The AKC Juniors program offers children ages nine to 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.
Each month, we learn about a new Junior Handler and ask them to share their tips and tricks. This month, we are talking to former Junior Handler Steven Reiss, 18, from Staten Island, New York. He currently shows his Australian Shepherd, Pretzel, in Rally, Obedience, and Agility.
Meet Steven Reiss, 18
AKC: How long have you been a Junior Handler, and is Pretzel the only dog you’ve shown?
Steven: I have been a Junior Handler since the age of eight years old. I have shown and titled many different breeds including an Australian Cattle Dog, a Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, and Labrador Retrievers.
AKC: How would you describe Pretzel to someone who has never met her?
Steven: Pretzel, my Australian Shepherd, loves everyone she meets and wiggles her way into you so she can get a butt rub. It’s an Aussie thing. She’s very gentle with small children and has many titles in Rally, Obedience, Agility, CGC, and is a Therapy Dog. I am now working on having her come to my college before we take exams to ease the stress of test-taking for the students.
AKC: What inspired you to first start competing in Rally and Agility?
Steven: My mom has been training dogs for years so naturally, I fell right into it. She got me an Australian Cattle Dog to start out with when I was six years old. I showed her for years. As she got older, she became very sound-sensitive to clapping. It just wasn’t fun for her anymore. She was happier staying home on our small farm. Eventually, other people would have me show their dogs. At some shows, I would be handling four to five dogs at a time in Rally and Obedience. Then I got Pretzel when I was 13 years old. She was three months old I taught her completely on my own.
AKC: What is your favorite part of being a Junior Handler?
Steven: My favorite part of being a Junior Handler is competing with adults at very high levels of competition. Being in the Top 10 three years in a row in Rally makes me so proud especially knowing I trained Pretzel on my own.
People see a kid and they don’t seem to think much about it, but I am proud to be able to go in and win against some of the best.
AKC: How do you use social media and Youtube to share your dog knowledge and experiences?
Steven: I use social media and YouTube to share my knowledge and experiences with other Junior Handlers and adults. I love dog training and I love making videos. I have made videos of my three National Championships and experiences in everyday training work that I’ve done with Pretzel.
AKC: What’s your favorite event you’ve competed in, and why?
Steven: Rally is my favorite event. It has speed and obedience and most of all it is fun for the handler and the dog because you can talk to the dog and give lots of encouragement through your voice while in the ring!
AKC: What advice do you have for other young people who want to get involved in dog sports?
Steven: The advice I can give to young people is don’t stress in the ring, be confident, and most of all: have fun. At the end of the day, it’s just the partnership between you and the dog. Whether you win or you lose, you still have that bond with your dog — your best friend!
AKC: Do you have any dog-related goals for 2019?
Steven: My goal for 2019 is to get enough points in Rally to compete in the Masters level in the 2020 Rally National Championship! I also want to continue working on Obedience and Agility and I am also hoping for Pretzel to get her farm dog title.
AKC: When you aren’t competing or training, what are your other hobbies and favorite things to do?
Steven: When I am not competing and training dogs, I am working in the maritime industry. I have my own boat which Pretzel and I go out on, and I work for a tug boat company when I’m not at school. Otherwise, I am in a Maritime College pursuing my maritime career.
AKC: How has your experience in dog sports translated to other parts of your life?
Steven: After college, I would love to work on becoming an AKC judge and opening my own dog training school. And of course, advancing in the maritime field.
Want to Get Involved?
If your child is interested in becoming a 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 allow them to both take classes and compete.
Your child will exhibit in the regular classes and in the field along with all other exhibitors at the trials and tests. They obtain the same titles and awards as adult handlers if they qualify.
Is your child under nine? Many shows have Pee Wee, a pre-Junior Showmanship class geared toward 5-to-9-year-olds.
For more information, email your questions to Juniors@akc.org.