Owner Handler Eat Cake
Entries plummet as costs climb, bad dogs shown by good handlers win, but good judges still award owner-handled dogs.
Nov. 2012 | TheDogPress
Sue McClure, Prominent Wolfhound Breeder-Owner-Handler
When I first started showing my wolfhounds, another exhibitor, who used a handler, told me if I wanted to win majors I couldn't owner handle, I was going to have to hire handler. I replied, “If that’s true, I’ll quit, as there would be no point in showing.”
Since that first wolfhound, I’ve bred and shown my own dogs and others to their AKC championships and to placements in specialties. I’ve trained others to owner handle their own dogs and they have gone on to win group, BIS and specialty wins. The pleasure of owner-handling involves more than just winning. For most in the dog show world, it is a social event, a hobby that involves family members. It is a love affair with a breed, an outlet for stress and a way to enjoy doing things with your dog. Do you remember when you met friends at the show, put your x-pens together for the dogs to play and you had a tailgate party? That’s what more and more of us are saying…”Do you remember when?”
AKC has put out a moratorium on approving shows while they figure out why the big drops in entries. That’s closing the barn door a little late. Breeder/owner handlers have been lamenting the situation for years, as more and more people dropped out, but no one “upstairs” has been listening. Sure animal rights movements, restrictive laws, and high license fees are hurting responsible breeders and the economy is taking its toll, but AKC is doing its part to discourage participation as well. If you live in New York City or large urban areas, you may have “too many shows” but if you live in an area like the panhandle of Florida, you will be driving over 3 hours to most shows and 8 hours to find a major! True, adding more shows hurts entries for long established shows but let’s remember people who live in Hattisburg, MS will never have as many shows near them as people in Chicago do, and AKC should take that into account.
AKC needs to do more to get dog shows back into the realm of family sport and encourage owner handlers instead of such a professional sport. Magazine features and televised shows seem to be all about who the handlers and long time breeder-handlers are… This year the Westminster newscaster (not the experienced judge-commentator) said, “…so it’s all about the handlers in this (BIS) competition…” What does that project to novice handlers?
AKC has encouraged big money shows; they have allowed shows go to the middle of the week in clusters, great for professionals but not for what used to be the backbone of dog breeding – the smaller “dedicated-to-their-breed breeders” and owner handlers who have 40-hr-a-week jobs. When I tried to discuss this with an AKC rep at our show, pointing out that the people showing their own dogs couldn’t make the middle of the week shows, she gave me a cavalier, “Well, it’s not a family sport” answer that reminded me of the alleged “Let them eat cake” remark by an oblivious queen that lost her head. She was pushing our club to move our show to a cluster farther south. How does that fall into serving our own community? What happened to “you must give a show within 25 miles of your club’s location”? Who does it benefit having 4 shows in one location? First guess – those who don’t have to move their set ups, not those living in the area. Certainly not owner handlers.
When someone wanted our club to offer $1000 for BIS to bring in more handlers, I turned to our catalog to prove to the board that the majority of dogs at our show were being shown by their owners. Over 56% of the entry had been shown by their owners or breeders. The board agreed to try it one time with the cash award and we got a total of 4 more dogs…the handlers were surprised when they got the checks… they didn’t read the premiums and it wasn’t why they had entered our show. It’s the judging panel people are looking at when they check the premium.
In our area, 8 of the shows I used to attend are no longer held on weekends, cutting my showing and ability to find majors by more than half while doubling my expenses. And at the rate show giving clubs are bleeding money, this trend will continue. Those dog clubs giving independent shows will go under and as more of the smaller weekend shows disappear, the less the average exhibitor is able to continue going to all breed shows. Many influential breeders now just go to specialties.
While people like to think it is a myth that handlers can finish anything, many of us owner handlers with enough years in our breed to know a good dog, know it is not a myth. I’ve seen multiple specialty winners get beat by generic dogs under handlers. I recently attended a seminar where two judges said the advertising in show magazines have no effect. I work in marketing. Millions are spent on advertising and it isn’t because it has no effect. If for no other reason than looking at the same winning dog in publication after publication fixes one’s eye to that dog as what is correct, it is effective. Dogs that win in one area may not win in another area because the dogs they are up against look different, or the judge was mentored where different kennels with a different look are predominant. I once had someone ask me what was wrong with an Irish Wolfhound’s topline because he was the odd man out in the line up – the only one with a slight curve over the loin. The onlooker thought it must be incorrect.
The same principle comes into play with weeklong clusters. Judges are seeing the same dogs with handlers constantly. The weekend warrior may have a dog that has won a specialty but as an owner handler, he isn’t out there constantly, and he is overlooked by judges that aren’t totally up on that breed. When earnest breeders of good dogs begin to feel it doesn’t matter how nice a dog they have when they are showing against heavily campaigned dogs or under judges not strong enough to put a decidedly better dog over a professionally handled dog, they leave the sport.
Remember that catalog accounting of owner-handled dogs? I don’t think it is any coincidence that entries are down about 50%.
AKC Pay attention, please! Owner handlers don’t want cake, we just want a fair shake.