Tifani King of Spring Lake Park Minnesota could technically still compete as a junior. But after a successful Juniors career, she made the decision to start not just competing against adults, but to become a professional handler, where she is hired to show other people’s dogs in the breed ring. For someone with a lifelong love for training and show dogs, it has been the perfect step forward in her career.
King started showing dogs when she was eight years old, thanks to a family friend. “My aunt had a friend who was a breeder and we would attend dog shows with them,” she recalls. She then began taking Juniors classes with her Cocker Spaniel. But after the dog got sick and couldn’t go to shows, a friend with an Australian Shepherd allowed King to co-own a dog who she would show for many years as a Junior.
When that friend moved, King connected with a German Shepherd Dog breeder who allowed her to co-own dogs to show. It’s there that King learned how to work in a kennel and with puppies, as well as “training, training, training.” Because she doesn’t come from a dog show family, mentorship was vital, King explains. The experience of working with dogs also helped King through difficult times in her childhood. “My mom died when I was 12 and training dogs was one of my favorite things to do and helped me work through my emotions at the time,” she shares.
King’s decision to become a professional handler coincided with her getting her German Shepherd Dog “Bloomsberry’s Christmas Time ATT CGCA” Fraser Fir, who helped further her passion for the breed. “I fell in love with German Shepherds when I was going to those shows as a spectator and I waited until I was big enough to handle them to continue on.”
King went pro with her handling last year after getting liability insurance and going through the proper safety channels. “My original plans were to have him be able to be my puppy throughout the rest of my Juniors career,” she says. But this changed because of the mentorship she received, which helped her to envision a different plan for her teenage years. “The breeder I got him from had mentioned how I was extremely talented and thought I could do really well in the breed ring. All in all, the breed ring has always been my favorite place to show.”
This passion and the mentorship King received from her breeder helped her make the decision to go pro. “I absolutely love training puppies, and then being able to show them and finish them is way more rewarding.”
Making the Choice to Leave Juniors
King has a lot of pride in the success of the dogs she handles. “Now when I have four to five dogs in the ring with me, I know clients trust me with their dogs as a handler.”
King finds this work both fun and rewarding and notes it has helped with the transition away from Juniors. “I loved hanging out ringside and sitting with them, but my real joy has always been in the breed ring.” For King, it’s the accomplishments of the dogs she handles that help her know she made the right decision. Her hard work has been rewarded by being able to show and title so many wonderful dogs in the past year.
King’s favorite part of showing dogs is the training component and she enjoys opportunities to work with her clients’ dogs as well as her own.
“Fraser is my only dog at the moment and he’s the first dog I own outright and have done all of the training on,” she says. “So, of course, I’ve wanted to participate in a lot with him.”
King and Fraser are involved with Trick Dog and Disc Dog and has his CGC and his CGCA titles. The two also train in Rally and Agility, but “his main focus is Conformation and he’s working on his championship right now,” says King, adding that two are inseparable and Fraser goes everywhere with her.
To date as a handler, King’s proudest moments include when she “got the first major towards Frasers Dam’s Championship—I then got my last Grand Championship point, which was really cool!” She also proudly remembers “winning Best in Specialty Show with my dog’s dam and my puppy going Best Baby Puppy in Specialty the same day.” Recently, King has pointed her own dog (Fraser) for the first time which she also is extremely proud of. Other early career highlights so far include recently being given the opportunity to get a Bitches Grand Champion Silver, as well as her first group placement as a professional handler.
Although King has been very successful, it hasn’t always been easy making the jump from Juniors to being a professional handler. She notes that the biggest challenge she’s faced so far is “being a kid.”
“While I am a professional handler, I’m still viewed as a kid—because I am! A lot of the time judges and breeders will overlook you because you’re a kid, which sucks and just pushes me to work harder but it can be a struggle a lot of times.”
Advice for Kids/Teens
Before they get involved in Juniors, King advises kids and teens to make sure that showing dogs is something they want to do, not because they feel pressured to by family or peers. “Only do it if you know you want to,” she says. “It takes a lot, but it was one of the best things that happened to me. It’s my passion, but don’t do it if it’s not yours.”
For teenagers who have been involved in Junior Showmanship and are considering becoming professional handlers, King says, “Do it—I tell a lot of my friends to do it because it’s so rewarding.” Mentorship has played a big role for King finding her passion for German Shepherds and for showing dogs in general. For adults looking to support kids and teens competing in Juniors or making the jump to being a professional handler, King encourages adults to treat kids with kindness. “Everyone deserves respect no matter their age,” she says. “Give them a chance.”
Being a Junior and now a professional handler has had a big impact on King’s life and her outlook. “It completely changed my future,” she says. She intends to be a full-time handler after she graduates college, and she and her aunt have plans of opening a kennel in Colorado after she finishes her studies. King hopes to be able to build a breeding and training program there. In the more immediate future, she is looking forward to finishing her dog Fraser and bringing him out as a special in a year or two. She also hopes to get an English Setter and start the search for a foundation bitch for her future breeding program.
Getting Started in AKC Juniors
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, Coonhound Events, and more. 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 dog 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 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.