Doug Ljungren, Vice President of Sports and Events at the American Kennel Club
Trick dogs. Trick dogs? Seriously? Whose bright idea was that?
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
A hard core horseback pointing breed field trial guy with multiple national field champions and dual champions to his credit, that’s who.
Doug Ljungren and AKC’s new tricks
Doug Ljungren is the champion of a number of new, non-traditional and wildly popular performance events that have come on line in the last few years.
A highly successful breeder, owner and amateur handler of German Wirehaired Pointers in the field (and in the show ring), Ljungren believes that bringing new people into the sport through non-traditional venues is a long-term win for the purebred dog fancy as a whole.
The human-dog relationship is changing,” Ljungren says. “It has evolved over time. It will continue to evolve. The demographics will evolve. There is no reason to think that dog sports all have to be based on historical function.”
He’s referring here to the “traditional” performance sports that are “based on preserving and enhancing the traits necessary for a dog to perform the function for which it was developed.”
Decline of Hunting Licenses
“The total number of hunting licenses peaked in mid-’80s in this country,” Ljungren notes. “There’s just less people doing that sport now. We’ll still maintain (the traditional performance events) because people are passionate about it. But in terms of growing the sport, it’s just not going to be much of a growth area.”
So, if people (by the way, dog ownership is at an all time high) aren’t going hunting or herding or dispatching rodents with their dogs, what do they want to do? That was Ljungren’s question.
My belief is that some of the changes in society affecting the dog-owner relationship, the humanization of dogs, has an impact,” he adds. “How we spend our time is changing in relation to the internet. We find people are less inclined to join any kind of youth or sports league.”
So his team set out to develop sports that fit the dog owners of today.
“We have to attract people somehow,” Ljungren notes. “Hopefully they transition in the future.”
AKC Transistion Paths – Always More To Do and Learn
One of the things AKC is researching is transition paths. For example, if a new owner starts with their dog in a CGC course, they’re likely to go on to tricks titling.
He notes that tomorrow’s breeders have to start somewhere. If they start with CGC or tricks, what’s next, rally? Obedience? Agility? Even conformation.
“Breeders — hobby breeders — that’s something you consider doing when you get serious,” Ljungren notes. The new performance events allow AKC to develop a relationship with owners, who are likely to transition over time and engage in other events.
“I think that breeding is a logical conclusion of attracting and transitioning people,” Ljungren says.
One of the newest events Ljungren is excited about is scent work.
“It’s very popular. It’s a full meal deal as far as a sport goes,” Ljungren adds. “Clubs are licensed, judges are licensed.” The programming and planning has been going on for nine months and the first trial was held in September 2017.
Most people know dogs smell better than we do…. Intuitively it’s of interest to almost any dog owner…. At our first event we had entries of everything from toy breeds to a Scottish Deerhound.”
The scent work program is structured in levels and isn’t a “training intensive” front end sport, Ljungren adds. “People are fascinated to see the dog’s sense of smell telling the story to them.”
Great Event for a Club
From club’s point of view this is a great event that can be held in pieces. Clubs can choose to offer only the classes they can realistically accommodate.
Tricks are NOT just for kids. The tricks titles, started this spring, offers four levels and works through the CGC evaluator program. The next level planned will involve a full developed skit, with a theme and a story line, to be evaluated by the director of the CGC program.
Ljungren notes the entertainment value of these dog-handler teams is of value to clubs who hope to encourage the public to attend their dog shows in the future.
Another popular event, Fast CAT, is essentially a timed 100 yard dash. The funny part was AKC originally recorded the Top 20 qualifiers in each breed by the nearest Mile Per Hour. Ljungren chuckles as he notes, that wasn’t good enough! Folks didn’t want to be tied. So now the event is ranked by times to the nearest 100th MPH.
“If you give people something they want to do, it’s hard for them to hate you,” was the comment to Ljungren from Patti Strand, NAIA Executive Director. “You are making my work against the Animal Rights Extremists easier.”
Hear more of my conversation with Doug Ljungren in today’s podcast on Pure Dog Talk.