Do Better: On the Balance of Professionalism in the Dog World
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
I share my thoughts and process behind developing and building my breeding process, because as I have continued on my journey, I am just constantly struck by how much happens behind the scenes that the average person has no idea about. I'm firmly of the opinion that this disconnect between what pet owners think breeders do and what responsible breeders actually do, contributes heavily to the current anti-breeder climate.
If you met me in person outside of the dog fancy, I suspect you'd be surprised. I'm pretty introverted and have severe social anxiety at times. Put me in a position to coach dog owners in how better to work with their dogs, ask my about my breed, my dogs, or really anything about the dog world in general I generally brighten up and will immediately talk your ear off. Despite this, I tend to be an open book. You can ask me just about anything about my personal life and I'll likely answer your question. I've had friends I've known for years express surprise when some new acquaintance asks me about my plans for the future or past romances and I answer readily. Though I am private by nature, very little is secret. If you want the information, I'll give it to you.
This is a concept I apply to my professional life too. Do I use e-collars to train dogs? Yes, that's not a secret. I'm happy to talk about why I use e-collars, how I can to use them, and how they can be used humanely. However, this is a controversial subject, so while I readily post pictures of my dogs in their e-collars, unless someone asks about them, I don't purposefully antagonize people over my training tools and choices. Similarly, I health test. Not every breeder does. I'm not going to demonize breeders who don't. I've bought dogs from breeders who don't health test. But if someone asks me if a particular breeder does health testing and if I know why or why not, I'm not going to dodge that question. If I don't know the answer, I'll give it (and try to keep my own opinion out of it), but if I have the information I'm not going to hide it. Though, if you tell me something in confidence, I will keep it.
This balance can be difficult to walk. There are many breeders I respect deeply and who I disagree with fundamentally about how to build a breeding program. I am not going to drag a breeder's name through the mud, even when I have personally had bad experiences with them. Arguing with people over deeply entrenched ideas doesn't work. It just doesn't. To address misconceptions and misinformation, I try to never confront someone on their personal social media page or contradict them in a public forum at all. It just breeds hurt feelings. In general, I don't even privately message people to discuss things when I disagree with them. Again, I'm likely only headed for frustration when we inevitably reach an impasse.
I will always try to focus on myself and my program and I want to model the behavior I want to see in others. I want to demonstrate through my actions, rather than through my words why I choose to do what I do rather than speaking badly of my peers, fellow fanciers, or really anyone. Every single one of my decisions is researched and influenced by scientific studies, anecdotal evidence from breeders I respect, and personal experience.
At a flyball tournament last year (2019) we were working on improving our passing (how closely the next dog in the relay starts once the previous dog finishes their run). As teammates, when your dog isn't running, you're in the lanes helping make sure everything is running smoothly. You're taking stats and calling passes to help run your dogs as fast as you can (as safe as you can). We'd had a number of wide passes and we started to jokingly tease each other to "do better". The pass caller would hold up a white board with the number of feet in between passes (zero feet is a perfect pass). This started happening when we had wide passes (10' or more) but then teasingly and in good spirits continued even as our passes narrowed down to 1-2' consistently.
I will always strive to do better. It is a mantra that repeats in my head daily. I make the best decisions I can at the time that I make them. But if someone presents me with compelling evidence that there is a better way to do something I am going to change how I do it. I don't mean this in a rigid way. I was a perfectionist as a child, something I've worked hard to overcome, so I can accept the flaws in things. But I always want to do better. And this for me, is a large component of professionalism.
Acknowledge when you're wrong. Congratulate someone when they are successful, even if it means you weren't. Acknowledge that just because someone has a different vision than you do doesn't mean they're wrong. Acknowledge that when you take a chance on someone, that people are people and sometimes they'll disappoint you. And especially acknowledge when it was your expectations that were the problem in the first place. Congratulate the Pekingese who just took their 18th Best in Show. Applaud the Greyhound who took that stunning Best in Field even when your dog coursed a brilliant course themselves. Take chances on that young, new fancier or that first time dog owner.
Learn that control is an illusion (I struggle with this one). I can sell a puppy on limited registration (no breeding or showing or future litter registration rights) but that won't keep them from being bred. I can have a twenty page contract, but unless I have the money and mental fortitude to take a buyer in violation of their contract to court, that contract honestly doesn't provide much protection. Learn how to trust. Form relationships and rely on those and not contracts. Learn how to recover when someone inevitably breaks your trust despite your best guidance and advice. And learn from a pattern. It's such a hard lesson, I certainly struggle with it, but when I am routinely having interpersonal issues that is a sign for me to look internally and do a lot of examination over what I am doing wrong to cause recurring personal problems.
For me professionalism is:
Listening and hearing criticism
Not offering criticism to someone who isn't open to hearing it
Forming my own opinions and being open to sharing them, but not sharing them in a public forum that will have wide repercussions for other people
Thanking other people for their opinion, even when they don't agree
Forgiving and forgetting
Remembering and adapting
Congratulating others on their successes
Allowing others to make decisions, even when you don't agree
Forming real relationships
Letting slights, both real and imagined, small and large, roll on by you
Letting the past stay there, but learning from it all the same
Not playing on people's outrage and emotions to win supporters
Understanding the difference between a conversation had between friends when heated in the moment or in confidence and a conversation meant to be shared with the public
I will always strive to be professional. I will always aim at sensibly neutral, but transparent. There are times I will fail in this. There are times that we all will. But I will always always seek to do better.