123 – Hiring a Professional Dog Handler: Dinah Baggenstos – Professional Handlers Association

Dinah Baggenstos Professional dog Handler

Hiring a Professional Dog Handler - Dinah Baggenstos and Laura Reeves

Hiring a professional show dog handler can sometimes feel like falling down the rabbit hole into a parallel universe complete with secret handshakes and special code words. We talk today with Dinah Baggenstos, president of the Professional Handlers Association, to help demystify the process.

When to Hire a Professional Handler

Making the decision to hire professional help in the show ring is one most exhibitors do not take lightly. After all, the center piece of the discussion is generally considered a four-legged family member not an “objet d’art.”

The intensely personal and emotional attachment to our pets makes sending them to “boot camp” or “on the road” a scary and daunting proposition. And it isn’t for everyone. But, for folks who simply don’t have the time, physical ability or inclination to show their dogs, talented professional handlers can make the experience at least painless, even enjoyable for everyone.

Choosing a Handler

Achieving that level of success requires trust and clear communication. Dinah strongly recommends observing the handler you are considering hiring, both in the ring and “behind the scenes.” Is the set up clean? Is it well organized and professional? Ask for references and tour kennel facilities and travel vehicles. Ask questions, read the contract and establish goals.

The AKC Registered Handler Program offers the following advice,

Before you hire a professional handler, talk to several, evaluate their rate schedules, visit their facilities and ask for references. Observe them both in and out of the ring. A professional handler is entrusted with your dog's care, so make sure you are entirely comfortable with the arrangement. Make a point of meeting the people who work for the handler because they will be providing the daily care for your dog -- under the guidance of the handler.

Handlers are expected to be hired for their knowledge and services they can provide. In turn the client is paying a fee for that handler's service and expertise. You and your handler should have the terms of your agreement in writing. Make sure if you have any questions that they are answered before you commit yourself to a contract. Read the contract carefully -- this will be a binding agreement between you and your handler.

American Kennel Club Criteria:

To be assured that your dog is being cared for by a true professional familiarize yourself with the following criteria as set forth by the American Kennel Club:

  • Safety, security, and well-being of the dogs is to be placed above all other business considerations.
  • Supervision of dogs by competent, conscientious personnel who are capable of responding appropriately, particularly in emergency situations.
  • Facilities of proper size and adequate ventilation to accommodate the breeds being cared for at home and at the shows.
  • Appropriate precautions taken to provide all the dogs in their care with proper temperatures for any and all conditions they may encounter.
  • Adequate and proper diet, clean dishes, fresh water and a sanitary environment.
  • Owner-provided or veterinary-prescribed medications to be administered in accordance with instructions.
  • Breed specific knowledge concerning the breeds they show -- such as: standard for the breed, special care, conditioning and presentation.
  • Business relationships conducted with clients in a fair and honest manner based on a published rate schedule and handler/client agreement.
  • Courteous verbal interchanges and a professional appearance are essential.
  • Sportsmanlike behavior with clients, judges, exhibitors, fellow handlers and assistants.
  • Willingness to communicate on a regular basis with clients concerning their dog's performance, behavior and general health.”

Potential Handler Client Conflicts

Two of the most common areas of conflict in the handler-client relationship are changing representation and priority of dogs.

Both PHA and the AKC RHP code of ethics are very clear that handlers are not to solicit another handler’s clients, nor are they to take on another handler’s client if money is owed to the prior handler.

Dinah Baggenstos' Recommendations

You have every right to go a different direction with your dog,” Dinah notes. “But make sure the bill is current with the existing handler. And understand if the dog is committed through a specific period of time it needs to stay with the handler for that time.”

Priorities and Expectations for the Client

Assigning priority of the dogs in a handler’s care in case of a ring conflict is one of the toughest parts of the job. While each handler manages these potential time crunches differently, part of the communication piece is to be sure clients understand up front where their dog fits in the handler’s priority. A good rule of thumb is that “specials” — champion dogs being campaigned for national ranking — will take priority over “class dogs” — non champion dogs earning points toward their championships.

As with any successful relationship, clearly understanding expectations and responsibilities between the parties is paramount. Although many incredible friendships are formed in long-time handler-client relations, it is first and foremost a business transaction.

“My expectation is that a client dog will be delivered to me in good condition, good health, clean teeth, nails and coat maintained,” Dinah notes. “The client should expect to have the dog returned in as good or better condition than when it arrived with the handler.”

“A handler needs to be honest with his or her clients as to the quality of dog being evaluated,” Dinah adds. “While clients owe respect to the handler for providing an honest and candid educated opinion.”

Importance of Clear Communication

On the topic of communication, once again, be sure the system whereby results are shared is established in advance.

Whether via text, phone call or whatever means, clients should keep in mind that the handler is taking care of their dogs. That does and should take priority over reporting results.

Listen to my talk with Dinah Baggenstos for more insights, suggestions and case studies.

Dinah Baggenstos Professional Handler

Dinah Baggenstos and Rick - Professional Handler

Tip of the Week from Allison Foley: This is MY dance space, This is YOUR dance space

Your body posture and body language are directly reflected in your dog’s, Allison says. She reminds us, “If you walk like Eyore, your dog does the same thing.”

What’s your “happy” word? Allison uses kitty! She says it’s impossible to say “kitty, kitty, kitty” and not sound happy.

When stacking your dog, think about Patrick Swayze’s line to Jennifer Grey in the famous ‘80s film “Dirty Dancing.” Get out of your dog’s “space.”

Too often exhibitors are doing a great job stacking their dogs, but the judge can’t see it because the handler is “huddled” around the dog. Step back from you dog so the judge can see it!


Visit Leading Edge Show Dog Academy for courses and use PUREDOGTALK25 at check out for a 25% discount.

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121- Randy Roberts Dog Show Photography Expert Tips and the Wet Towel Trick from Allison Foley

Randy Roberts Dog Show Photography

Dog Show Photography Tips from Randy Roberts

Randy Roberts gives us an advanced institute in successful show win photography.

Randy literally grew up in the sport. His grandparents started in purebred dogs in the ‘30s breeding Lhasa Apso, miniature Poodles and English Cocker Spaniels. His dad started dog show win photography in the Pacific Northwest in the late ‘40s after World War II. Randy himself shot his first show at 15 years old.

What’s your Best Side?

The exhibitor’s job is to properly position the dog for the photographer, to know where the camera is looking. Every dog has its best angle and each exhibitor needs to know what that is.

Case study: the long and the short of it

As an example, a beautiful headed dog on an animal that is perhaps a bit long-backed for the breed, use a three-quarter angle, bringing the front slightly toward the camera. Randy notes that the photographer should have read all standards and know the breeds. But equally important is for the exhibitors to have read their standards and to KNOW what’s good and bad about their animals.

Photography Time Limits

Be aware of a judge’s schedule and be courteous to the judge, photographer and other exhibitors by not spending an inordinate amount of time chatting about your dog. Dog shows don’t revolve around YOUR schedule. It is not recommended to ask for a win photo before the end of a “set” of dogs and then, only if the judge has time available before the next time slot is scheduled to begin.

Randy Roberts: The View from Shoulder Height

What the camera sees is very different from what exhibitor sees. The camera is at shoulder height to the dog, while the exhibitor is looking down. That difference in angle means the exhibitor doesn’t always have a grasp of what the photographer sees in the lens. Trust your photographer to give you guidance if you are unsure. Often a foot will be offset slightly in order to create depth to the image, and so on.

Get up, stand up!

Just like for people, posture is important for your dog! You can bring the body up by lifting the head so the dog isn’t slumping. Here it’s also important to use bait properly. Baiting is not just feeding the dog. You want to make the dog reach, make it come up over its front, reach up, then bring the bait down to get the arch of neck if that’s your goal.

Case study: “The camera is going to steal my soul”

Some dogs appear to think the camera is going to steal their soul. Whether the dog is shy, reactive or simply inexperienced, the camera is a big, scary piece of glass and the dogs can see light through the lens. This can be stressful for the dog. Get the dog to relax, change his focus to something other than the camera. Spend time just hanging out with the photographer — sit with the dog on the podium to desensitize him to the area. And remember, you the exhibitor may well be jacked up and the dog will react to your jangling nerves also.

Dog Show Photographer Pet Peeves and Innovations

Don’t stand across the room and tell me the shot wasn’t good, Randy says. “If you want to see the actual shot, by all means, stand next to me. I want you to get the shot you want. But if you can’t see what I see, don’t criticize.”

Online photos and digital images have been both a blessing and a challenge, Randy says. “We trained everybody for 50 years that you get two 8”x10” prints in the mail,” he adds. “Changing that culture is difficult, but digital is where we need to go.”

Parting words from Randy Roberts

“Don’t forget to smile,” Randy reminds us all. “The reason you see me is you just won. Smile, have a great time.”


Randy Roberts Photos

Randy Roberts Photos

Randy Roberts Biography

Randy Roberts grew up with a camera in hand. His experience with photography started in the dog show business shooting professional photographs by his father’s side. Randy credits his dad in guiding his career in photography by giving his his first professional assignment was at the age of 15 in Billings MT, and mentoring him in the business and art of professional photography. Developing thousands of prints in the dark room as a child helped give Randy a thorough understanding of presentation and developing a photograph. He spent seventeen years in the family business until it expanded out of photography. Then for the next 15 years he did photography for pleasure only.

Randy recently rekindled his passion in the photography world when digital photography emerged on the forefront of photography. Though originally he only shot with medium and large format cameras he finds that digital photography gives him a creative outlet that was not available to him with these traditional methods.

His initial goal was to reestablish himself as one of the top dog show photographers in the US. In the last two years his vision has expanded into fine art photography. He has poured new passion, energy and love into creating prints that are a dramatic and beautiful. His desire is to share his passion for these beautiful prints with others.

Randy does the complete package of taking, editing, and framing his pictures..

Randy Roberts Photos

Allison Foley: Wet Towel Trick Tip of the Week

5 - 10 minutes prior to entering the ring, stand your dog on a wet towel.

  • Traction - Wet pads help maintain traction indoors or outdoors.
  • Don't use anti-slip products that just pick up chalk and dirt, and prevent your dog's pads from cooling.
  • Mental preparation - Triggers the dog that it is time to focus and prepare to enter the ring.
  • Creates a no-go zone for you and your dog - a private space ringside.

More tips and courses available at Leading Edge Dog Show Academy.

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110 – Cherrie Spring: How To Talk To the Animals – English Springer Spaniels and Animal Communicator

Cherrie Spring How To Talk to The Animals

Cherrie Spring - From English Springer Spaniels to Talking with the Animals

Handing her English Springer Spaniel to professional handler Gary Zayac at the National, vaulted Cherrie Spring into the world of dog shows.  Balance in dogs, and balance with and through her skills as an animal communicator was not always easy.  But just as show dogs learn to use themselves well, Cherrie has honed her communication skills to answer questions between owners and animals.

In addition to her work as an animal communicator, Cherrie Spring has a long, diverse history involved with purebred dogs. She agreed to share some of her most powerful lessons with our PureDogTalk listeners.

Enjoy this wonderful tribute to her mentors! Laura Reeves

Words of Wisdom from my Mentors remembered by Cherrie Spring

Wisdom comes in as many forms as there are teachers. I will share some of the more memorable from the great teachers in my life, recognizing that in saying this I am leaving out many people.

From Debbie Ritter  - Pedigrees

I learned that, in reading pedigrees, you must consider the grandparent’s influence as if you are not breeding the two you are considering, but the four behind them. If any of those four, in your estimation, should not be bred, for any reason, the breeding should not be done.

When breeding from a dominant bitch line to an outcross you should never expect to go forward in that generation alone. Only keep out of the litter what your vision is going forward. When breeding to a line-bred dog, you must always consider his stamina, drive and temperament as the foremost component of what you are trying to achieve.

You absolutely, without exception, must know the faults in make and shape and genetic abnormalities that all animals in the first three generations have to make an educated and responsible decision in a considered breeding.

She taught me how to read a pedigree like no one before her or since. She understood our breed (English Springer Spaniel) and the individuals in it that well.

From Karen Prickett Miller - English Springer Spaniels

I learned, you cannot shorten the muzzle of an English Springer Spaniel without compromising everything in head structure which makes the Springer head unique. A shoved in foreface creates a round eye and lack of correct chiseling around the eye and to include the muzzle that is specifically stated in the standard. This shortening also causes the upper lid to lose its shape and become round, another fault addressed in the standard. The loss of length of foreface also creates a lack of room for pre molars. A Springer head with these proportions and faults has no strength or stamina to carry game in its mouth correctly.

You cannot have a short headed dog and have a dog that is proportioned to the standard, as measurements starts with the length of the head. Bone on a Springer is flat. It is not round. Round bones are heavier than flat bones. Make your bones flat and wide, not round and dense. This really applies to legs and rib cage.

Teach them to go (move) on their own. They must go as they stand in profile.

Four Qualities in Breeding Animals

There are four qualities that every breeding animal should have. Strong character appropriate to their breed. Deep underjaws in breeds that are to have a scissor or level bite. Straight front legs. Breed appropriate feet. The down fall of these mark the downfall of the breed.

I have had Anne Clarke tell Gary and I the same things.

From Denis Springer I learned:

You have to be tough as nails on the outside, with hands that are trusted and gentle guided by your love of the dog and the fancy.

He would tell me, “Toughen up Red, regroup and show them what is really inside.”

You must let your hands tell you what your eye lies to you about.

No matter how great a groomer you are, the studied and schooled eye can always know your lie. You can’t hide bad structure, unless you take them apart and restitch them.

From Gary Zayac I learned:

  • Many people can get the Best In Show dog in the whelping box. The trick is having the eye to pick the correct one and managing them from the whelping box to the Best In Show ring.
  • Silent mouths, silent hands and an always watchful eye wins the prize.
  • Teach them (dogs) to trust you and they will give you the world. Teach them to fear you and you have no dog when things get rough.
  • When the dogs really trust you, then you can push them past what they fear.
  • Be invisible, inside the ring and out, until it is time to not be.
  • Believe in the dog on the end of the lead. And believe in the dog you take home.
  • Patience is the foundation of all good work in the world.
  • Good sportsmanship is the foundation of all that we do and no win is complete without  the honor of your fellow exhibitors.

From Chris Terrell I learned:

Be humbled by the magnificence that surrounds you.

Find joy in every day.

Walk gently and honor the life you have.

He taught me so much about how to handle big out of control dogs that were acting out of fear and being overwhelmed. He’s a master at mind control. I learned so much from him about controlling my mind and body. He taught me to not care and let it roll off my shoulders what people thought and said about me and the dogs. Gary, by the way told me the same thing, but Chris was not the husband. (LOL)

From Brenda Albrecht

I learned how to be a really hard worker for a club and to be a part of a community who’s goal was the preservation and promotion of a breed that we all loved. She taught me how to be a selfless club member where the club came first and my needs or schedule was not a huge consideration.

Talking to the Animals - Cherrie Spring

Cherrie Spring reveals her root story of how talking to the animals began in episode #110 of Pure Dog Talk.

I would not want to detract from you listening to her tales, but well-worth your ear.

Cherrie does leave our listeners with a insightful blessing.

Be Still With Your Animals

Be quiet.  Be still. Listen deeply. Ask gentle questions.  Watch.

This practice of being still with your animals may help you communicate clearer and deeper.

Cherrie Spring

Cherrie Spring

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109 – Social Media Sportsmanship: Dog Show Forum and The Dog Judges Report Card with Jacqueline Zwirn

social media sportsmanship

Jacqueline Zwirn: Dog Show Forum and The Dog Show Judges Report Card

Jacqueline Zwirn is 3rd generation dog shows... literally "whelped" into dogs.  A successful junior handler of her mom's Great Danes, Jacqueline continues today to show Miniature Pinschers under the Sidel Miniature Pinschers prefix.  Junior Showmanship taught... SPORTSMANSHIP  Sportsmanship is ethics, etiquette, manners, losing and winning with dignity and the strive and drive to improve.

Sportsmanship as Administrator of Dog Show Facebook Groups

Sportsmanship skills are a question on Facebook and social media.  Why, hidden behind a keyboard, is permission granted to lose the core ethics of showmanship?

social media showmanship jacqueline zwirn

Jacqueline Zwirn winning with her Miniature Pinscher brace under Patricia V. Trotter

Listen to Episode #109 of Pure Dog Talk as Laura Reeves and Jacqueline Zwirn discuss how Facebook and social media groups could mentor exhibitors and breeders in understanding the judge's opinions, and learn to breed better dogs.

Social Media Thoughts From Jacqueline Zwirn

Rules of Sportsmanship:

  • No Slander or Attack
  • Give facts of your experience, not your opinions
  • Describe what or why you felt something happened
  • Listen and learn
  • Don't vent because you lost

Ringside and Judges Perspectives:

  • Ringside has more time to evaluate a dog than the judge
  • The Judges view is not the same as the ringside view
  • Judges may be looking at or for something different than you


  • Owners that have only one dog may have emotional attachment blinders on, and not be able to see what the judge sees
  • Handlers are a great resource for an evaluation.
  • Handlers are not emotionally attached to your dog's critique
  • Judges read, hear or talk about what is said online.  Don't kiss up or promote your dog

Dog Show Judges:

  • Dog Show Judges are people too!!!
  • Judges love dogs
  • Judges are human and constantly learning
  • Judges spend a ton of money to become judges and make VERY LITTLE!!!

Correctly Assessing a Judge's Intentions

Even professional handler's sometimes mistake a judge's intention, preferences, or pet peeves.  Breeder Judges may look for or be harder on something that affected their line or is a problem in the breed.  Judges not as familiar with your breed may be more generic in selection.

Evaluation of what a judge might like or dislike in a dog is really hard.  There is no hard and fast rule.   Try not to categorize them as a head hunter, or a movement judge without systematically analyzing if that is true.  Oftentimes the "current opinion" is just gossip and not grounded in fact.

  • As a judge learns, their opinions may change
  • Different dogs are in the ring, every show is different
  • Your "belief" that your dog is perfect, colors your opinion

Boring News... Go Back To Your Breed Standard

Sorry... but maybe if it is said enough times?  Go back to your breed standard.  Understand your breed standard.  Question what it means?  Does your dog excel in every part of the standard?  If so, get a second opinion!

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108 – Bill Ellis and Junior Showmanship: How Junior Showmanship Prepares You For Life Outside the Ring

Bill Ellis Junior Showmanship

bill ellis junior showmanship

Bill Ellis,  once a former junior showmanship competitor, is currently Communications Coordinator for the American Kennel Club.

Bill talks with Laura Reeves of fond memories and how what he learned through Junior Showmanship prepared him for life outside the ring.

Laura Reeves

I have always believed that Junior Showmanship and a childhood spent raised in and around the sport of purebred dogs is invaluable in many diverse ways.

After all, Mom enrolled me in dog care 4-H in fourth grade because I was “shy and retiring and lacked people skills”… Forty years later, who I am is due, in large part, to what I learned there and by continuing on into the sport of purebred dogs. Literally, my best friend in third grade was the school librarian. I was the only eight year old kid who knew the entire Dewey Decimal system by heart since I spent most every recess and lunchtime shelving books with Mrs. Young.

While I’m still the head bookworm at heart, I learned how to cope, how to get along, how to lead as well as follow, how to manage time, take responsibility, have a thick skin for criticism (a *definite* requirement in journalism and the dog show world), how to make friends, etc ad nauseam. I have an expensive college degree that broadened my exposure to the outside world, but I would never have survived it without the years spent with dogs learning how to be “human.”

Bill Ellis and other former Junior Handler's skills

When I interviewed Bill Ellis on this topic, it struck me that all of these “transportable skills” as the human resources people like to call them, are not unique to me. So I reached out to the fancy for their thoughts on the topic. Turns out, as usual, I didn’t even know the half of it!

From special education teachers to emergency managers, from researchers to factory workers, from lawyers to stay at home moms, the uniting theme is the work ethic, compassion, confidence, grace under pressure, skillful multitasking and so much more that young people acquire in this sport.

Thanks to former juniors and assistants

Tremendous thanks to the dozens of former juniors and assistants who responded to my inquiry. I’m including a great many of their stories, comments and observations here. Mostly because so many of them were so intense, specific and concrete.

Meanwhile, for all of you out there who think Junior Showmanship is nothing more than a training ground for future professional handlers, think again. This part of the dog fancy is busy training up an entire miniature work force of individuals with determination, punctuality and perseverance that are sadly lacking in too many youngsters outside our world.


Former Junior Handlers and/or Assistants: Where Are They Now?

Heather Hale:

My introduction to the sport came via none other than Cie Harris and her giant Irish Wolfhounds in the mid 90's. I wish I could say what drew me into the sport beyond being a preteen girl who didn't have the first clue as to how to dress to impress boys and virtually no real social life, so naturally going to dog shows and engrossing myself could do nothing to further ruin my already stellar reputation right?

Somewhere along the way, I convinced my parents to let me tag along and "help" Cie at a dog show. From the first instant I was hooked. I loved this exciting and crazy world, the smell, the odd way people dressed and ran, but most of all I loved the dogs. I loved the sizes and shapes and their natural ability to love and want to please their masters. I didn't  have the first clue that I would be entering what has become a mild obsession for me my entire life.

Then I met you, Laura Reeves, a professional handler and quite possibly the scariest and nicest woman I had ever met. You didn't need anyone, a man, children, or close friends to sit and have coffee with and gossip about other friends. I was all at once stunned and intrigued, certainly if you could have that kind of confidence and push around a 150 lb Irish Wolfhound, then there was something to be learned from you.

My fear was matched equally by my respect for you and you began to teach me about everything that is dog shows; waking up at 6 am to walk and bathe dogs, schlepping crates that were bigger than me "the proper way", how to properly strip a coat, how to load a Dodge van (something out of Tetris), how to not get a run in my panty hose (because we were down to the last pair), the importance of good flat shoes and pockets in your show clothes, and  how to set up x-pens, grooming tables, mats, and every other sort of equipment (and do it quickly), but the most important thing I learned was that the dogs’ safety and comfort were paramount. These dogs not only trusted us to do the right thing, but they loved us and counted on us every minute. They performed for us, and played with us when it was over. I learned that it was the most thankless job I would ever have, but also the most rewarding one.

I am not sure I will ever match the feeling I had when Ric Byrd gave me Best Junior from the Open Junior class, beating Candace with the Dalmatian, or having a crush on Jorge who showed a Beagle in juniors.

So many lessons learned. I am now in wine sales, (which is arguably the best career in existence) but to be in any sales one must possess a certain level of confidence, certainly hard work, and the innate ability to connect to people you barely know. I am certain that my early years in dog shows gave me these qualities. I am married, I have 2 wonderful children, but I also know that I am capable of handling a 150 lb dog.

I have a love for dog shows that will never go away. When I was going through a somewhat messy divorce I did what any dog show enthusiast would do; I flew to Texas, bought a Beagle puppy, brought him home, bought a motorhome and spent a year showing him. It was the time of my life. He became a champion in less than 6 months, and the two times a judge put him BOB from the 12-18 month class we took back to back G4s. If I hadn't met my husband and if Jake had filled out and didn't look like a Beagle bitch instead of a dog, I would have continued to show him. But alas, my life went a different wonderful way.

I still think that someday I will find myself back in the ring, hopefully this time it will be with my husband after our kids have grown and we are doing it for fun because that is what dog shows have always been to me. A source of good memories and lots of fun. I miss the "dog show world" and a part of me is always envious to see those still in the sport, but I don't think I have seen my last show ring. Or at least I hope not.

PS I chose wine sales because I get paid to drink wine, and who the hell wouldn't want to do that? I have a bachelors degree in Civil Engineering, but quickly found that I am not a desk person and I multi task way too well to try and fill 8 hours behind a desk. Also could be attributed to my first job as an assistant. Nothing says multi tasking better than that!


Natalie Grochowski

I came from a non dog family but showed an English Cocker in juniors, aging out in 2010. I worked for Kellie Fitzgerald and Chris Berg from 2008 and onward for several summers and occasionally through college when I could. I now work in Federal Management Consulting, particularly in program management activities for agencies within the Department of Homeland Security.

Kellie and Chris were huge mentors to me and always encouraged me to get an education outside dogs- that I could always come back to dog shows if I wanted to. Working for them has honestly shaped my life in so many ways, most notable the work ethic it takes to be successful in dogs translated to my education and now my work life. Working for them honed my attention to detail, appreciation for the amount of behind the scenes work that goes into any successful product (dog, or client presentation etc.), and most importantly to never cut corners - that if anything is worth doing, it is worth learning the right way. One of the reasons I wanted to work for them was because I always admired Kellie's sporting dog grooming and wanted to learn how to do it well too - the importance of giving even the smallest tasks your all had always stuck with me since the first time she said it and it has helped tremendously in my job. The idea of mentorship and finding lessons out of every interaction has also brought me leaps and bounds in my work life. I learned so much by listening at dinner to so many great dog people, and the idea of being a good listener (as opposed to pretending to be an expert on Day 1) is still with me today.

I didn't pursue a career in dogs because I wanted the flexibility to show my dogs and have my own breeding program and do shows on my own time. I was worried that if I did this as my profession, I would burn out and resent it, but if I did this as my release and hobby - I'd stay motivated and passionate about learning and being involved. If I feel frustrated with dog shows or anything, having a life outside dogs allows me to step away and then come back when I am ready (I always do!) and see things with a fresh and renewed perspective which I think has kept me excited and in love with the sport.

Coming full circle- I actually am in the process of getting my junior showmanship license and can't wait to give back to the sport. I am getting ready to marry a non dog show person (after vetting him at the dog show of course) and he keeps me grounded while totally supporting my passion as well. I got my first show dog since college about a year ago and am excited to learn about my new breed. To be honest, there are days where I listen to your podcast on my drive to work or on my lunch break and wonder if I made the right decision- but it is also through your podcast that has inspired me to get more and more involved with dogs at different levels and opened my eyes to the different possibilities within dogs to make a difference.


Demery Paladichuk

“I spent my teenage years working as an assistant for Randy Schepper, Kevin & Diane Chestnut, and most notably Shea and Tiff (Skinner) who I still have a very close relationship with to this day (and love like family). I spent all this time with a specific plan in my head: go to college, get my degree in business (as the "back up plan" everyone talks about), and return to dog shows.

I knew I wanted to go to college, and I don't know if Shea and Tiff, and especially Don Rogers would have been very happy with me if I hadn't! He especially told me to go every chance he got. So I went to WWU, took some classes, hated the business ones, made friends, and started volunteering. It broke me out of the dog show bubble I had been immersed in and opened my eyes to what all else was out there.

I started doing a lot of thinking about what I wanted my life to look like 5, 10, 20, 50 years from now, and what I wanted my life to mean. As much as I loved, and still love dog shows, at the end of the day (to me), it's running around the ring with a dog. To me, dog shows are fun, but don't provide me with a purpose in life.

I personally couldn't justify knowing that there are human beings suffering, dying completely preventable deaths, and with an education I could make a difference in their lives. How do you compare that to a dog show? So in a few months I'll be a nurse practitioner, and even better, will have a reliable job with a great salary, job security, benefits, PTO, and weekends off... which are all things you don't exactly have being a professional handler.

With that being said, dog shows will always have a place in my heart. And I have absolutely nothing against professional handlers, it's just not how I ultimately wanted my life to look. I'm now a regular status all-breed juniors judge. I'm super excited to finally be (almost!!) done with school as it means I can get more involved in dog shows again, and I'm lucky to co-own some beautiful puppies with Kim Bullard as well as two well-known springer breeders who I've already learned a lot from and can't wait to keep learning from. I will hopefully be getting my own puppy within the next year and will start my breeding program (most likely in collaboration with Kim Bullard) from then on. In terms of skills I've carried on from dog shows, there are so many.

Most importantly, I think that working for a professional handler teaches assistants customer service, and not in the "the customer is always right" kind of way. More of how to handle situations that aren't always pretty, how to interact professionally, how to always treat others with respect, and taking responsibility for your actions.”


Matt Grimes

I got my first show basenji when I was 10 years old from Katie Campbell. I was brand new to the whole dog show thing and when we purchased our first basenji my Mom asked if I would show her. After about a year, showing her with Katie and Mary k, they introduced me to their friend Laura. Laura needed an extra hand one weekend and from there on forward I worked for Laura for about 6 years.

I traveled every weekend through the summer and even during the slower time of the season with Laura. I think I have been to every county fairgrounds in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. I learned a lot of life skills from her. Laura helped me build the foundation of sportsmanship, work ethic, professionalism, and taught me the importance of building professional relationships.

Upon graduating high school, I had the honor to serve in the Marine Corps Infantry from 2004-2008. Currently, I am a supervisor at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The life experiences presented to me during my time showing dogs and the people I have had the opportunity to meet, has played a major impact in my successes today!

matt grimes junior showmanship

Alexia Rodriguez

“Growing up I had very low self-esteem. I was extremely shy and had a hard time interacting with other kids that were my age. As an only child, I always had difficulty connecting with my peers. Junior showmanship gave me something to connect to other kids with. It broke the ice, so to speak, so that I had something to talk about with other people. The more I learned about dogs, the more comfortable I felt talking about them.

Right now I work for a software company doing technical support and some light coding. I guess I didn’t really choose this profession but I’ve always been good with problem solving. My original profession was in Day Spa and salon management.

I am still heavily involved in dogs. I currently breed, show and compete in IPO and Rally with my Cane Corso and Lowchen. I also just received provisional judging status for Japanese Chin and Corso and am really enjoying my foray into this next chapter in the sport.

Training my dog, going to dog shows and being rewarded with a win or praise from my peers, boosted my self-confidence and gave me something to work towards.  I did not grow up in a dog show home.  Instead, I got involved because of a flyer at school that advertised an “AKC fun Match”.  My mother supported me in my wish to try out dog shows and would cart me around to various shows. From the dog show world, I also found a profound sense of “family” which, for an only child growing up with a single mom, was instrumental to help boost my self-esteem.”


Maryke Nau

“Everything I am is because of the sport of dogs. I learned that I love teaching from 4H and handling class, so i made it my job. (Having skills at training dogs is VERY applicable to teenagers too!)

The biggest thing I learned was how to have a goal and make steps towards it. To know when to back track and try something else. To know when to change goals completely. To know what is in your power and what isn't and accept that. I learned how to compete and be defeated. I've learned to constantly evolve and never settle for complacency, which has been endlessly beneficial is becoming a leader at my career.

I love dogs, and do the same whether I show every week or once in a year, but the connection with them when we go in the ring is unparalleled. If I never showed another dog I wouldn't be sad but I would miss the people. The people I have known the longest outside of family are from dog shows. We have seen each other go through many phases of life and are always excited to see each other, mostly. I have learned to fight and make up. I learned about relationships. A lot. A lot about long and short term relationships.”


Rémy Smith-Lewis

For me dogs taught me so much respect and responsibility. The same things I use today in my role at Google and the past companies I have worked at.


Ann Foley Lindstrom

Former Junior and assistant, now a teacher.

Involvement/Why I didn't become a handler

I started at 13 in Obedience, bought my first show dog, a lovely Belgian Tervuren, at 16. My dog was an absolutely terrible hell beast and regularly embarrassed me in the ring. I did not do well in Juniors. It's hard to look good when your dog is kangaroo hopping. I worked my butt off with her and learned a lot. I became involved in agility and herding. I traveled a little bit with Sheltie handler, Judy Stachowski. I had a blast and enjoyed every moment of it.

I planned on being a professional handler. I had kennel plans all drawn up. I was going to teach for a few years and save my money to buy a house and build a kennel. I guess 19 year old me didn't realize how little teachers made, but weekends and summers are off, right? Perfect for shows!

I drove 15 hours from Chicago to Atlanta for a dog show. I was walking back to the car and looked at a row of RVs with x-pens and dogs. At each RV, tarps haphazardly covered the x-pens to protect the dogs from the ongoing drizzle while handlers had dogs up on tables, fighting with the humidity and dampness. Everyone looked miserable at that moment. I stopped and thought, "What am I doing here? Is this what I want?"  Showing is fun, dogs are amazing, the people are great. But hauling stuff in and out every weekend, or getting worked up over mud, or the general franticness of it all... it just hit me that this wasn't what I wanted as a long term career.

Current involvement

I'm still involved in dogs at age 35 and I am still a teacher. I still do conformation and I've done varied amounts of obedience/rally, agility, and herding. I maintain the herding statistics for the ABTC. My children are beginning to do Juniors and we're getting to a point where I can share this great hobby with them. My lovely girl Tipsy won BISS from the Veteran's class, and the very next weekend she piloted my 3 year old son around the ring for his first time in a Pee-Wee Juniors class (UKC). Sharing our lives with dogs is what this is all about.

Current job

I am a teacher for at-risk high school students.  I have no doubt that my experience with dogs has greatly impacted my success as a teacher.  I primarily do intervention work to get students back on track. This is basically the equivalent of convincing a terrier to do obedience. Where many people would throw their hands up in the air, I roll up my sleeves and double down. I spend a lot of time figuring out what motivates students and slowly shaping positive behaviors.

One time I was in a meeting with several administrators, counselors, and teachers regarding a student's poor performance. I used the phrase "back chain" to describe how I was reteaching material, and I momentarily panicked because I couldn't remember if that term was used only for dogs. Fortunately most terms used in dog training and behavior are used in teaching humans, so I ended up looking good.  My experience with dogs and training gave me tremendous insight into working with teenagers, not just the learning and teaching component, but also patience, compassion, and an appreciation of effort.


Margaret Shelley

“I worked for Doug and Mandy Carlson for 3 years in high school and Janice Hayes for 2 summers in High School and starting college. I also helped Michael Shepherd a few times as well.

I am currently working as a Corporate Sales Manager for Main Event. I choose that route because it was more money and had weekends off. I loved being an assistant and I would have stayed, but Dottie James made me go to college (I didn't finish but I was able to land a great a job and haven't had a need to go back yet).

The skills I learned from being an assistant is how to handle clients which I use daily, how to build relationships with clients or other professionals. Also I learned at a young age how to interact with adults which has been so beneficial as a young professional.

I'm not in dogs but it's something I will be back in once I get a home and my social life slows down enough for me to have time for a puppy to show.

I tell people all the time that being in Juniors and working for the handlers I did taught me way more than I learned in school. It taught me social skills, how to hold yourself together if something doesn't go your way (like losing a big juniors class), how to keep track of finances and expenses, the importance of being up to date on billing your clients (I do that all the time now), and also how to run a business.”


Moriah Hubbell

“I brought myself into the dog world at 13, when I purchased my first show puppy (Samoyed.)  My parents and family had no knowledge of the sport, so I was fully guiding the train.  I trained my puppy and took her to my first show at 6 months old.  It was hard and we got no where at first.  Juniors was impeccably challenging, having no formal training in how to handle.  I learned, though, and my puppy learned.  Throughout our nearly five year journey with juniors, I learned more than I could ever express.

I learned how to win graciously and loose gracefully. I learned that just because you come in behind the curve, doesn't mean you can't climb to the top. I learned that dogs are my passion and my dream, but that my relationship with them is more important than any win.

For a time, I worked as a handling assistant. It was temporary, but it confirmed my thoughts that professional handling wasn't for me. I wanted some of my weekends to go hiking with my dogs, my week days to work a 9-5, and my love for showing to remain a hobby and a passion rather than a career. I wanted to show and breed my dogs, and for that to be my focus.

So, I decided to go to college for Marketing. Random choice, right? Not really. I know that my skills with dogs will benefit my marketing career and that my marketing career will benefit my endeavors with dogs. I'm happy with the decision I made and I am forever grateful of the lessons junior handling taught me, it's something I encourage the children that I teach to take part in and it's something I hope my own kids will take part in one day.”



Sarah Beaird

“I did Juniors and 4-H growing up. I loved being in the ring and as an adult, it was always my goal to get back there. I love animals and when I got hired at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha I thought I was starting my dream job. There were many things that I loved, but I  noticed that when I got home I wanted space from my own animals.... and that became unacceptable to me. Giving my energy to my own animals should come first. They are the most important.

After moving back to Oregon, I spent a few years running dog obedience classes, and once again working with animals became a chore.  It wasn't fun. However, when I took a break from it I had a group of people who had been in my classes before and had new dogs and wanted me to do a class. I suggested we just meet once a week to "work dogs". It was still almost exactly what I had done in my formal classes, except no money was involved and we usually ended by sitting down and sharing whatever snacks and wine each of us had brought, and it was lovely.

So -- that works for me. I'm always happy to take another dog into the ring as long as it doesn't conflict with my own. I'm happy to take another dog to a show with me if I'm going, but I don't want any money, and therefore no expectations so I don't have to feel the stress that I'm  "working". Showing dogs is a fun hobby for me. I want it to stay fun, and when money starts to exchange hands, it becomes a chore and I would feel obligated to put the client dog above my own, and I would resent myself for that.

Also, regardless how my dog does in the ring, I always have other goals set for  myself for the day/weekend that often have zero to do with ribbon color.  My real job has nothing to do with animals, so I miss them during the day and can't wait to see them and spend time with them when I'm home. For me, a life full of animals does not mean a career working with animals. I get more, and my own lovely creatures do too, if I have the balance of a job that doesn't have anything to do with working with animals.”


Kelly Schur

2nd generation breeder owner handler, former junior handler - currently a special education teacher

I was an assistant to several professional handlers throughout junior showmanship and following aging out. I loved learning about new breeds, getting my hands on different dogs, and the camaraderie and relationships that were built. Some of my favorite memories are from experiences as an assistant.

However, after several weeks on the road where we only had a one or two-day turnaround and traversing a dozen states in less than a month, I realized that it just wasn't a life for me. I wanted something more stable and consistent.

Time in dogs and dog shows set me up for success as a sped teacher. I learned patience, attention to detail, and how to establish, maintain, and strengthen relationships, especially with those who are not necessarily open to the relationship to begin with.

I chose it because I wanted a profession that would be a challenge but in which I felt I could make a difference. I participated in a therapy dog program with my old juniors dog and first group winning special, and I saw what a difference people could make in children with special needs. My ultimate goal is to explore animal related therapies and develop a program to work with our beloved purposefully bred dogs to improve school life for students (and staff)!

I still handle as a hobby, breed Pugs under the Brenich prefix with my mom, and have expanded to duck Tollers - field and conformation... I participate in conformation, field (hunt tests/hunting), rally, obedience, and am trying other sports (barn hunt, nose work, lure coursing, dock diving).

Kelly Schur Junior Showmanship


Kris Wiltse

“I learned that winning isn't everything and when you lose you don't really lose anything you gain knowledge of what needs to be worked on. I learn patience working with the puppies and that you just have to keep trying till you figure out what works just like with dogs, not every child is the same. I learned how to manage time. Having to be at a certain ring with a bathed and groomed dog to having to have the kid brush teeth dress for bed and in bed by a certain time or to school bus.

Teaching dogs is VERY SIMILAR to teaching children you have to praise the good and depending on child/dog either discipline or ignore the bad. I think the most important 2 things were to put the dog away and walk away when I got frustrated. And two I learned respect. I learned to respect the fact that this dog or person is alive and has feelings and doesn't always understand why I do what I'm doing and to respect the fact that they may not want to do that right then and thats ok.”



Kim Bullard

“I started in 4-H. My 4-H leader talked my parents and I into trying Junior showmanship. I worked for a few handlers during my Juniors career then for several years following with the idea of becoming a handler.

I remember one weekend on the Montana circuit we had a family emergency and I felt helpless being so far away. I realized that traveling every weekend just wasn’t something I wanted to do any longer.

I still miss it on occasion, but also fully enjoy being able to show my dogs on the weekends I want to. I am still very much involved with AKC, breeding and showing English Springer Spaniels and co-breeding Golden retrievers with a  friend whom I’ve been showing dogs with for over 10 years. I’ve mentored a few juniors and am also a member of several of my breed clubs and the Whidbey Island Kennel Club which I am on the Juniors committee and we host an event for the Junior handlers at our show every year. I was (and still am) quite a shy person and dogs helped me break out of my shell a bit being around so many likeminded people.”


Taylor Marshall

“I was a Jr from ages 12-18, also assisted for Helen (George) roughly the last three years.

While I would've loved to go the pro route, my parents wanted me to have a fallback option so off to college I went. During those years I moved out, met my fiancé and had to get a job to pay my bills. I lucked into the job I have now (it's not related to my degree and I got it before I graduated).

Specifically, my time management skills and multitasking skills have carried through. I think the biggest skill set that has benefitted me the most in my job is handling things under pressure. Whether it's numerous clients, working on several jobs at a time, meeting quick deadlines, etc. it's still nothing compared to having  numerous dogs/breeds in the ring at a single time. Being able to focus on completing a single task while not worrying (but also not forgetting) about other tasks is one of my strongest advantages in my field.

Another thing I notice that carried is confidence. I'm by no means a people person but I have confidence in my job and can talk to people in that setting. (But not at parties or anywhere else lol)”



Sarah Tulla-Marie Stenberg

“Former assistant/lifetime dog show enthusiast. I started young, literally almost born at Enumclaw dog show. First time in the ring was when I was three with a Chinese Crested.

I worked for many high end professionals, lived and breathed dog shows. Became pregnant, and that changed all of my priorities. I realized I couldn't afford a living with a handlers wage, so I started school. The intense work ethic I learned from being an assistant was what drove me through college and now nearly finishing my bachelors.

I am currently a successful business owner, mother, and homeowner. I still think about going and doing hobby showing. I really want to show a single dog and special that dog. I currently work a bloodhound in search and rescue.”


Paul Chen

“In my early teens, as a junior handler, I really wanted to be a professional handler. Then I worked a few months for one including the old "Cal-Ore Death March". After that I decided I wanted a real life, a decent income, some weekends off, to be able to date, to sleep in my own bed, and to breed/show my own dogs. I have been showing/breeding dogs for 53 years now, have over 60 champions and am an AKC judge for my own breeds. And have been with the same wonderful man (non-doggy) for 43 years.”



Alexzandra Erb

“I really wanted to be a handler when I was a junior but then I decided I felt more joy as a breeder/handler. I love being in the whelping box and from there going to the show ring. I also found that there is a world with a family that needs me more than the show ring weekend after weekend.

My family always appreciated me no matter what I won or came home with...when I was showing for others I didn't like my worth being dependent on a win or a ribbon. Also I work for a vet clinic and having a job like that you can't be off all the time.”



Hillary Arnaud

“I started out showing in 4-H in my teens. I then progressed to showing in AKC right away and after a couple years I worked for many of the nation's top handlers on the West coast for about 5 years to learn about what it takes to show and groom. I always knew that breeding and showing my own dogs was my passion.

I graduate as an RN in one year, and until then, I will continue to focus on my studies, enjoy time with my children and put showing on the back burner. I always knew I wanted to work in healthcare, helping others. I am so pleased to have the opportunity to do that now.

I commend those who stay in it (as handlers), but I believe that without aspiring breeders, the sport would die. You need a little bit of both, and unless you commit to learning and applying for years before labeling yourself as a handler, it's not right.

I feel that my time in dogs has helped me learn what priorities I wanted in my life since I always knew I wanted a family. I also feel that it taught me the value of hard work (and trust me, assisting is not easy by any means!) as well as dedication, being teachable, and having an open mind.”



Bridget Ratcliffe

“I started in dog shows when I was 9 with my pet papillon. I got hooked from the start since it was something fun to do with my dog! Currently I'm about to start my 2nd year at a Statistics PhD program. I don't really participate in shows much anymore. As for specific skills I gained through dog shows, the ones that come immediately to mind are time management, the ability to talk comfortably with adults/people in charge (even from a young age), helping others in a person-specific way (I used to help teach handing classes as a junior and it really helped me learn how to talk and explain things when helping people) and also the mentality of "expect the worst, hope and try for the best", so when things go wrong etc it doesn't seem as big a deal.



Tammy Lewis Walker

“I started when I was 10 in 4-H and 2 years later got my first Akc show dog. A Mini poodle with an attitude and a following. I trained mainly obedience and also did showmanship. There was no rally, no agility, no pre-novice. Your first class in obedience was novice, and after your first title, you competed with all the others!

I learned to work with people in all age, education, economic, and gender preferences. I learned that a pro taking their time to help a newbie is an amazing thing. I now do mainly obedience and rally but do several other sports too. I always try to help someone who needs help with training or grooming and even in my non dog ventures, I help where I can. The value of mentoring in any aspect of any job is so important!”


Megan Ericson

“Did both junior handling and worked under a professional. My time showing taught me invaluable time management skills, working quickly and efficiently, under pressure and with a deadline, and good communication skills. It also gave me a thick skin, and taught me how to accept constructive criticism. I worked for 10 years as a cook and it gave me the tools I needed to be successful in that environment. I now work in a grooming salon, so the grooming skills have definitely given me a leg up.”



Mara Spicer

“I went into public safety working as a 911 dispatcher. I was able to use so many of my skills learned from the pros. From time management, to working under pressure, to handling yourself like a professional no matter what.”


Jess Blatt

“I started showing in juniors before I was 10 at matches. As soon as I turned 10, I was showing in juniors at shows. My mom has been breeding Shar-Pei for 25+ years, I traveled with and assisted different handlers, I showed everything and anything I could. When I turned 17 and met my husband, I decided dog shows weren't everything. We had children, I work at a hospital, and I go to dog shows sparingly as my daughters like showing my mom's dogs but they generally go with her and they're more involved with showing their rabbits, livestock and horses.

I've learned that once you can pick out a good animal of any species, it carries through to different species and same goes for showing them (except rabbits which is a whole different ball game from showing any species!) I'm thankful for all the places I've traveled and people I've met. And I think the biggest thing I've gained from showing dogs, I can pack a vehicle like none other! And I have no issues working til 3AM, sleeping for 2 hours and driving 3 hours to a rabbit show with van packed full of rabbits and 4 kids. I also developed a love for coffee at a young age.”


Jordin Wallis

“I have been in dogs since 2004 when I started showing in juniors as well as at the breed level. The quote I would choose to best describe my profession now and my experience in handling dogs is "structure dictates function.”

I have always had this quote ingrained in my mind when showing and working in my current field. I am currently a Surgical TA at VCA NWVS working with an orthopedic surgeon. When looking at orthopedic patients we are looking at their gait and how their limbs work with one another.

Gait is extremely important for a dog to perform its job as well as just to be a normal dog. When I view the conformation side of movement I see the same thing. How their limbs work with one another and how that gait moves them across the ring. The form of the dog always follows its function in all aspects whether it be a working dog, show dog, or just a fantastic family pet. The dog show community should always follow this Motto to continue to improve the breeding stock of today's generation.”



Jacqueline Zwirn

“I grew up in the RV, at the shows. As a toddler I was in the expens ringside while my mom was in the ring.

I toyed with the idea of becoming Pro--but life dictated otherwise. I love being on the road and in the ring.

What I learned from my experience as a child in the ring and on the road was candor, respect, sportsmanship and to strive for excellence.

If you aren’t going to do it right, with ethics, don’t do it at all.”

Zwirn Junior Showmanship

Brittany Updyke

“So I showed in juniors and in the breed rings for about 7 years. My mom and I would rather to the shows after I got home from school. I worked for Laura and Robin for 2 summers as their assistant. Showing dogs taught me so many life lessons and I am forever grateful for the experiences I was able to receive. When I moved to Texas 3 years ago, I brought my last juniors dog with me. Everyone always says, a dogs love is unconditional, but I feel that having a dog that you've shown in juniors is something even a little more special. You come to realize that you are a team and I truly couldn't imagine life with my "pet".

Along the journey, I've also made life long friends. In fact, I just got married in May and 2 out of my 4 bridesmaids were people I've met from showing dogs. I currently work as a registered nurse and I think most of my time management skills come from showing dogs. Being able to balance work life and home life is something that is so important and I contribute those lessons to being able to travel during my younger years as an assistant, in juniors, while going to school and keeping a social life outside on top of it all.”


Taylor Ault

“I didn’t grow up in dogs. I started with my first dog when I was twelve doing rally and agility then started in the conformation ring a couple years later. I worked for a couple breeders and handlers and loved it but definitely did not want to do it full time.

I got my Bachelors in Animal Science and I am now starting my Masters in Animal Reproductive Physiology. I still love handling dogs on the side when I can for some friends. When I have the time (and money!) after I finish school I want my own show dogs and eventually breed. I think dog shows are a wonderful way to teach life lessons, especially to juniors, about hard work, dedication, and responsibility. But I credit my work with dogs for getting me where I am today in school and I absolutely love it!”


Aimee Bruening

“Former junior handler AND assistant here! I chose not to go the professional handler route because in college I joined Air Force ROTC and decided to pursue that as a career instead. I absolutely loved my time as an assistant though, and it's definitely helped me succeed in ROTC.

Time management, attention to detail, communicating clearly and precisely, working under pressure and most importantly a sense of urgency - all beneficial skills that apply to both professions! I'm still involved in the world of dogs, but it's been put on the back burner while I finish my degree. I still help as an assistant from time to time when I can, and I'm currently planning on getting a new show prospect sometime in the spring so I'll become more involved in the show community again.”


Riley DeVos Mars

“I decided to go to college for Elementary Education and now teach 3-4 grade Special Education. I still show dogs and have branched out to try hunt tests and rally/obedience as well. Dog shows have definitely benefited me in my current job - one of my Rottweilers is our school therapy dog. When talking to the school board, I was able to highlight her OFA health test results, her stable temperament, and her ability to handle new situations from showing.”

Riley Mars Junior showmanship


From Cassie Noe

“I got burnt out. I was working every weekend and it got to the point where the weekends off or weekends at home with the house dogs is what I was looking forward to more than working. I decided to move home and pursue my education and career. I found that working and helping people was a lot more rewarding and also a lot less physically exhausting.

I stayed involved with showing because I still love the companionship of the animals and the feeling of piloting a dog to some exciting wind and also seeing the happiness on the owners faces when their precious pet won a ribbon. Eventually after the loss of my mother I decided I needed a break from shows entirely to ground myself and find my happiness and focus on my growing career, house, and wedding.”


From Kat Smith

“My family had purebred poodles growing up but not show or competition dogs. I did a year in 4H and got hooked and wanted a show dog, my parents said no more dogs. I found a local dog show and convinced them that if I could find a dog to show that didn't live here, that I could show it. Much to their surprise, I found some awesome breeders who were willing to sign me on a dog Juniors!

I worked for pros over the summer and had awesome breeder mentors. When I aged out of Juniors, people kept asking me to show their dogs, so I was an agent for a few years so I could keep showing dogs until I was out of college and really in a position to buy one. I finally did a few years ago, and am many titles and a few litters in as a hobby breeder and competitor.

Working for a handler and as an agent, I realized that I get so much more out of working with and competing with my own dogs than anyone else's. So I enjoy my day job, working in communications & marketing, having a small-scale breeding program where I can train, groom, and show my own dogs to their maximum potential. I also get to spend my dog show days mostly enjoying time with dogs and friends than running around. Plus, boy if you bring a litter of puppies to the office they get a lot of socialization and you get a lot of bonus points!”


From Jennifer Scattini Nowell

“I am a 2nd generation breeder/owner/handler. I started training my own juniors dog at age 8, showed in the breed ring at age 9, and jrs at age 10. While I worked for a few handlers off and on, I pretty quickly decided being a pro wasn't for me, mostly because I'm grooming inept. I also enjoy the freedom my job gives me. I have a B.S. in Ecology and Systematic Biology and I work on a commercially caught rockfish and flatfish study in CA.

I am still involved in the dog show world, albeit on the periphery now. I am a member of the local kennel club and I teach a conformation handling class. I find it rewarding to help people with their craft. I owe a lot to my personal mentors, so I try to give back where I can. I'm hoping to get back on the ring with a dog of my own eventually. Maybe my son will be interested, too.

The biggest life skills I took away from my juniors years were all about sportsmanship. Be a good loser, but always, always be a gracious winner. Help new folks find their way, and for Pete's sake, give your dog the love he/she deserves!”

From Andrea Albin

“Three years as an assistant, four years in juniors showing Goldens and English Cockers, and over a decade in agility. Now, I'm the Digital Marketing Manager and Graphic Design Specialist at the Sports Car Club of America, the country's largest amateur motorsports organization. Dog shows helped me develop determination and individual responsibility. I also found that participating in AKC events allowed me to observe an organization that operates within similar business models as my current employer.”

From Michelle Nolan

“I started working for professionals from 12-17 yoa. I decided I wanted to take a break from dog shows and focus on being a teenager. As fate would have it, I continued to work with dogs as I was hired to work at a doggy daycare and did so for four years. After that point, I moved to Santa Cruz and studied political science. I then worked/managed a dog walking company for 3 years.

This March, I embarked on a new adventure. I started my own dog walking/daycare/ overnight service here in Santa Cruz. I never envisioned working for myself or with dogs. I tried to push away from it many times in my short life but something kept drawing me back to it.

At this point in my life, I'm not pursuing dog shows and have no desire at this time to be apart of that realm. However, I without a doubt, would not have the dog or people sense without my experience working along dog enthusiasts and professionals. I believe the main skill set I acquired from dog shows is my understanding of different breeds. I didn't realize that this was a skill and helps me understand my pack of dogs better. For example looking at a Husky or an Australian Shepherd and knowing what they were bred to do and how those unique qualities are reflected in their personalities and behaviors. I guess reading all of those dog breed books as a kid and spending countless hours at the side of show rings really helped me out there!”

From Erin L McClurg

“The paycheck wasn't consistent.  I had to rely on people with good dogs to hire me.  For the amount of work I didn't feel the amount of return was worth it- but most of all- I did not want showing dogs to be a "have to".  It's a passion and love in my heart.

One mentor told me to go to college so I didn't have to rely on dogs forever.  I attended Texas A&M and did my BS in animal science production industry and my MS in animal science with an emphasis on ruminant nutrition.

I've taught vet tech courses at the collegiate level but for most of my career I have been in sales of dog food. I am able to share specific cases in which I may have changed food and how it worked. Experience from breeding, puppies, adults and seniors.

Yes, I am still involved. Labradors first and foremost. I have had borders and schnauzers as well.”

From Kara Lynn Gossage

“I grew up in Collies ( Rough & Smooth), my mom had been involved since she was 15. I handled in the breed ring as a child and then when I became old enough for juniors my mother bought me a miniature pinscher for easier handling. I was in juniors from 10-18.

I have a Bachelors in Biology, emphasis on animal behavior and a minor in psychology. I handled a little for close friends during college and campaigned a few specials. I started working with PetSmart in 2008 and worked my way up the corporate ladder, now overseeing the Central IL- Kentucky region of salon services teaching new groomers in academy. I took a hiatus to have children , but am currently getting back into that game and looking to expand breeds and become a junior judge. I also compete nationally on PetSmart's Competitive Groom Team.

My experiences growing up in the dog show world and working with breeders, professional handlers, and other younger handlers has been the foundation of my success in my career . I have become well versed in multiple breed knowledge, handling, grooming, and products. I can honestly say I love what I've grown up doing, it fits me well.”

Don’t Miss An Episode…

pure dog talk

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

Ed Thomason

Ed Thomason Tips for the Owner Handler - from an Owner Handler Turned Professional Dog Handler

Ed Thomason was a Breeder and Owner Handler before he became a Professional Dog Handler.  A passionate advocate for the "bully breeds", Ed and his wife, Karen, breed American Staffordshire Terriers under the Alpine Falls kennel name.

He shares his best tips and encouragement for owner handlers.

The definition of rising through the ranks, Ed started in dogs at UKC shows and counts Laurie Jordan-Fenner as his primary mentor, whom he met while attending a handling class she taught near him.

Ed Thomason

Ed Thomason's Advice for Owner Handler Competitors

— Put you and Michael Andretti in a Ferrari, the experienced race car driver will run the lap the fastest. That’s a product of experience. You have to do the work.

— Quit worrying about everybody else in the ring and focus on your dog.

— Don’t make excuses. It starts with you.

— The most successful owner handlers are masters at what they do. They’re there to win.

— The best dogs in the world can make themselves look horrible.

— Judges see your dogs outside the ring. Make them always look their best, even when NOT in the ring.

— Breeders are the backbone of the sport. Professional handlers need to remember that.

— Handlers need to accept responsibility. Need to maintain communication. We all need to unite to ensure the future of the sport.

— Raise our game by helping others raise theirs.

— Offer more handler clinics for adults.

— Additional activities are what drive exhibitors to the dog show.

— Success drives happiness.

— Don’t get discouraged quickly. Ask a lot of questions.

— There is nothing that compares to the joy of succeeding in your goal of finishing your own dog.

Ed Thomason American Staffordshire Terriers

Don’t Miss An Episode…

pure dog talk

98 – Cindy Vogels: Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, Westminster BIS Judge, Take the Lead and AKC Canine Health Foundation Treasurer

Cindy Vogels Westminster Kennel Club 2012

Cindy Vogels: Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, Westminster BIS Judge, Take the Lead and AKC Canine Health Foundation Treasurer

  • Cindy Vogels and her mother, Jackie Gottlieb, have bred over 100 Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Champions.
  • Selected to judge Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2012
  • Board Member of Take the Lead
  • Founding Member and Treasurer of AKC Canine Health Foundation
  • Past President of the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America and helped breed from Miscellaneous to AKC Recognition

Are You Impressed Yet?

Listen as Cindy Vogels tells of her journey with her beloved Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers and a special win with one of her veterans.

Listen to the beginnings of Take The Lead started during the time of the AIDS epidemic and the strides to ensure privacy.

Listen to how $40,ooo,000 has been granted in AKC Canine Health Foundation research and how your breed club can participate.


Cindy Vogels

Mrs. Cindy Vogels

Cindy Vogels, of Greenwood Village, Colorado, has bred more than 100 champion Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, and champion Norfolk, Kerry Blue, and Welsh terriers, and Brittanys. These include Best in Show, specialty Best in Show, and group winners, and top producers, including the top terrier dam of all time.

Mrs. Vogels judges all terriers, all sporting breeds, Junior Showmanship, and Best in Show. Career judging highlights include Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier and Norfolk Terrier national specialties, and the Westminster Kennel Club Show.

Mrs. Vogels is a past president of the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America and now serves as the club's AKC delegate. She is secretary and show chair for the Evergreen Colorado Kennel Club.

One of America's leading writers on canine subjects, Mrs. Vogels is a winner of the Dog Writers Association of America's Maxwell Medallion for her akc gazette "Better Breeding" column. She sits on the boards of the AKC Canine Health Foundation and Take the Lead, and feels that "both these organizations are fundamental to the well-being of the sport."

Mrs. Vogels raises and shows champion Morgan horses. AKC

Cindy Vogels

Article on Cindy Vogels and AKC Canine Health Foundation

Cindy Vogels is the treasurer of AKC Canine Health Foundation. Read More ...

pure dog talk

91 – Dog Show Grooming, Poodle University, Online Handling and Allison Foley

Leading Edge Allison Foley


USE PURE DOG TALK 15 for a 15% discount on courses!

Dog Show Grooming, Poodle University and Handling All Online with Allison Foley

Allison Foley has started Leading Edge Dog Show Academy to mentor exhibitors online for dog show grooming, junior handling, and handling for adults.

A top Canadian handler known for her Best in Show Poodles, Allison has teamed up with her film student son to create a professional quality video series "on-demand".

Poodle University

Poodle University is the first dog show grooming series with 8 courses:

  • Knot Your Average Top Knot
  • All Sprayed Up
  • Ultimate Guide to Poodle Top Knots
  • Poodle Puppy Trim
  • Continental Trim
  • English Saddle Trim
  • Poodle Prep
  • Poodle Handling

Junior Handling

A Junior Handler herself, Allison holds a near and dear place for training juniors, so she created Junior Handling 101.

Dog Show Handling for Adults

The beginner handling course is now live, with more to come.

Just Started, Much More Dog Show Grooming to Come...

But What About ... (insert breed)???

YES!  Cocker Spaniel Grooming and Kerry Blue Terrier and much more breed specific dog show grooming is on it's way.

Pure Dog Talk will announce new releases before they are live and give you first access.

Leading Edge Dog Show Academy

Pure Dog Talk listeners receive a 15% discount at checkout for a limited time.


Dog Show Grooming Allison Foley

Am:Can Ch. Dawin Stellar Performance

Allison Foley showed her first Poodle in Junior handling when she was 7 years old. Fast forward from there to her winning of more than 550 All-breed "Best in Shows" on various breeds, but Poodles are her passion!

Having been a professional dog handler since 1987, Allison not only brings a wealth of knowledge to her lessons but also her whimsical view on life.

Allison is the President of the Canadian Professional Dog Handlers Association (CPHA), the Vice President of the Canadian Kennel Club Foundation, the Junior Handling Representative for the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) in Nova Scotia. She also writes for several dog magazines, worldwide.


USE PURE DOG TALK 15 for a 15% discount on courses!

Dog Show Grooming Poodle University

89 – Italian Greyhounds and Lilian Barber: From the Holocaust to La Scala Italian Greyhounds

Italian Greyhounds

Italian Greyhounds and Lilian Barber

Lilian Barber is the breeder of La Scala Italian Greyhounds, an AKC Judge, and author of the "bible" on Italian Greyhounds.

La Scala Italian Greyhounds

An avid opera lover, La Scala pays homage to Italy and the art of opera.  Her website is a treasure of Italian Greyhound history and photographs.

Italian Greyhounds

Lilian Barber the Author

Past President of the Italian Greyhound Club of America and columnist for the AKC Gazette since 1975, Lilian has authored 4 books on Italian Greyhounds.

Buy Lilian's Books... if you can

Several are out of print, but if you can get one, we suggest you do it now.  The links are below.

Italian Greyhounds
Am. Ch. La Scala Primadonna do Reino

Considered to be 'the bible' for the IG lover, this detailed and informative book is written by a Breeder/Judge with ties to the IGCA. Profusely illustrated with black and white photographs, this wonderful reference is divided into five sections:
Section One: An Italian Greyhound Primer
Section Two: Health and Welfare of your IG
Section Three: The IG as Show Dog
Section Four: The IG as a Performance Dog
Section Five: Advanced IG Ownership
A must-have for the library of every serious Italian Greyhound fan.

La Scala

82 – New to Group Ring? 10 Tips to Survive and Succeed

New Group Ring

New to the Group Ring?

Requested by Brandon Lobato in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Brandon writes, “Love the podcast, it really keeps me motivated. I started showing two years ago and didn't know anything. It took me a year and 15 shows to get my first point. I pointed him out during the next year, and then our shows started up … and my boy took the breed two days in a row this weekend going over four specials for his majors in Irish Setters. I’ve been going to handling classes each week and listening to the podcast over and over. If you could talk about going into to groups ring I would love it, I was something I hadn't prepared for.”

First of all Great Job on your first two Best of Breed wins Brandon! That is fantastic!! I am so thrilled the podcast was helpful for you!

Now, on to the group. Those first few trips around the big ring can seem daunting at best.


10 Tips to Survive and Succeed in the Group Ring

Remember, in group competition, the judge is comparing each individual dog against its standard and is tasked with selecting and placing in order the four dogs which most closely meet their breeds’ standards. Refresh the breed standard in your head, concentrate on your dog’s virtues in relation to the standard and run through again how best to showcase those virtues. The group ring brings more room to move, more space to stand out but also a larger cast of characters, all striving to catch the judge’s eye. Be sure to watch your spacing on the line… not too close to the dog in front of you, leave enough room to stand in front if that is what you need to showcase your dog. If the handler behind has a tendency to crowd up on you, turn your dog and put your back to the handler to create a little extra breathing room for you and your dog when it’s time to turn around and stack again.

If you are honored with a Best of Breed win, go to the group. It is an insult to any other dogs defeated, the judge who awarded your dog BOB and the group judge to skip it. “I’m not going to win” isn’t an acceptable excuse! Unless there are only 4 dogs present, *somebody* isn’t going to place. And I’ll tell you a little story. Some years ago I showed a 9 month old Briard to the breed … He was the only dog entered in the breed. It was the last day. It was hot. It was a judge I believed would do nothing with this gangly puppy. There were some lovely dogs in the group. I just plain wanted to go home. I whined and moaned and gnashed my teeth, but I stayed. And well I did, as that goofy puppy WON the group. Yes, there are times of emergency or what have you in which missing the group is understandable. But going home just because “it’s political and I won’t win” is not going to win you any admirers and worse, does not give you the opportunity to learn a single thing.

Pay attention to the timing!!!!!! Groups start at an appointed hour and then flow based on the judge, the number of dogs in the ring, how inclement the weather is, how anxious everyone is to get to the hotel/airport/home, etc. The superintendent lists the *anticipated* group judging order in the judging schedule. DO NOT assume that is written in stone! Check the schedule of group judging when it is posted. Watch the groups ahead (this is *always* a good suggestion, no matter what, for educational purposes) in order to know when it’s your turn. I normally prep my dogs at the beginning of the group ahead of mine, but if the groups are small, the dog needs an extra rinse and fluff, extra warm up or whatever, that can change. Know what you need to do to prepare your dog to look its very best in the ring and how long it takes to do that. Then gauge your time accordingly. Aim to arrive at the group ring a full five to ten minutes ahead of your turn. This gives you time to settle your nerves, accustom the dog to the extra applause and commotion and generally get your game face on. If you need more time, there is NO law that says you can’t come earlier. Do what works best for you and your dog.

Groups in the US are generally, although not always, judged in size/speed order. The exceptions are when the show is extra fancy and they ask exhibitors to line up alphabetically and give you signs to stand in front of (a la Westminster). But at most average dog shows, the long legged dogs go up front and the lineup proceeds in basically descending size. Keep in mind you want to move your dog at the proper speed for the breed. Find a dog of similar build/stature to your breed and try to follow that exhibitor. The Bulldog, Pekeingese, Sussex Spaniel, miniature dachshund and the like are not going to run around the ring at the same speed as the taller members of their group. The line up for the group entrance can feature a good bit of jostling. Just be patient, courteous and ask questions. See if you can find a mentor or friend in the bunch who can give you some on site guidance.

Once you get in the ring, move around the ring as directed by the judge. Stack your dog and be prepared for the judge to walk down the line looking at expression and/or overall outline.  Once the exam of the first dog starts, you can relax your dog. Play with your dog, relax, but don’t let the judge see the dog looking dorky. You can block the dog with your body if you’re going to give it free time. I’ve shown any number of dogs over the years who had limited “stamina” in the group ring. I just take them to a corner, teach them to lie down quietly and sit peacefully with them. Conversely, I’ve shown dogs with no off switch who fret incessantly if they are not constantly “working”… Know your dog and know what is best for him. Pay attention to the judge… If you notice she is checking back down the line after every dog,  time a nice free stack so they can see it — do not grandstand in the middle of the ring or block another exhibitor, but be sure your dog is always and only seen looking its best. When it’s your turn for the exam and individual movement, your general target is to move the dog as far as the last number in the center of the ring and then come back. It’s a big ring, nobody needs or wants to see your dog trot ALLL the way to the end of the ring and back.

First impressions count. That first sweep around the ring should demonstrate smooth, effortless and correct movement. While that first one is important, ALL impressions count in the group ring. You are playing with the big kids and if you expect the judge to award your dog, you must be prepared to have its performance be flawless. Gather yourself before you move, don’t get jiggity with your freestack. Stick to what you know works. You have MAYBE four chances to really showcase your dog. When you come in, on the line at the beginning, on the individual exam and on the line at the end. If each and every time the judge looks your dog is flawless, and your presence and presentation are confident, they WILL notice.

Don’t be nervous! I know it seems scary, but it’s no different than the breed ring in the basic concepts. Don’t forget that your dog will pick up on your nerves. Confidence, or a lack thereof, travels right down the leash! Hi speed internet has nothing on a dog’s sensitivity to its handler’s moods. I know, you’re thinking, all those people are *watching* us! A version of stage fright is pretty common, but I always remind folks what my debate coach taught me in high school… If you just picture all the people around you in their underwear, pretty soon, you’re giggling to yourself and it’s nearly impossible to concentrate on being afraid when you’re laughing (in your mind!) at somebody’s imaginary tight whities. As you relax, so will your dog, making their movement, their attitude and their carriage improve 100 percent.

Professional handlers are NOT the enemy! If you have a question, seek out an experienced and respected handler and ask them. I guarantee they’ve been there for the first time, just like you! As in any other situation, be sure to wait until the person is not concentrating on the dog or the judging. And handler friends, for the love of Pete, take a minute out of your coffee klatch in the corner to at least smile at the newbie. Maybe compliment their dog or their outfit or simply tell them congratulations on their win. We are ALL in this together.  The more we remember that, the better off we’ll be!

Making the cut. This is when the judge comes down the line for a final look. It’s important to make some eye contact with the judge, really making the pitch that your dog is worthy of consideration amongst the best. If the judge points at you for your dog to make the “short list” of 6-8 dogs to be considered for the four placements, tamp those jangling nerves down with a deep breath and keep your composure. Line up and remember this is the last chance to make a great impression. Stay in tune with your dog while paying attention to the judge for cues. Some judges don’t make a cut and simply select their placements. Continue to watch the judge out of the corner of your eye to determine if they are looking at your dog and be sure the dog is stacked and standing proud.

Final reminders. Be a good sport…. congratulate the winners, say thank you if your dog gets a ribbon and someone congratulates you. have FUN with your dog! be proud, be a team… and never forget, the dog you love best is coming home with YOU! A ribbon or not a ribbon, it doesn’t get any better than that.


And there you go. You’ve now survived the group ring for the first time. It’s all downhill from here! Catch ya’ll on the flip side. In the meantime, don’t forget to kiss your dog on the nose every day.

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