The American Kennel Club offers about 15,000 dog events each year in the United States. Approximately half of those events are conformation events, or the kind of dog shows that you see televised, such as the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. All “intact” AKC-registered purebred dogs are eligible to be shown at these AKC-sanctioned dog shows. (Intact means that the dog is not spayed or neutered). Dog shows evaluate dogs for potential breeding purposes so it would defeat the purposes of the dog show to have the dogs spayed or neutered.) There are AKC member kennel clubs throughout the country which put together dog shows. Chances are that there is a show near you once or twice a year.
If you have an AKC-registered purebred dog and you are interested in showing your dog at dog shows, do you need a professional handler to show it for you? That all depends. There are some good reasons to use a professional handler but it is by no means a requirement. Many owners do show their own dogs and win, but it takes a lot of hard work and practice.
Reasons to use a professional handler:
1. You would like to have your dog evaluated by an objective observer. AKC registration guarantees you that your dog is a purebred but it does not guarantee you that your dog is “show quality.” Not every dog born is capable of being a Best in Show winner or even of becoming a show champion. A professional handler who is familiar with your breed can look at your dog and evaluate his conformation. He or she can tell you if you would be wasting your money by trying to show this particular dog. Most handlers are honest enough to tell you the truth. They are not lacking for clients and they don’t want to handle dogs that will make them look bad in the show ring. If you do have a dog that they think they can win with, they will tell you that, too. If they don’t see show ring potential in your dog they may have connections with other breeders who have litters with show potential puppies.
2. If you do have a good dog you may not have the grooming skills necessary to make him look his best. This can be particularly true if you have a longhaired breed or a breed that requires specialized grooming, such as a Poodle. A good handler can take a good dog and make him look great.
3. You may be new to showing and still learning. A good handler can be very instructive and you can learn from him or her as they show your dog. Or, you can ask for some private lessons from a handler, either with handling or with grooming.
4. You may be a good enough handler to show your dog in small shows or to put points on them to finish their championship but your dog is better than you are. If you have a great dog you may want to use a handler to help your dog go as far as he can go. You can use a handler to show your dog at big shows, where the competition is especially tough. You can earn the small wins but with a handler your dog could have a shot at Group wins or even Best in Show.
Of course, there are plenty of owners who develop their skills and compete against professional handlers. You can attend handling classes offered by local kennel clubs or, as mentioned, you can pay for lessons from a professional handler or ask for handling tips from other exhibitors. There are also some good books and videos available about handling, as well as some good seminars offered by former handlers.
The key to success is to pay attention to even the smallest detail of your dog’s appearance and to practice everything you will do in the ring until you can do everything smoothly. It’s an adage that good handlers do not draw attention to themselves. Everything they do puts the focus on the dog and accentuates his good qualities.
Remember that whether your dog wins or loses, whether a handler thinks he’s show material or not, he is still the same wonderful dog he always was. Shows are only a small part of your life or your dog’s life. If you decide that shows aren’t for you there are many other fun things that you and your dog can do together.
Show Your Dog – Hiring A Professional Handler
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