Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Showing dogs is a competitive sport. Sometimes having a good dog isn’t enough. Sometimes you need that something extra.

With today’s economy, showing dogs has become a luxury that many people can no longer afford. But if you breed and show dogs, the call of the competition ring is calling to you so you may have to ask yourself can I win showing my own dog? The answer is of course you can! Then the next question you should ask yourself is, are you up for the challenge? Are you in good enough shape to run around the ring several times? Will your dog perform for you or will he just run by your side? Will he set up for you and look noble and alert in the ring or will he be trying to turn around to lick your face? Can you take losing to a professional handler many more times than you would like? Can you be a good sport and come back and hope to win the next day and the next until you finish his championship?

Naturally you can train your dog to bait for you when you set him up by waving a piece of liver in his face while telling him to stay. But how do you get him to pull out for you? Showing a dog yourself in an all-breed show is easier because of the size of the smaller ring. Baiting a dog is a very accepted practice in the all breed shows and many times you’ll see it in the larger specialty rings as well.

Showing and winning with your dog can be a very rewarding experience. However, statistics will prove that more dogs finish their championships with a professional handler showing them. Should you give up then? Not if you truly enjoy showing your own dogs and find it a fun thing to do. There’s nothing more marvelous than finishing you own dog, I would assume. I don’t know. I never did it myself. Just know that when you step inside that ring, you will be rubbing elbows with some of the top professionals in the breed. Watch and learn from them. Some of them are even friendly enough to give you a few tips, but remember they are being paid to win and they might help you some, but their there to beat you.

I have always used professional handlers to show my dogs. I’ve probably hired most of the top handlers on the east coast at one time or another. For those who are new to the show world, you might ask, just what is it that a professional handler does? For many years, most of the time the owner of the dog would bring the animal to the show and the handler would take him into the ring and show him. Some of the better handlers would even help you groom the dogs. Now days, some of the handlers have facilities to train and board your dog to prepare him for the show ring. You pay him normally a monthly fee to board and train the dog. Many owners will send their dogs out with a handler when they can’t go to a show themselves but want to show under certain judges. Then they wait for the handler to call them with the show results.

You hire a professional handler to do what you can’t or don’t want to do. The handler will show your dog according to that dogs best qualities. Normally the handler has an eye for a good dog. He knows the best of your dog and also his minor faults. It is up to the handler to bring out the best and hide the rest. Example: your dog is a beautiful standing dog when he's in a stacked show stance, but his croup is a little flat. The handler will know how to groom the croup to make it look less flat.

A good professional handler will be honest with his client. If a dog is not of the best quality to be competitive in the ring, then he should tell you so. A good handler knows what type of dog wins in the show ring. You are paying him to be honest with you and to let you know if you have that kind of dog. You’re not only paying him for his expertise in the ring, but also his knowledge of the breed and knowledge of what the judge likes. Remember he wants to win almost as much as you do. Also you should know, just because you think “Rover” is the best thing on the planet, doesn’t mean he has what it takes to be a winning show dog. Take him home and love him anyway.

Many times you will see today’s handlers grooming your dogs for you before he goes into the ring. This is an added bonus of hiring a good handler. Also he might take the dog out into the field to work with him ahead of time especially if it’s a new dog that he hasn’t shown before. This gives the handler and dog some time to get familiar with one another. This gives your handler a “feel” for your dog. Sometimes the handler will advise you what type of collar they like to use and what length leash would be best to show your dog with.

How do you find and decide who to hire to show your dog? The best advice I would say is to go to the shows and watch the handler’s performance in the ring. Watch how they handle the dog. Talk to the people who sit at ringside and ask their opinions about different handlers. Word of mouth is probably the best advertisement when choosing a handler. If they have a website, go on it to look and read about their accomplishments. If you ever decide you want to send your dogs for training visit their kennels and look for cleanliness of the place and most of all look at the condition of the dogs they have there already. Also, how does your dog react to this person? Does he like them? Does the handler show a genuine interest in your dog? Ask other people if they have sent their dogs to this person’s kennel.

Professional handlers can be expensive. You will not only pay for their handling of your dog, but you’ll also help pay for their traveling expenses to get to and from the show. You’ll help pay for their meals and hotel if they are staying over night to show your dog. Besides the handlers fee of showing your dog in a class, if he wins and has to go back in to the Winners class, you might get charged again for that class. If he wins that class and goes back in for Best of Breed, you might get charged for that class as well. Check with your handler BEFORE you show to know what his expenses and fees will be. If the handler is showing more than just your dog, he usually divides his traveling and expenses among his clients. Again check with him BEFORE you commit to him.

Realize that there are good handlers and not so good handlers. A good handler is one who is knowledgeable about the breed and the judges (their likes and dislikes), who has a love for the breed, who has a good way of interacting with the dogs, who shows the dog to the best of his ability, and one who has a connection with your dog and who will do his best to bring out your dogs best! Most of all a good handler loves what he’s doing and that love extends right on down through the leash to the dog that he’s handling. Your dog should not be intimidated by the handler – respect him (yes), but not intimidated by him. If it’s not fun for your dog, then he’s not going to show well and won’t be a winning dog.

No matter which way you choose to show your dog – either by a professional or yourself, it should always be fun for you and your dog. If it isn’t then you need to address why that is. There is nothing more rewarding then showing and winning with your dog and when he finishes his championship, the pride you’ll feel – well there’s nothing quite equal it in the dog world.

I am all for the professional dog handler. I have NEVER had a problem with any of them and as I’ve said, I’ve hired the best of them. I would recommend them over and over again.

Professional handler rates: this will vary greatly by each individual many times according to his years of experience and expertise in winning - $45 a class and up. Special fees for winners and Best of Breed you should be aware of ahead of time. Traveling and expenses will vary. Also remember many clients will give a bonus to a professional handler if they win the points or take Best of Breed at the show that day. A bonus is just that – a bonus. It should be something that the client gives as an extra special way of saying “thank you.” It should not be a given nor should a handler tack it on to your bill and expect you to pay it.

My rating: expertise: (4), professionalism: (4), knowledge: (4), value: (4)


  1. I heard from a lot of people on this subject but they wrote to me on my e-mail lists rather than here on the blog. So this is some of the feedback that I received.....some people said that they would like to finish their dogs themselves without relying on a handler to do it. Some gave up hope of ever winning without the handler's expertise. Some felt too old or had health problems so the handler was the way that they would have their dog's shown. Then there was one woman who was a successful handler in other breeds, but try as she may, she just wasn't able to finish her German Shepherd.

  2. I have been fortunate enough to develop a good relationship with a professional handler over the last 10 plus years. He has made showing fun for me, even when we lost (which when you figure out what you are paying for a weekend, you better at LEAST enjoy yourself!). He takes crates to the show and the dog is in his custody for the duration...watering, xing, AND grooming. I do my part by bringing him a clean well maintained animal who is able to compete at the level we are asking of him. We work together to determine which shows we will enter and if he has an opinion on a specific one, I do listen. It is difficult, but not impossible, to get your GSD to pull out ahead of you (not many other breeds do this!) but it IS hard going up against pro's who are out there every weekend. I do not have the physical ability to keep up with a flying GSD, so hiring a handler is my only option. IMHO, it does make the weekend more fun and less work. BTW...the handler is Philip Moore.

  3. Hey Dawn: you commented about the GS pulling out in front of you that not many other breeds do this. That's because the GS is the only breed of dog that has a flying trot....all four feet off the ground at the same time. This is how a trotting horse would move. Because of this unique gait, the dog is judged on his movement. Many other dogs are not known as movement dogs, but the GS is. He's not meant to just pitter patter by the handlers side. On the other hand, he's not meant to pull like a raving lunatic either. This only serves to distort the outline of the dog.

  4. Thanks for this post! I am trying to learn more about pro handlers, as I am not able to make it to many shows with my dogs. Sounds like I just need to do a little research to make sure I pick a well qualified handler!

  5. Hi Frank: when you get a spare moment or two, do try to go to a couple of specialty shows and talk to different people and watch and learn. Find out who they think may be a good handler for your needs. Wait to talk to some handlers at the end of the show if you can. Good luck!

  6. Barbara, thanks for the advice! I actually haven't been able to make it to a specialty show for a long time, but that does sound like a great idea. I haven't talked to many handlers at the various shows I have been able to attend because they always seem to be so busy. I will try to snag a few of them if I can at the end of the day, and also will talk to any owners who have their dogs out with handlers to see what their opinions are. I originally wanted to strictly owner/handle, but I just don't think my dogs will ever finish this way (only going to 2-3 shows a year, and not being professionally handled.)

  7. You're welcome Frank. It can be hard to finish your own dog, but it is done. It depends on the dog and his attitude. Sometimes they'll just run right next to you and won't look as good as if a professional handler showed him.