A major mission of the AKC is to protect and assure the continuation of the sport of purebred dogs. One way for them to do this is to look to those who are the future of our sport. In AKC’s words, “…encourage participation in the sport by young purebred dog enthusiasts; to teach good sportsmanship, win or lose; and to educate the next generation of the fancy.” AKC offers a number of avenues for Juniors to participate, and the most well-received and recognized event is Junior Showmanship.
Generally, children begin with the family pet, but increasingly, we see parents on social media looking for guidance on a dog for their family and their children’s participation in dog shows. The AKC Junior Facebook group has 6,000 members and the AKC Juniors Facebook page has more than 1,100 followers. Parents and Juniors often ask for advice on breeds and search for dogs using those social media sources. Some children get started in Juniors with their current pet and then, as they get deeply involved and more competitive, they begin to seek out a dog specifically for their Junior’s career.
It’s no secret that many Toy breeders are seniors, and as time goes by our ranks are getting smaller. Unfortunately for those of us in Toys who want to encourage young people to get into Toy breeds and join our clubs, we discover that when our youth are choosing a dog for Junior showmanship, the Toy breeds are often overlooked for the bigger, flashier breeds. Some of this is due to familiarity and to the exposure they have to the larger dogs. Family pets are often bigger breeds from the Sporting, Working, and Herding Groups. When new Juniors begin showing, they will often see the more experienced Juniors showing in Open and Masters with dogs such as Doberman Pinschers, Pointers, Australian Shepherds, and other similar breeds. At the Royal Canin AKC National Championship Junior Competition, with 152 entries, only 18 were listed as showing a dog from the Toy Group.
A number of the Toy breed clubs holding specialties in Orlando on the day before the AKC National Championship have begun making an effort to reach out to Juniors and introduce them to their Toy breeds. Several Toy breed specialties held Junior competitions for the first time with their annual Orlando Specialty that Friday. Other clubs, to increase interest in their breed, invited Juniors and offered the use of dogs for them to show. Some Toy breed clubs promoted Junior competition at their specialties with large rosettes and great prizes.
The number of Juniors participating at the Toy breed specialties this year was quite impressive and very encouraging. Italian Greyhounds (15), Biewer Terriers (9), Yorkshire Terriers (4), Toy Fox Terriers (8), Papillons (7), Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (8), Chinese Crested (9), Pomeranians (10), and Toy Manchester Terriers (6) are some of the Toy breeds whose clubs chose to promote themselves to Juniors successfully this year. The AKC rule change allowing children to show in Junior Showmanship with a dog they don’t own is also helping the Toy breed clubs to promote their breeds. A number of Toy breeders, me included, brought dogs specifically for Juniors to show. I took three retired champions for Juniors to show at the ATFTC Specialty. One young lady from my hometown showed at her very first shows ever with my Toy Fox Terrier, “Flirt,” that she’d practiced with at handling class for a few weeks and then showed in Novice. Some Juniors normally show in other breeds but enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the Toy breeds and came to the specialties to show and to learn.
One Junior, Hadrian Towell, competed with a Toy Manchester both in the Manchester Specialty, where he won Best Junior, and in the AKC Junior Competition where he made the Finals, and ultimately, 4th Place. Another Junior, Izzy Burg, showed her Toy Fox Terrier, winning Best Junior at the Toy Fox Specialty and then went to compete with adults and won 4th in the NOHS Finals Toy Group. These Juniors are just two of the talented youth who are showing Toy breeds in Juniors and Conformation, and demonstrating how the Toy breeds can be outstanding dogs for Juniors.
Some clubs make a year-round effort to support and promote Juniors in their events. An example is the American Manchester Terrier Club whose members have fundraisers for their Junior competitions and to assist their Junior Members. They mentor Juniors, have Junior events at their specialties, including activities outside the ring for Juniors, and have earned an excellent reputation for being a Junior-friendly club. The American Toy Fox Terrier Club doesn’t charge an entry fee for Juniors to enter Junior Showmanship at their Specialties. The Biewer Terrier Club of America had great prizes and reduced entry fees. The Central Florida Yorkshire Terrier Club had amazing rosettes for the Juniors. All the clubs promoting their breeds to Juniors have worked hard to make it a great experience for them.
We will continue to promote Toy breeds to Juniors, and as the youth spend time with our Toy dogs and have success with them, I believe we will encourage a whole new generation of Toy dog lovers and help to assure the preservation of our wonderful Toy breeds. If you have the opportunity to educate a Junior on your Toy breed, it is worth the effort. The Toy breeds are an excellent option for youth wanting to show dogs.
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