Brielle Duprat was two-and-a-half when her grandmother Karen took her to her first dog show. She remembers watching all of the different breeds, and the grooming prior to competition. Then, at four years old, her aunt Lori had Brielle show her Havanese, Maggie, in the Pee Wee Juniors class.
“That started my handling career,” says Brielle, who just turned 12.
From Pee Wee to Junior
After that first Pee Wee show, Brielle wanted to show more dogs, but she wasn’t old enough to show in Junior Showmanship.
“Because I was not old enough to show in Juniors, my grandmother would let me show our class dogs in the breed ring,” Brielle says. “At these shows, I would go and watch Juniors. Some of the older kids eventually became my mentors. It seemed like forever until I turned 9 years old, and then I was finally able to participate in Juniors.”
Brielle quickly moved up from the Novice Class to the Open Class, and since she just turned 12, she will be moving into the Intermediate Class.
“The first breed that I learned how to groom and show is my Havanese,” Brielle says. “Even though I have several Havanese, my favorite girls that I love to show are Monroe, who is five years old, and Uh Oh, who is seven-and-a-half years old. Fenway is Monroe’s son, and he is 11 months old. I finished his championship from the bred-by class in eight shows.”
Winning Best Junior Handler
One of Brielle’s favorite memories is winning her very first Best Junior Handler award. “The funny thing about it is that my regular Juniors dog, Monroe, could not show, so I had to substitute her with Flirt, who absolutely did not like to show. Flirt made me work very hard to keep her happy when we were in the ring, but we never gave up.”
When the judge pointed to her to let her know she won, she immediately hugged Flirt because Brielle knew she didn’t want to play in the ring.
Although she’s young, many adults look to Brielle for advice. In fact, at one show, a handler asked Brielle to work with a Whippet to get her into shape.
“I did this by exercising and socializing her,” Brielle says. “We spent hours walking all over the show sites and hanging around the group rings. The handler decided she did not want to keep her and offered to let me get my very first Whippet.”
Brielle was excited by the idea of owning her first Whippet. Others recommended names for the Whippet but Brielle knew that if she was going to be hers, she should name the dog. That’s when the name Oreo came to her — because her head was black and white.
“Since then, we have developed a very strong bond and worked hard to be a good team, which is very important, especially when we are competing in barn hunt,” Brielle says. “It is important that we focus and communicate. Oreo must use her instinct and scent skills to search for and find the rats, and I could learn her cues when she locates the correct tube with the rat in it.”
One of Brielle’s favorite things to do is help younger kids who are showing in the Pee Wee class. She also participates in the AKC Junior Mentor Program, so she has several other Junior Handlers who she mentors. “This gives me a chance to help them with any problems they need, and if they have questions, then I can be the person that they come to.”
One important piece of advice Brielle has is to be respectful of handlers who are preparing to head into the Conformation ring.
“If they say they can’t talk right then and they ask you to come back after ring time, follow up with them,” Brielle says. “They are usually happy to answer your question once they are finished with their work. When you are in the ring, don’t forget to smile and have fun with your dog, and please be respectful to each other.”
Her last piece of advice: “Remember, win or lose, at the end of the day we will all go home with the best dog.”
Want to Get Involved?
The AKC Juniors program offers children 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.
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.
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.