Many of my friends at work and in my social circle have asked me what is the point in dog shows if you get a professional handler to show a dog. It’s a good question – I thought that way too initially.
Dog shows in US have way more professional handlers than any other country that I am familiar with . And many of those handlers are now good friends . While I don’t always agree with their tactics , I am a huge fan of the profession .
When I first came to this country , I got the impression that these folks have a good thing going financially . Looked like easy money to me . But it didn’t take long to understand I was way off in my judgement . And not too long after , I started being a fan – a big fan.
I consider myself a decent handler – but I seriously doubt I stand a chance against the best professional handlers in the sport today . In theory – I should be able to beat them easily. I will only be showing one dog at a time , and I can probably afford to buy one of the best dogs available for sale and I probably can advertise all out to promote my dog . I can train my one dog with full focus and groom it with more precision . I can pick the shows where I think the judge would like my dog. So why bother with a handler ?
Because that is theory and it is not in the least bit practical :)
In my day job, I will never get around to training and exercising my dogs to the degree they need it to be competitive . I travel hundreds of thousands of air miles a year which means I don’t want to be at a dog show every weekend. I would rather be home with my family . I will never have enough dogs to become great at grooming them professionally and so on . And I will never have the face recognition needed to win repeatedly in shows . Also – just because I can afford to pay the asking price doesn’t mean that a good breeder will sell me her best puppy or dog . Finally , my interest is only in showing -not breeding .
So for me – the solution is to find the best handler I can , and trust that he or she will do everything ethically possible to get my dog to his potential . It is also way more economical for me in terms of time and money . And to some degree – I have a better shot at finding the dogs or puppies I like via a handler than by myself . It also helps that I have trained and competed at a high enough level in my younger days that I don’t need to do it myself to feel fulfilled . I am happy to sit back and watch a professional do the job. And when I think it is not fun for the dog or me – I can stop and go throw him oranges to fetch and never take him to another show again.
While they do it for a living – handlers love dogs just as much as I do . At least – the handlers I know do , if not everyone . That is important for me – if I have the slightest doubt on that factor , I won’t hire that person . Same about ethics and integrity . I am an extremely competitive person. But while I like to win as much as the next person – I won’t do anything against the spirit of good sportsmanship . Dog shows are not a game I play just to win . It’s just an irrational hobby :)
It takes a physical toll on these folks – I know many have bad knees, back and feet at a minimum. And sadly, many of them can’t get the right medical treatment to take care of it because they cannot afford it . Yet weekend after weekend , they show dogs with utmost professionalism . Some are blessed to have great clients who have them on a retainer year after year. But vast majority have to work supremely hard throughout the year to make a living . That takes the kind of tenacity and toughness I admire .
There isn’t a dog show I have been to where someone hasn’t said “oh it’s a handler breed” or “it’s all political” or “the judge always looks at the wrong end of the leash”. None of these comments are wrong . But I think the handlers get a disproportionate degree of blame . Actually I think so do judges for that matter .
Professional Handlers do it for a living – and they become good at it . The opportunity to beat them is available to everyone including owner handlers if they put in the same effort and cost . Since it is not feasible for an average owner handler to train and show as many dogs in as many shows as a professional , the professional has an edge in most cases . That is not some evil plan :)
To make a name – handlers have to start with great dogs . Over time their skills and face recognition increases and lesser dogs will start winning with them . That is true for owner handlers too – if you keep at it , it is a natural result . In my line of work as a technology executive – the same holds true . What my colleagues and I do can be done by many others – but it will take a lot more time and effort and money to do it as well as we can . It is not because we are more intelligent – it’s because we have done it many times over for many customers in varying circumstances. That is why our customers buy engage us to get some stuff done and not try to build everything themselves . I think the same way when hiring a handler .
That being said – there is one case where I look forward to handling myself . That would be if I ever show in India again . For old times sake – I totally would love to hold the leash and trot my dog. But even there , I would rather have a professional groom my dog . Hopefully I can do that soon – nothing beats the feeling of showing dogs with people I grew up with , under judges that taught me a lot about dogs and dog shows .
Before I sign off – a big shout out should also go to the responsible breeders in the fancy. Although I have a problem with the sheer number of breeders , I am a big fan of their insatiable appetite to breed a dog that meets the standard in letter and spirit . Almost no breeder I know got rich by breeding – many could have bought a second home with money spent on dogs . And it is exhausting to bring up a litter – which is why I don’t breed . Owners like me – who just enjoy the fruits of their labor – owe a lot to these kind folks . I am very grateful to have the opportunity to have the choice of several excellent breeders to buy a puppy from . THANK YOU