Angel Warren already had two rescue dogs when she got started in her local 4-H dog program at age nine: Durango, a Miniature American Shepherd, and Aspen, a Border Collie mix.
“It was my first introduction to dogdom and I was immediately intrigued,” Angel remembers.
This intrigue is what led Angel to get her first show dog from a reputable breeder — an Australian Shepherd named Montez. “Showing at AKC shows has really fostered my dedication to conformation. This is a true 180 from my time in 4H where often Junior Showmanship was entirely intimidating and nerve-wracking. Montez, my first real purebred dog, completely transformed my outlook on conformation and junior showmanship. I have found so many handlers I admire and who have helped to foster my fascination with the intricacies of the sport. ”
Now 16, Angel is interested in every aspect of showing dogs — whether it’s the precise grooming requirements for individual breeds or the difference in breed presentation. She also says she enjoys learning about the genetics of breeding.
“To me, conformation events show the continued work of so much of the dog world which aims to produce happy, healthy working dogs and companions.”
“Surreal and Exciting”
When Angel learned she qualified for Junior Showmanship at the 2019 AKC National Championship and the 2020 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, she was ecstatic. This was her first full year showing with the AKC, so she was thrilled to attend these two iconic shows. On top of that, Montez and Angel finished as #8 Herding Junior for the year of 2019.
“There is no doubt that when looking at the demographic of those who show dogs it is primarily older white people. By truly fostering a safe-space and encouraging black and brown kids to get involved in a community they may otherwise have no access to, I think both the interest in and the reputation of dog shows would see vast improvements.”
Showing at Westminster for the first time was surreal for Angel.
“In so many ways, I got an overwhelming thought that I still had so much to learn and so far to go in my work with dogs. Considering my family has no association with the dog world and I only recently began seriously showing, it was daunting to know that so many people who have been doing this forever were watching. At the same time it was like showing anywhere else–a bit unnerving and very exciting!”
“I’m Still Learning”
Above all, Angel is dedicated to continuing her own personal education. “It makes a huge difference,” she says.
“This can mean something different for everyone. Maybe for those of us who handle dogs in conformation, this is asking ourselves, how can we better our grooming? Our presentation? Who can we ask for help? For breeders, I think constantly learning means that you are always asking yourself how you aim to contribute to your breed and bettering your knowledge in the breed’s history, health, and standard. As a whole, being a dog owner requires a willingness to learn and be humbled time and time again to achieve the best possible lives for our furry companions.”
While Angel loves the dog world, she admits it can be a little overwhelming, especially for a newcomer who has no previous connections in the sport. “While things can be overwhelming in such a foreign world, I think it’s important to constantly be soaking in knowledge. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and reach out to people as there are so many who want to help! If you are met with any rudeness, brush it off and try to not get discouraged, all the hard work will pay off with time.”
“Reach Out to People of Color”
There is one more aspect of dog shows that Angel is passionate about changing: the lack of diversity. Angel would love to see the dog world she knows and loves expand.
“My suggestion is to focus more intimately on inclusivity in a sub-culture which can seem so foreign to so many. As a whole, I would love to see the dog community speak more intimately on how we can get more minorities involved.”
“This of course includes the LGBTQ+ and disabled communities but in particular, I would love to see more outreach to people of color. It is no doubt that when looking at the demographic of those who show dogs it is primarily older white people. By truly fostering a safe-space and encouraging black and brown kids to get involved in a community they may otherwise have no access to, I think both the interest in and the reputation of dog shows would see vast improvements.
“For those of you who are reading this, you may ask yourself what this looks like. I think a good start is not alienating the POC who may be participating or spectating at dog events. Inclusivity also means not using racially charged words to describe the location of particular show sites and the people in these cities.
“Instead, why don’t we reach out to these communities and encourage them to come and learn about dog sports? In general, I challenge the dog community to really examine who is participating in dog shows and why exactly that is, and to think about how we can truly be a safe community for everyone.”
“A True Passion”
Angel thanks her 4-H leader Janele Caldwell and her daughter, who first got her involved in the dog world, along with Sherrie Scott for entrusting her with her first Aussie, and Kat Wallis for giving her such a phenomenal professional handler to look up to and learn from.
In the seven years since she got started in 4-H, so much has changed for Angel and she is excited for her future in dog sports.
“I have developed a true passion for the dog world and have met some fantastic mentors who have taught me so much,” she says. “I am excited to continue to expand my knowledge and hope to be a part of preserving the breeds I love so much.”
Want to Get Involved?
The AKC Juniors program offers children and teens 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.