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From one brother to another, teens Jackson and Nathan Harris of Oswego, NY have stepped into the conformation Junior Showmanship ring. Jackson first got interested in becoming a Junior Handler after spending time training his mom’s Border Collie. After overcoming some logistical hurdles, Jackson’s found success in the Juniors ring. Last year, Jackson finished as the #11 Collie Junior Handler in the country. He currently competes with Smooth Collies “Molly” and “Dodger.”

Jackson has also inspired his younger brother, Nathan, to start showing dogs. The now-12-year-old wanted to get involved as soon as his brother did, but waited two years until he was old enough to participate in Junior Showmanship. As soon as Nathan was able to get started in Junior Handling, he started competing with a Border Collie, “Magic.” Like his brother, also regularly shows Smooth Collies “Crookshanks” and “Hedwig,” as well as his mentor’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, “Rhett.”

Junior Showmanship Through the Pilot Program

Jackson’s mom, Kelly Rhinehart-Harris, started bringing him to handling classes with both of family’s dogs. Unfortunately, neither dog was suited for conformation, and the Harris’ weren’t sure how they could continue doing the sport that Jackson loved so much. Kelly still wanted to support Jackson’s interest in showing, and began reaching out to people in the local dog community to see about options for kids who wanted to show, but didn’t have their own dogs. That’s when she found out about the Junior Pilot Program, which allows Juniors to show dogs that they don’t own. The local Collie community stepped up to help Jackson work towards his dog show dreams.

JC Photography

She connected with Candy Ardizzone of Travlers Kennels, who offered to mentor Jackson. Ardizzone introduced Kelly and Jackson to additional mentors who helped him break into the show world, including helping him access dogs to show. Nathan wanted to show dogs, too, but had to wait to get involved until he was old enough to start showing in Junior Showmanship.

Eventually, the family purchased a Border Collie Puppy to be Nathan’s designated Junior Showmanship dog. He began showing in Beginner Puppy along with Junior Showmanship. In his first year competing, Nathan successfully put all the points on his puppy to earn the Puppy of Achievement (POA) title. He’s now gone on to put the Championship title on his puppy. During this time, he has also earned many Junior Handling placements on his dog and dogs belonging to his mentor, who he borrows dogs from to gain handling experience.

Hard Work Behind the Scenes

When Jackson began showing in 2020, it was around the same time that his family began homeschooling him and Nathan. This newly flexible schedule allowed him to balance a busy training, grooming, and show schedule with his schooling.

When many people think of dog shows, they see the dogs being presented in the ring, and junior handlers walking out with big ribbons. There’s a lot of work that goes into getting to this level — even to getting to the ring with your dog.

Kelly Rhinehart-Harris

“You need to practice and train and work hard to get into dog showing and doing well,” Nathan explains. He also cautions that anyone getting involved in showing dogs should be prepared to work hard with their dog and to learn handling and grooming skills. “The hardest part of showing dogs is the amount of work it takes to get them groomed and into the ring on time,” he adds. But, he says it’s these behind-the-scenes aspects of the work that are some of his favorite parts of the sport.

Benefits of Showing Multiple Dogs

The Harris brothers are used to showing multiple dogs, including ones across different breeds. The brothers pride themselves on the deep connections that they made with the dogs they handle, even ones that they don’t own.

Last year, Jackson won his first Best Junior award, handling the family’s year-old Border Collie, Magic. He also won several breed awards with Magic that day and placed in the Smooth Collie breed class, as well. Jackson recalls that the hardest part of showing dogs is “making sure everything is perfect in the ring.” He notes there is a lot to remember, like making sure the dog is gaiting correctly and that he has a smile on his face. But, the moments where all the hard work comes together makes it all worth it. His proudest moment to date was winning his first Best Junior Handler Award at Bainbridge, NY, in 2023.

Kelly Rhinehart-Harris

Kelly remembers that one of her proudest moments watching her sons compete in 2023. A judge awarded Jackson the Best Junior Handler award. She remembers someone asking the judge if he liked the dog Jackson was showing. He responded that his reasoning for Jackson winning wasn’t because of the dog on the end of the leash — it was because of Jackson’s handling skills. The judge had seen Jackson show multiple dogs that day and appreciated how he handled each dog differently. Jackson and his mom both credit his expertise in working with different breeds of dogs so skillfully to the mentorship he has received from handler Renee McGlones.

The Value of Mentorship

For both Jackson and Nathan, mentorship has been invaluable in helping them get involved with dog sports. Nathan loves competing, and says he loves the opportunity to be in the ring, “in front of other dog people, learning everything I can.” He takes the feedback he gets from mentors who observe him handle dogs, and incorporates their advice for future shows. Jackson especially enjoys the opportunities that he has to get together and work with his mentor to improve his handling and the way he gaits his dogs, helping them to work together before entering the ring.

Kelly Rhinehart-Harris

If you’re a kid or teen interested in Junior Showmanship, Nathan encourages you to attend dog shows and figure out what breeds you want to show. Then, focus on finding a mentor. He cautions you’ll need to “practice, practice, practice,” noting that you’ll need to spend a lot of time grooming and training. Jackson echoes this, explaining that the key to success is to find the breed that best suits you and find a mentor to support and teach you. “Keep working with your dogs, talk to your dogs, keep trying even when it is hard,” Nathan adds.

The brothers’ commitment and passion for dog sports is evident. Nathan’s current big goal is to make it to the top ten Junior Handler list. Jackson hopes to qualify for Westminster and to make the Collie National Top Ten handlers list. He’s also starting to think about the future and notes that when he grows up, he might try to become a professional handler.