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The goals of the AKC Junior Showmanship program are to guide the future of dog sports and to encourage those under 18 to participate in all AKC sports. Conformation Junior Showmanship classes are a competitive space where kids and teens can learn and practice handling skills and learn about the sport. Though sometimes the barrier to enter these sports can be both daunting and expensive, such that it excludes potential new participants.

In Junior Showmanship classes, the judging is exclusively on the skill and ability of the child or teenager, not on the quality of the dog they are showing or 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. But although the handler is 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 involved and staying involved, but a new pilot program is hoping to close that gap.

New AKC Junior Pilot Program

At the May 2022 AKC Board meeting, recommendations were reviewed to permit Junior Handlers to show dogs they or their immediate family members don’t own. After some discussion, the AKC board voted to support a pilot program that will eliminate the ownership requirement for Junior Showmanship. The program is being adopted for one year and will go into effect on July 1, 2022.

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 parent, sibling, or another direct family member. 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. Understandably, some adult competitors were uncomfortable with the idea of adding someone under 18 as a co-owner to allow the Junior to bring the dog into the ring.

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. 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

Related article: Junior Handler Spotlight: Skylar Sowiecki
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