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Sophia Rainna Jean Norman from Cincinnati, Ohio got started showing dogs when she was just five years old. Now twelve, she’s a seventh-grader and an avid dog sports competitor with her American Eskimo Dog Sailor “CH Wintersun’s Making Waves RN SNB SNE CGC TKN.”

Getting Started

At five, Norman started showing as part of Peewee Showmanship. At the time, she was handling a mixed-breed rescue named Luke before getting her own dog.

“I’ve grown up watching my older sisters showing dogs through 4-H and AKC,” Norman says, which was what inspired her to get involved herself. After competing in Peewees, Norman joined 4-H as a Cloverbud which gave her more experience with showing and handling dogs.

Photos courtesy of subject

A Winning Team

Although Norman loves training and competing in sports with Sailor, for her the best part is the opportunity to spend time with her dog: “Over the many years of dog showing, I found that my favorite part is being with my dog, making her happy and making me happy.”

Norman calls her relationship with Sailor an “unbreakable team” and recognizes how close and special their connection is.

Thinking back to when she first got Sailor, Norman remembers: “When she was brought home it was late at night so I could not interact with her but in the morning, I skipped a school day to spend with my little ball of fluff and get to know her personality. Sailor has been very attached to me ever since.”

Norman is an active AKC Junior Handler and competes with Sailor in AKC Rally, Scent Work, Obedience, Showmanship, Conformation, and soon the two will be getting involved in Agility. “Without my dog I would not be able to accomplish all that I have,” Norman says. “When me and Sailor got our first ever chance to be in Best of Breed in AKC I was very nervous but excited, Sailor gave me the encouragement I needed with all of her kisses and love.”

Overcoming Challenges

Even the best dogs sometimes display challenging behaviors that handlers/owners must learn how to work with and teach their dogs to overcome. These challenging moments can strengthen your relationship with your dog and teach handlers important lessons about perseverance as well as dog training.

Competing with Sailor hasn’t always been easy: “Sailor is a kind and smart dog that loves the people in her house very much. She is non-reactive but wary of people. When she was a puppy, Sailor was very scared of other humans aside from the people she knew from birth.” Norman explained.

“It took us a year and a half for her to get out of her shy state,” Norman recalled, noting that working with Sailor on this issue was something she’s proud of, and she feels “very lucky to be able to train her and love her” through this challenge.

Learning Life Lessons

Training and showing dogs can teach handlers of all ages important life lessons. Winning is fun, but it isn’t everything, what matters is getting back out there. Norman remembers being “discouraged” after a show where she and Sailor went home empty-handed, but she was committed to keep going.

Mentorship and support from other competitors is extremely helpful for encouraging junior handlers to get and stay involved. Norman encourages adults involved in dog shows to cheer the junior handlers on. In particular, she advises being supportive of juniors regardless of if they win or lose. “If they make a mistake in the ring make sure they feel good enough to want to try again on their own ” she advises as a way adults can support juniors at their local shows.

Encouraging Others

For kids who are interested in getting involved with showing dogs, Norman wants them to know that it’s “a lot of work training, grooming, and showing your dog but in the end, it is worth seeing the smile on your dog’s face.”

She also encourages juniors to remember that when working with your dog it’s important to maintain a positive attitude and not to be hard on your dog. “Your dog’s mistakes are your mistakes, and you shouldn’t put the pressure on your dog, relax and try again.”

Being involved in dog sports with Sailor has encouraged Norman to work to be the best version of herself possible, and to keep trying no matter what. Norman explains that her experience as a junior handler “has shown me that nothing my dog does is a mistake of their own, that what they do can be improved when I improve physically, and mentally myself.” When not at dog shows, Norman is an active seventh-grader and in addition to dog shows she participates in soccer, karate, and show choir. Looking to the future, Norman is excited to continue training and competing with Sailor and hopes to earn Sailor’s Grand Championship.

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.

Related article: How to Develop a Trick Dog Routine With a Story
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