, catch me later today when I’m done showing.” That answer resolves your issue of sticky fingers on nicely quaffed fur, but also gives John Q Public the perception that they will eventually get 30 seconds of your time.

Last year at the International, my wife (a professional handler) gave me the job of “handling the public.” Once we were done for the day, while she exercised the dogs, I pulled the Saint Bernard out of his crate, put him on the grooming table, and let everyone and their brother take pictures or pet him, or just look at him. (He had a temperament which fit that task, and his owner actually took pride that Harvey was our ambassador to the public.) It was a small, simple action, which drew quite a crowd, and hopefully gave them all a fun end to their day at the dog show. You know what questions they are going to ask you. What’s his name? What kind of dog is it? Does he eat a lot? Being a professional handler is a lot of work, it’s incredibly tiring, both mentally and physically…but try to remember, that to these people, to the people asking you these questions, you and your dog are the most fascinating thing in their world at that moment. You may have just finished 3rd out of 2…but to the child asking to pet your dog…your dog is the most beautiful animal in their world. You may be tired, cranky, and no longer have an “indoor voice”…but to them…you will be remembered for your actions. If you’re a breeder, or owner handler, you should love the fact that someone is taking an interest in your breed or the dog you are showing. After all, that’s how you got started, right? At some point, you too were the “public” asking all kinds of silly questions, and hoping someone would answer them for you.

I look back on how I got started in dogs. Just some guy who had never shown before, looking for a Vizsla, and lucky enough to talk with Betty Anderson (She’s got top ranked Vizslas!), taking lessons from the late judge, Lenny Schulman(Holy cow, a judge!), and from Michael Canalizo(I think he showed at Westminster!), watching my dog finish with Ron and Tigger Hahn(Real life professional handlers!). I was wide-eyed, and in awe of these people. They all shared one thing. They all had patience, knowledge, and a pure love for not only what they did, but for sharing their experiences. Thankfully, about 10 years ago, when I was “the public,” those people gave me a positive
dog world experience. There isn’t a show that goes by that I don’t think about some lesson that I learned from one of them, or the countless other folks that took the time to work with me. If, we, as a dog show community are perceived as dog show snobs. If the general public looks at us, and perceives us to be rude, arrogant, and unwilling to answer their questions…then that is THEIR reality. When enough of the public have that same shared reality, then OUR reality will become one that does NOT include the AKC or dog shows at all, because at a time when we needed to win the PR battle…we were too busy to answer a few questions…we were too proud to let the “public” pet our dog…and we
were too rude to care….that is… until it was too late. Just remember, the next time John Q. Public asks you if your Whippet is a greyhound, or if they can pet your dog…take the time to give them a good experience. After all, a little
kindness goes a long way.

Scot Northern is a Sr. Software Engineer living in North Liberty, Iowa with his wife Kate. He actively shows and breeds Whippets under the kennel name Angelic Whippets and is a past 2 term president for the Cedar Rapids Kennel Association.

So the next time you are at a show, remember how you got started and remember - perception is reality. What you look and act like to the general public, reflects on all of us.

Later gators....


Joy said...

You too have been a great ambassador for the breed. I have appreciated all the information you have shared and always with a smile. Thank you.

Sherilyn said...

I know it's not always easy to answer the umpteenth question at a show, but I know our group definitely gives it the old college try. I think back to just a few years ago (about 5) when Rus and I were just starting out in the dog show world. We WERE those wide-eyed kids, trying to absorb every piece of information we could get, and still try to be that "sponge" and learn more. If we don't know the answer to someones question, then we try to find someone that does! We are proud of our breeds, and love to share with others the fun and sometimes challenging aspects of Corgiworld. If we can help just one person, so much the better!

Thanks for posting this article! I think everyone needs to read it and stop and think next time that cute little blonde girl comes up and wants to "pet" the puppy. That cute little blonde girl could be a future Jr. Handler of the year! :)

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