Text Copyright the American Kennel Club, Inc., 2007. No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Reprinted with permission from AKC Family Dog, March-April, 2008. To subscribe: http://www.akc.org/pubs
11 year old Sarah Tooley, daughter of Barb Thompson
In our January /February issue we discussed the role of the dog-show handler. We spoke with top professionals, who shared their secrets for grooming, conditioning, training, and exhibiting dogs to their best advantage.
We also heard from prominent judges, many of whom are former handlers. They explained how a judge must be sharp enough to see beyond clever presentation and concentrate on a dog's soundness.
It's a subtle game of cat-and-mouse-and-dog, demanding the kind of expertise that comes only from long hours of ring work. When you watch the pros at the big shows on TV, you are seeing the culmination of a lifetime in dogs.
But did you ever wonder how these experts got started, or how a young purebred-dog lover can get a taste of the fun and excitement? The answer is the ARC Junior Showmanship program (Juniors, for short), the dog fancy's proving ground since 1932.
The AKC sanctions dogs shows competitive exhibitions that judge dogs against the established standard of perfection for their breed. Shows are held year-round by thousands of AKC-memher and licensed kennel clubs in parks, fairgrounds, and indoor arenas in all SO states and Puerto Rico,
Many dubs offer juniors competition. It differs from the regular classes in that judges evaluate and reward the skill of the handlers rather than the quality of the dogs shown. Junior Showmanship classes are divided into age groups: 9-12, 12-IS, and under 18. The age brackets are then subdivided: Novice for beginners, and open for more experienced handlers.
The program's main objective is to give young people a place to hone their grooming and handling skills. Along the way, they encounter such concepts as sportsmanship, ethics, and responsibility. The best part, as far as the kids are concerned, is that they learn these valuable life lessons while having the time of their lives.
When junior handlers describe their experiences, the word that seems to come op most often is fun.
A big plus for many boys and girls is that they don't have to be the strongest, fastest, or tallest kid on the block 10 compete. Physical grace is an asset, but this is a sport where dedication, intelligence, and a good eye can take you far.
Along with dog shows, the AKC and its member clubs offer a full slate of dog sports, each with a Juniors component. Field trials test breed-specific hunting skills; in all-breed "companion events," a dog and handler can prove their ability to train and work as team. Some events, like lure coursing and agility, are lightning fast. Others, like obedience, are as intensely deliberate as a well-played game of chess. But common to all is that young people are invited to participate and achieve at their chosen sport's highest levels.
If you know a child or teenager with an interest in dog sports, getting started is just a mouse click away. Click here, and you'll have all the information and resources necessary to jump into juniors.