The phrase “going to the dogs” has a whole new meaning for Karen Scheiner. The Cherry Hill, New Jersey, resident practiced law for three decades but fell in love with dog sports along the way. In February 2017, she decided to leave her full-time practice so she could devote more time to training and competing.
From Divorce Law to Dog Sports
Legal work left Scheiner burnt out. “The practice of divorce law was not what I bargained for,” she explains. “Instead of feeling like I was helping people in need, I felt like a soldier, entering into a war zone at work. Each day turned into a battle over the kids, the house, money. Everyone was disgruntled and angry. There are no winners in divorce litigation, so at the end of the day, there is no prize. Because of the nature of negotiations, everyone has to give up something. There seemed to be no justice in the law.
“I needed to get away from it. And fortunately, at the end of each day, I was always able to come home to my dogs, who were always overjoyed to see me. What a welcome change!”
An Unexpected Introduction
Scheiner’s connection to dogs goes back decades. As an 18-year-old freshman at Beaver College, now known as Arcadia University, in Glenside, Pennsylvania, Scheiner attended a mandatory science assembly, and she had no idea what to expect. As it turns out, the presentation showed students the power of the canine nose. “The demonstration on the stage that day was life-altering for me. It showed a dog finding his owner’s scent article in a pile of ten similar-looking items. The dog never looked at the article,” she recalls, “just smelled it. And always got it right!”
That demonstration remained with her for the next decade, at which point she was beginning a career in law. “I wanted to get a dog and train that amazing feat,” she says. Her first breed would later be a Dachshund, which she characterizes “as an insane coincidence because it is the perfect breed for training scent articles. But I was oblivious to it at that point.”
Starting Out in the Dog World
Scheiner began training in dog sports. “I found an evening Obedience class and began training my dachshunds the routines of Novice and Open obedience,” she says. “I also trained my dachshunds to perform agility, since this is a really fun activity and great exercise for me, too.” Soon, she acquired another Dachshund and before long, she was working them both in Advanced Obedience and Agility.
“As it happened, one year the AKC was announcing the top five dogs in agility who would be invited to the [American Kennel Club Agility] Invitational in Orlando, Florida,” she recalls. “Out of curiosity, I checked the list, thinking that maybe I might know someone on it. But there, staring at me, was my name, and my dog’s name as number three in the country! I found that to be incredible, but very rewarding. This honor really sucked me into the sport, like never before. I began to spend more and more time training the dogs, hoping to get into the top in Obedience as well!”
Her target, however, was seeing her dogs replicate that biology nose exercise from college. After three years of training, en route to earning a Utility Dog (UD) title in Obedience, her Dachshund Rock Star managed to repeat the exercise in 2017. “It was an exhilarating feeling,” she confesses. Scheiner adds, “It took at least three years of training all of the other exercises until he would get it right. The year that he earned his Utility Dog title, Rock Star was number-two dachshund in the country. That accomplishment felt super sweet, like I had just grabbed the virtual brass ring.”
From Passion to Profession
As she became more immersed in dog training, finding time to practice law on a full-time basis became an issue. “As I became more and more submerged in training dogs, it became an issue for me to practice law as a partner in a firm,” Scheiner shares. “So I left the firm and opened my own private practice of law. That decision allowed me greater freedom to spend with the dogs.” She no longer has to “clock” her hours and can work as much or as little as she chooses.
“Although admittedly the financial end of training dogs is not nearly as lucrative as practicing law, there are always big choices that you have to make as you go through life,” Scheiner says. And her commitment to dog sports continues to fuel her passion. “As by nature, I am a rather competitive individual, the fact that my dogs were ranking in top dachshunds in obedience and agility in the country kept me involved in performance activities,” she says. “If you work hard, you should play hard, too,” she emphasizes. “Find an activity that you really love, and go for it!”
And she certainly has, as her resume in various events reflects. As a breeder, she exclusively breeds and shows Miniature Longhaired Dachshunds under the kennel name Harlequin Dachshunds. Scheiner notes, “I strive to produce dogs with outgoing temperament and that are very biddable and easy to train. Because of the depth of training and other activities in which I am involved in, my breeding program is limited to no more than one or two litters annually.”
Six years after leaving her practice, Scheiner competes in Conformation, AKC Rally, Obedience, AKC Scent Work, CAT Tests, Tracking, and Club Activities, so she’s always busy. In Conformation, she mostly handles her own dogs, many of which also participate in Obedience and AKC Rally. In addition to putting a Utility Dog title on her Dachshund, Rock Star, which is not as common for the breed, she has put Companion Dog Excellent (CDX) titles on several other Dachshunds. Scheiner trains and competes with her own dogs in Agility, getting multiple MACH and PACH titles on her Dachshunds, who also have Coursing Ability Test (CAT) titles. She has been training Rock Star for two years in Tracking, which requires a certification to earn a Versatile Companion Dog (VCD) title. “He is looking good in practice,” Scheiner says.
An Impressive Resume
Scheiner’s multi-talented Dachshunds have been competing in AKC Scent Work for about five years. Several compete in Masters and Detective level classes. In September 2022, Scheiner served as Scent Work trial chair for a Burlington County Kennel Club event. She has also organized and is chairing the first Scent Work Trial for the Dachshund Club of New Jersey, to be held in May 2023.
But her Dachshunds aren’t the only dogs she’s getting titles with. In 2020, she put a Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) on her Toy Poodle Pop-Tart. She began training Pop-Tart for an AKC Rally championship a year ago and says that Pop-Tart is nearly ready for the event. Pop-Tart has earned a MACH3 and will compete in the 10th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Masters Agility Championship in New York City this May.
Scheiner’s accolades don’t stop at her participation in the ring. She is approved to judge Dachshunds of all coat types at AKC Conformation shows, as well as National Owner-Handler Series (NOHS) Hound competitions. In recent years, she has served as Trial Chair for Agility trials for the Burlington County Kennel Club in Moorestown, New Jersey, and she trains Rally classes at Pinelands Dog Training Center in Bordentown, New Jersey.
On top of this, Scheiner holds multiple roles in regional clubs. She is the corresponding secretary and newsletter editor for the Burlington County Kennel Club, corresponding secretary for the Poodle Obedience Training Center of Greater New York, and secretary for both the Dachshund Club of New Jersey and the South Jersey Agility Club.
Living a Well-Rounded Life
Immersing herself in the dog world has changed her life. Scheiner says, “My husband and kids now tell me that I am a different person. That I am not stressed or preoccupied thinking about a client, or a case in court. That I do not have to work seven days a week and feel like I’ve gone through the wringer each week. Instead, I have more time to spend and enjoy with my family, and I am a more pleasant person doing it. Furthermore, I don’t feel that I have to ‘fit in’ dog training in little windows of time, as I had done before.”
“The dog world is challenging, invigorating, and satisfying,” she says. “I am a different person today from the stressed one who was walking into the courtroom a decade ago. No matter what the sport, my approach is upbeat and positive. To keep it fun and motivating for the dogs, I love deploying games and toys in the mix. It always leaves them wanting more and builds a stronger bond in the process.”