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Show handlers explain the tricks of their trade


© 2008, The American Kennel Club

No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Reprinted with permission from , The American Kennel Club.


Text Copyright the American Kennel Club, Inc., 2008. No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Reprinted with permission from AKC Family Dog, January/February, 2008. To subscribe:

"Mick" in his Show Pose
Of all the aspects of dog shows, none is more mysterious to the layman than the role of the handler. Because the best of them make it look so easy, and much of their work is done before they even enter the ring, the handler's impact on a dog's career can be lost on the casual spectator. To help demystify the handler's job, we present this mini-seminar featuring top professional handlers, judges, and handlers-turned-judges. Whether you have the itch to exhibit your dog or you simply enjoy watching the big shows on TV, the collective wisdom gathered here, culled from interviews given to AKC Publications over the past 15 years, will enhance the experience.

Prep Work

Charles Trotter (Best in Show judge, former pro handler): Handling can be compared to dining. Top restaurants do more than bring good food to the table. They serve it in an appetizing manner that gets your attention before you take your first bite. If the taste disappoints, however, the best presentation in the world will not overcome a subpar culinary effort.

Taffe McFadden (pro handler): You have to practice with the animal you are showing. Your speed will determine the dog's speed, and the dog will be his smoothest at his best speed.

                                                                                                 "Otto" Saraoz Armando Jaleo 20/12/2005, Spain
Trotter: When a great dog is beautifully shown, its quality is there for all to see. Conversely, a dog of excellent breed type with a good skeleton buried under a layer of fat and also poorly shown is impossible to evaluate in an equitable way. That dog is a winner disguised as a loser, until a good handler can turn that dog's game around. Mary Dukes (AKC field representative, former pro handler): I made sure a dog's weight, coat, and muscle tone were optimal, and adjusted feeding and exercise regimens if necessary. It's a handler's job to get these dogs in the best condition possible and make the entire experience as positive and enjoyable as she can.

Kellie FitzGerald (pro handler): When I groom, I trim my dogs in front of a mirror so I know what the judge will see when they come down the line.

Clay Coady (Best in Show judge, speaking here during his career as a pro handler): Some dogs require more coat work than others. It can take 8 to 12 weeks to get a good coat, before I even consider entering the dog. At the show, I wash each dog, blow-dry their furnishings to make them as straight as possible, as well as balance its legs and face with its body. Ideally, if time and the schedule allow, I finish preparing the dog the minute before entering the ring. If the preshow work was thorough, the dog will hold its own in competition.

Show Time

FitzGerald: If there's a dog showing like a million bucks and one that's not, quality being equal, the dog showing well is going to win. How do you accomplish this? We usually use "bait," liver or a squeaky toy, to get the dog's attention and keep it interested in the ring. Stacking [posing a dog for the judge's appraisal] is extremely important because it's usually the first thing a judge sees.

CH. Strategis-GreatLinesLoGun "The Little Pistol"
Shown by Woody Wornall

Dorothy Macdonald(Best in Show judge): Presentation can be used to both enhance and hide. I have no quarrel with this, as I consider it my job to evaluate beyond these subterfuges. Similarly, I admire handling that enhances the exhibition of a dog, but I try to see through clever handling. Still, handling is part of the game. Exhibitors should try to show their dogs to their best advantage. Poor handling can put faults into a dog where none otherwise exist; as a judge it would be incorrect to assume a virtue that is not demonstrated.

Tom Glassford (AKC field representative, former pro handler): Some dogs you have to show with the lead up, some with the lead down.

FitzGerald: I like gaiting outgOing dogs that move easily on a loose lead, carry their heads by themselves, and have their tails up.

Macdonald: I get very unhappy with handlers who show all dogs at the same generic speed. When the Chow Chow keeps up with the standard Poodle in the group ring, something is wrong.

The Intangibles

Terry Hundt (Best in Show judge, former pro handler): Does the handler bring out the dog's personality? Are they able to let the dog show itself off? A way with dogs is as necessary to handling as a schoolteacher being able to teach their subject. It's wonderful to be knowledgeable, but a handler also needs to be able to relate well to a dog to carry it all off. 3;!

FitzGerald: Last but not least, it's always nice to have a dog that screams, ~ "Look at mel Here I am!"

Doug Holloway (judge, former pro handler): A lot of dogs develop show attitude, but the great dogs are born with it. They want to be praised for everything they have and do-whether it's their conformation, movement, or just being alive. They'll wake up, smile, and say, "What a good day!"

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Today is July 21, 2019

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Ch. Foxhill's Thunderbolt won Best in Show at the Lions Kennel Club show in Salem, Oregon

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