Tag Archives: showing dogs

Being an Owner Handler is NOT a Death Sentence

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!

good sport
Photo by Bob Segal

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! 



Another chapter in our review of the Gordon Setter breed standard

Barb Manson

Written by  Barbara Manson

There are a few things that we need to tie together in regard to the standard.  I’ve discussed most of the pieces but we need to see how they work together to create a good quality Gordon Setter.  As breeders and exhibitors, it’s important that we not “fool” ourselves as we evaluate our own dogs and those of our competitors.  We want what’s best for our breed and we need to be confident and articulate in regards to our choices.  We must also establish, in our own minds, what represents a correct Gordon Setter and what is simply personal preference.  These can be two separate things.  By so doing, we are keeping our minds open and we are better able to evaluate the qualities found in competitors dogs.  This is vital if we are to advance our breed.

Photo by Ben Perez, 2016 GSCA National Specialty


What does the judge see when he/she is evaluating our dogs on the go around.  We all know he sees dogs who may be limping.  These dogs are usually excluded from competition because they are considered unsound on that day.  If you’re new, and this happens to you, don’t worry.  This has happened to most of us at one time or another.  Though disheartening, you will compete another day.  There are many other things that can be seen from the judge’s vantage point.  Under general appearance, size is mentioned.  I’ve covered this previously, but the judge can do an initial comparison between competitors at this point.  He should also see an “active, upstanding and stylish” dog ” appearing capable of doing a full day’s work in the field”.  Balance, and how all the pieces I’ve discussed fit together, is also apparent.  A “long, lean” neck, a “rather short back” and “a short tail” can be seen along with a correct topline on the move.  The expectation is a “high head carriage” and a back that remains relatively level on the move, not running down hill or overly slopingshoulder to rear.  The correctness of the tailset and its relationship to the croup is in evidence at this point.  The tail should appear as an extension of the back and be “carried horizontal or nearly so”.  The gait should be “bold, strong, driving and free-swinging”.  The tail flags constantly while the dog is in motion”.  So what constitutes a “free-swinging” gait?  It is a “smooth flowing, well balanced rhythm, in which the action is pleasing to the eye, effortless, economical and harmonious”.   The dog moves so easily it seems as though he is floating and could move that way all day without tiring.  If you’re the handler of such a dog, you can actually feel him ” collect” himself as he starts to move.

Photo by Ben Perez, 2016 GSCA National Specialty

Temperament also comes into play here.  He appears, at this point, “alert, gay, interested and confident”.  He is “fearless and willing”.  Many of us have had the experience of trying to show a dog who was not exactly “willing”.  It’s not what we want to see in the ring but when this happens, I prefer to think of them as “strong minded enough to stand the rigors of training”.  Some are just more strong minded than others.  We’ll discuss training techniques another day but this can be one of the challenges of showing a Gordon Setter.  It may take time and patience, but even the tough nuts can be cracked.  As you consider the importance of these impressions, remember, they are the first thing the judge sees on the initial go around.  He sees them again when your dog is evaluated individually, and they are the last thing he sees before he points his finger.  These impressions are big clues as to the dog’s ability to withstand a long day in the field.  Dogs who exhibit these attributes are a pleasure to watch and they draw your eye to them.  They may seem elegant but closer examination should reveal substance.  They are, after all, Setters.

Photo by Ben Perez, 2016 GSCA National Specialty

I’ve had a couple of people bring up the amount of coat we are seeing in the ring today.  Heavily coated dogs are certainly much more prevalent today than they were when I came into the breed.  You can look back through old reviews and see how this factor has changed.  The current standard only addresses coat as “soft and shining, straight or slightly waved, but not curly”.  It goes on to describe where the long coat appears, but gives no parameters regarding how much coat our dogs should carry. It was once said, you could hunt with your Gordon on Saturday and show him in the ring on Sunday.  That’s definitely harder to do today.  I truly believe you can still finish a championship on a well constructed dog, under knowledgable judges, without an over abundance of coat.

Photo by Ben Perez, 2016 GSCA National Specialty

Once you move to the specials ring, the game is stepped up a bit.  To compete in today’s groups, coat and presentation become big factors.  I believe it would be very hard to pull out group placements and specialty breed wins without it.  It’s become an expectation.  The dogs who are truly competitive at this level, generally have more than coat and meticulous grooming going for them.  I urge breeders and newcomers to politely seek out opportunities to examine as many of these dogs as possible.  I will bet you find “hidden” attributes you didn’t know were there.  That said, if you bought a dog with an abundance of coat for hunting, but you also want to show him in the breed ring, be prepared to take measures to protect the coat or make choices as to which endeavors you wish to pursue and when.  I don’t think we will be returning to the way things were in the sixties or seventies.

Photo by Ben Perez, 2016 GSCA National Specialty


I really enjoyed seeing many of you at the National.  The committee did a great job and I enjoyed the low key atmosphere.  It was so nice, as it always is, to see the dogs.  Thank you to all who participated in the hands on breeders education and a special thank you to those who shared their dogs with us.  Without you, it would not have been a success.

Barbara Manson, Stoughton  WI

Photographs by Ben Perez are shared for your viewing pleasure and are not intended to illustrate any specific point in this article.

Photo by Ben Perez, 2016 GSCA National Specialty


Getting in the Bubble – Let Show Nerves float away!

OK,  I get that everyone else talks about “getting in the zone” and so you’re probably thinking I’m being my wonderfully bizarre self (sometimes I just need to pump myself up with happy thoughts) flipping phrases around, and meanwhile you really want to shout out “hey dummy, why are you talking about getting in the bubble, it’s supposed to be zone” – am I right? I mean, really, a bubble is mostly just hot air (if blown by mouth), which means it is hot air surrounded by soap. Yuck, hot breath and soap? Bubble? Really?bubble 1

Well, the answer is simple, I had these really neat bubble photos by Susan Roy Nelson and I wanted to share them somewhere on my blog with you. So, for purposes of this article we’re going to be talking about “getting into the bubble” because I think bubbles are pretty, they float, they make me think of lightness and air, they are calm and serene, but mostly because I have photos of bubbles to share that Susan took and they are awesomely fun! Besides, what’s a stupid zone look like anyway? A No Parking Zone? A Loading Zone? Those aren’t cute visions and the photos would be boring and  probably ugly to boot. So bubbles it is – we’ll be “getting in the bubble’ to show our dogs.

bubble5I’m no stranger to ring nerves and with just a bit of thought I can still recall the terror of my early days in the sport. Yep, it was terror I experienced back then and it felt something like a panic attack magnified by an earthquake with chasms in the earth opening all around me. You’ll never get me to believe there is anyone who has never had that rolling stomach madness – “oh my God I’m going to puke” – “just whose bright idea was this?” – “what the hell am I doing here and damn, where is that exit sign ’cause I gotta run?” scrambling through their brain in thin, never wavering, ever-increasing lines like ants racing to a picnic. And, despite my agonizing and growing panic attack my Gordon would be gazing up at me with those ever adoring eyes, drool hanging from his lip or flipped cavalierly over his muzzle , his nose and inch from my pocket just pleading with all his heart and soul for those special cookies I’d tucked in there. He didn’t care much about the ants running around in my brain. “Frankly Scarlett, I don’t give a damn, not about your ants or your exploding brain”. That might just have been his actual thought, if dogs could have thoughts in people talk. What do dogs think I wonder? What does it sound like to them when they think a thought? Is it like the little voices I hear in my head when I’m thinking? …oh, wait, that’s another story!

Now then, what are we going to do to get the ants out of your head, and bubbles on your brain instead when you’re heading into the ring with that Gordon Setter of yours?

Well, there’s an old wives tale that’s told ’round the show ring, kind of like the tales of the wild west told ’round the campfire, that goes “if you get nervous it will travel straight down the lead to the dog”. I ask you, if our dogs are that good at reading our feelings through the lead, then how the heck is it, that my Gordon Setter, who has decided to drag me willy nilly down the street as he plunges after the streaking stray cat that ran across the road front of us, how is it that he doesn’t know that I’m mad as hell? I mean, if my feelings are traveling down the lead shouldn’t he be just a little bit frightened by the murderous feeling that erupted the instant he ripped my arm from its socket when he dove madly after the cat? See now, you’re smiling at how absurd that all sounded – that’s the bubble stuff working – focusing on the here and now – focusing on bubbles and breathing – yes breathing too – breathing is good so we’ll throw that in there for good measure.

Focus on the NOW (the bubble) and not the “WHAT IF”(that bubble popping thingamajiggy) if you want to overcome ring nerves

bubble9The “what if” thoughts are the nasty, biting, little red ant trails that got in your head. See it’s like this, you have one ant trail heading north screaming “will Gordon behave, what if he acts up?” Another ant trail heading east crossing the northbound lane that’s hollering “what if he trips me and I fall” while a third ant trail heads southwest chattering “I sure hope my underwear don’t show when I bend over in this tight skirt” and – ok – well – you get the picture, you’re head’s full of “what if” thoughts and none of them are pretty. Hey, it’s completely natural for handlers, especially new owner handlers, to feel nervous or apprehensive before going in the ring, but I can promise you for sure that even if something were to go wrong for you, it’s already happened a couple hundred million times before, and everyone before you survived to tell the tale…around the campfire, out west, if that’s your preferred story telling spot!  So let’s get out the “Brain Raid” and spray those nasty little ant trail thoughts until they’re all dead, crunchy, little bodies and your brain is free again and floating in a clear bubble.bubble8

I get it, it’s not that easy and there is no such thing as Brain Raid so how’s that going to work? You’re right, it was probably a stupid idea to use Raid. Yes, I know it’s true that no matter how much you practice outside the ring you can still get really, really nervous in the ring, and when you get nervous you change, even if it’s only fractionally, the way you do things. And when you change things up a bit, that my friends is what goes down the lead to the dog, a new and different signal, and that is what gets the dog confused about your intentions. He’s not sure anymore what you want from him, so then he behaves differently than you wanted him to, and from there the whole thing can take a downward spiral into a mixed up, jumbled up mess fulfilling your worst nightmare. What travels down the lead to the dog are your intentions, and if they are the same signals inside the ring that you gave him outside the ring you’re in the bubble. If they’re not the same signals because you’re nervous, well then you’re in trouble. Not nearly as pretty to see as a bubble.

Think about this. How many times have you seen someone outside the ring stacking or letting their dog self stack, gaiting the dog up and back, that kind of thing? Well that’s what I mean about practicing signals with a dog. Handler does this, dog does that, the world’s a happy place. And when the dog did what that handler wanted they rewarded the dog with a big hug, loads of praise or a crazy, wild, happy “atta boy”! They reward the dog with GUSTO to reinforce the good behavior! But then, the steward calls their number, that handler goes in the ring with that same dog and suddenly you can hear a pin drop around that person! No verbal words of encouragement, no sweet talking, no whispering in the dog’s ear “you’re my baby” and  no handy, dandy liver treats. Not even a pat on the head. Total silence and just physical contact from the handler via the lead. Now, since the dog doesn’t know why their handler is giving them the silent treatment nor why they put away the cookie jar, the dog can get pretty confused. These aren’t the signals he’s used to. And that is the turning point, when it starts to show in how the dog performs. Think your dog is ring smart, turning off the minute they walk in the ring? Sorry, but it may have been you who taught him to do just that.bubble

Guess what? The solution to this problem is simple! You don’t need to teach your dog new tricks, you’re going to teach yourself a few instead. Start with keeping your focus on what you need to do and stop allowing your thoughts to stray to worrying about the judge, your peers, or all the things that might go wrong. I know, I know, it sounds simpler than it is, but really it’s not that hard…just picture yourself, focus your thoughts, on being in the bubble, right then at that very moment!

bubble6No switching persona when you walk in the ring, just you, your dog, the judge – oh, and your bubble! What you do outside the ring, at class, at home, where ever and when ever you practice with your dog, well for crying out loud just continue to communicate that way with your dog in the ring, do what you do when training your dog, do the things you do to let him know he’s responding as you want, don’t change a thing (well handstands, handstands might have to be left off if you do those to reward your dog. And maybe back flips, those might look out of place in the ring also so maybe your dog can do without those happy gestures, but besides for those two things don’t change a thing). If you act the same, send the same signals and communicate with your dog the same way in the ring as you do outside of it, your dog will respond just like you expect him to – well most of the time anyway; sometimes there are butterflies to chase, birds overhead, a flipping, floating plastic bag, or some crazy good-looking bitch two rings down! But crazy, funny happenstance aside, by concentrating on being in the bubble, with that bubble being your goal and the signals you need to send for you and your dog to achieve that goal. Concentrate on your bubble and you will find that you automatically focus yourself on the task at hand rather than on those ants in your head, you’ll be “in the bubble.”  And bubbles are marvelous, and bubbles can win!

…for those moments of extreme duress

sing a little song

Tiny bubbles
In the wine
Make me happy
Make me feel fine

drink a little wine!

The End


Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Photos by Susan Roy Nelson, WY

Song lyrics – Tiny Bubbles  by Don Ho

Preferred Breed Type – Why the Stand-out Dog Can Be a Loser!

… “Ask Yourself These Questions”

  • Why do breeder judges put dogs with handlers when they know the animal does not represent breed excellence?
  • Why do handlers accept such dogs knowing once they finish, they will be “petted out”?
  • Are you kennel blind and do you breed to standard?
  • Should breeders and newcomers read the standard prior to stud and bitch selection?
  • When will more mentors open up to newcomers?
  • And lastly, are “gas money” and “filler” dogs destroying our sport?

Today we share a link to an article Preferred Breed Type: Why the Stand-Out Dog Can Be a Loser! written by Edna “Katie” Gammil, it can apply to any breed, including our Gordon Setter. Good food for thought concerning breed type and common trends in breeds, raising issues that every serious breeder should consider as we’re making our breeding choices.

Photo by Bob Segal 2015 North Country Specialty
Photo by Bob Segal
2015 North Country Specialty

Katie writes…When “current type” does not equal correctness, the best dog can lose because in many rings, the fatal flaw is being a stand-out.  A dog show friend, absent from the sport for several years, attended some local shows with me. Welcoming the opportunity to view dogs in general after her sabbatical, she became visually distressed. Her despair increased when a “less than average” class dog received BOB. The waning quality in her beautiful breed breaks her heart. She stated it would be wasted effort to show a dog correct to the standard today, as some judges feel compelled to award dogs conforming to the majority of the entries.” 

Observing other breeds, she remarks on the lack of neck, restricted front movement and the lack of rear follow through; we discuss “gay tails” and breed type variances. We watch faulty movement and see coats dragging the ground. Weak pasterns and sickle hocks complete the picture. She wonders what causes this to happen to functional dogs in such a short time. It seems the correct dogs have fallen victim to what one may refer to as the “Perfection of Mediocrity”.   Read the entire article by clicking here…

Preferred Breed Type: Why the Stand-Out Dog Can Be a Loser! by Katie Gammil

Photos by Bob Segal from the 2015 North Country Specialty.

Photos are for your viewing pleasure and are not intended to illustrate any point related to this article.

Photo by Bob Segal 2015 North Country Specialty
Photo by Bob Segal
2015 North Country Specialty