Until this year, I had never belonged to a dog related club. Never even considered it. My dogs had always been "bitzas", raised by a mixture of common sense and idiosyncratic habit. My dogs were never very well trained, enough to get along well in the house, but they had some quirky and annoying habits. Diet was what we could afford and what we'd always done, rather than a planned effort at complete nutrition. Looking back, their vet care was minimal, their vaccinations constantly lapsed and their puppy socialisation was accidental. We loved our dogs growing up wholeheartedly, but through ignorance and a lack of information available about cockadors and pekeranians (prior to the designer dog craze), we bumbled through a plethora of minor mistakes. The fact that we never had a dog attack or an "oops" pregnancy or a dog that was impossible to live with was as much dumb luck as anything else.
J's long association with the Siberian husky club of Victoria has opened my eyes to the benefits of breed clubs. The SHCV, like any such club, offers two important things: 1) information, and 2) contacts with other people with the same breed. Members, like J, can feed, exercise, house and train their dogs in an informed and supported manner, rather than by guesswork and habit.
The information is easy to access in this Internet age, and the SHCV maintains a detailed website. And, because that website is the product of a knowledgable committee, it's information is not just one person's opinion (like this blog!!) but is peer assessed. If a member of the club feels that something written on the website is incorrect or out of date, there must be agreement amongst the relevant people to make the change. This puts pressure on people to make sure their proposals are well researched and/or well reasoned, rather than just being personal opinion.
SHCV also maintains a breed specific library of print and other resources. Rather than being limited to Internet research where everyone is at the mercy of the person who chose the domain name, the SHCV library has books and magazines written by experts, amateurs, vets, trainers, breeders and anyone else. Books and magazines, as my librarian friends are keen to remind us, are usually proof-read by other experts. Again, crack pot individuals will often be weeded out by publishers, editors, proof readers and others.
Possibly even more important, is the access to other people who share a passion for the breed. Breeders, mushers, pet owners, people who show, do obedience, agility and dancing with dogs. In such a group of experienced people, the collective knowledge and experience is enormous. When Frankie split his pad, we were able to get advice on what ointments and creams might help. When Ishka was going in for her surgery, we were offered advice by people whose dogs had been through the same surgery, with the same vet! If there are questions about dealing with councils or rangers, sourcing supplies for fencing, harnesses, racing rigs or food, dealing with behavioural issues or training hiccups, you can guarantee that someone in the club will have been through it before. And dog people love to talk about their dogs!
Of course, within the club, it's not all one big happy family. There are disagreements, squabbles and even feuds. However, most people respect each others autonomy to make the right decision for their circumstances and their dogs. But the number of long time members who are happy to attend a Boot Camp or Training Weekend, to loan gear (and even dogs!) to people new to the club or new to the breed, to offer advice and guidance, is really wonderful.
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