At just nine years old Tatum Duvall was catapulted into dog sports when her mom, Tanya Duvall, broke her leg. She began showing Vizslas as a Junior Handler and quickly fell in love with the sport.
“When my mom got hurt, I didn’t expect to love dogs so much and showing so much,” said Tatum.
Two years later, Tatum is a champion in the show ring.
Growing through Junior Showmanship
Even though the Colorado youth has only been a handler for a few years, Tatum and her dog Gambol have won several awards. Tatum has won Best in Show Owner-Handled, Best of Opposite Sex, and competed in The AKC National Owner-Handled Series.
Today, Tatum competes in Conformation, Junior Showmanship, Hunt Tests, Canine Good Citizen (CGC), Trick Dog, and Dock Diving. She loves Conformation the most because “it’s really fun” and hunting because it gives her dogs the chance to follow their instincts.
“The thing I love most about being a Junior Handler is making friends with the other handlers and meeting juniors from all around the country,” said Tatum.
Though Tatum has many accomplishments, it can be easy to forget she’s only 11. When she’s not showing dogs, she loves hanging out with them.
One of her favorite memories from handling her dog includes how Gambol gives it her all even when they’re exhausted after a long day. At home, one of her favorite ways to spend time with her dogs is cuddling.
Gambol is now three years old and one of six Vizslas Tatum owns.
“Showing has allowed me to travel the country, to show many breeds, and just have a lot of fun,” Tatum said.
Winning Science Fairs
In addition to being a Junior Handler, Tatum is a budding scientist. Tatum got the idea for her science fair project after speaking to her mom at a show about whether it’s better to feed your dog a raw or cooked diet. She began investigating the prevalence of salmonella in the saliva of Vizsla dogs fed raw food versus cooked food.
“The reason I choose to do that was because your dog can cross-contaminate you and get you sick,” Tatum said.
Tatum was the only sixth grader to compete in the middle school division of her regional science fair. She placed second, beating many 12-, 13-, and 14-year olds, and making it possible for her to be one of a select few to continue on to the state science fair.
Though the Colorado State Science Fair didn’t happen in-person due to the coronavirus, the fair went virtual. Tatum presented virtually at the Colorado State Science Fair and placed second in the state middle school division for Animal Science.
“We are so very proud of her, as a sixth-grader, for her first state competition, against a tough group of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders!” said mom Tanya Duvall.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from my project is that your dog can get salmonella from more than just their food,” Tatum said. “It can come from them playing in the soil and ingesting it. It can come from unwashed fruits and vegetables. It can come from a lot of things other than their food.”
Tatum plans to expand her research by testing for more pathogens and other health issues specific to Vizslas. In the future, Tatum will test Vizslas’ food bowls and food as well as their environment and owners.
Advice for Other Juniors
Though Tatum is young, her experience has given her the opportunity to discover a deeper love of dogs and develop skills that can be used both in and out of the ring. Tatum recommends that other young people wanting to be Junior Handlers begin by finding a dog they love.
“I think being positive and having a bond with your dog and a love for the breed can really help in handling your dog,” said Tatum. “Find a dog that you love and just keep going.”
Want to Get Involved?
The AKC Juniors program offers children under 18 an opportunity to develop their handling skills and learn about good sportsmanship, dogs, and dog shows.
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 an AKC Junior Handler, the first step is to 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 be used to track their participation in AKC sports and classes.
Except in Junior Showmanship, Juniors will exhibit in the regular classes and in the field along with all other exhibitors at the trials and tests, where they can obtain the same titles on their dogs and awards as adult handlers if they qualify.
For more information, email your questions to Juniors@akc.org.