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For most high schoolers, one dog is a big responsibility. But for 16-year-old O’Malley McGee, that’s nothing. Most of her adolescence so far has revolved around her six dogs — three Pointers (Julia, Billy, and Olivia); two Vizslas (James and Jolene); and a Treeing Walker Coonhound (Sony).

Early Beginnings

Half her lifetime ago, O’Malley remembers watching her mom show Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers. She wanted to be just like her — showing in the Conformation ring. At 11, she started in sports herself: Conformation, Junior Showmanship, Hunt tests, Coonhound Bench Shows, Fast CAT, and Trick Dog.

“My favorite dog sport is showing in the Conformation breed ring because I get to learn about all the different breeds,” she says.

Her biggest accomplishment so far is winning college scholarships through the Junior Showmanship program. Last year, she came in fourth in the 2018 Junior Versatility Award, which recognizes kids who participate in at least three dog sports.

Big Responsibility

Every night, O’Malley cuddles with her dogs in bed. And the sleep is well-deserved — O’Malley usually has to get up at 5:30 a.m. or earlier every morning to let her dogs out and feed them. Nights are just as busy. She’s learned to prioritize her responsibilities as a dog owner over hanging out with her friends sometimes. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“What I love about being a junior handler is that I get to travel almost every weekend, and show my best friend, and spend time with them,” O’Malley says. “And also making new friends across the country.”

O’Malley has competed at Westminster the past two years — only about 100 Juniors nationwide qualify. In 2018, she ranked sixth in Junior Showmanship and was ranked the second Junior in Hunt Tests.

Her advice for other kids getting started in junior handling or other dog sports is to find a mentor.

“What I think makes a good dog handler, trainer, and owner is to love your pets and love the sport. But also, you have to be willing to take the time and effort to do this.”

Want to Get Involved?

The AKC Juniors program offers children and teenagers 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 learn more about the AKC Junior Recognition Program.

For more information, email your questions to
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