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The AKC Junior Showmanship program encourages those under 18 years of age to participate in AKC sports – after all, juniors are the future of dog sports! One of these is Conformation Junior Showmanship classes.

After being signed up by a parents or guardian, kids and teens can join this competitive, educational space to learn and practice handling skills. In Junior Showmanship classes, participants are judged exclusively on the skill and ability of the junior handler, not on how closely that dog matches the breed standard. While the quality of grooming will not be judged, the dog they are showing should be groomed in accordance with what is standard for the breed. In the ring, Juniors stack the dog, demonstrate movement, and show the dog’s bite and teeth.

Getting started can feel daunting, and not everyone has a dog that they can compete with. Even though handlers are being evaluated rather than the quality of the dog, they still need a dog to show. For some junior handlers who don’t come from a dog show family, this has been a significant barrier to getting and staying involved. So how can junior handlers show dogs if they don’t have one?

The AKC Junior Pilot Program

In an effort to close this gap to encourage more juniors to join the sport, the AKC Board of Directors reviewed recommendations to permit Junior Handlers to show dogs that they or their immediate family members didn’t own in the conformation ring. This was approved in May 2022, in favor of supporting a pilot program that removes the ownership requirement for Junior Showmanship. The AKC Junior Pilot Program went into effect July 1, 2022, and was initially adopted for one year. It’s now in effect indefinitely.

The hope of the pilot is to support juniors and make Junior Showmanship more accessible to kids, teens, and their families who don’t own their own dog, or don’t have a dog that is up to Conformation standard. This will allow Juniors to show dogs they are borrowing from other competitors for the purpose of being shown, which can be an easier way to try out the sport.

The program also extends to AKC sports including Agility, Obedience, Rally and more. This allows Juniors to get credit for competing in all events, which will count for the Junior Recognition program, so they can obtain titles on dogs in the Companion and Performance Events.

David Woo

How the Pilot Program Will Help Juniors

Prior to this pilot program, the dog a Junior brought into the ring needed to be owned by the Junior themselves, or a direct family member like a parent or sibling. This meant a Junior whose family didn’t have a suitable dog either needed to purchase a dog or find someone willing to arrange co-ownership. For many Juniors, this was enough to stop them from getting or staying involved.

This pilot program seeks to remedy that challenge. “The purpose is to increase participation in Junior Showmanship and allow Juniors participating in other sports to receive credit toward rankings in those sports regardless of dog ownership,” as stated in the board meeting minutes.

Many adults will help mentor and support Junior Handlers entering and gaining confidence in dog sports, and these new regulations will make it easier for them to do so. Now, it will be possible for supportive adults to lend Juniors a dog without having to change the ownership.

This new pilot program has the potential to support more Juniors to get involved and stay involved. Ideally, this will also increase the diversity of kids and teens who are able to get involved. Purchasing, raising, and caring for a show dog isn’t cheap. The pilot program will allow kids whose families aren’t financially able to purchase or care for a dog to work with mentors to find dogs they can show during their Junior career.

Young woman doing Agility with a small white dog
David Woo

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. To get started, parents can sign their juniors up for a Junior Handler number. This number will let them take classes as well as 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 Spotlight: Skylar Sowiecki
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