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Madison Schlagel shows her Newfoundland in Junior Showmanship at Westminster in 2020.

At only 18 years old, Madison Schlagel of Magnolia, Texas, has already made a name for herself in the dog world and is active in the Conformation ring. Madison owns and competes with three dogs: a Pointer named Daykene I Just Can’t Help Myself (“Vice”), a Newfoundland named GCHB Bear N Mind’s I’m Meant For Something Special DN CGC (“Zeke”), and a Great Dane FenDaneSylcrest Going With the Flow CGC TKI (“River”). Madison also co-owns and shows a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen: Tetu’s Mon Petite Chou de Barrique (“Cabbage”), and two Beagles named GCHS WolfRun Sam I Am (“Sam”) and GCHG BluePrints Bricks N Ivy (“Ivy”).

How It All Began

Schlagel has been active in dog sports since she was nine. She first got a taste for dog sports while working with her family’s Newfoundlands when they got involved with water rescue training. “We competed in various performance events before getting our first show dog in 2013 and I’ve been hooked ever since,” Schlagel notes.

Today, she and her dogs primarily compete in Conformation and Water Work—a sport that tests and builds on the natural drive of Newfoundlands to retrieve in water and from boats. Water tests measure a Newfoundland dog’s ability to save a human life by demonstrating basic obedience on land near water, retrieving bumpers and life jackets, swimming to deliver a rope, towing a boat, and, at higher levels, even leaping from a boat to “save” a handler, and rescue an “unconscious” victim, amongst other challenging tests.

“The thing that I love most about competing in water rescue is being able to see our Newfs doing what they were historically bred for,” Schlagel explains. “Watching a dog that is happy and working away is like nothing else.” Schlagel also competes with her dogs in Dock Diving and credits the sport with having helped them in the breed ring. “It has provided a wonderful outlet for our dogs both mentally and physically,” she says. “Not only does it help to foster their natural drive for water and build their confidence, but it’s also a great way to keep them conditioned for the Conformation ring.”

Big Wins

Schlagel has been #1 Newfoundland Owner-Handled All systems for the past two years and a top Newfoundland Junior for the past five years. As impressive as these wins are, she says that what is most important for her is the relationship she has developed with her dogs and seeing them “show their hearts out.” One of her favorite parts of showing dogs, she adds, is that as a handler “you are constantly learning, whether it be about grooming, handling techniques, or breed histories.”

For Schlagel, one of her proudest dog show moments to date has been with her dog Cabbage, as they won Best of Winners at the 2020 Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen National Specialty. “I was on cloud nine to have been awarded such an incredible placement at a National Specialty among such a great entry of dogs.” Another thing she loves about showing is the opportunity to continually improve and challenge herself to be better. She says the National Specialty win “was especially emotional for me because it was a reminder of how far I’ve come in the breed from where I began and how much I’ve grown as a handler.”

This year, Schlagel competed at Westminster for the first time—an experience she describes as “surreal.”

“Showing on those green carpets was something I dreamed of for years,” she says. “I was in a state of absolute awe sitting in the stands at Madison Square Garden and watching the groups and Best In Show.” Watching all the incredible dogs and handlers compete at Westminster was a dream come true for Schlagel, and her favorite part of the trip to New York City was as it should be: “being in the ring with and competing against some of the most talented junior handlers in the country.”

Looking to the Future

When Schlagel isn’t showing dogs, she loves cooking and hiking and stays busy as a full-time dual-credit student. In May 2021, she will graduate with both her high school diploma and an Associates of Science degree. “I think competing in junior showmanship has had a huge influence on my perspective on life because it’s taught me the value of kindness, good sportsmanship, and how to win and lose gracefully,” she explains. “It’s also taught me that there’s not much that you can’t achieve through hard work.”

Schlagel’s dog dreams are far from over and she spoke of a desire to be a “valuable addition to the preservation breeding community.” To do this, she intends to continue mentorship and education under handlers and breeders. Schlagel is also looking forward to continuing to work and show her personal dogs.

“It’s been such an amazing experience, not only because I get to love and play with my dog doing what we both love most, but also because it has allowed me to meet and learn from so many incredibly talented and knowledgeable people in the breed,” she says. “I have gained so many lifelong friends and mentors through my journey with Newfoundlands that continue to support me and help me grow.”

For other teenagers and kids interested in getting involved in Junior Showmanship, Schlagel advises they should just “go for it and make sure to have fun while doing it.” But keeping things in perspective is key for competitors of any age, she says. “It’s important to remember that your dogs and the relationship that you have with them are worth more than all the wins in the world.”

Want to Get Involved?

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

Related article: Junior Handler Sarah Brown and her Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes Win Big