I’m an owner handler exhibitor – well, I used to be an owner handler before I matured into an older lady who runs with a gimp, if she runs at all – I let a handler do the running these days. But, while I was an owner handler I love, love, loved being in the ring, and it goes without saying that my love amplified to a rock music decibel when I won. I’ve finished many dogs from many various classes, especially Bred by Exhibitor, and I’ve won my fair share of trips to the winners circle at Gordon Setter Specialties. Group judging was beyond what I considered my forte, that’s where I’d really expect a dog to shine, and knowing my limitations, that’s when I would choose to step back and let a pro take the lead. Today, because of my physical restrictions, I content myself to sit ring side leading the cheering squad. And, manning the water bucket…and handing over the brush…and passing out the bait…
With that said, frequently, I hear comments by exhibitors about how political the judging was, or how “the win” was stacked before the show even started. And just as frequently, I happened to agree with the judge’s decision that day (even if my dog lost) which left me wondering if falling back on that oft voiced complaint, was doing more harm to exhibitors than most of us realize. Certainly if you think about it, if my dog with a pro handling was a winner that day, I didn’t think that judging was political…I thought we deserved that win. Wouldn’t you? For the winners sake, and many other reasons, I’m hoping to help bring understanding, especially for folks who are struggling to win, about the many, many variables of conformation judging. Sometimes, and often times, politics had nothing to do with the winners that day. I’d like us to give judges, the pros, and the sport a break, at least when it’s deserved!
When I’m watching judging, I am often overwhelmed with the desire to help some hapless exhibitor gain control over their dog, or grab a dog to help the owner learn a better way to groom, or maybe just to shake an exhibitor into consciousness so they go to the ring when called. I’m no professional folks, I’m just like all of you, but one thing I do know, and would share with you, is my belief and experience that the professional often wins because he or she is a professional, doing a professional job. (can you paint your car, bake cupcakes, do taxes, or any one of a million other jobs as well as a pro?) Most times there is an obvious difference in the ring appearance of a professionally handled dog versus the owner entry, and what I would share is that we owner handlers must develop our skill so we look and act like the pro, to make our dogs appear their best, to present only well-groomed, conditioned and trained dogs, if we intend to compete on an equal level. Owner handlers can and do win without doubt, but we too must do the work of a pro, and earn our wins by showing the judge the best our dog has to offer.
So, I started out to write this blog about what an owner handler can master to be competitive in the dog show ring, when I remembered that well-worn phrase “Google It” and that worked! I found many well written articles that offer the same advice I would write for you. Whether you’re just starting as a novice handling your own dog, or simply believe you “just can’t win”, before complaining or blaming another for your loss, or worse yet leave the sport, perhaps you’ll read this, take time to evaluate yourself and your dog, and objectively consider the “picture” you and your Gordon Setter presented when you lost. Did you do your best but were beaten that time by a better dog, or could you have done something more to improve the odds in your dog’s favor? No, it’s not always your fault your dog loses, but you’ve got to even the playing field first with skill, know your dog’s attributes and faults, and then consider, carefully, very carefully, if politics was at play, or if perhaps, you just don’t agree with this judge’s opinion on this particular set of dogs.
I love owner handlers and I would do anything to help you win, so you learn to love the sport as much as me, because I’ve lived that dream and know it can happen…but if you want really good advice, ask the pros, and take the time, lots of time, to watch them work, really watch them in action. There is so much you can learn there!
There’s a list below, links to articles to help you prepare to win. These are a great place to help get you to the place where you can know the thrill of being a winning owner handler. (Oh, and also “Google It” for yourself, there’s so much more information out there, I’ve only picked a few.)
Finally, go to dog shows to watch and observe. Spend hours watching the grooming, various random breed classes, the Groups etc., paying close attention to the pro’s and those winning owner handlers! Best use of your time and classroom setting ever!
Win or Lose never forget BE A GOOD SPORT!
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ
Photo by Bob Segal from GSCA National Specialty 2014
Owner Handler Advice
Video link: Want to Win Best in Show as an Owner Handler?
Looking Back with Lee – Pro Handlers vs. Owner-Handlers – being an Owner-Handler is not a DEATH SENTENCE!