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Seventeen-year-old Ariella Harris was the first person in her family to show dogs. Today she’s the number one Junior Handler Doberman Pinscher handler in the country.

Although she might be the first dog fancier in the family, Ariella’s family members are no strangers to working with animals. As a third-generation horse-woman, Ariella is proud to have been involved with riding and showing horses through 4-H since she was very young. At just eight, Ariella was introduced to showing dogs through her local 4-H club in Texas. There, she and the family’s Beagle mix became involved in Obedience, Rally, and some Showmanship. Since then, Ariella has become a formidable handler and competitor.

When Ariella was eleven years old, her family purchased an AKC Doberman puppy named Yiska. Ariella’s mom would take her to local shows to compete in junior showmanship “I often felt frustrated in this new world because I didn’t know what I was doing let alone knew who to go to and ask for guidance” noted Ariella of her early show experience.

Thankfully Ariella soon became connected to other handlers who were able to mentor her. “When I started my journey in AKC back in 2014, I had always admired the juniors who were in the top Doberman Junior Handler ranks. I wanted to know how they were effortlessly showing this elegant breed and wondering how I can be at their level. I was asking every judge I had shown to ‘what can I do better’ and I took every piece of advice they were willing to share” Ariella says.

Unfortunately, Ariella’s young dog Yiska had medical complications and passed away at only four years old. “Not only did I lose my best friend, but I felt like my dreams died along with her,” described Ariella.

Finding Ruska

Although she was understandably heartbroken, Ariella still found herself called to dog shows. After grieving the loss of her best canine friend she began looking for her next puppy.

“I began searching for breeders while cleaning houses and other miscellaneous jobs to earn money for a puppy that could fulfill my dreams,” Ariella explains. In 2017 Ariella and her family brought home a red Doberman Bitch named Ruska aka “Cambria’s Quick to Steal My Heart.”

Ariella noted that “Ruska has opened many doors of opportunity and new friendships.” Ariella’s ability to dedicate her time to dog shows has been aided by her homeschooling, the flexibility of which she credits for accommodating her busy dog show schedule.

Her flexible schedule has also allowed her to volunteer in her local community. Through 4-H Ariella has volunteered for schools and other community groups to educate kids about AKC dog sports. “It is one of my favorite things to do, I love sharing my knowledge with people and opening doors of new ideas,” says Ariella.

Success in The Ring

Ariella actively competes with her two Dobermans CH Cambria’s Quick To Steal My Heart TNK — Call name “Ruska” and Starlaine Gone Platinum — Call name “Ronin.” Ariella has been amongst the top 20 Juniors for the DPCA from 2017-2020. In 2018 Ariella and Ruska showed at their Regional DPCA Specialty and won Winners Bitch for a 4-point major and in 2019 they made it to the AKC National Championship junior showmanship finals.

Thinking about the success Ariella has had with her dogs she recalls “One of my proudest moments was making it to the AKC National Championship Junior Showmanship finals in 2019. That day is still fresh in my memory. I remember being picked for the final round and when I came out of that ring I was swarmed with hugs and love from my friends, my mentor Ashlee Claggett, and my mom.”

Ariella is currently the number one Doberman junior handler for 2020. Ariella utilized that advice given ringside and in training classes to improve her performance with her dogs. “When I woke up to the new stats on Canine Chronicle, I saw my name in the number one Doberman Junior Handler Spot. I was overwhelmed with emotion; my hard work was finally paying off, from the times I have missed out with family, friends, parties, homesickness, the long hard days, and the tireless work was proved to be worth it. It has definitely not been an easy road, but it’s been most rewarding to myself that I can push through to get to the better parts of the success,” Ariella explains.

Even the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped this dedicated young handler. “Despite the limited showing due to the pandemic, my boy Ronin is nearing his championship. He competed at his first show weekend for two 5-point Majors in one day.”

In addition to conformation, Ariella trains and shows in performance events with her dogs including Obedience, Rally, and Lure Coursing. “Obedience and Rally can really push your potential with your dog for various maneuvers, my dogs always enjoy doing something new and I believe it’s very good for their minds,” Ariella says of her training approach.

Of all performance sports they pursue, Ariella noted that Coursing Ability is one of her favorites noting “My Dobermans are very prey driven so getting a chance to see them run in those fields after the “bunny” and barking with excitement really brings a smile on my face.”

Take The Leap

For kids and teens who are curious about dog sports and thinking about getting involved Ariella encourages you to take the leap and get involved but try not to do it alone. “Don’t be afraid to reach out and find help, the sooner you find a mentor the easier it will be settling into the sport. Don’t ever give up on your heart breed, own, and show what makes your passion grow. You’re never done learning in this world. Always ask questions, video yourself showing and practicing, there’s always room for improvement.”

For adults who might be looking to support, or mentor Junior Handlers Ariella believes “good communication is the key between a mentor and their junior, there should be a balance between learning the art of the sport to the work involved. Patience, respect, and kindness from both sides go a long way.”

Lasting Life Lessons

Ariella credits showing dogs with shaping her outlook on life. “The dog show world has given me a unique perspective on life, it’s constantly a test of my character, perseverance, and judgment. I have learned to be independent and deal with unexpected issues. When I came into this sport with big dreams and goals it’s taken me years to get to this point, everything that I have encountered on this path; my acquaintances, my breeders, my friendships, my mentors, my wins and losses, has brought me to this point of attaining my goals.”

Ariella has had tremendous success so far, and when asked about her favorite experiences while showing dogs she responded: “If someone asked me this question 3 years ago, I would’ve said “being able to show my beloved dog” but now as I’ve grown with more experiences, I have many favorite parts; I have met so many amazing people who have become very close friends of mine, the friendships and the support we have for each other have really made the dog shows enjoyable for me. Additionally, dog shows push me out of my comfort zone. I have seen more of the world than I ever thought I would at my age. I am so blessed to visit places such as the bustling city of New York and sitting in Madison Square garden to the beautiful mountains of Colorado. And for the cherry on top, I have had the opportunity to watch once in lifetime dogs in the ring and make AKC history.”

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, 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 a junior, they should first 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 let them to 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.

For more information, email your questions to Juniors@akc.org.

Related article: Junior Handler Spotlight: Sicily Coniglio
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