THE OWNER/HANDLER ADVANTAGE
By Pat Gilbert
Dogs shows are the only competitions where professionals and amateurs compete as equals in a sport.
I think being an owner/handler is the best of all possible worlds with the exception of being a breeder/owner/handler. If I prepare properly, I have a distinct advantage over any professional handler. What? How can that be true? Don't professionals always win? No, no and no. They do not always win. You as an owner/handler with a good dog can have an edge that is very difficult to beat.
Here is my reasoning.
As a professional handler I carried a string of dogs which included many breeds. I did not have the luxury of constant one on one with each dog. I knew my dogs but, with the exception of a few, not as in depth as any owner could know their dog. I needed to hire assistants for the job of helping me keep dogs happy and maintain them in show condition. Yes, I was more polished in the ring because I did it all the time. I studied judges, grooming techniques and my competition almost daily. You as an owner/handler can do that too without having to worry about getting to numerous rings with multiple dogs.
As a handler my dogs always took a back seat to clients' dogs. Now I can concentrate solely on my dogs. Just think what you can achieve with one or two dogs that live with you day in and day out.
The way you can win over professional handlers is to get professional yourself. It involves work, study, practice and knowledge to get and be competitive. You can do it.
Here is my formula. There is no magic.
1. Set your goals and get competitive. How and at what level do you want to compete? Do you want to point and finish a dog? Do you want to (gulp) campaign a dog to top honors? Do you want to be competitive at just specialties? These are different goals. All these goals can be achieved. Sometimes that "special" dog comes along and you can achieve all of these goals.
2. Be realistic. Take your Breed Standard and honestly look at your dog. Where is your dog strong and where does he fall short? Video your dog moving with you at different speeds and have someone else move him too. Again, be honest. If you are not sure, have someone who knows look at your dog standing and moving. These people are called mentors and are worth every pound of chocolate you buy them. Handlers do have special time to help people and many are willing to pass on good information. I would go to someone whom you admire and ask for help. Always ask when is a good time because often schedules are tight. Be prepared to spend a long day at a show even after it closes. If you make an appointment, keep it and be flexible.
3. Fine tune your breed specific presentation by going to handling classes and seminars. Sit and watch the top dogs of all breeds and handlers not just at the breed level but at Group and BIS levels also. Have people watch you, video and film you in competition. Again analyze and discuss that too. Take all information under advisement and then sort out what works for you and your dog. Even though you can't possibly use it all, sometimes that information will work for you with a new dog.
4. Make sure your dog is in peak physical condition for health, muscling and happiness. Body and mind need to be as sound as possible.
5. Maintain his coat correctly for his breed and tweak your grooming up for show days.
6. Keep a positive attitude with good sportsmanship. Always congratulate the winner and be gracious when you win, because you will. All of it travels down the lead and reflects on you, your dog, and your professionalism as an owner/handler.
7. Have fun with your friend that always gives you unconditional love. Your dog is really what it is all about.