605 – LIVE Debate: Should Professional Handlers Be Allowed in BPUP?

LIVE Debate: Should Professional Handlers Be Allowed in BPUP?

Our final installation for Spicy October is a LIVE@5 debate between an owner handler and a professional handler regarding the hot topic of the rules around the BPUP, 4-6 months puppy competition.

Natalie Thurman, owner handler:

Natalie Thurman and Ares winning Owner Handled Group.

I do think that there are people who start out and it is intimidating to go up against the Laura’s and the Karyn’s of the world because you just make it look so easy and then we try to go do it and then it’s not as easy. Not even a little bit. I mean I know it’s why we have owner handled groups. But if you’re not getting to the owner handled group either BPUP could be a good place to feel safe as a non-experienced dog show human.

Karyn Cowdrey, professional handler:

I believe everyone should have the opportunity, including breeder owner handlers, to show in BPUP. Why? Because the fact of reality of our life today is there are fewer and fewer handling classes people can get to. As handlers, often we’re the ones teaching the handling class and we don’t get to work our dogs in the environment. As a handler, it is important to me that my puppies that I own, that I bred, that I decided to keep, get the best experience they can in the

Karyn Cowdrey, BlackFyre Handling Services.

start of life in the ring. I shouldn’t have to hand them off to a total stranger.

Laura Reeves, host and moderator:

The concept (of BPUP) is that the American Kennel Club wants to support the novice handlers and that the simple presence of someone more capable than they are, whether they be a professional or a breeder or what have you, is unnerving. And I don’t know that that’s a great solution. I think we all learn by being challenged, but I know it is something that is a thing.

AKC gets banged a lot for not being encouraging and inviting and we as the representatives of the AKC get banged for the same thing. I sincerely believe that for people who think it is a big deal, they should get to do that. They should get to have that moment.

Hope is what gets us and keeps us. And I guess that’s what I would pin Best Puppy to. Is that baby inkling of hope. That tiny tingle of hope that the very new person gets when they get their first puppy.

And they are so excited and they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. And their breeder’s probably shoving them in the ring. And they’re really encouraging them to do this. It’s hope. And I guess to me, when I judge it, when I see it, best puppy to me represents hope. It represents the hope that we as breeders have for those puppies that are in the ring. It represents the hope that those owners and handlers have for their new puppies. It’s hope.

BPUP represents the hope that those owners and handlers have for their new puppies. It’s hope.

The part of me that thinks that hope is important, thinks that owner handled being what is important and encouraging new people being what’s important, I see the argument to make it a quote -unquote safe space from professionals.

Join us for the full replay of this spicy hot topic.


564 – Owner Handler Winner: “These Dogs Are Worthy”

Owner Handler Winner: “These Dogs Are Worthy”

Dr. Cheryl Stiehl hard at work in her veterinary practice.

Dr. Cheryl Stiehl, DVM joins host Laura Reeves to discuss the journey that brought her to the pinnacle of the Owner Handled Series with her breeder-owner-handled Irish Setter.

Stiehl and Declan, GCHS Bramblebush Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, topped more than 825 entries in the National Owner Handled Series finals in Orlando, FL in December.

A practicing veterinarian in Maryland, Stiehl offers her life hacks for succeeding as an owner handler while working a full-time job. And she shares the love — of her dog and the sport.

“I think one of the neatest things about this dog is who he is,” Stiehl said. “His nickname is ‘The Dude.’ He’s just good for purebred dogs, if you know what I mean. He’s funny and ridiculous and silly and he loves kids and loves cats and thinks everything’s an adventure. Declan has friends and friends he has not met yet. That’s just kind of who he is. He’s a bit of a party animal. The other thing and the way I describe him when people say, ‘well, what’s an Irish Setter like, what’s this dog like?’ I say, you know the guy at the tailgate pouring shots? That’s Declan.

“I think that owner handled for me is that there was one more thing I could do with my dog. I can walk in this ring and that ring, I can do it twice. If I get nervous, I can try to work through it.

“I can take out a spleen in the OR with an animal that has a really potentially dangerous or scary prognosis and barely break a sweat. But you know, sometimes I think we all get nervous. Is the dog going to behave? Is he stacked right? Does he look OK? Am I giving him his due?

“On the other side of it too, I think the interesting part of it is your dog’s doing double duty and your dog’s going into that group ring and hopefully going into another best in show ring. So, if you were lucky to win both breed and best of breed owner handled that day, you show your dog a whole bunch and your dog has to perform a whole lot more really. I’ve actually had a few judges say that to me. You know, ‘I watched your dog today and you didn’t give up once.’ So, he is a piece of work. He’s the dude.

“The (NOHS) competition is keen. The dogs are beautiful. They are multiple best in show dogs. They are best in show dogs, they are reserve best in show dogs. They’re group placers, group and specialty winners, sires and dams of beautiful animals. These dogs are worthy. I think that one nice thing is, is it’s the connections you make. I also will say to you that I love the sportsmanship that I have experienced in those ranks. We are really happy for one another.”

Listen to the full episode for more of Stiehl’s insights on the NOHS, dog shows in general, her favorite grooming products and more.

513 – Owner Handled Journey to Success

Owner Handled Journey to Success

L-R Jann Butler, Will Bratcher and Terri Ebert

Will Bratcher, Jann Butler and Terri Ebert make up the team behind 2021’s top winning Saint Bernard. Their story, and their journey, is an inspiration for everyone.

Will, an Olympic level swimmer, his wife Jann and their friend Terri have forged an impressive team in a very short time. Jann, who suffered a terrifying dog bite as a child, was not a dog person. Will, who grew up with 4H and animals, wanted a Saint Bernard.

After acquiring their first dog from the Thrifty Nickel, they wound up talking to Stan and Joan Zielinski about what would become their first show dog in 2014.

Will and Ian.

“I didn’t even know what a show home was,” Jann said. “After three interviews with the Zielinskis, we got this dog and we committed to show it. I’m like, I don’t even know what that is. But they sent us to (professional handler) Marty Glover. They said Marty will help you.

“OK great! So, we go meet Marty Glover and then the next thing you know, he takes the dog away to train him. Which I didn’t think was part of the deal but I was like, ‘oh that’s really weird you put your dog in a van with somebody else and they go away and they get trained.’

“Anyway, his first show he got a major as a puppy. And, of course, I had to ask ‘what’s a major’ and we learned a lot there right at the beginning.”

“You know Will,” Terri said. “Once he gets started …. for those of you that are interested, if you have someone like this in your family, you just roll with it. So Jann learned to roll with it. He said ‘well, I think we need a third dog.’ I mean who doesn’t want three Saint Bernards, which is equivalent to 450 pounds and so we roll with Will.

“We are consummate learners. There is no pride in how we enter this. We come in saying we don’t know anything so we’re willing to ask everything and we’ll ask anybody. And that’s a hallmark for us.

Stick and stay and make it pay

“I think you do it for the fun,” Will said. “As soon as you lose that perspective you need to get out. The other one I have is “stick and stay and make it pay.” You learn a lot of things from training, working to build endurance and everything else.

“I apply the same thing towards my dogs (as in Olympic level swimming). I look at (Ian). I watch him just like my coach used to watch me. It’s about technique. It’s about endurance. It’s the whole package.

“For people who get into the owner handler, it’s scary at first. But when you really start winning, start doing, you forget about how nervous you used to be. Now you just start worrying about how did that handler do that, how am I running, … it’s just like running a race car too. You just wanna fine-tune and keep improving, and I still to this day.

“If I don’t think I did well, I’ll go to the judge and ask what can I do to improve. I’ve got judges just look at me (and say) ‘you sound like a junior handler.’ It all means everything to me. I’ve been getting a tremendous amount of coaching, encouragement and just that whole mentality of just keep going, keep going, don’t stop from the professional handlers.

“They’ve given me so much encouragement and help in handling and tips. There are so many things when you get down and nitty gritty. Just little things can make a big difference. So it’s been pretty humbling and I’ve really, really gotten quite an education. It’s not that easy. I have a lot more respect for handlers in general.”

Listen in to today’s show for the entirety of this heart-warming conversation.

496 — Owner Handlers: Make a Plan, Manage Expectations

Owner Handlers: Make a Plan, Manage Expectations

Amanda Kelly of Fwaggle Toy Manchester Terriers joins host Laura Reeves for some final thoughts on Owner Handlers and how they can earn the advantage in the ring.

Have Fun

“There is nothing more eye catching than looking in the ring and seeing a dog that is having a good time and a handler having a good time. Maybe the dog isn’t standing perfectly. Maybe it’s got one foot out in the wrong place or whatever. I guarantee you that if that dog is having a good time it has better posture, he has better expression, it’s holding its shape and its outline regardless of whether every foot is where it needs to be it is a more attractive dog to look at then the perfect statue at the end of the line.

Take a Video

“It is so imperative that you see yourself, because showing dogs is just about making pictures. That’s all that we do when we go in the ring. We make a picture on this mat and then we make a hopefully nice picture as we move around the ring and then we get on the table and we make another picture and then we do the down back we make another picture. And in all those photos the handler’s job is to frame the artwork that is the dog but you don’t know what that picture looks like if no one’s ever shown you.

Make the Picture

“I think that one of the best ways of figuring out what picture you want to make in the ring is to choose handlers who present dogs in a way that you appreciate. You can do that really easily. Start with Westminster videos or maybe your national video. Watch it. Pick out someone who you think is the whole package and then look at what they’re doing, what are the little detailed pieces that make the difference in your mind.

Make it Muscle Memory

“The entirety of learning how to handle (is to move) from worrying about one thing to worrying about the next thing, because you’ve mastered the other thing that you used to worry about. Now you don’t think about it anymore. I can tell you I’ve shown my breed 35 years. I still have a thought process when I’m in there, but I’m not thinking about my lead. I’m thinking about things like when is the judge watching the dogs in the lineup and how do I stand so that I have the right angle, showing the profile that I want to show or how do I get this dog to stop shivering because it’s so cold.

YOU Can Do It

“Every single day at every show across America, across the world, people like me, people like you, people like those who are listening, are successful. You just have to make a plan. Learn manage your expectations so that you’re picking goals that work and are realistic. I would encourage you to go one step further and make sure that the goals that you set for yourself are achievable goals that have nothing to do with who the judge points to. If your only measure of success is whether or not you won a point or whatever, you’re doomed. You are doomed. If your measure of success is ‘I want to go in that ring and I want my dog to do X or I want to remember to hold my elbow in against my body and not have it flail around, whatever it may be. It needs to be something that’s within your control. I guarantee you that if you go at it with that attitude and you adjust your idea of winning and losing, you will have more fun. And if you have more fun you will win more.

318 – Owner Handler Secrets: Make a Plan and Be Consistent

Owner Handler Secrets to Success: Make a Plan and Be Consistent

Remy Smith-Lewis, breeder, owner, handler of Portugese Water Dogs, shares the secrets that took him to the top, winning his National Specialty as an owner handler.

Smith-Lewis said he did not come from a “dog” family. He was awestruck by his breed when the San Francisco Giants began using the dogs to retrieve balls that were hit over the fence.

He started as a junior handler, worked for professional handlers Sally George and Bill and Taffe McFadden. He showed his first big winner to multiple Best in Show awards and a national specialty win before turning over the dog’s career to the McFadden team to manage.

“I was at a place in my career that I really needed to decide what to do and focus on it,” said Smith-Lewis, who began his career at Google and now works for a new tech start up in the Bay Area.

Remy Smith-Lewis handling his Portugese Water Dog to Best in Show at Del Monte Kennel Club under judge Pluis Davern.

His recommendation to owner handlers working a full-time job is, “You CAN do it!” But his secrets are: dedication, making sacrifices, having a plan, keeping on a schedule, and staying consistent.

Condition, Condition, Condition

Whether it is road work, coat work or trimming, competitive dogs MUST be in condition, Smith-Lewis noted. If that means skipping company happy hour in order to spend the extra time brushing, bathing, biking or trimming your dog, that’s what needs to happen.

“Complaining about handlers always winning is the easy way out,” Smith-Lewis said.

Owner handlers need to remember that dogs need routines, Smith-Lewis noted. The dog can’t always be on the couch. And the owner needs to find a mentor and *listen* to the mentor.

Smith-Lewis laughingly recalls a favorite admonition from one of his early mentors, Bill McFadden, “God gave you two ears and one mouth, use them wisely.”

“We need to break away on our own at some point,” Smith-Lewis said. “But a mentor’s job is to guide you back onto a good path when you get too far out of line.”

One final suggestion? “Join an all-breed club and work and learn,” Smith-Lewis said.

Want to hear more from Owner Handlers? Check out these past episodes:

57 – Best in Show: How an Owner-Handler Competes with the Pros – Tricia Stanczyk

25 – Patricia Trotter: Legendary Breeder, Author, and AKC Judge – Vin-Melca’s Norwegian Elkhounds

103 – Ed Thomason Tips for the Owner Handler – From a Breeder Owner Handler Turned Professional Dog Handler