Making Ourselves Relevant to the People We Need

by Susi on January 18, 2016

in Breeders, dog show, dog shows, Instagram

It may have started with the Baby Boomers, but it is a rare generation these days that isn’t somewhat narcissistic in its youth. Most young adults get over themselves as they get older, but the challenge facing dog fanciers is how to reach these potential fanciers while they’re still young.

There are six living generations in America right now, and broadly speaking, three of them, the “Gen-X-ers, “Millennials” and “Boomlets” don’t remotely communicate with others the way veterans in our sport did at the same age. These people have never known a world without computers, and some of them haven’t known a day without a cell phone. Cursive writing, now regarded as anachronistic, hasn’t been taught in many school systems for years. Newer generations don’t use a phone if they can e-mail, and they don’t e-mail if they can text. They get their news on-line, their gossip on Facebook, their entertainment on Netflix, and visit You Tube for instructional videos. WebAssign assesses their school assignments, they use Photoshop and InDesign to express creativity, and for inspiration, they go to Pinterest. “Selfies” are the new autobiography, and Instagram is the new family photo album. Sixty percent of the time they spend watching a TV program is “time-shifted,” meaning that they’ve programed a DRV to record something they’ll watch at a time that suits them, not a network.

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This is not written as a “slam.” Today’s young people are curious and creative and they pursue their eclectic interests with passion. The fact is, however, that because they’ve been using the latest in technology since infancy, they expect things quickly, and that includes knowledge. They are “on-demand “consumers who learn by doing, not by investing precious time reading instruction manuals or listening to lectures. These are the young adults whose interest we must pique if we’re to have any hope of passing the torch to people who will protect our breeds when we’re gone.

Lest you think these are sweeping generalizations, consider:

  • In 2015, a little over one in four people on the entire planet use a smartphone. In the United States, 98% of 18-29 year olds uses a smartphone, and for 15% of them, the phones are their only access to the Internet;
  • Podcast subscriptions on iTunes (short-form audio files) reached 1 billion people last year, and in the US, half of podcast listeners are between 12-34 years old;
  • You Tube has one billion active users each month, and the more frequent the visits, the younger the user. On mobile alone, You Tube reaches more 18-34 and 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S.
  • 43% of Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) use You Tube;
  • This grows to 58% of Generation X-ers (born between 1965 and 1980), and increases to 72% of Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000);
  • A staggering 81.9% of teenagers between 14-17 use YouTube routinely.

The people who frequent these sites see what they want, when they want to see it, and wherever they happening to be standing at the moment. That’s a lot of self-indulgence, and writer, Joel Stein, probably had it right when he described Millennials in a recent TIME magazine cover story as the “Me, Me, Me Generation.” It’s doubtful that Stein wrote this description to “dis” this demographic, however, because he goes on to explain that these people “aren’t a new species; they’ve just mutated to adapt to their environment.” That environment is cyberspace.

Sadly, the fancy has been slow to create a dynamic presence in their environment, and it still hasn’t tackled in practical terms how we’re to market ourselves to a demographic that doesn’t need us as much as we need them.

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Many of us still don’t have an Internet presence through which the public might learn about our different breeds, nor have we as individuals done a good enough job in giving compelling reasons why a prospective dog owner should opt for a purebred dog over a mixed breed from a shelter. The fancy is unlikely to make in- roads, let alone an impact, if potential puppy buyers find substandard breeders easier and faster than they can find quality breeders dedicated to their breeds. Long overdue is the time when we as individuals, and the sport as a whole, repackages itself and competes head to head in the marketplace with unethical people selling unsound dogs that doom both owner and dog to misery.

Make no mistake, we are also in competition with rescue groups that have become a cottage industry onto themselves. Promoting ourselves on-line isn’t selling out our dignity; it’s protecting our dogs and a venerable sport. Not to promote either amounts to selling out our breeds.

If Millennials, the biggest age grouping in American history with some 80 million people, is visiting You Tube, iTunes, Instagram and Pinterest, then each breeder, fancier, and club needs to be there, too. It’s never been easier to create a video or podcast, and who better to speak with passion about the “selling points” of our respective breeds than the people who love them? Podcasts and videos of interviews with the “elder statesmen” of our respective breeds need to be put on iTune, You Tube, Vimeo and Twitter now. Every breed club should consider adding a “Social Media Committee” now, not just to ensure the club’s presence on-line, but to actively and aggressively promote the unique and predictable attributes of their breed. The material writes itself when we look at what we admire about our dogs.

The National Study of Youth and Religion study found the guiding morality of 60% of Millennials in any situation is that they just want to be able to feel what’s right.  This plays perfectly into our message. “Heritage breeders” are, in reality, conservators preserving their respective breeds, many of these breeds at risk of vanishing in our lifetime. Owning a breed outnumbered by Panda Bears is a “feel good” act that holds its own when the sentence, “I saved this dog from a shelter” is met with, “I saved this breed from extinction.”

It won’t be a tough sell.

This article first appeared in the January, 2016 issue of Dogs in Review under the title, “Making Ourselves Relevant”

 

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlee January 18, 2016 at 6:47 pm

As usual, excellent post. I think looking at the FB groups back your findings as well. I know there are some folks reaching out that way.

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Susi January 19, 2016 at 1:55 pm

Awwwww Charlee, you are always so kind to me!

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Gina January 19, 2016 at 1:32 pm

I’m a millennial, and I love purebred dogs. There are two problems to address here.

#1 is the more difficult. The rhetoric online is vehemently “adopt don’t shop.” Anyone voicing admiration or support for breeders/breeding is immediately vilified. Those who get their pets from shelters see breeders and those who love purebred dogs as the source of the problem. It’s nearly impossible to have a conversation about purebred dogs without it quickly plummeting into a mud slinging battle. There needs to be a huge push online to show that responsible breeders are doing their part to prevent dogs from ending up in shelters.

#2 is discoverability. It is almost IMPOSSIBLE for someone to find a legitimate, responsible breeder online. It takes a lot of work–work that most people will not put in. There are plenty of puppy mills to be found. And these are the “breeders” that online communities base their opinions on.

What’s the solution? I think the breed clubs social media outreach is a good idea. But it’s going to take a movement. A grassroots effort with many people taking part to show that these dogs are not being inbred, not landing in shelters, and not being mistreated for personal gain. I love the diversity of dogs. I want truly responsible breeders to have the credit they deserve. I want to be able to celebrate my purebred dogs online, where I spend too much time. But things have to change for that to happen.

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Susi January 19, 2016 at 1:55 pm

I’m happy to hear from you, Gina, and appreciate your feedback. I wish I was as optimistic as you in thinking that there are “only” two issues facing us as purebred dog admirers. It’s difficult to undo 100 years of a dog fancier mindset, and when one adds to the mix 25 years of an increasingly shrill adopt-don’t-shop” message, the burden seems too difficult to overcome. I, however, tend to be a “glass half full” kind of girl and refuse to concede the battle. The response to National Purebred Dog Day suggests that there are many of us who are tired and have grown angry with the rhetoric of which you speak, and if you’ve not already visited NPDD’s Facebook page, consider doing so. By baby-steps, the “movement” is growing, and its message is a difficult one for anti-purebred dog zealots to refute, but owners and breeders are hungry for practical steps on how to have that dialogue, and it’s something I’ve written about frequently in this blog space. May 1 (NPDD) is the opening (read: excuse) many folks have been needing to take the conversation to the public. I hope that in time, we will successfully bring balance back to the conversation about responsible dog ownership.

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jean c February 5, 2016 at 10:06 am

My daughter currently has 2 rescue dogs from different organizations. Her second one –well she acquired it with a view to performance, and is currently taking agility classes with that dog. I’d argue that the way to reach people in those generations is through dog-training and performance classes. Their first dog may be a rescue, but if they get caught up in certain performance venues, their second or third dog is likely to be a purpose-bred dog.

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Susi February 5, 2016 at 10:20 am

There is certainly that, Jean, and I won’t dispute that it’s a good way to reach many in that generation. I remember walking behind a pair of women walking their mixed breeds at Westminster the first year agility was offered there. They were chortling that here they were at hallowed Westminster, and neither had spent more than $100 for their dog, and never would. The joke, as they saw it, was on the fools who spent more on purebred dogs. I think there’s a lot of that sentiment out there, as well.

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jean c February 5, 2016 at 1:16 pm

Agreed. And some rescue dogs, whether all-American or from a breed rescue, can be excellent performance dogs. But someone who wants to do stuff with their dog, whether it is hunting or agility or therapy work, is likely to identify the characteristics that make enable to dog this well, and then look for a dog that has those traits. Breeds were developed with certain functions in mind, and have a commonality that random-bred dogs don’t. And if someone is willing to spend $$$ on training, then spending a bit more to buy a purpose-bred dog makes sense.

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Susi February 5, 2016 at 4:14 pm

Something to consider, too, with performance dogs whatever the ancestry is to ensure that the dog is structurally sound enough to do what’s asked of it. Dogs, being dogs, want to please, and will sublimate their own pain to please their owners. The odds are that a well bred purebred dog is likely to be more sound than a “pound puppy” – not always, but usually. In the end, I most care that the dog is happy and pain-free.

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