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Say Hello to Miguel Betancourt

A nor’easter that ravaged the northeastern U.S. in 1994 was in full swing when the airliner carrying dog man Miguel Betancourt touched down at Philadelphia International Airport. “I never had seen snow coming down,” says the internationally acclaimed photographer who has spent the two decades since perfecting his craft and building his business empire. “I flew straight into a snowstorm. I had no clue what it was!”

Many people experience trial by fire, but trial by blizzard? Well, this is how Miguel’s introduction to the American dog world began.

German Shepherd Dog ‘TJ,’ a cover dog co-bred and owned by Miguel. All Photos courtesy of In Focus by Miguel.

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Miguel’s initiation into purebred dogs began inauspiciously enough. At the tender age of 14, he heard about a neighborhood dog that needed a home. The German Shepherd Dog had been abused and was very aggressive, but this did not deter the young animal lover. “As a teenager, I said, ‘Sure I want it,’” Miguel recalls. So he took the dog home where his mother promptly told him that the only way she would even consider allowing him to keep it was if he committed himself to training the dog. “I said, ‘OK, that sounds good to me.’”

Miguel began taking his new dog to training classes, and he got involved with protection work “in order to control my own dog!” He attended his first obedience trial where he met people who could teach him what he needed to know. “That is how I got involved with German Shepherds,” he says. “I had found a job. It was very motivational for me – and still is.”

“I began showing dogs,” Miguel says of the time when he was doing multiple things to earn a living. In South America there are not many shows, so handlers travel to different countries to compete where they have the opportunity to meet judges at the international shows. “I met Dr. Robert Smith,” he remembers. “He told me, ‘You’re a very talented handler. You should move to the U.S.’” Later at a show in the Dominican Republic, Miguel was showing a client’s German Shepherd when he met Kathleen Steen. “She said the very same thing,” he recalls. “They motivated me. I came [to the U.S.] a few times, and I really liked it. That was enough for me to move.”

Winter weather and a new culture, however, proved to be real challenges for the South American handler. “The transition was difficult,” he says of the move to central Pennsylvania. “I was kidding myself. I thought that I spoke English well, but I did not,” Miguel admits.

“I found out when I was at the airport in Philadelphia that I had no English whatsoever. That was a pretty hard lesson to learn,” he says. “I was still learning about life!”

Scottish Terrier ‘Sadie,’ Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot.

A Change of Plans
Showing dogs in the States turned out to be altogether different than he had thought. “It was not what I wanted,” Miguel notes. “I changed my goals in life and found photography to be a very good outlet for me.”

Although he was looking to change careers, Miguel began photographing dogs at dog shows as a hobby. “I just bought a tiny camera in Walmart and started to take photos like everybody else,” he says without a trace of false modesty. “I finally got a digital camera that I didn’t even know how to use.”

He may have lacked the technical skills at the time, but Miguel certainly knew a thing or two about dogs. “My background is in physical education, so I am very familiar with anatomy,” he says. “It was very easy for me to understand the conformation of the dogs, and that was very helpful when I started to photograph them.”

In short order, the former handler realized that he had something going on. “I wasn’t sure if it was talent or what it was, but people said, ‘I would like to buy your photos.’” Miguel began to see an opportunity and started to pay attention to the magazines and what established photographers were doing. “I did my research, and I said, ‘Look, here is an opportunity. I better start to get educated.’”

Pointer ‘Holly,’ Ch. Cookieland Seasyde Hollyberry.

Continuing Education
“My strategy at the time was to work for free for the photographers, inside and outside the dog shows,” Miguel remembers. “Whatever they needed, I helped them.”

Miguel had a good friend who was a wedding photographer. “I helped with weddings and photo shoots, with only the desire to learn,” he says. Soon he enrolled in seminars and began taking private photography classes. “Professional photographers outside of dog shows began to teach me. I engaged in education with fashion photographers, commercial photographers, horse photographers,” he recalls of the private lessons he would sometimes take in exchange for his services.

“My first camera was an Olympus,” Miguel recalls. “My first professional camera was a Canon – the one I could afford,” he says.

He’s come a long way since purchasing that first camera. “I take probably 10,000 photos per week, and even more with my iPhone,” he says. “I don’t do that just with the dogs, but also for other subjects, including commercial shoots and equine photography. These allow me to practice, continue to grow and try new things,” he says.

Advertising came about naturally through the photography. “One of the things I did when I started my business [was to decide that] I’m going to have a licensed business and hire an assistant to help with the photo editing,” he says. “I didn’t have a background in photo editing, and I felt the need to hire somebody who did.”

A graphic designer soon joined Miguel and In Focus by Miguel was officially launched. Then, when someone asked him if he did ads, his answer was a quick, “Sure we do.” His first client was an “interesting lady” who hired the team to design ads for her Tibetan Spaniel and this, naturally, led to more exposure and the beginning of a legitimate advertising agency.

Toy Poodle ‘Vikki,’ Ch. Smash JP Win A Victory.

Mentor and Friend
“When I started the business, one of my first high profile clients was Ron Scott,” Miguel says of the man whose support has been instrumental in cultivating a direction for his life’s work. “He became my first really good client.”

Ron lived in Pennsylvania not too far from Miguel, and the two men soon started to develop more of a campaign strategy than simply doing ads and photos. “One time I spent a week in his area. Because he is a very successful businessman I asked him, ‘What do I have to do to become as successful as you are?’”

Miguel says that he received invaluable advice from Ron. “I will never forget sitting in his office,” Miguel says excitedly. “He gave me all these guidelines. ‘Look, here’s what I think you should do…’” The two talked about clients, judges and goals, of course, but more importantly, Ron spoke with Miguel as one executive speaks to another. “You need to surround yourself with people who know what you don’t know,” was the wisdom imparted that day. “It’s impossible that you can try to do everything. It’s impossible for you to have all the knowledge. Hire the people who have the skills that you don’t have,” Ron told him.

“And that is exactly what I did,” Miguel says matter-of-factly.

“He could understand the holistic approach of designing a campaign like a business,” Miguel says of his mentor and friend. Ron encouraged the young photographer to develop his business sense as well as his artistic and technical abilities. “I had to design a campaign, put it in writing,” he says. “It didn’t matter how much he liked me, I had to prove to him many, many times that my proposals would work.”

During this time, Ron was preparing to special a white Toy Poodle bred in Japan by Yukiko Omura. ‘Vikki,’ Ch. Smash JP Win A Victory, would be handled throughout her career by Poodle legend Kaz Hosaka, and Miguel was hired to head the team’s campaign strategy. “We started to do what were not the traditional things that everybody was doing at the dog shows,” Miguel says. “We were kind of ahead of the game.”

Miguel gives credit to Ron for his willingness to step out of the traditional box when it came to advertising. “The way that we did it, the dog became Number 1 all-breeds [in 2007] with 100 Best in Shows.”

The experience he shared with Ron and Kaz taught Miguel how success could be achieved in the dog game. The men continue to work together and strategize whenever possible. “We have meetings about what we’re going to do, how we are going to campaign, what we’re going to do with my proposals,” he says. “I mean, that was [what we did] from the beginning with his dogs.”

Giant Schnauzer ‘Spirit,’ Ch. Galilee’s Pure of Spirit.

Marketing Brand Names
Not content to rest on his laurels, Miguel continued to work to expand his business. In Focus by Miguel quickly became one of the leading companies specializing in strategic planning of show dog campaigns.

As part of his services, Miguel started to develop strategies for “branding” his clients’ dogs. “I always say, in my opinion, that the long-term success of the dog’s campaign – whether it’s done in our case by ourselves or it’s done informally by the handlers and owners – is achieved by creating a brand,” he notes.

“The handler’s job is to promote [a dog] through face-to-face introductions,” Miguel says, suggesting that advertising plays a significantly different role in the campaign. “When we came along, we created a more cohesive plan to define a ‘brand’ that the people can identify with.”

Miguel says his strategy was to create ads that are consistent throughout all publications. “The photography [became] more strategic than random. I think that’s very important.”

As his business expanded, so did the technology that allowed him to incorporate social media into a campaign. “We created websites that looked like the ads,” he says. “People can follow the dogs,” he says of the medium that first allowed a dog’s career to be digitally branded. “The most successful dogs are the ones that have the best brand.

Miguel makes it clear, however, that a successful campaign begins and ends with a quality purebred dog.

“I don’t think that having a good brand, by the way, means that a dog is going to win every show,” he quickly points out. Branding, however, has proven to be a good strategy for getting attention. “The dogs are known by the public, by the judges and by their [handlers’] peers,” Miguel says. “They are easily identified in a lineup of multiple dogs. That is how the participation of branding, in my opinion, [works] on the campaigning of the dogs.”

Wire Fox Terrier ‘Eira,’ GCh. Steele Your Heart.

Rates and Ratings
For 10 years now, Miguel and his team have created strategies for many clients who have returned with subsequent show dogs. “You have the same clients over and over, and you understand their goals,” he explains. With new clients, however, one of his jobs is to discuss the goals that the team has in mind: Top Terrier, Top 10 All-Breeds or Number 1 All-Breeds, as examples. It is in this context that the ratings systems play an important role in strategy meetings.

“The ratings allow me to see how the dog is doing,” Miguel says. “I share this information on a regular basis with the client or handler, whoever is more participative.” The stats are important at virtually every level of the dog sport, and they cannot be ignored if success is a client’s ultimate goal. “Stats are like the Weather Channel for us,” Miguel says jokingly. “We have to see it even if we don’t want to. We have to keep track [of] how the other dogs are doing,” he insists.

Miguel uses a real world example to emphasize his point. In 2008 his company was hired to promote Affenpinscher ‘Taser,’ Ch. Tamarin Tug. Jorge Olivera was showing the little black dog, bred by Jackie and Terry Stacy, for owners Phil and Patti Smith. The team was enjoying success in the Group at the time, but needed an edge to achieve the goal of finishing the year as the nation’s Number 1 Toy dog.

Enter In Focus by Miguel.

English Springer Spaniel ‘Jesse James,’ GCh. Cerise Jesse James.

“When we started to work with them, I want to say [that] the dog was 5,000 to 7,000 points behind the Number 1 spot,” Miguel recalls. “When they first contacted me, I proposed to them [that] our strategies have nothing to do with how the dog’s been showing or where he’s been traveling and all that.” Instead, Miguel’s instruction to the entire team was to keep track of the statistics “to know how the other dog is doing and revise our advertising strategies [if necessary].”

So, on a regular basis, maybe once a week, Miguel would buy the AKC stats to compare his team’s dog with the Number 1 dog. “I shared this information with Jorge and with the client, and he made the decisions about which shows to go to based on the information that was given to him.” Eventually, Miguel and Jorge spoke on a daily basis to review the stats, and at the end of the year, their dog finished on top.

“Our job is not bound just by the advertising and the campaign,” Miguel notes. “I didn’t decide about the judges, but I participated in the process to suggest to him the shows, based on the size of the shows.”

Miguel’s organization also collaborated in the campaign of another top dog in 2008. “We enjoyed working with another dog that year [that] ended up being Number 1,” he says. The Pointer ‘Holly,’ Ch. Cookieland Seasyde Hollyberry, was bred by Cheryl Laduc, Anthony Cantor and Amy Walker, and was handled by Michael Scott for owners Sean and Tammy McCarthy and Helyne Medeiros.

Boxer ‘Scarlett,’ Ch. Winfall Brookwood Styled Dream.

A Recession in Session
The year 2008 is significant when discussing advertising in virtually every industry, since it was in September of that year that the global economy took a sharp downturn resulting in many advertisers making significant budget cuts.

Miguel says that although the recession that followed had an impact on his business, the results were not as negative as they might have been.

“When the situation started to get really bad in 2008, I got some calls,” he says of conversations he had with some of his clients. Although some needed to find a way to cut back on spending, of course, others simply did not want to continue to spend on the same scale – even though they could.

Miguel considered his options, and realized that he had to develop new strategies based on the changing economic climate. “We had to question ourselves about the strategies we were using,” he says. “It’s not that they weren’t working. The dogs were successful, but I had to question myself, ‘Do we need to spend as much money? Do they need to be in so many magazines? Does a dog need five front covers, instead of three? Is it time to introduce another media?”

Miguel started to question every single thing that he and his clients were doing. “I told them, ‘Look, there’s no need to spend as much money. We can achieve the same results without five publications.’”

“We found that people [told us], ‘It’s OK, give it a try.’”

Karelian Bear Dog ‘Rokka,’ multi-Ch. Tsarshadow’s Jatkosota.

So Miguel and his team got down to business. “‘Give me an allowance,’” he requested of his clients, and occasionally he found himself reworking campaigns on half of their original budgets. “Maybe we only need to do one front cover,” he would suggest.

“Gradually the dogs continued to do the same [winning],” Miguel notes. “In fact, we never had so much success with the dogs as when we started to cut down on the [print] advertising that we were doing.” These results, he says, proved “very fascinating” for his business. “The only way [that] we could measure if these strategies were working was if the other clients’ dogs were doing the same, or better.”

In retrospect, the global downturn had a positive impact on Miguel’s business. “Actually it was best for us because we were able to find a directive, and now we can say, ‘We can campaign a dog on 40 to 50 percent less than what people used to spend before 2008.’

“We were using websites and social media [that] was not used at the time,” Miguel says of his company’s period of innovative exploration of digital media. “The impact of the economy was not very significant in terms of revenue for my business. It was more for the kind of strategy I had to develop in order to keep my clients happy and in order to keep the dogs [that were] successful to continue to be successful with the handlers.

“We achieved the same results with other media. Now looking back, we made the right decision.”

Old English Sheepdog ‘Elvis,’ GCh. Lambluv’s Gambolon Blue Thunder.

Campaigns Are a Gamble
“Campaigning a dog, designing an advertising [strategy] for the dog and showing a dog are a big gamble,” Miguel insists when he talks about the advertising options available to fanciers today. “There is nobody, not myself, not a handler, not a magazine, nobody who can say, ‘If you do this, you will be successful.’”

As one of his industry’s more successful risk takers, however, Miguel understands that smart advertising is a way to increase the odds for achieving success. “If I am going to gamble,” he tells his clients, “I cannot guarantee that you will win more, but I can guarantee that you will have more exposure at a lower cost.”

“Prior to 2008, ‘everybody’ was prosperous,” he explains. “It is important that we talk about 2008 because people were doing many magazines then. I don’t think many people were giving it much thought,” he says.

Curly-Coated Retriever ‘Flash,’ Am. & Can. Ch. Jangio’s Lightening Bug CD RN CGC ROM.

Miguel speaks of those years with a genuine sense of awe. “I can tell you that people who used to advertise consistently in three or four publications – I mean this is really crazy when you talk about $1,500 a month [per magazine], and you have four of those, plus you add the front covers and all the things that people used to do – those people used to spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars!”

“Now that is not what is happening,” he says. Today’s campaigns are more mindful. Budgets are established and strategies developed that are reviewed quarterly. “We talk about what’s going on and we can make some adjustments,” he says of today’s cost-conscious campaigners.

Of course, no matter the amount of money spent, dog shows are still a gamble. “The bottom line is, there’s no guarantee that the dogs are going to win,” Miguel reminds his clients. “I say, ‘Look, there’s no need to spend that kind of money.’”

Chinese Crested ‘Butter,’ GCh. Crestline Butters Scotch.

In Focus by Miguel provides clients with results for dogs that they have campaigned using breed publications and social media, websites and advertising on AKC. “We have achieved the clients’ goals – and actually surpassed them,” he says.

“Different goals require different strategies. The average person wants the Number 1 dog, or the Number 1 Terrier,” he uses as examples. “A well-made, long term campaign is managed differently than the way you target a specific show, such as a national specialty. If everything is working properly, the big records [such as 100 Best in Show wins] are a side affect of the campaign.”

“Everything we do is a function of the clients’ goal. If their goal is to be Number 1 or break the breed record, that is what we work with. By achieving the clients’ goals, my business is going to be healthy and prosperous,” he says.

Cairn Terrier ‘Ashley,’ Ch. Hampton Court’s Ashley.

Advertising in the Digital Age
“For the past four or five years when we have started using different strategies, my observation has been that the dogs have been able to achieve the clients’ goals,” Miguel assures. “They have been able to be top dogs without the clients believing this myth that they have to advertise in all these publications for no reason.”

Miguel says that his company’s clientele is motivated and inspired by this new information. “They are becoming more smart about how they’re spending their money.”

“I tell them, ‘Hey look, we can achieve 30,000 [online] views [by] advertising on Facebook that the judges are going to see, versus $2,000 in a print publication that we don’t even know the judges are going to look at.”

Miguel mentions a conversation he had recently with a pair of very busy judges whom he queried about their reading habits. “Look, there’s no market researching the dog shows,” he says. “So I conducted an informal interview, and here’s what those two top judges told me: ‘We learn more about the dogs through social media than we do through the magazines. We have our phones connected with Facebook so we can see what dog won where.’”

The judges told Miguel that if they had to choose between reading a three- or four-hundred page magazine or looking at their phone or iPad or even their computer to see the dogs being advertised, they would have difficulty choosing the print publication.

Lhasa Apso ‘James Bond,’ Can. & Am. GCh. Ta Sen Bond James Bond.

“This answers the question we’ve had for many years: Do the judges really look at the print publications?” Miguel says.

“I don’t want to discriminate and say, ‘Don’t use the magazines’ because I feel that they have a value when people can afford them as part of a multimedia campaign,” Miguel says. “But they are not the only solution. You don’t need that to be the flag of the campaign of the dog any longer.”

Miguel concedes that there are judges of a certain generation who don’t use the technology, and he does understand that it’s important to try to reach them through the print publications. “But I don’t think we need to advertise [in print] as we did in the past,” he says.

Online platforms have been changing so rapidly that a wide variety of resources exist today at much lower costs. Miguel explains that he discusses these options when he’s working with his clients. “That conversation was never possible before 2008,” he notes.

A typically animated equine image of one of trainer Tommy Turvey’s stunt horses.

Going for the Goal
Miguel considers his own business goals with as much focus as he gives to his clients. His business interests extend beyond the dog sport into many other fields of endeavor.

“I realized that the strategy in one field is [useful] in another,” he says of his ability to capture the essence of a horse or a fashion model, just as he does with many of the world’s top canine competitors. “I don’t want my legacy to die at the dog show,” he says wryly. “I want to achieve the success I’ve had with dog shows in other areas.”

Miguel’s photo and ad work is much sought after within the equine world, and he enjoys shooting commercial work too.

The cover of Virginia Bride magazine.

One surprising area in which he’s enjoyed success recently is in the bridal world. Taking a cue from the photographer friend he knew early in his career, Miguel has photographed pre-wedding editorials for many years, and his work has appeared on the front cover of Virginia Bride magazine. Having his photo selected for the cover of a commercial magazine is an honor and a privilege for the man whose photographs have graced the covers of countless dog magazines. He says that it was a thrill for him to go into a Barnes and Noble and see his work on the rack next to Vogue. “That was a very different sensation from when I look at a dog show magazine,” he admits.

This dramatic image of the sky over Mechanicsville, Va., was featured as a CNN “Weather Photo of the Day.”

Miguel is also inspired to shoot nature photography, and his work has appeared in several print and online publications. A recent experience that delighted him occurred through his submission of photos to CNN iReport. “I post photos when I travel,” he says of a pair of images that prompted a call from a CNN staffer. “They were so interested in two photos I’d posted… they were selected from among thousands submitted from around the world and featured on CNN’s ‘Weather’ and ‘Travel Photo of the Day.’” Miguel’s images appeared on the network’s website as well as its televised broadcast.

Earlier this year, Miguel says he was honored to appear alongside three noted artists in a print publication’s feature article on four of the most prominent dog photographers in the business. “That was a super awesome experience,” says the man who began his career training a German Shepherd that was trying to kill him!

An elegant portrait of a young Freisian stallion.

Living Life Through a Lens
Miguel hasn’t allowed his success to slow him down. He continues to travel wherever his work leads. The life of a sought-after photographer, after all, is go-go-go.

The big shows such as AKC/Eukanuba and Santa Barbara still require him to shoot his clients’ dogs while they’re competing, but he says that the majority of his travel plans have no relation to dog shows. “We prefer shooting not in the dog show environment,” he says. “We do photo shoots the week before or the week after the shows.”

“Ninety-five percent [of photo shoots] are done in a relaxed and controlled environment,” he says.

Of course, getting “the shot” requires careful planning and a veritable army of assistants, runners and handlers. “Depending on the location, I need one assistant, a handler and an assistant for the dog,” he says. “Four people are needed for a successful photo shoot. More is better.”

Now that his company is shooting video, two assistants are needed “to get a dog right.”

Even with the emphasis on new technologies, the connection between the photographer, the client, the dog and the handler remains the key factor for success. “We work as a team [to achieve] what is best for the dog,” he emphasizes.

“This is what I need,” he says when pressed for details. “I need a relaxed day and a location that allows me to choose a [spot] that’s best for the dog. It’s quite a production that doesn’t start and end on the day of the shoot.”

“When you see a photo,” he says, “it’s no accident.”

A select image from Miguel’s Inspirations Multimedia Collection.

No accident, indeed.

Miguel travels with two iPhones, two iPads and two laptops. “I need a backup system to continue to work in a mobile office wherever I go,” he explains. “Whatever you think I can have, I have a minimum of two. I cannot afford for any device to fail.”

If a piece of equipment was dropped or an airline lost a camera it would be disastrous if not for backup devices. “I travel with a minimum of three cameras (five when he’s driving), 20 memory cards, chargers and lighting equipment,” he says.

“I don’t want to add an additional tool to travel with,” he adds, pointing out that he uses a digital camera to shoot video. “Now we not only get awesome photos, but videos too. I have shot commercial videos with my camera, and the quality is beautiful. I am very confident [of the quality], especially at the dog shows.

“And now with the [advanced photo] technology, I use this as my office equipment too. I am connected to the office everywhere,” he says with assurance.

A still life from a commercial photo shoot.

Reaching Out to the Future
In Focus by Miguel employs six full-time staff and four part-time workers. The company regularly seeks the advice of marketing, accounting, legal and even psychology professionals in order to improve performance. Together the team has built a thriving business founded on the aspirations of a boy who simply wanted to train his dog.

“Because I’ve done well and the dog shows have been welcoming to me, I feel a sense of responsibility to share what we have, to do something,” Miguel says. “I see good opportunities to work together.”

Working together is a core value of Miguel’s, and his company has enjoyed many opportunities to work with several noteworthy charities.

By donating time and multimedia resources, In Focus by Miguel has helped to raise funds for Take The Lead, AKC/Canine Health Foundation, and the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University. These organizations and others like them inspire many in the worldwide community of dog lovers to reach out to people and dogs in need, and to date, Miguel and his company have helped to raise more than $300,000.

Reaching out to newcomers to the dog sport, however, is a different thing altogether that has Miguel very concerned.

“I feel that we have a disconnection between people who are currently involved and the new people,” he warns. “Think about it. When I had that German Shepherd that was very aggressive and I didn’t know anything about dogs, I walked into a dog show in Venezuela and the people welcomed me. It was pretty cool.”

A powerful head study of a Friesian horse.

Like many seasoned fanciers, Miguel says that he learned about dogs by spending hours and days with breeders, handlers, exhibitors and judges. “When I started – even when I moved to the States – I worked for handlers as kennel help, and the people welcomed me,” he says. “It was pretty awesome!”

“My perception now [is that] we are not reaching out to the new generation of people,” he says. “We don’t invite people to come to our sport. Many of the people are nice at a dog show, but with the technology there are so many [other] things to do. Going to a dog show is not a primary goal.”

To put this into perspective, Miguel remembers himself as a teenager. “Going to a dog show was not my thing,” he says. “I had an aggressive dog, and I had no interest in showing dogs or in the stats. I just wanted to find someone to help me with my dog.

“Kids are not going to dog shows or training classes,” he insists. In fact, they’re not really watching much TV anymore. “They are on social media.”

So if the young people that the dog sport wishes to attract are spending time on their iPhones, Miguel wonders how clubs can use digital media technology to introduce them to the activities that just might interest them.

“How many clubs do not have a website?” he posits. “How many do not have a Facebook fanpage? How many clubs don’t use their websites to promote their [dog show] business properly?”

This photo of a school of dolphins was selected by CNN as a “Travel Photo of the Day.”

To make his point, Miguel puts himself in the shoes of today’s 14-year-old. “If I am a teenager that my mother has told needs to train his dog, I’m going to look at my phone and I am going to Google 50 tips for training my dog. I don’t have to go to a dog show to learn.

“This is a concern to me,” Miguel says.

“Let’s say the solution is a strategy to reach out to these people through the Internet and social media,” he theorizes. “How many shows are being advertised through social media? If we don’t let them know we’re here, we’re not going to connect with them.”

Another point of contention for Miguel is the difficulty that the average person encounters when trying to find out when and where a show is being held. “For the average person to find the address of a show is a nightmare,” he says. “They don’t even have the address to put into the GPS!”

“Some clubs have a lot of attractions for families, but nobody knows about them,” Miguel says. “I feel that the clubs and the AKC and, you know, ourselves, need to make some adjustments and make the sport more inviting for everybody.”

“We have an opportunity to educate our clients and clubs,” Miguel insists, noting that although the problems may be complex, we still can make younger people feel welcome again.

He’s offered to assist clubs by making their Facebook pages more useful for reaching those who might be happy to attend a show or an event. “I can help the clubs. They may be able to make some revenue from online advertising. We can work together to get things going.”

Finding solutions is another of Miguel’s specialties, and he is seriously concerned about how we’re going to replace the people who are getting older, or losing interest. “This is my area of expertise,” he says. “I feel that as a sport we’re not using [current technology] to attract new people.”

Miguel believes that we have to inspire dog people to make radical changes within the next five to 10 years. “If not, most shows are going to continue to get smaller, and the people who show will continue to get older.

“How many dogs will be in a show?” he wonders. “Two hundred? Will we have to start traveling the world like we did in Venezuela? Is that the future? Well, you need resources to do that.”

Scottish Terrier ‘Betsy,’ GCh. McVan’s Be Bop Baby.

Miguel says that he also feels that the AKC has a major responsibility to become a leader for creating a friendly environment. “I really feel [that] they have to make some changes, but I don’t know if they can,” he worries. “I don’t know if they want to.

“We probably have to do it ourselves,” he suggests.

Miguel mentions that he met with the board of an AKC breed parent club last year. During his presentation he told those in attendance, “If you guys don’t want your show to become so small [that] you have to cancel it, you have to do something now. Not tomorrow, and not next year.”

Unfortunately, the leadership of many clubs is waging a battle of resistance. “Decision makers are resistant to making changes,” Miguel states flatly. “They don’t understand the technology.”

In order to help others think outside the box and see technology’s usefulness for the future of the dog sport, Miguel presents clubs with a clear message: “The people you want to come to your dogs shows are the ones on the computer and the people on their phones. And you’re not reaching them.”

The man who came to the U.S. in a blizzard may see a turbulent future for dog shows, but he thinks that we can weather the storm if we work together. Miguel says, “If you want to improve the situation, take responsibility and get to work. Make some changes and seek help from the experts in their field.”

Written by

Dan Sayers started “in dogs” through a chance encounter with a Springer Spaniel in 1980. A student of dogs ever since, he’s shown Spaniels and Hounds in the conformation ring and breeds Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix. A dog lover with a passion for the creative arts, Dan has worked as a freelance writer, photographer and illustrator for many years. His feature articles and columns have appeared in Dogs in Review, Dog World and the AKC Gazette, and his design work has appeared in dozens of publications in North America and abroad. An interest in all things “dog” brought Dan to Best In Show Daily, where he gets to work with the most dynamic group of fanciers every day. He lives in Merchantville, New Jersey, with his partner, Rudy Raya, Irish Water Spaniel, Kurre, and the memory of Oscar, a once-in-a-lifetime Sussex Spaniel.
Comments
  • Lynda Beam (Canine Candids by Lynda) July 12, 2013 at 9:15 AM

    Very interesting article, I remember that Miguel was one of the first show dog photographers other than the standard dog show photographers and have always admired his photography. It is fascinating to know some of went on behind the scenes in these dog campaigns.

    Advertising can definitely make a difference even in a smaller scale campaign. You still have to have a good dog, but especially in a breed that is new it can break the ice a little bit.

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