Search Menu

At a dog show, Vickie Venzen is impossible to miss. The Poolesville, Maryland resident is always dressed to the nines in the conformation ring, and the 2024 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, sponsored by Purina Pro Plan, was no exception. The professional handler, breeder, mother, and wife took home big wins during Westminster, including for Leonberger “Vixen,” GCHP CH Winky-Pinky Bory Cysterskie FDC BCAT CGC TKN, who won Best of Breed.

From Trying Conformation to Becoming a Professional Handler

Venzen started showing her dog “Face,” a Cane Corso, in 2014. Before that point, she’d never been to a dog show. “I barely knew they existed,” she recalls. She started showing her dog in the National Owner-Handled Series and was surprised by how much they were able to accomplish together. “I had so many people coming up to me, they thought I was a [professional] handler.”

She’d never heard of professional handling before, but she was so good in the ring that people assumed she was one. “People asked me about showcasing their dog for them,” Venzen says. “After a year of showing Face, I moved on to start taking clients, and it kind of took off from there.”

Venzen’s been professionally handling different dog breeds for nearly a decade. On top of being a mother of three, breeding Cane Corsos, and working full-time for the federal government, she’s handled Working, Herding, Sporting, and Terrier breeds. Her favorite, she says, are the Working Group breeds. “There’s such versatility in these dogs, added with the size,” she says. “The majority of working dogs are very large breeds, [with] big muscle and athleticism. For me, it fits very well into my lifestyle, which is why I’m drawn to it.”

Making History in Conformation

On Monday, Venzen and her daughter, Tia Brass, sporting matching suits to show sister Bergamasco Sheepdogs, “Coco” and “Sapphire.” They took the same placings at Westminster as the year before: Coco took Best of Breed, and Sapphire, Best Bitch. Venzen spent Monday evening showing Coco at Groups.

Tuesday, she took to the Leonberger ring with Vixen, owned by Sunny Simpson of Hanover, Maryland. Venzen had been campaigning Vixen for the past two years, and Westminster would be the 4-year-old dog’s retirement show. At Westminster in 2023, Venzen handled Vixen to be the first Leonberger bitch to ever win the breed at the show, making history.

Melanie Haid

“Ever since the breed was approved in the AKC, it’s always been a male that has won [at Westminster],” Venzen notes. “She became the first bitch last year, and this year we came to see if she could do it one more time on her way out the door.” And she did.

Simpson had a big list of goals before the dog’s retirement. “I could not be distracted — and it worked,” Venzen says. “It worked not only because of the relationship between the three of us, dog, owner, and myself, but we made history over and over and over again. We definitely set the bar very high when we walked away, so it’ll be a long time before anyone can reach or exceed those records that we put up.”

Showcasing Dogs on the Westminster Stage

On top of big wins and showing two breeds in Group Judging, Westminster weekend also happened to fall on Mother’s Day. Venzen said this made showing Bergamasco Sheepdogs together with her daughter even more special. The year before, the pair showed the same Bergamascos with the same outfit in different colors. This year, they both wore the same black-and-white suits.

“These two very beautiful dogs are very good representations of the breed, but it’s also my daughter on the main stage,” Venzen says. “We get to showcase these beautiful dogs, but I also in a way get to showcase how well my daughter’s doing, and how good she does in the ring, following in my footsteps.”

Venzen’s handling career has already been very impressive. But, to win on such a big stage is not lost on her. She’s built relationships with the dogs and handlers of the dogs she shows, which makes these wins all the more exciting. “It’s an honor to showcase the breed on behalf of that dog, at that level, saying, ‘Here’s a dog that I believe is closest to the standard, who’s a good representation of the breed in all aspects,'” Venzen says. “Plus, the owner is honoring you with continuing to show their dog, and continue to have you showcase for them.”

Venzen has worked hard over the past decade to showcase dogs of all breeds in conformation. “I’m proud of myself for getting to that point, and being able to achieve so much on behalf of the owner, the breeder, and the breed itself.”

Melanie Haid

Conformation Outfits That Inspire

Venzen isn’t just inspiring people to get in the conformation ring. Her stellar handling outfits are also inspiring people to find their personal style in conformation attire. “I have people who message me and want me to help them find their outfit for the National [Breed Shows],” Venzen says. Even when she’s not handling, helping others look and feel their best in the ring is something she wants to keep doing.

At first, she only dressed up because she enjoyed it, and it made her feel confident. “I had no idea how much people were really paying attention, and how much they were encouraged by it,” Venzen says. “It just kind of gave them the push they needed to go out and show their personality.”

She’s gotten great feedback and typically shares her outfits on her social media accounts. Venzen wants people to know that they also don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to look and feel great in the ring. “You don’t have to fit in. You could just be you, and still be just as fabulous,” she says.

Slowing Down, But Not For Long

Last year, Vickie and her husband bought a new home. With 14 Cane Corsos running around, she’s already a busy woman. She says that after Vixen’s impressive conformation career, she’s going to take some time to slow down.

While she’s taking a break from professional handling, it won’t last. Instead of a retirement from handling, she’s calling it a semi-retirement. “I have such big moments in my life. I love showing dogs, and I don’t have one regret of the time I’ve spent and what I’ve been able to achieve, but I’ve missed out on a lot,” Venzen says.

But it’s hard for her to stay out of the ring, and she’s looking to put out feelers to handle again in the fall. “I already miss it,” she laughs. In the meantime, she’s looking forward to spending time with her family. Just after Westminster, her twin sons graduated from college. She also wants to focus on her breeding program, which is expecting a new litter of Cane Corsos in May.

As for what’s on the radar, Venzen says she’ll never say never. “I think 2025, you may see Vixen come out to do a showcase at Crufts.”

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