A Force for Good
There has been lots of talk on the web of late about mentoring and mentoring responsibility in today’s dog world. Who should mentor, who has the right to mentor, who has the expert knowledge to mentor and on and on. I work for a company who has a big on going mentorship program. Both formal and informal mentoring is encouraged and supported. Our company’s philosophy is that if you can make a positive difference to someone then you are a mentor.
I like this philosophy and try very hard to remember it outside of my workplace and I wish others would embrace it too. Too often in the dog fancy mentoring is about gathering followers to your way of thinking and it is very easy to do. Think about it, those of us who participate in the conformation side of dog sports are working with a written blueprint or Standard for a living creature. Then the living creature that is created from the blueprint is “judged” by subjective humans who interpret the written blueprint or Standard to fit what they believe best represents the blueprint as they have interpreted. It is human nature to gather people around you that believe as you do but that is not mentoring.
Mentoring is helping someone to achieve their best, not your best.
So how do we, competitive, heavily invested and emotionally involved dog people help bring out the best in someone new to our sport? Bring out the best in them?
The first thing we need to realize is that mentorship really is mentee driven. If someone wants to be mentored they need to put in the work. It isn’t about “oh, dog people are not very helpful, no one will talk to me, blah, blah, blah”. A mentee needs to decide what type of relationship they want, what are their goals and then look around for someone who has met those goals and then approach them. Most humans are flattered when someone thinks they have worthy goals, successful ideas or a great attitude and are happy to at least give another person the “time of day”.
We all need different mentors for different aspects of the dog fancy. Maybe you love one person’s style of breeding and interpreting the standard so you want learn how they select their breeding stock and make their choices. That same person has in your opinion a crazy way of placing puppies, something you would never consider doing. Does that mean you need to discount everything that person has to say? Maybe you admire a handler’s relationship with their dogs but you think their lifestyle is completely “out there” does that mean to learn from them you need to adopt their lifestyle? It is all a matter of each person’s goals and dreams.
So it is the mentee’s job to look for a mentor but what happens if a person approaches you to act as either a formal or informal mentor? What is your job? It isn’t to sell them a puppy or have them as an acolyte. It is to find out what you can do to help them get better.
My dog fancy story is just that a Storybook story. Back in the mid-90s my father was facing terminal cancer and I made lots of time to spend with him. One of the things he told me was to find something I loved doing and do it. Not to wait. Now I am a person with lots of hobbies and interests but I had not found a passion. So when thinking about it realized that I had loved showing horses as a kid and I loved dogs! I really loved my crazy German Shorthaired Pointers so I started researching dog shows and then eventually attended the Chaparral Kennel Club dog show in Alamogordo, NM. Here is where I found my 1st mentor, Phyllis McNall of Singltrak Shorthairs. I freely admit I stalked her at the dog show. She introduced me to other local folks involved in GSP breed, the Chandlers, the Combs and others who welcomed me to their local clubs. Phyllis made a point to invite me to shows and teach me to steward and when it came time for me to look for a show dog of my own she put me on her puppy list. It didn’t work out that there was a puppy for me but she didn’t discourage me from putting what I had been learning to use and find the right puppy for me.
That right puppy ended up coming from across the country from Linda and Kevin Flynn of Keltic GSPs. My beautiful Windy, Champion Keltic’s Winter Solstice, CGC. Linda and Kevin were everything a newbie show dog owner could have hoped for, supportive, knowledgeable, trusting. The Flynn’s taught me so much about how the dog show world works (and still do to this day). They took a chance on a newbie and sent me a pick puppy from a wonderfully bred litter and it was/is their encouragement that has gotten me to the point I am today. Even when I changed breed to my wonderful Cardigan Welsh Corgis their support was always right there.
I found my passion!
These aren’t my only mentors but without my original mentors working towards my success and not directly their own I wouldn’t be in the position to write a blog about show dogs. I wouldn’t be in the position that has allowed me to mentor others in small ways to help them get started on their own journey in the wonderful dog world. Maybe, helping them find their passion.
So back to the original question: Who should mentor, who has the right to mentor, who has the expert knowledge to mentor and on and on. You should! But only if you are going to share knowledge that will help someone achieve their best, not your best. Help them find their passion. Take the time to listen to their goals and not automatically assume that you know what is best for them. Take the time to get to know them and find out what you can do to for them, not what they can do for you. Be respectful, be curious and remember just because they are seeking knowledge from you about a certain aspect of your world doesn’t mean they don’t have things to share with you. You can be rewarded in so many different ways.
Those who seek knowledge, remember it is your job to seek out what you need to learn. It doesn’t just come to you. No one owes you their time or knowledge. Be respectful, be curious and mindful that your mentors goals and your goals should align but do not have to be in lockstep with each other. Learn what you can and remember that no matter how much we learn there is always more and deeper knowledge out there. Become a subject matter expert but remember no one knows everything. I am still learning and finding new mentors all the time.
Become a force for good………………..