After taking a training class three years ago, now 16-year-old Skylar Sowiecki swiftly got involved with dog shows. Sowiecki resides in sunny Florida and owns German Shepherd Dogs—but can also be seen showing Borzois and occasionally Beaucerons and Greyhounds. Sowiecki and her two GSDs compete in a variety of sports including Conformation, Rally, Dock Diving, Fast CAT, Lure Coursing, and IPO.
Getting involved in dog sports would have never happened if Sowiecki never signed up for a local training class. From there, Rally was her first introduction to sports, which led her and her dogs to keep going and try a variety of other sporting events.
This has led to a robust hobby for Sowiecki and her dogs, and she even has career plans in dog training.
“My proudest moments with my dogs are when we title with high scores and how far we have come with training,” she says. Sowiecki also fondly remembers how at her first show her dog won “best puppy in show.”
Working With Dogs With Big Personalities
Learning to work with dogs is what interests Sowiecki most about being a Junior Handler. When showing and training dogs, Sowiecki appreciates the opportunities to meet, interact with, work with individual dogs, and get to know their quirks. Each dog learns a little differently, and Sowiecki appreciated understanding each dog’s individual personality and figuring out how to cater training to each one.
Sowiecki noted that her biggest challenge so far with training and competing has been “ensuring that I’m communicating to the dog correctly.” She also has a soft spot for dogs who aren’t always the easiest: “I like dogs who have big personalities,” Sowiecki says.
Sowiecki’s favorite sport to compete in is IPO—which may be something even experienced competitors have never heard of. IPO, also known as Internationale Prüfungs-Ordnung, is a protection-based sport. According to Sowiecki, “it’s a three-part sport of tracking, obedience, and protection.”
She explained that the sport has quickly become her favorite because “it offers a lot of time for bonding with my dog and allows me to better my handling skills in all aspects.”
Sowiecki first heard about IPO online through social media and immediately fell in love. Sowiecki knew that she wanted to be involved with IPO, so when she got her first well-bred dog she got involved. IPO doesn’t always have a reputation for having a lot of Juniors involved, but Sowiecki has had a fantastic experience with the sport. Sowiecki noted that the response has been overwhelmingly supportive.
Communicating With Dogs
Sowiecki’s favorite part of being a Junior Handler is the hands-on experience that she’s gained from working with dogs in a variety of sports. Many of Sowieck’s long-term goals center around the experience she’s gained through training and showing. For Sowiecki, being a Junior Handler has set her on the path to allow her to “become the trainer I want to be.”
Sowiecki credits much of the success she’s had to the support she has and continues to receive from her mentors in the dog world. She notes that her primary support comes from her breeder, mentor, and the trainers that she and her dogs work with.
In addition to competing with her own dogs, Sowiecki has also begun training other dogs. She takes board-and-train dogs and works with their owners to show them how to train their own dogs and teach them a variety of skills. The focus of her work is on helping people to better understand their dogs.
“I like to focus on teaching obedience,” she says. “I like to introduce house manners and general behavioral skills that make the dog overall easier.”
As she expands her training business, Sowiecki has had support from her mentors. She explained that her breeder has been especially beneficial as she has “offered to help me advertise myself as a trainer.”
For kids and teens who want to get involved with training dogs or dog sports, Sowiecki encourages them to go for it. Regardless of your age, she believes if you are getting involved in dog sports, mentorship and finding mentors to support you and your dogs are important.
Sowiecki’s says to not hesitate and to listen to advice that more experienced trainers and handlers are offering. For adults who are looking to support junior handlers, Sowiecki encourages them to learn more about the Junior and their situation before correcting an error or giving advice so as to not overwhelm or discourage them.
Sowiecki hopes in the future that she can continue helping people and dogs better understand each other and live better lives together. She intends to continue to build and expand her training business to do so, and she looks forward to continuing to take on more clients and offer more courses.
With her own dogs, Sowiecki also has big plans. She intended to continue training and earning titles together, and hopes that one day soon perhaps she and her dog “can eventually go BJH [Best Junior Handler] at a show.”
Getting Started in AKC Juniors
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.