One of the standout moments of Westminster 2021 was when 16-year-old Lily Bennett won Best Junior Handler and threw her arms around her Wirehaired Pointing Griffon “GCHG Whiskeytown Stonehenge Riding Shotgun”
A photo of that hug—as Bennett realized she had won amidst fierce competition—touched viewers around the world. An active competitor, Bennett also has several other dogs: GCHG Whiskeytown Grey Goose (Wirehaired Pointing Griffon), GCHS K’rmsun Nero D’avola (Cirneco dell’Etna), GCHB Sierraschampange A Snowflake Winter Kiss (Belgian Tervuren).
Bennett first got involved with dog sports when she was nine years old, through her local 4-H group. “I was so young that I thought training my own dog to stand perfectly was so cool,” explains Bennett. At that point, she began attending dog shows and found herself wanting to get more involved. “I wanted to learn so much more after going to my first dog show and watching the handlers in the group ring.” Since that time, Bennett has dedicated herself to learning everything she can about showing dogs and climbing to the top of the sport. “When I first started, I had a big misconception that dog shows were all rainbows and butterflies,” she says. “Then I started working harder and I began to realize that it’s not.” Fortunately, her hard work, perseverance, and dedication have paid off.
Bennett’s favorite win to date with her dogs was 2021 Best Junior at Westminster. Other dog show career highlights she’s especially proud of include back-to-back best in shows with a Standard Manchester Terrier named “Riot” owned by Trina Taylor, who is reaching the original record for most BIS wins in the breed. There’s also Bennett’s 2019 Best Junior Handler of California win with Deagan, her Cirneco, and her Crufts trip with third in “Open Dog” and a first in “Good Citizen Dog Scheme.”
For Bennett, her favorite moments come through teaching her dogs new skills. “I absolutely love seeing things click in the dog’s head once they figure out a new show ‘trick’ that allows them to have more fun in the ring.” She and her dogs are highly versatile and compete in a variety of sports in addition to confirmation, including Agility, Trick Work, Obedience, and Rally. She has also done a bit of training and competing in Scentwork, Hunting, and Barn Hunt.
Behind the Scenes
Behind any big win like Westminster is a lot of hard work. Thinking back to the moment, Bennett confesses that while she’s extremely proud of the win, the show itself was “extremely stressful.” Although she and her dog clearly have a beautiful connection, they hadn’t been competing together for very long. “I took in a dog that I met two days beforehand, spent a little over six and a half hours grooming the day before, bonding, and learning how each other worked,” she explains of what happened behind the scenes. “To say I was stressed is an understatement.” Despite being an extremely new team, Bennett and GCHG Stonehenge Riding Shotgun found success. “When they announced my name over the loudspeaker it felt like a dream—and even now it still feels crazy that I achieved something I looked forward to since I was nine.”
Service Dog Handler
Dogs are a big part of Bennett’s life. In addition to being an active canine sports competitor, her dog Deagan—who she trains and competes with in sports—is also her task-trained Service Dog who mitigates her disabilities. “His original purpose when I got him was to be my Junior’s dog. He then started alerting and assisting me with a multitude of certain things in day-to-day life, so I shaped his behaviors into understandable alerts,” Bennett explains. She credits the work they do together as increasing their bond and having a positive impact on their relationship.
Commitment to Community
Generosity and giving back are also among Bennett’s core values and she has been involved in charity work since she was two years old. The causes close to her heart include the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Wagon Angels (which gives kids in hospitals fun wagons instead of wheelchairs), and the Angels On Wheels Toy Drive, where she collects new toys to be donated to children in hospitals. Alongside her ongoing charitable work, Bennett has big goals for herself and her dogs. She has plans to start her own breeding kennel and, of course, continue showing, noting that “having the breed do its form and function is my ultimate goal.” In addition, Bennett wants to help others get involved with dogs and the sports she loves so much. “I would also love to help newer people within AKC find their fun in any dog sport.”
Junior Handler Lessons
For kids and teens who might be just getting started or have been thinking about starting to show dogs, Bennett encourages them to get involved with their breed club. “No matter what your goal is, or what you want to achieve, it’s possible,” she says. Bennett considers herself very fortunate that she has been able to be closely involved with the AWPGA (American Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Association) and notes that they are “super supportive of their juniors.” In that vein, she encourages other breed clubs to make an effort to include juniors in their focus and programming.
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, Coonhound Events, and more. 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 dog 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 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 Juniors@akc.org.