Professional Handlers and Breeders – thank you , from a grateful dog owner

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


One breed or many breeds?

I am the guy who used to tell others “There are just two types of dogs – German Shepherds, and those who want to be German Shepherds”. And for the last few years, I don’t have a German Shepherd – not one. Instead, I have a Golden Retriever and now a one year old labrador male.  These two breeds are totally different from shepherds, and also somewhat different to each other.  And guess what –  I love them and think they are also great dogs to have, as long as I recognize they are unique and dissimilar to shepherds.

At the height of my craze for German shepherds – I knew pedigrees of  hundreds of dogs, and had videos of every big show that happened in the GSD world. I had way more dogs than I should have had.  I knew most top breeders – and knew all top dogs, and up coming stars. I also spent a large part of my disposable income in doing all this. And I totally understood how little I knew even with that kind of commitment.

For a variety of reasons, I bought a Golden and then a Lab . Thanks to the experience in Shepherds – I don’t worry at all any more if my dogs don’t end up as succesful show dogs .  They can still stay home and play and cuddle with us if they don’t make a career in show ring.  However, I still only buy pups which are of show potential, and that too from breeders I like, and blood lines i like.  I think it is a great investment even if the dog turns out not so good in looks when he matures – and so far I have had no regrets.

It is kind of funny when you get into a new breed. Despite not being a newbie to purebred dogs, and despite handling and winning with a variety of breeds for friends – I have to start similar to a newbie all over again. To begin with, I buy books and videos and research internet. But that is just a small step. Unless I see several good dogs at different ages , I cannot appreciate the breed at all. So I go out and get introduced to breeders and handlers.  It is not really a slow process – there is a lot of stuff that you know from other breeds that can be applied to your new breed. 

However, I learned the hard way that this can be awkward too in some cases.  I did not like the movement in a lot of goldens I saw at the national show in Malibu,CA a few years ago. So I got in touch with a judge over email, and asked him. After a few back and forth emails – I got it. I didn’t like some goldens because I was expecting them to move like German Shepherds. The scary part was that I was actually liking a few who did move the way I liked, and hence my “eye” was developing an appreciation for a wrong type of Goldens.  

Life is a bit more easier with labs – since I have owned and shown labs when I was in school, and hence have a decent foundation. But I don’t know them like I know shepherds – which means I still need lots of time invested to learn, and find some mentors to guide me when I get stuck on something. Thankfully – as with Goldens, the lab people are also a friendly crowd. I have met very few who wouldn’t answer my questions – however silly they are.  Another advantage was that I worked in UK before, and they have some great labs. So I have some exposure to good dogs. Couple of trips more to Potomac, and I will have enough to have my basics covered.

I don’t think I will ever become a “breeder” – due to the lack of time and inability to suffer like my many friends who do breed. It is not for a part timer like me – I would much rather make use of the work put in by the dedicated folks who put their hearts and souls into it, by buying from them. A good part of my education in dogs will remain incomplete since I don’t breed – maybe I will try it at retirement. Maybe not. Most probably not. But then again – if I can buy a dog that is not a German Shepherd, I suppose I can breed too someday.

It makes me wonder – when I get my next dog, what breed will he be? Will I buy a German Shepherd, a Golden or a Lab? Or will I buy something else – I also like Irish Setters, Dobes and Boxers. I don’t quite know.  A good dog of any large breed gives me goose bumps.  Maybe next time, I should buy a dog that fits Arizona climate – so may be a Saluki? If I am buying a Saluki – I need to hire a skinny handler. I cannot even imagine what ringsiders will say if I walk into a ring with a Saluki with its 3 ribs showing !