Everything in Schutzhund is about relationship. Photo: Donna Haynes.
The Schutzhund club is a complicated thing. People are complicated, family is complicated, and thus clubs, the small "family units" of IPO, are complicated. Because of this, Schutzhund clubs are often misunderstood in ways that can leave you confused or even unenamored with the concept of clubs.
Misconception #1: Clubs are run as businesses.
We have certain expectations of businesses. We expect prompt service, treatment that caters to us in some fashion to ensure we become repeat customers, and a desire for our patronage. However, clubs are not businesses. They are volunteer-run, non-profit social clubs whose primary purpose is to train and title the dogs of its members in Schutzhund. Those involved with the club have real jobs outside the club, plus families, dogs to take care of and train, and other obligations. These volunteers serve the club, answer inquiry emails, and return phone calls in what little spare time is available.
What this means for those looking for a club:
Replies to your inquiries are not immediate.
If you show up with the expectation of the club automatically desiring your repeat patronage, you may be disappointed.
The best way to approach a club is as you would a prospective relationship. There must be interest from both parties.
Misconception #2: Clubs always need new members.
Clubs don’t need new members. Clubs need the right members. Established clubs are not concerned about swelling their ranks with numbers; in fact, most clubs want to keep their membership small and manageable. They only add members when they find someone who is a right fit for their club, who gets along well with everyone, and who is supportive, encouraging, and like-minded in their goals.
The truth of the matter is that you need the club more than the club needs you. It’s a sobering thought, but the reality is that there just aren’t enough good clubs to go around out there. Finding the right club -- or starting your own club or group -- takes time.
Misconception #3: Joining a club is a fast process.
Just like everything else in Schutzhund, getting involved in a club requires patience, persistence, and dedication. Club membership is not like gym membership, where you can sign up at any time and use it whenever you want. Clubs may open membership once or twice a year, requiring people to wait until then. Others have an extensive vetting period of several months or more, not just several visits. Clubs want to ensure prospective members are dedicated and committed to Schutzhund and to the club, and this can’t be determined in only a few visits. Schutzhund is a lot of work, and clubs want prospective members to have the drive, desire, and gumption to stick with it. Clubs are looking for a committed relationship.
Misconception #4: Joining a club is primarily your decision.
In a relationship, the decision to take it to the next level must be made by both parties. So it is with club membership; the feelings must be mutual. Showing up to a club for a few sessions and then announcing that you want to join can be presumptuous. Stating ‘I want to join your club’ in your very first contact without ever visiting the club, experiencing the training, or meeting the membership is equivalent to proposing marriage to someone you just met!
Membership is a decision that involves the whole club. Interest in membership can be appropriately expressed after repeat visits (“Can you tell me a little bit about your membership process?”), but membership is typically offered by the club if the individual fits the club dynamic and would be a good addition to the family. And this is what’s most important for clubs: that everyone “fits” and gets along well, because you will be spending a lot of time together in this relationship. So if a club continually gives you the cold shoulder or never extends the offer of membership, then they may not be interested in starting a new relationship at this time.
What should a person do while waiting to hear from or join a club? Be patient and persistent. Cultivate the early stages of the relationship. Attend club trials if you can, and offer to help out. Be a regular at training, and be an active participant. Lastly, do a little self-evaluation. We’ll look at this next blog: how do you know if you would be a good club member?
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