Over the last few months, my family and I have been looking in to getting a lab puppy as a family pet. We've never fully owned a dog before, however we've fostered a rescue puppy for about 6 months while he got healthy and waited for a family to adopt him. I put in fairly extensive research into finding the right breed for us, and based mostly on tempermant we decided on a lab. During that process I've gotten increasingly interested in the sport of conformation, I have a ton of books including "The Winning Edge" and "Rode to Westminster" among some others, on my list of books to readwhen I get a chance. I find the whole world fascinating and so when I found a breeder that I liked, that also happened to be not too far away, I mentioned how I felt about conformation and that I might be interested in learning more about it.
The thing is, I am currently a college student, and I will actually be living on campus next year at least for the 1st semester, but even if the puppy we were to get was only a pet, it would still be living at my house primarily, only about 25-30 minutes away. I know that dogs need to be two years old before they can get their clearances, at which point I'll be done with school, and different dogs take a different amount of time to mature physically to when they are able to be shown. I realize that showing dogs is a HUGE commitment and although this would be primarily my undertaking, it would also be a family affair. Do you think I'm too young to start? I'm still trying to learn everything that I can and we plan on getting a puppy regardless of if I end up getting in to conformation now, or later. Honest opinions everyone.
Even though I think raising a puppy while attending college is not a bad idea (I got my puppy when I was in my last year of law school), I would recommend that you wait until your first semester is over and you're living back at your parents' house. If you're the driving force behind getting this puppy, you should be there most of the time to take care of the puppy (waking up many many times during the night to take the puppy out to potty, cleaning up the messes, socializing the puppy). Yes, you do have to wait until your dog is 2 y.o. to do clearances. However, you can start showing your puppy as early as 6 months old. You'll need to be taking handling classes, too, and training. It might be a bit too much of a time commitment.
Conformation or any other dog sports are a HUGE BOTTOMLESS MONEY PIT. How will you support your hobby financially? Entry fees, travel, lodging, etc. all cost a lot of money!!! I am talking thousands of dollars each year. And the equipment that you'd have to buy for shows: chairs, crates, etc. Will your family support your financially? Will they support you financially if you go to the shows and don't place, which is not uncommon for someone with a very first show-prospect puppy? THey might start thinking that it's a waste of money. What will happen after you're done with college? Will you move out on your own? If so, you'll probably be renting at first. Many rental places don't allow dogs; so your dog would probably have to stay at your parents' house.
I am not saying that it's impossible to do, I just think you might be rushing into this a bit. Give yourself some time. Take your whole family to some dog shows. See if you enjoy the atmosphere. Don't do just one show, do 3 or 4 before you get your puppy. One show might be fun, but 3-4 in a short time might become a hustle.
I am also surprised that this breeder is willing to give you a show-prospect pup knowing that you're totally new to the breed and conformation world. Most breeders want you to prove yourself first by volunteering for clubs and/of participating in performance events with your pet dogs.
Sorry if I sound discouraging. You certainly can do whatever you please, and if you believe, after very careful consideration, that you can do it, go for it. However, I want to say it again, it's never too late to get into conformation; it will still be there after you graduate from college.
Sorry, I should have been more clear. :-\ The breeder hasn't agreed to give me a show quality puppy or a puppy at all for that matter. I just mentioned to her that I was interested in it and she's just sharing her passion with me. I haven't decided to get a show quality pup and at this point, I don't even have a deposit on a puppy from a future litter. Everything is very hypothetical right now. I'm a smart girl and I don't do anything impulsively so my goal is to find out as much as I can.
I know what you mean about being a bottomless money pit, I'm used to the horse world, I groomed for and assisted a few friends that played polo and evented and that is probably the most expensive sport I've been around. My best friend spent $15, 000 on an event prospect, a beautiful horse, great lines ,everything, he was green (young and untrained) but both she and our trainer felt that he was worth a shot. Less that an a year and a few broken bones and hospital visits later, it was time for him to go. It took her forever to sell him and she had to take a $5,000 loss. Then she bought another horses and ever since she's left for college overseas, and although this second horse is absolutely amazing, she still hasn't been able to sell her. Sorry for my ranting, I just though that this compared quite a bit.
I'm not in any kind of rush at all, I just like to research, read, and learn, I guess.
I don't think you are too young. You sound like you have a lot more research and knowledge behind you already than most when they start. I too wanted to start early and during college had dreams of showing dogs. I had owned and shown horses while growing up. During college I lived in the dorm and then rented a house right off campus the last two years and no dogs were allowed - we all had an array of small animals though. Back at home with my parents were three dogs and my mother did NOT want another. Anyway the week before I graduated from college I brought home a Pointer puppy from a well known show breeder. I had hopes of doing conformation, obedience and hunt tests with her. At the time I had toyed with the idea of a yellow Labrador but I had a good friend with a Pointer bitch she was showing and one thing led to another. My puppy developed an underbite so conformation was out but I still did obedience and hunt tests. I lived alone while going to graduate school and so wanted a Labrador to show but I was committed to school and my one dog, cat, and ferret. It's tough to find the time. Finally when I got married and built a house the first thing on the list was to bring home a few Labrador puppies!
My advice is to frequent dog shows in your area and talk to the breeders sitting ringside. That is a good place to start and to see if you indeed have the time for this sport.
Just something I would add, since you said that the dog would be living with your family while you are at school. Show puppies need to be trained properly. I don't know how others do it who have been in the sport for awhile, but with our first one, I had ALOT to learn and I also found out that that my husband, while he supports me 100% isn't the most trustworthy in regards to training my dogs the way I want them trained. My bitch that I show is a little heathen all thanks to my hubby rough-housing with her.
I will echo what everyone else has said about going to shows first. My advise is to hold off on obtaining a dog while you build a relationship with the local breeders. Attend the shows, Offer to hold dogs ringside, Ask Questions, Form friendships and you might just find someone who will let you take handling classes with thier dog. (Even a pet dog of a relitive will do for classes). After being at shows for a while you will notice a trend in the conformation of the dogs you like. Document this and buy the catalog so you can look up the breedings. Listen, as questions, be attentive, and be helpful. You just might end up finding a great mentor and finding a line of dogs that you would like to show,own,and possibly breed. If you jump into getting a dog before you decide what body type you like you just might end up not being able to get a second dog because of time,space,money. It is best to wait and start with your show prospect. It won't be wasted time.
Thanks for all of the opinions everyone , it just makes me want to do more research. The breeder I've been talking to mentioned a few shows coming up fairly locally, so I'm going to go and meet her and see some of what goes into showing dogs. She is aware of how old I am and my plans for any future puppy and if I'm really interested, I'm hoping that she will mentor me I guess. I'm taking things very slowly, because I realize that any animal is a long term commitment, not something that you can take on at the spur of the moment. I really am very dedicated to educating myself regardless of whether or not I start now or somewhere down the line. I usually don't spend more than 10 days at a time away from home, and I really do live close enough to commute from home but its one of the rules of the university that 1st and 2nd year students musts live on campus. If I do end up with a show puppy, I can and probably will apply for exemption for second semester which will make things much easier for everyone I hope. I spent 5 years at boarding school so I'm a bit over living in a dorm by now.
Showing dogs is so much fun and can be fine for the younger crowd! I love it and although I'm out of college I'm still a little younger than most but it really hasn't mattered much.
It is insanely expensive and the thing I learned was hiring a pro handler actually saved me alot of money and grief even though you think it will cost you more. They can be the best mentors too so I would look into that if you have never showed before.
Good luck, you can train a puppy to show on the weekends if you would like. If you and your family have enough time for a dog then you are never too young to start!