Thursday, April 9, 2015

H -- Handlers

A handler is a person who takes a dog into the ring. You'll see different types of handlers at a dog show. There are professional handlers, owner handlers and junior handlers.
A professional handler is someone who gets paid to show dogs. Most will also transport, board and groom their clients as well (for additional fees). Some handlers specialize in particular breeds and others will show just about anything. It's not unusual to see a professional handler and his assistant(s) handling a dozen different dogs at an all-breed show. Modern Dog magazine had an interesting article about a professional handler here.
An owner handler is someone who shows her own dog. (Like me!) The AKC estimates that over 80% of all show dogs are handled by their owners. The skill levels of owner handlers run the gamut from awkward newbies (like me) to polished experts who give professional handlers a run for their money.
There are pros and cons to each route:
  • Professional handlers can have an advantage because their constant showing allows them get to know the judges, learning preferences and the best way to present to each one. Also, the constant showing (most pros show 3-5 days every week, 52 weeks a year) allows them to perfect their techniques.
  • Owner handlers have fewer dogs to show (often just one or two) so they can devote more time and energy to grooming, training and conditioning each dog. Owner handlers know their dogs better than anybody else and can (theoretically) get the best performance from those dogs.

When professional handlers and owner handlers take dogs into the ring, the judge is evaluating the dog. A good handler (pro or not) shows a dog in a way that highlights strengths and minimizes weaknesses. A great handler is invisible to the judge.

Our 2nd weekend showing. My friend
drove 2 hours to come see us. I was
so touched!
Junior handlers are a completely different group. During a junior handler competition the judge is evaluating the handler, not the dog. Juniors are critiqued on everything from footwork to grooming to how well they follow instructions. The junior handler program is open to children ages 9 to 18 and is designed to develop handling skills, educate children on dogs and dog shows and teach good sportsmanship. Juniors are divided by age and skill level, not by breed. Winners get prizes and scholarships -- and of course, bragging rights! By the way, it's not uncommon to see a teenager enter a junior showmanship class in the morning and then enter the same dog in regular class as an owner handler in the afternoon. It's also not uncommon to see them win, beating out people old enough to be their parents (or grandparents).

Next time you go to a dog show, really look at the people handling the dogs. See that guy in the suit handling a Chihuahua in Ring 3, a Rottweiler in Ring 2 and an Australian cattle dog in Ring 1? He's a pro. Then look at the cute little girl confidently walking a great Dane to the concession stand. I'll bet you she's a junior handler. Finally, look at the woman in the corner nervously pacing with her German shepherd. That's me, an owner handler. Come over and say "Hi." Seriously, I could use a friendly face. -- K

Tomorrow's Topic: Important Paperwork

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