The Owner-Handler

AKC Gazette breed column, Wire Fox Terriers: There is no reason that an owner-handler cannot compete with professional handlers and do some winning.

You have a lovely dog who should be shown. You are not sure you can afford a professional handler, and you wonder if you should show him yourself. 

There is no reason that you cannot compete with professional handlers and do some winning. With our high-maintenance breed, show preparation can be hard work, and the time can be difficult to find when you have a family and a full-time job.

An owner-handler’s advantage is that most have only one or two dogs to keep in coat, while pro handlers have to work with many dogs. Once you have that good Wire coat, you need to put in only a couple hours a week maintaining it, keeping the furnishings trimmed, and making sure your dog is in good weight and condition. Many owner-handlers find that this grooming time releases stress, and they really enjoy the closeness with their dog that results. 

Most kennel clubs hold conformation-training classes, which are generally taught by experienced show people. That is where you will learn the fine points of handling. They will give you advice on your showing technique while building your confidence in what you are doing. It does help to win if your dog can walk in the ring, look the other dogs in the eye, and say, “I’m here—the rest of you can go now!”

Join a local kennel club where you will be able to meet other show people. Some of them might be willing to travel together and share expenses. If you carpool and take along your own food and other supplies, you can show on the “cheap.”

Make friends in other breeds as well as your own, as you can learn a great deal from them. It also helps to have a friend critique you and your dog’s performance from ringside.

I am sure you have heard all about “politics,” and yes, there are some judges who do not judge the dog but rather the handler. There are also newer judges who are still learning about our breed; since their mistakes are honest ones, we can push for more judges’ education and hope for the best. However, these problems are not as common as one might think. If you have a dog as good as your competition, and if he is groomed and trained as well, you have a very good chance at winning under most judges.

While you have been doing all the grooming and training, I hope you will have taken the time to have fun, play a game, laugh, and enjoy your dog. If you have fun, he will have fun also.

The final thing to remember is to walk into the ring with the confident feeling that you have a very competitive dog. That feeling will go right down the lead and make the two of you a team. One of the best reasons to do owner-handling is that you will get a great deal of personal satisfaction from going in the ring with your own dog and winning. Even if you do not win, you will still have the satisfaction of knowing that you and your dog did the very best you could. My personal feeling is that it beats sitting home and waiting for a phone call to let you know how your dog did at the shows.

Virginia MatanicAmerican Fox Terrier Club 

August 2013 AKC Gazette