“They’re little, headstrong dogs and they know what they want, and they’ll do what they want when they feel like it,” she said. “It’s probably the toughest part, dealing with that temperament, but also the most rewarding part.”
While it’s hard sometimes, she never wants to break his spirit. She just wants to channel it into something more positive in the ring.
The California teen says her favorite memories from handling her dog include that spirit. She loves how her dog always celebrates himself, even though it can be at the worst times such as during her down and back at The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2020.
“Just in the middle of it he just decides to jump straight up into the air and give me that goofy smile that he always gives me,” she laughed. “And, it’s that charisma that he has as a Russell that really made me fall in love with him like he’s just a silly dog sometimes.”
Despite Indy’s spunky personality, Riley placed fourth overall in Junior Showmanship at the 2020 Westminster Dog Show.
Connecting Through Junior Showmanship
When parents introduce their children to Junior Showmanship it might be because it’s full of learning opportunities and it’s fun at the same time, but these kids and teens come out with a lot more than knowledge. Riley’s favorite thing about being a junior handler is the friendships she’s made.
“I love the experience of being a junior handler because it brought me to some of my closest friends that I will ever have,” she said. “This sport has brought me so many close bonds that it’s truly become my second family.
Along with friendships from being a junior handler, her love for animals has grown her professional relationships as well. “I’d like to thank Jessica H. Waldman, VMD, CVA, CCRT,” Riley said. “Who outside of this whole show world has given me incredible opportunities such as an internship at her rehabilitation clinic called Care in California.”
Riley said her internship has given her the chance to pursue her love for animals in a different capacity. But most of all, Riley is most thankful for her relationship with her dog. “None of this would be happening if it wasn’t for him,” she explained.
Advice for Other Juniors
While Riley has had a lot of success, that hasn’t always been the case. She said if you want to be a great handler, dog trainer, and owner, you have to be dedicated.
“You can’t give up on it, no matter how hard the dog is,” she said. “I started with a dog that was reactive at times, and I had to take a step back. I put a CGC [Canine Good Citizen] on my dog.”
She didn’t show him until she knew he was ready to be back in the ring. And her advice for other young people interested in dog sports? Stick with a breed you love.
“I would tell them to pick a breed and stick with it, pick something you love,” Riley said. “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, just to really stay strong and know that hard work will always pay off in the end.”
Want to Get Involved?
Teens and children under 18 have the chance to learn about good sportsmanship, dogs, and dog shows, and develop their handling skills with the AKC Juniors Program.
Juniors are eligible to compete in Showmanship, Obedience, Agility, Rally, Tracking, Hunt Tests, Herding, Field Trials, Earthdog, Lure Coursing, Coursing Ability, and Coonhound Events. There is no minimum age requirement for sports other than Showmanship (where you must be nine).
If your child is interested in becoming a junior, they should first watch a show and sign up for a class. Juniors under 18 years old can sign up for a Junior Handler number here. This number will let them to both take classes and compete.
Junior participation in AKC sports will be recognized through the AKC Junior Recognition Program and at the end of the year, AKC will award the Junior Versatility Awards and Scholarships. You can go to this link to learn more about the AKC Junior Recognition Program.
For more information, email your questions to Juniors@akc.org.