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Next time you fill out a show entry, consider checking the box to show that you'd like to participate in the AKC National Owner Handled Series.

NOHS competition is conducted following Best of Breed judging in each breed ring. The ring steward asks all professional handlers and household members and assistants to current professional handlers to leave the ring. Then the judge selects the Owner-Handled Best of Breed.

It is important to understand that only the show catalog and the steward’s book note which entries are eligible for this competition, because the exhibitor must indicate participation on their entry form.

Go for it—check the box!

Let’s ignore charges of “politics,” and study facts: Professional handlers are competitive individuals. They are paid to win! There is no other objective. Usually, a professional gets paid win or lose. Most probably the professional did not breed that dog nor owns that dog; therefore, the effect on personal ego when they lose is not the same.

Professional handlers tend to be less invested in the dog emotionally than the owner is and thus can go into the ring concentrating on the task at hand: winning. In fact, because of this detachment and objectivity, the dogs usually respond to them very well.

An owner-handler must learn to leave emotions outside the ring. When an owner-handler can do this, there is a good chance of at least getting the most out of their dog without “psyching him out.”

All good handlers do their best to create an image—an impression of beauty. There is a rhythm to it; think, a “dance.” For every movement made by a judge, there is a reaction by the handler. A good handler will anticipate a judge’s motions. They know when a judge will glance back at their dog. Good professionals are impression-builders, and they are masters at their trade.

Sit ringside and watch a few of the top professionals do their “trade.” It is amazing to watch. The owner-handler should strive to learn that trade. Watch a professional when he or she wins: Was it a well-organized win? The handler and dog are one, where both are so in tune that they anticipate each other.

An owner-handler must become a competent handler! Know the dogs’ faults and virtues according to the breed standard. I am shocked at the numbers of owner-handlers who reveal having never read the breed standard—only knowing what some breeder has told them. Read the breed standard before entering a dog show.

Practice becoming a smooth-moving handler. That is, don’t wait until the judge is looking to poke the dog in the gut with a finger to straighten a sagging topline. If you know your Kerry Blue Terrier needs help stacking, make sure he is stacked before the judge turns around to observe the line of exhibits. Even in a relaxed stack, have the best features of your exhibit facing the inside of the ring so the judge will see them. The stronger the competition, the more important the presentation.

All sports require time, consuming weeks, months, years, or even a lifetime. For the sport of dogs, this time spent is geared toward capturing a judge’s attention for two fleeting minutes. Become a specialist presenting an exhibit who best represents the breed standard. Do you know how to properly groom a Kerry Blue? Do you know the correct speed at which to move your Kerry, including how to use a loose lead so the dog’s front legs actually touch the ground? Does your Kerry have the correct outline on the free-stack? Do you cleverly minimize and conceal your Kerry’s faults?

Become an image-builder, presenting Kerry Blue Terrier beauty! —Anne Katona, United States Kerry Blue Terrier Club, February 2015 AKC Gazette

Author Anne Katona is an AKC judge and owner-breeder of Best in Show- and specialty-winning Kerry Blue Terriers.
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This article was originally published in AKC Family Dog magazine. Subscribe today ($12.95 for 6 issues, including digital edition) to get expert tips on training, behavior, health, nutrition, and grooming, and read incredible stories of dogs and their people.
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