463 — 4H and All-American Dogs Competing in Juniors

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4H and All-American Dogs Competing in Juniors

The Conversation this week is the flip side of the coin, as we continue a dialogue about the American Kennel Club’s new policy allowing junior showmanship exhibitors to participate with canine partners, potentially mixed breed dogs.

Sarah Gardner shows dogs in the American Kennel Club and is the leader of a 4H group in New Hampshire.

“In 4H in New England, we do three different kind of subjects,” Gardner said. “We do showmanship, which is essentially junior handling, plus a few other things. We have to do obedience and there’s an educational aspect to it as well. There’s a written test that we have to take at the fairs.

Gardner discussed her introduction from 4H to AKC juniors in which her mentor suggested “you can do juniors.”

Gardner’s response: “I was like ‘whoa, this is a way out of my comfort zone’ because of the outside appearance that if you’re not kind of born and raised into the breed ring, you’re not always welcome. So I was scared to death going into the juniors ring, but I did do it …. there was a lot of people who were not welcoming in the juniors ring. A lot of the juniors themselves. It wasn’t open arms. It wasn’t ‘Hey, nice job. Hey, what’s your dog’s name.’ And that’s something I was used to in 4H. We encouraged each other, we congratulated each other.

“I am 100% for the (Canine Partners Proposal). In 4H we call them All Americans, so I am 100% for these 4H kids showing their mixed breeds. I’ve have noticed that the numbers of juniors have gone down. I look at the open senior class, we had twice as many when I was showing. That’s something that definitely bothers me, that these numbers are going down, that there’s not the participation. I think AKC needs to do whatever they can do to get the numbers back up.

“I know a lot of people have said you know ‘we don’t want the mixed breeds. These kids, they don’t belong here. The dogs don’t belong here.’ But that being said, I think this is a great opportunity for breeders and handlers to mentor these kids.

“I think it’s the responsibility of the Breeders and handlers of these purebred dogs to approach these juniors as they come out of the ring, saying ‘What a great job, congratulations! Hey I have a tip for you, I notice your dog was wiggly, I’ve done this. And hey, by the way, I have Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, why don’t you come over and meet my dogs… where do you live, who’s near you…’ I think that opens up the conversation for these kids.

“4H kids, they don’t always have the money to go out and buy a purebred dog. I think having mentors in the purebred world that can approach these 4H kids to say, ‘hey, listen, if you’re looking for a dog, do you wanna take this puppy in the show ring for me…’ I think opening up that conversation to becoming mentors to these kids… they don’t have these mixed breeds to tick off the purebred world… this is what they came up with. This is what their family had available.

“In New Hampshire, we have about five 4H dog clubs. One at the very tip of New Hampshire, we’re in central New Hampshire and there’s a few at the southern border. In my club, I have 30 enrolled members. My numbers are climbing, they’re not declining.

“I think 4H members compared to the juniors, I think a lot of them are more well-rounded because of what the 4H program adds. They have to do showmanship, they have to be  in obedience and then there’s a knowledge aspect of the dog judging.

“…(T)here’s so much education that goes into it. I think that the AKC junior showmanship program in and of itself could use more of.

“I think sportsmanship is huge and I think kids take their cues from adults be it parents, handlers, breeders and even judges. I think sportsmanship is probably the number one thing. If you’re a junior standing outside of the ring and you see somebody who you don’t recognize, whether it’s a purebred dog or an all American, go up and say ‘hi, how are you.. good luck. Make it heartfelt.

“I did speak to my 4Hers the other night when I knew we were going to be talking about this. I have a couple kids that have all Americans. I said hey would you go to an AKC show. I had one that’s like absolutely, she doesn’t have a fear in the world anyways. I had another one going ‘oh, I hear they’re really mean’ and that’s something that really saddens me, that there is that persona that the purebred world is not always welcoming.

“I think in junior show you are there to show your dog off to the best of its ability … I don’t think it matters whether you have a purebred dog or an all American. I think if you see that that 4Her is able to stack that dog appropriately, so if it’s a dog that is say a lab type ish whatever that that dog is square, that dog is appropriate, the head is up, the ears are up, that handler is watching the judge so they know what’s going on. They’re watching the other handlers in the ring. They’re not running up the dogs in front of them and they are not blocking the person behind them because they are stacked 3 feet in front of everybody else. It doesn’t matter what’s on the end of the leash. I don’t think it matters if it’s an all American or if it’s a purebred I think it’s the handling ability of that youth.


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