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The Greater Clark County Kennel Club in Washington is leading the way in making dog sports more age-inclusive for Junior Handlers. The club is piloting the nation’s first AKC Junior Club, a program in which Junior Handlers can organize events and occupy leadership positions. 

The AKC Junior Club: Form and Function

The AKC Junior Club is the brainchild of Emily Barnhart, a breeder and AKC judge. 

The primary goal of the AKC Junior Club is to support the development of well-rounded juniors in the dog world by exposing them to all aspects of canine training, showing, and event organizing. This will help kids gain experience with all areas of clubs, from running shows to training and competing.  

Who Can Participate—and How?

The AKC Junior Club will be youth-led with support from adult mentors from across the dog world, including trainers, groomers, and breeders. These mentors will organize meetings, lead workshops, and assist with other events. Teen mentors will also have the opportunity to support younger members. 

The AKC Junior Club will be open to kids aged 5 to 18. In addition to Junior Showmanship divisions (Junior, Intermediate, and Senior), they will offer a noncompetitive PeeWee component for kids aged 5 to 9. PeeWees will prepare kids for competition. 

The club will meet in small groups weekly (with COVID protocols in place, for now), with specialized agility training opportunities possibly becoming available. Monthly business meetings will align with the Greater Clark County Kennel Club’s. 

Junior Handler
Photo by Pix 'n' Pages ©American Kennel Club

“We also want to make sure that we see where you are talented and let you explore different areas to see what type of activities or jobs you would like to do in the AKC world,” says Barnhart. “So we’re trying to get more future breeders, more club members to run shows, and more administrators, but maybe they are a great trainer and that’s going to be their focus.” 

The AKC Junior Club has a robust array of programming plans designed to support kids and teens through five distinct components: 

  1. Business Meetings: Youth will hold and manage their own club business meetings. “We are going to have a youth be president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer,” Barnhart says. “They’re going to be shadowed by adult people in the club so that they can learn that work and how to run a club.”
  2. Junior Showmanship: A primary goal of the club will be supporting juniors in getting involved in junior showmanship. Kids and teens will need their dogs to have an AKC registration but the club will also accept those who have Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) or Canine Partners.
  3. Companion/Performance: The club will provide training in different performance sports. Juniors can learn what they and their dogs are passionate about. From there, they can eventually move on to more advanced training and competition.
  4. Knowledge: Dog education will be a core component of the program. Juniors will learn about canine anatomy, breed identifications, and AKC history, among other topics. Barnhart explains that the Junior Club eventually hopes to develop a competitive quiz or knowledge-based event where kids can answer questions, “as well as possibly giving public presentations.”
  5. Volunteer: Juniors will volunteer at shows and other events organized by the Greater Clark County Kennel Club, as well as doing community service in the larger as well.

In addition to the regular meetings, there will be many opportunities for the juniors and their dogs to compete. “Our goal is to have the kids run their own matches and run a junior showcase at the end of the year,” Barnhart explains.  

The Junior Showcase will grow and evolve based on the interests of the juniors involved with the program each year. For example, if more kids show interest in Agility, smaller trials will be held for members to practice. 

A Model for Other Clubs

Currently, the Greater Clark County AKC Junior Club is the first chapter of this junior model, but the hope is that this program can expand to kennel clubs across the country. If you or your kennel club are interested in learning more, reach out to Barnhart directly at  

Related article: Can Junior Handlers Show Dogs They Dont Own?
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