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Having the opportunity to compete at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, presented by Purina Pro Plan is a dream come true for dog handlers of all ages. This year, 104 Junior Handlers from across the country competed with dogs for Best Junior at the 90th Anniversary of Junior Showmanship at Westminster. Junior Handler Octavia Stensen of Everson, Washington, rose to the occasion, taking home the title of 2024 Westminster Best Junior.

Junior Handlers work hard year-round to qualify for Westminster, all with the goal of making it to finals and winning this coveted award. The Westminster Kennel Club began awarding the Best Junior Handler title to a handler under the age of 18 as part of the Junior Showmanship program in 1934.

Westminster Crowns 2024 Best Junior Handler

After two days of competition, the Westminster Kennel Club awarded Best Junior Handler to Stensen under judge Diego Garcia of Lillington, North Carolina. Stensen was handling her dog “Pineapple” GCHB CH Cultiva Cruisin For A Bruisin Pineapple Express CGC TKN, a 3-and-a-half-year-old Norwegian Buhund. An accomplished junior handler, Stensen also won the Best Junior title at the 2023 AKC National Championship with Pineapple.

Stensen began competing in Junior Showmanship when she was 10 years old with her Shiba Inu, before getting involved with the Norwegian Buhund breed. After showing Pineapple’s mother for several years, Stensen bred her, and that litter produced Pineapple, who she began showing.

Upon hearing her name called as Best Junior Stensen immediately picked up Pineapple in a huge hug. The connection between the owner and her dog was clear to anyone watching, adding to the many heartfelt moments of Westminster week.

Junior Showmanship at Westminster

Competing at Westminster is an invitation-only opportunity for these junior handlers. To get invited to compete, Junior Handlers between the ages of 9 and 18 must have won Best Junior Handler awards at seven or more AKC conformation dog shows within the previous year’s qualifying period.

After two days of preliminary competitions at Westminster, the junior handlers are narrowed down into a group of eight finalists. These eight finalists then compete with their dogs for the Best Junior Handler award, which is crowned the second night of Conformation competitions at Westminster.

Since the Best Junior competition at Westminster began exactly 90 years ago, 64 girls and 23 boys have taken home the title. Stensen is only the fourth Junior Handler from the state of Washington to have won the title.

Junior Handler Placements at Westminster

Best Junior Handler Winner

Name: Octavia Stensen

Dog Breed: Norwegian Buhund

Dog Name: GCHB CH Cultiva Cruisin For A Bruisin Pineapple Express CGC TKN

Dog Owners: Octavia, Autumn, and Ophelia Stensen

Westminster 2nd Place Winner

Name: Tatum Bartlett

Dog Breed: Petite Basset Griffon Vendeen

Dog Name: GCHS CH M & M Stellar Spotify

Dog Owners: Janice Hayes, Donna Moore, Eric Ciceron, Wendy Doherty, Janice Brown

Westminster 3rd Place Winner

Courtesy of Getty Images for The Westminster Kennel Club

Name: Taylor Johnson

Dog Breed: Old English Sheepdog

Dog Name: GCHS CH Bugaboo’s Let It Be

Dog Owners: Colton, Heather, Douglas, Michaelanne, and Taylor Johnson

Westminster 4th Place Winner

Name: Annaliese North

Dog Breed: English Cocker Spaniel

Dog Name: CH Itoba Average Joe

Dog Owners: Joyce B. Winkels and Samantha Hanle

Westminster Junior Finalists

Four Junior Handlers were finalists in the Westminster Junior Showmanship Competition. Natalie Halfacre handled Labrador Retriever Dickendall Buckstone Britt-Knee JH WC CGCA, owned by Stephanie Halfacre, Faith Hyndman, and Kendall Herr.

Arionna Walker handled English Setter GCH CH Kaska’s Mystery Machine, owned by Lindsey Cook.

Sydney Wills handled Cardigan Welsh Corgi GCHP CH Redbud Across The Universe, owned by Jane Crenshaw, Betsy Flood, and Corona Ona Maz Kennels.

Barbara “Bebe” Mathews handled Russell Terrier GCH CH Wizard Iz Imperii Jamper, owned by Candace Lundin, Frank Zureick, and Barbara Mathews.

Scholarship Awards for Junior Handlers

The Junior Showmanship program not only helps juniors learn to show dogs, but it’s also designed to create well-rounded individuals. This includes providing support for Juniors’ education after they age out of the program. The top eight finalists at Westminster are awarded scholarships for college or technical school.

As the 2024 Westminster Kennel Club Best Junior Handler, Stensen will receive a $10,000 Junior Showmanship Finalists Scholarship Award. The second-place Junior Handler will receive a $5,000 scholarship, third-place will receive a $4,000 scholarship, and fourth-place will receive a $3,000 scholarship.

The four Junior Handler Finalists will receive $500 scholarships each.

What Is Junior Showmanship?

Junior Showmanship not only is a great introduction to the sport of Conformation, but it also builds character and confidence for the young people involved. For kids and teens interested in dogs and dog shows, the AKC Junior Handler program is a great opportunity to learn practical skills about responsible dog ownership and handling skills.

In Junior Showmanship, juniors aren’t judged on how closely their dog corresponds to the breed standard (as they would be in the Conformation ring). Instead, junior handlers are being evaluated on how they handle and present their dog. In Junior Showmanship, it’s the junior’s handling being judged, not the qualities of the dog on the end of their leash. Learn more about conformation and ask a parent or guardian to help you get involved in Junior Showmanship.

The 148th Annual Westminster Kennel Club has named it’s 2024 Best in Show! Catch reruns of the coverage on demand and learn more about one of the most famous dog shows in the United States at