Book review: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

A couple of years ago I had a weekend off, so I decided to attend a dog show. This was not just any dog show, it was the  Great Lakes Terrier Association show at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake, Illinois.    Also, the same day, in another building, was the  Chicago Papillon Club specialty show.

This is an  odd cluster of dog shows. Due to the economy being bad,  and the ‘popularity’ (or lake thereof) of the terrier breeds, all the clubs holding specialties have such small numbers, that the only way they can afford to put on an event like this is to  be part of the association.  For those who don’t know:  if you have a dog club that promotes an AKC breed, you  must have a dog show once a year.  After all, the reasoning is, you are sponsoring and promoting a breed of dogs!

But, the entries in each breed are so small, that the entire event is over in the blink of an eye.    Maybe I am exaggerating. In about 4 hours, it’s all over.

If you are interested in any of the terrier breeds, it’s good to come and watch, just to see the dogs…but will you get your questions answered, or be able to follow what is going on?  I doubt it.  In fact, well, her is what happened to me…

I stopped in to the building where  the terrier judging was going on.  Some dogs were actually left alone on grooming tables, on blocks (that’s the newest thing: you put each foot on a block & the dog has to stand still or risk hanging himself if he dares to move a foot!) while  handlers and owners were off talking to one another. Sure, they could get back in less than a minute if a dog  got into trouble, but  I could think of more humane ways to leave a dog unattended!  I didn’t try to talk to anyone,  there was too much commotion. so I went to watch the Papillons.

The building  is a pole barn…less than charming.  People had their crates and tables spread out.  I believe I came in at the need of an obedience exercise in one of the rings. I was just standing there, watching.  Suddenly, an elderly woman came up to me and asked me if I was lost.

I was in my mid 50’s at the time, so you can imagine this woman was much older.  I told he I had just come in to watch judging. I asked her if there was any information about the club. She was most unfriendly. She made it clear that my watching was unwelcome.    So, I left.

So much for promoting your breed.  How ironic!  I am a fancier, but because I didn’t come in with a Pap, and nobody knew me, and I wasn’t looking for anyone in particular, I was not welcome to watch a very small dog show.

Not all dog people are snooty.  A member of the Airedale Terrier Club invited me to one of their picnics!

Some of the breeds actually  attract friendly people who want you  to become more interested and active.

It’s been getting worse and  worse as the economy gets worse.  The AKC has encouraged the clubs to put up websites, but you try to email the secretary, and the link is no longer good—so you can’t get in touch with the club.  Or you email, it goes through, and nobody responds (this has happened with breed rescues, too).

The  salaried people at the AKC seem concerned, but are putting more effort into cultivating commercial (puppy mill) breeders than helping the clubs and hobby breeders.

So, conventional wisdom is that dog breeders & fanciers ar a snooty bunch that  breed  dogs for elites, and will bend over backwards to NOT sell you a dog—but then complain about how people  go to puppy mills rather than seek  out good breeders like themselves.

What does this have to do with a book review?  Well, for a long time, I’ve been wondering how we dog fanciers turn this dynamic around.  I majored in anthropology in college to learn how communities get their ideas….& here it is, written in such an understandable way,  I’m thinking this should be required reading of all anthropology majors, if not those doing marketing and communications.

Published in 2000, by a well known staff writer for The New Yorker, t The Tipping Point (Little, Brown and Company)  addresses how  what we know comes to be the conventional wisdom:  how fads get started, what sticks, and how we can affect what people think.  Gladwell addresses little bits of historical facts that we all know, and  explores what led up to  the incident, and why the incident had such impact on us all.  This is something I am sure many of us have thought about.

In 2007, the brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath also addressed this topic,  or rather the nuance of messages, in Made to Stick (Random House).  Those of us who are dog fanciers, who want our breeds to survive in an era of a crumbling middle class, where dog fanciers will have to decide on whether to pay for health care or dog food, would be wise to check out both books and talk to  their (our) fellow fanciers about the state of purebred dogs.

After all, we are the ones who want to breed the healthiest, most genetically sound dogs, and find the best homes for them.  It is not the  puppy mill or backyard breeders who do this. We have not  been very successful at differentiating what we, as fanciers, do, that is different from the commercial breeders.  We sponsor health research, and we support rescues.  If it weren’t for the hobby breeders, there would be no designer mixes.

It’s just gotten to the point that it is all too expensive, and really an indulgence. If we don’t attract more fanciers, it’s just pointless.  We really need greeters at dog shows to meet novice fanciers and guide them along.


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