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Junior Handler Ashlyn Navis and Golden Retriever Brix participating in Conformation.
Photo by Teddy Lei
Junior Handler Ashlyn Navis and Golden Retriever Brix participating in Conformation.

In just a few years, Ashlyn Navis has gone from being a dog show viewer and watching them from home to competing in them as a participant herself. The 17-year-old Junior Handler from Piedmont, South Carolina, has become an accomplished competitor in multiple dog sports.

Navis participates in Conformation with her Golden Retrievers “Maylee” (Sharmik’s Southern Clemson Girl CGC CGCA TKA ATD BCAT DN) and “Rue” (IABCA Int. CH Sharmik’s Cherry On Top II VHM TKI RI CGC FITB DS CCA BCAT). Together, they’re active not only in Conformation, but also Diving Dogs, Obedience, AKC Rally, Barn Hunt, Fast CAT, Coursing Ability Tests (CAT), and AKC Trick Dog, to name a few. Navis is currently getting her dogs involved in field work and plans to work towards AKC Therapy Dog titles when she and her dogs become eligible. So how did she go from watching dog sports to being this involved?

From Dog Show Viewer to Participant

Watching televised broadcasts of conformation dog shows are what inspired Navis to learn more about the dog show world. After tuning in to the National Dog Show, Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and Crufts, she began training Maylee toward earning a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) title. This turned out to be only the beginning for her and her dogs. “When I got my older Golden’s CGC title, I was told I should look into other dog sports,” she recalls. “I impulsively entered a local Rally trial and got hooked.”

Navis first stepped into the ring as a competitor on May 20, 2022. Since then, she’s already shown a variety of breeds, ranging from Goldens to Pekingese and Great Danes. “I’ve been lucky to have an amazing local club,” she says of the Greenville Kennel Club. She adds, “I came from knowing nothing more than the basics of Conformation, and they never held that against me.”

Personal Commitment and Passion for Dog Sports

Navis’ family didn’t have roots in the world of dog shows, so she’s had to break into the community on her own. “To be honest, it hasn’t been easy,” she admits. Navis pays for everything herself, including all her classes, shows, and trials. “I only started being very involved at 15 years old, which can be a disadvantage sometimes, especially in Junior Showmanship. I feel like a lot of Juniors grow up together in the sport, and it can be tough to be the outsider at first.”

But this experience has only made Navis more committed. “Having to make all my connections myself in the dog world has made me more independent, open to learning new things, more confident in myself, and only made me love the sport more,” she says. “I’ve been lucky to meet some amazing people in my short time showing dogs.” Supported by her parents, she’s built many friendships and connections with adult mentors and other Juniors.

Photo by Astro Kennels

“Never give up” – that’s the advice that Navis gives kids and teens interested in dog sports. “There have been times I’ve experienced not-so-great things in the sport or gone through tough times, but I’m so glad I’ve stuck with it. I’ve learned a lot through the good and bad times.” She encourages adults in the sport to welcome Juniors and try to get them more involved in the community. “Experienced adults, breeders, and exhibitors can really make that difference if they use their resources,” she says, encouraging them to help and mentor young handlers.

Stepping Out of Her Comfort Zone

Participating in dog sports has helped Navis grow. “I’m not a very naturally outgoing or social person, and I don’t do the best in big crowds,” she says. “Dog shows have helped me step out of my comfort zone and become more confident.” Being a Junior Handler has also given her an outlet for self-expression. “Being a Junior Handler has taught me that I can do anything if I put my mind to it.”

Navis and her dogs are active in many AKC sports, but her favorite so far has been Conformation. “I’ve met some amazing people through it, and getting involved in it has only made me love dogs more. Learning the standards of different dog breeds and the intricacies of presenting them is a lot of fun to me,” Navis explains. Showing her own dogs has also strengthened their bond.

A Big Year of Dog Sport Accomplishments

Navis says her proudest moment so far is still her first time in the Junior Showmanship ring. That experience represented how hard she’d worked to make her dreams come true. Navis remembers, “It was my first time ever in Junior Showmanship with my then-7-month-old Golden puppy, Rue. We won our class with competition and went on to win Reserve Best Junior in a talented lineup of kids! I’ll never forget the feeling of being picked by such a respected judge my second time in the ring.”

In 2022, Navis qualified to compete at the 2023 AKC Rally National Championships. “There are so many different details and behaviors that the handler and dog need to know to be successful that are often overlooked,” she says of the sport. “It has definitely strengthened the bond between me and my dogs, and I’ve met some amazing people through it.”

Ashlyn Navis

The same year, Navis was named Best Junior Handler at the Mid-Florida Golden Retriever Club specialty at the 2022 AKC National Championship sponsored by Royal Canin. “While it may not have been my biggest win, I would say it was my toughest one. I was surrounded by the top Golden juniors, and it was not a small open senior class! I also won under a breeder judge I respect a lot, so it meant a lot to me.”

Balancing High School with Dog Sports

Navis is currently preparing for her senior year in high school. In addition to showing dogs, she’s involved in the National FFA (Future Farmers of America) Organization and 4-H. An avid oil painter and photographer, she even does ringside photography at dog shows for fun.

Navis is excited to keep up her involvement in dog sports. She plans to begin trialing in Agility before the end of the year and is excited to work towards higher sports titles and working certifications with her dogs. She’s aiming to become a Junior Showmanship judge once she ages out in October, to steward more local shows, and to get more involved in her local breed club and local all-breed clubs.

Participating in dog sports has furthered Navis’ interest in animal sciences and agriculture. She hopes to inspire more Junior Handlers to get involved in the sport and to give back to the purebred dog community.