Many obedience clubs provide an important function in serving the public and have every right to be extremely proud of their accomplishments. Others, however, do not belong in-this category — while holding themselves out as giving qualified instruction in dog obedience training to members of the public, their only interest lies in using the fees paid by training members to pay for activities not related to training. Such a club’s interest in a training member ceases once he has paid his fee and it cares next to nothing about the services it is expected to render in return for this fee.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to come in close contact with two obedience clubs in the same general vicinity. I would like to provide you with a profile of these clubs as they were then and let you decide into which category you would place each club. First, I will list what they had in common, and second, how they differed.
Both clubs were over 15 years old and put on an annual AKC licensed obedience trial. Both were non-profit and all-volunteer in the sense that none of their members were paid for devoting their time to the club. Their training fees were identical and both enrolled approximately the same number of training members each year. And both had approximately the same number of members.
Now for the differences: Club #1 — this club did not have any voting members, but it was governed by a board of directors which rarely changed. Its trial chairman, for instance, had held that position for over ten years. In case a vacancy on the board arose, the board filled the vacancy. The board met only infrequently and there were no membership meetings. It rented two indoor training locations for its training members and regular members five nights a week. Its instructors were a regular and steady core; new instructors were brought along gradually and there were regular instructors’ meetings. Its annual trial ranked among the top ten in the Nation and was considered the best organized and run trial in the area, even though no cash prizes are awarded; the trial also paid for itself. It had two socials every year at which alcoholic beverages were paid for by the club. (Peripherally, it should be mentioned that one of these socials is an after-the trial buffet which avoids the potential problems inherent in pre-trial dinners where club member exhibitors have the opportunity of meeting and talking to the judges.) In 1972, the club took credit for over 60 titles.
Club #2 — members of this club voted on all actions taken by its elected board of directors; members elected all officers which has had the result that the various positions change almost annually. It had monthly board of directors meetings as well as membership meetings which were devoted mostly to bickering. All its training was conducted on one day — Sunday — and it preferred a rent-free outside location regardless of weather conditions. Instructing was done on a “who is available” basis with little or no attention being paid to continuity or instructor qualifications. There were no instructors’ meetings. In recent years, with several exceptions, its annual trials were considered disastrous, primarily due to an ever-changing parade of trial chairmen and even though the club awarded about $500 in cash prizes in addition to extremely nice trophies. The trial was subsidized each year by about $800 to $1,000. The club had four socials every year at which alcoholic beverages are paid for by the club which included a pre- trial dinner. In 1972, it took credit for less than 20 titles.
You judge which club fulfills its obligation to the public in providing the services for which it is paid. From these two examples, it is obvious that the type of structure of a particular club is unimportant. What is important, is how the club views its functions. Surely, if it accepts money from those who come to it for help and instruction, it has the duty to provide this help and instruction in the best manner possible. It is also obvious that there is nothing inconsistent with having a training club which is also a trial giving club. The success of this combination, however, will depend on how the club arranges its priorities. Under no circumstances should the training part be anything less than co-equal to the trial giving part. As a matter of fact, to be absolutely scrupulous, the trial giving activity should really be secondary to the training activity.
Clubs sponsoring trials are important and many of us would not remain in obedience very long were it not for the chance to compete at trials. By the same token, if a club holds itself out as an organization which teaches members of the public how to make better companions of their pets, it cannot in fairness and honesty shortchange them. By taking a training member’s money, the club agrees to provide him with solid instruction by qualified instructors under the best available circumstances. It is hardly honest to take his money and then skimp and save on training facilities and instruction in order to put on a trial and provide booze at dinners for club members. I am not suggesting that the use of club funds for these purposes would be inappropriate, PROVIDED the club has met its obligations to its training members. Would it not be more sensible, for example, to spend some of this money on sending instructors or potential instructors to clinics or an instructors’ school at the club’s expense to give them a more varied background and an opportunity to broaden their experience?
Similarly, the energies of the club should be directed toward training. Unfortunately, for some clubs the annual trial an its socials become all-important and the person who enrolled in a training class to learn how to train his dog is lost in the shuffle. Shoddy instruction, inadequate facilities and above all a “so what” attitude is the hallmark of such an organization, a picture hardly conducive to providing a good image for our sport.
©1975 W. Volhard