Hobby, Lifestyle, or Profession?

Don’t tell Dublin he’s not a professional, he takes my hobby very seriously.

Western Culture likes labels, boxes, and boundaries that divide and categorize people into conceptual groups.  We avoid a continuum mentality. We like fractions more than percentiles, we like our device knobs to click to whole numbers instead of a smooth rheostat, we rate our movies with two thumbs and restaurants with 4 stars, and our academic achievement with 5 letters and a few milestone degrees.  Our political spectrum has only one axis and only two political parties are supposed to represent the diversity of our ideals.

“What is a hobby anyway? Where is the line of demarcation between hobbies and ordinary normal pursuits? I have been unable to answer this question to my own satisfaction. At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant. Certainly many of our most satisfying avocations today consist of making something by hand which machines can usually make more quickly and cheaply, and sometimes better. Nevertheless I must in fairness admit that in a different age the mere fashioning of a machine might have been an excellent hobby…

Today the invention of a new machine, however noteworthy to industry, would, as a hobby, be trite stuff. Perhaps we have here the real inwardness of our own question: A hobby is a defiance of the contemporary. It is an assertion of those permanent values which the momentary eddies of social evolution have contravened or overlooked. If this is true, then we may also say that every hobbyist is inherently a radical, and that his tribe is inherently a minority.

This, however, is serious: Becoming serious is a grievous fault in hobbyists. It is an axiom that no hobby should either seek or need rational justification. To wish to do it is reason enough. To find reasons why it is useful or beneficial converts it at once from an avocation into an industry–lowers it at once to the ignominious category of an ‘exercise’ undertaken for health, power, or profit. Lifting dumbbells is not a hobby. It is a confession of subservience, not an assertion of liberty.”
― Aldo LeopoldA Sand County Almanac: With Other Essays on Conservation from Round River

So in an endeavour as popular and diverse as dog companionship, it’s not surprising to find manifest the common divisions of hobby, lifestyle, or profession.  Two obvious qualities that divide these groups are scale and intent.

More often than not, a hobbyist lacks the scale needed to require accommodations like outdoor kennels or an RV to shuttle a herd of dogs around the country.  A hobbyist is more likely to visit sheep to train with versus owning their own pasture land and herd of ovines.  Hobbyists are also unlikely to offer their services to others in a quasi-professional manner to help offset costs.

I am a hobbyist, and this means that despite spending considerably more time, money, and effort on dogs than the “Average Joe,” the concessions I make are mostly mainstream and considerations like profitability are subordinate to my enjoyment of my dogs.  I need property and make decisions on cars and vacations around my dogs. And yes, I breed, but when it suits me primarily and certainly not very often.

A Lifestyler has made a more significant investment in changing the way they live to accommodate their passion.  Although they would likely come to verbal blows if they were in a room together, both John Katz and Donald McCaig fit this model to me.  They both chose to leave urban careers to run a small farm, for the desire to live that lifestyle more than an economic or career decision.  Both obviously supplement this with income from writing, and the degree of serious effort might vary, and they might even make the vast majority of their income from the lifestyle, but relationship with the animals is more significant than the trappings of professionalism.  These people place the dogs above the sheep.

The professional turns that equation around, the bottom line is more important than the players, decisions are made with profit first, or at least there are situations where the business would hold more importance to a decision than the enjoyment or the lifestyle or the animals themselves.  A dog that’s not holding its weight might be traded, sold, or put down.  The dogs are tools and employees first and foremost and “family” second, if at all.

This isn’t saying that professionalism necessitates dispassionate coldness, but all emotions can’t be indulged. A hobbyist probably considers all their dogs like family/children and would rarely consider “firing for cause.”  They are also more likely to keep their dogs in a strictly home environment versus more utilitarian accommodations like kennels. If you’ve never kept two breeding bitches or related intact dogs of opposite sex that you don’t want to breed, you’ll likely see kennels as cruel or at least unfriendly.  Those who have breeding dogs know just how convenient and necessary segregation is.

The lifestylers often have dogs that they train for a while and then trade or sell.  Every animal is not family and companionship is not the highest goal.  They might very well bring in new blood with a bitch or stud and then sell them later.  Many have more dogs than they would if they just wanted pets because a breeding program requires it, or they wish to experiment more actively, move their lines along faster, or even meet market demands.  Others simply cycle through dogs looking for the next dog that will win them a ribbon or trophy.  Professionals choose stock based upon their labor saving qualities and economic strategy.  Buying and selling new animals is considered with the collective goals in mind, not just the enjoyment of the breeder.  You might say that hobbyists are about heart, lifestylers are about ego, and professionals are about the brain.  Hobbyists are looking for an emotional connection, lifestylers are  using their dogs for social rewards, and professionals are more focused on the financial arrangement.

On the extreme professional side, there might very well be someone who is more passionate about the work, the sport, or the profit than they are about the animals individually.  They are running a business and even if they do love the animals, the art lies elsewhere.

It’s also worth saying that skill, compassion, and ethics are on a different axis than the hobby-lifestyle-professional axis.  While there may be well defined relationships, they do need to be measured differently.  Defining one’s self as a professional doesn’t necessarily equate to having greater skill or ethics or compassion than a hobbyist, etc.

For instance, a puppymill has the infrastructure of a professional but their ethics are poor, their compassion is low, and their talent comes in the shady marketing of their product instead of the wise and careful production of the product.

In reading about the formation of breeds, a common situation seems to be perhaps a single breeder who grew from a hobbyist to a lifestyler to a professional.  While they had their beloved family pets, the sheer number of animals they needed to bring together to form their breed would suggest that they all weren’t sleeping on the bed.

As far as talent goes, think about spots at different levels. PeeWee is about participation, is local, and usually family member is running the team and there’s a very small budget.  This doesn’t prevent there from being excellence: there are youth teams that have dynasties more impressive than any professional team.  High School and College teams are a balance between participation and recruiting, enjoyment and profit.  Some high schools are big enough to draw kids from other counties or even states; some players are recruited, but many are walk-ons from the student body.  Unlike youth teams, though, many college teams are a significant money maker for their schools and decisions are made to fill stadium seats and thus fill school coffers.

Whereas many youth teams have Dad as coach, it’s very rare in high school and college teams to find Jr. as the quarterback, but it does happen.  Many sports aficionados prefer the best college teams because they have the best balance of passion, talent, and competitiveness.  Pro-teams take it to a different level and are unbound by participation.  Players don’t have to be native to the state, there’s no concern with academics to pair with athletics, and there’s a much more significant influence of money and marketing.  And yet all are essentially playing the same game by the same rules.

Animals, and dogs in particular, are more complicated because we’re not even playing by the same rules for the same goal.  But that doesn’t prevent skill, quality, and ethics to shine at any level.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.