Having been fed to the gills on the refueled “Training Wars” (Thanks Victoria, you nitwit), the editorial board here at German Shepherd Adventures determined that now was a great time to explore a subject that seems ripe for discussion. It’s going to make some of you angry, it’s going to resonate loudly with others. Whichever side of the problem you are on, you may see yourself.
Our subject du jour is the supposed impending death of Schutzhund, as the world has known it. And more importantly, the reason for that demise…
In recent times, even the name has changed from Schutzhund to I.P.O., or Internationale Prüfungs-Ordnung. Some opine that the art and practice has softened with the times, due to the insurgence of political correctness. And that belief has four legs firmly planted in truth. Many clubs here in the United States are struggling to survive financially, unable to attract young people to the fold. The usual suspects are Social Media, Poor Marketing, and aging participants at the clubs. Others blame the often extremely high cost financially of worthy dogs, equipment, and travel to purposeful clubs. The club that I myself would prefer to attend is 2 hours away in highway driving. Others are closer to me, but they lack exactly what I am going to address.
Most clubs lack Good Mentors. In fact, I will go so far as to say that the practice of Schutzhund, and other dog sports as well, lacks Mentors by large margins of percentage.
The Dog Sports world, et al, is rife with opinion, division, strife, snarkiness, eliteism, egocentricity, and backbiting. Take a look thru pages and pages of Facebook. If you could count the “Closed” groups, and the ubiquitous “Secret” groups, these attitudes would be so apparent that most of us would take up playing dominoes as a pastime! The public pages and groups are constantly filled with the adherents of one group, individual, or other, slashing, burning, and otherwise excoriating others over any number of dog related subjects. The Open Warfare, combined with Anonymity of Source, fuels the problem. Our Groups are NOT doing a good job of making new people welcome to our sports. There ARE notable exceptions however, and they may well be the key to our sustainability.
First off, What IS a Mentor? A wise and trusted counselor or teacher. And, an influential senior sponsor or supporter.
Lets break this down to the core. Every Group seems to have at least one member that is considered to be wise and all-knowing in all things Dog. Maybe more than one, or 5. Wonderful. I am personally aware of a group that has a total of Seven members, all fairly skilled in multiple training disciplines. What they lack, is a Mentor. An individual that promotes, invites, and makes it possible for New People to learn! They, in fact, routinely discourage new people from attending their activities. Unless you have a $10,000.00, Extreme Drive, Czech bloodline, they don’t really want you.
Don’t misunderstand me. If a group wants to be elite, that’s fine. Then be elite. But don’t turn off newbies when they ask about the discipline. Don’t put forth the opinion that a person has no chance of learning or participating and should stop wasting their time. Funny thing about most of these elite groups…most of their members don’t appear on Winners platforms anywhere.
Another symptom of the sickness rears its ugly head as Suspicion of Worthiness. People are welcome to show up at club activities, but are usually viewed from within the accepted circle, as they stand outside of it. Such groups are usually spearheaded by a “Big Personality” individual. Someone that has become a “A Legend in his own Mind”. He or she will allow new people into the activity, but will turn on such individuals after the days events are over. Usually online. “THAT guy has no idea what he’s doing. He just doesn’t know it yet…He’ll ruin every dog he touches…” Such individuals are far more common in this world than can be imagined.
That’s enough about the sorry and damaging behaviors of poor schutzhund (or any other dog sport) groups. I KNOW that you can think of more Bad behaviors, but I want to describe what a Good Mentor does, and How they do it. I’ll bullet point this under the heading:
*********************************************************************** The Habits of Highly Effective Mentors.
Good Mentors are CONFIDENT in themselves, but never arrogant or dismissive of their peers, or their students. Insulting competitors behind their back is never part of their arsenal.
Good Mentors COMMUNICATE effectively. They have learned how to build up their student, correct their mistakes, and then rebuild the students confidence. Learning takes place, better methods are explained and understood, and the student is then allowed to perform the task at hand properly.
Good Mentors take the unique needs of individuals into consideration. Just as every dog needs personalized training, even more so do people. The variables are myriad, but the masterful mentor studies his people.
Good Mentors are DETERMINED to make each individual better than they were yesterday.
Good Mentors don’t give trophies for showing up. But they do give praise for every success, and help their people up to the next rung on the ladder.
Good Mentors allow students to express ideas. They adopt things that have merit, but reasonably explain ideas that may not work and why.
Good Mentors never seek to blame anyone. They seek only solutions.
Good Mentors INSPIRE. They are all about, “Go Get ’em! You can DO it!” Even if the possibility exists that the student can’t. The possibility of future success always exists.
Good Mentors recognize that SUCCESS is at a different location for everyone. If you are capable of titling your dog to the highest level, That should be your destination. If your capabilities are somewhat lower, a good mentor will see you there, and celebrate your journey with you.
Good Mentors never expect more, or less, than a student can reasonably give.
Good Mentors allow students to begin at the beginning. The student may not have a world class dog, and only the slightest knowledge of the activity they are exploring. Mentoring is all about guiding a student to Better things. Everybody is welcome to explore.
It is my considered opinion that if every schutzhund, or dog sport group had an individual that personified this description of a Mentor, we wouldn’t be considering the demise of our dog activities. Young people would be joining in, and people would be more curious about what those crazy dog people are doing in that park with their dogs.
Such mentors do exist today, and even if you can’t work with them regularly, even the shortest of times together produces benefit. Seek out those times. And if you are one of those people that is seen as a Mentor, give thought to being the best mentor that you can be to as many people as possible. It might well save our sport, and make the world a better place.
*This piece is dedicated to the people that have motivated me, if even in the most limited time.* You ARE true Mentors. Wade Morrell, Brian Harvey, Andrew Ramsey, Jack Rayl, Kevin Kinker, and Rhonda Sellers.