This month we explore ways to entice purebred owners to the world of dog shows. Unless you were born with a leash in your hand, your first experience was likely that of a spectator. Was it a good one? It’s become quite a challenge to attract even the most passionate dog lovers to our sport. With public attendance dropping at many shows across the country, where will the next generation of exhibitors come from if typical owners are disinterested or turned off by the show scene?
For answers, I surveyed a cross section of dog owners (from my pet column readership) to determine who has attended shows, why or why not, what their impressions were, and what they’d like to see. Two things really jumped out at me. First, how few were aware of any shows in their area and, second, a hunger for “information” of all types. You’d be surprised how many folks wander around a show with a giant question mark over their heads. The good news? They want answers.
I can relate. Many moons ago, my first experience as a spectator was quite confusing. The catalog didn’t make much sense to me and I never did find the obedience area. I enjoyed watching my beloved breed being judged, though had no clue why the same dogs kept re-entering the ring nor why the big winner earned a purple instead of a blue ribbon.
Encouragement from the breeder of my first show-quality Newf changed everything. Having a good dog and a mentor transformed me into an information sponge. I couldn’t learn fast enough and was totally hooked after the first match show. That was then. Here are some representative opinions from today’s “pet set”:
Never Attended A Show — Why?
“I am unaware of any shows in my area.” A stunningly common answer. This screams the need for beefed-up publicity, much of which is free if handled correctly (to be explored in Part II).
“Too much ego involved. The dogs barely resemble ‘real dogs,’ people seem stuffy, I wouldn’t fit in.” These perceptions largely shaped by shows seen on television and little understanding of the purpose of dog shows.
“Too expensive,” referring mostly to indoor show admission prices plus parking fees.
“I don’t understand the judging.” Only two (former exhibitors) had a true grasp of how dogs are judged either in the breed or group rings.
“I’d rather watch dogs doing what they are designed to do, not just trot around a ring.” Folks interested in performance events, obedience and activities specific to their breed.
Attended a Show(s) — Perceptions
“The variety of dogs and watching them prepped for the ring was exciting and fun…talking to exhibitors even better, but wasn’t sure when to approach them.” Several expressed the desire to attend another show if they simply knew about it.
“Love the shopping.” Diversity of vendors is definitely a big draw.
“I’d return if there was more information available at the show.” In other words, “What’s in it for me?” came from numerous respondents referring to all manner of education — from learning more about their breed to training, nutrition, responsible breeding, rescue and judging procedures.
“No thanks. Dog breeders keep the best dogs for themselves — they don’t sell show prospects to people out of the clique.” This is a biggie. An opinion I hear often from novice owners who paid top dollar for a puppy, only to discover their new dog was of lesser quality than those being presented in the ring.
“I disliked some of the backbiting and snide remarks I heard ringside.” The perception that the sport is cut-throat and exhibitors will do anything to win, including over-sculpting dogs in the grooming area.
What Pet Owners Want
I understand space, budget and manpower limitations, but working any of these concepts into your show format will not only boost attendance and revenue, but help counter misinformation being generated by animal rights groups. Give the people what they want. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Part II will cover effective ways to promote upcoming shows and work with local media. As always, we welcome your thoughts on these and other ways to shape the future of this sport.