Today I am pleased to share with you my recent interview with 14-year-old Marina Nagatani from Visalia, Calif. Marina began showing dogs at the same time as her mother, just six years ago. With a lot of hard work, dedication and passion, they have become standouts in the show world.

Marina shows Maltese, not only in the breed ring, but even more successfully as a Junior Handler. Just last year, Marina finished the year with 23 first place wins from the Open Intermediate and Masters classes, and nine Best Junior Handler awards, including winning Best Junior Handler at the American Maltese Association National Specialty.

Marina looks forward to competing next month at the 2013 Westminster Kennel Club show with her juniors dog ‘Lucy,’ and she offers a few words for any juniors out there interested in showing a Toy dog.

Oh, and believe me, this four-time Number 1 Maltese junior handler and four-time Best Junior Handler at the National Specialty knows exactly what she’s talking about! Let’s find out what she has to share with us.

Kayla Bertagnolli: First, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Let’s start of by letting DFR readers into your own world a little bit! What is your background in dog shows? How did this all get started?

Marina Nagatani: Well, it started six years ago when my mother decided she wanted a small dog. After almost getting a Malti-poo, she stumbled onto a list of show breeders and found one about an hour away. That evening, we drove home with our first Maltese puppy, who was 4 months old at the time. We bought her on a pet contract with limited registration, but it sparked an interest in showing, and six years later my mom and I now have a fairly successful Maltese breeding program and show almost every weekend.

In addition, that same Maltese puppy we got is the one I have been showing in Junior Showmanship since the beginning, and she has been a great juniors dog who still loves to show after all these years.

KB: How often do you attend dog shows? And when you go to shows what do you show?

MN: My mom and I usually go to shows every weekend, and I show in Junior Showmanship and breed. Also, from time to time I am asked to help other breeders show their dogs in breed. I really like getting experience in showing other breeds so I always love it when I am asked to help. My long-term goal is to show dogs from every Group!

Marina and ‘Lucy,’ Dreams Of Sunnydale Illusen, proving that hard work does pay off.

Marina and ‘Lucy,’ Dreams Of Sunnydale Illusen, proving that hard work does pay off.

KB: What do you like to do in your free time?

MN: I enjoy playing the violin and cello, so that takes up a lot of free time, and I like to read and write, as well and play on my computer when I have time.

KB: As a junior handler with a dog in what is perhaps the toughest Group, what are some of the challenges you face in and out of the ring?

MN: I don’t think people realize how many hours it takes to get a Maltese ready for the show ring. It takes hours of bathing, blow drying, teasing, etc. Also maintaining a drop coat has its challenges, and it’s not something I can slack off on during the week between shows. My juniors dog needs to be brushed every day and bathed at least once between shows. For me, learning to do the topknots was my biggest challenge and it still takes me a long time to do them, so I have to make sure I give myself plenty of time before ring time.

When I’m in the show ring, sometimes I’ve had a larger dog run up on my dog and I am always making sure that my dog is not in a position where she could be at risk of being attacked or stepped on. Much different than in the breed ring.

For the breed of dog I show, weather can also be a factor. Trying to keep the coat looking well presented during a windy outdoor show can be a challenge. Rain can also be a problem, but I am lucky that my juniors dog is pretty much all-terrain. She will show well in any type of weather, although sometimes the shows with longer grass can be more difficult for her to walk in.

KB: What words of advice do you have for anyone interested in showing a Toy dog in juniors?

MN: I’d just say go for it. There aren’t a lot of Toy juniors out there, especially in California. Every time I see a new junior with a Toy dog who is just starting to show, I try to go up to them and offer to help them. Showing a Toy dog isn’t as easy as it looks, and I respect anyone who is willing to show them in juniors.

KB: On that note, is there anyone in particular who has helped you to grow throughout your juniors career?

MN: There have been many people who have helped me over the years, but I have to say that Pat Keen Fernandes, Janice Pardue and Sarah Lawrence have helped me in so many ways. I definitely would not be where I am today without their advice and guidance. They have been nothing but willing and supportive toward me, and I cannot thank them enough.

KB: This will be your second consecutive year showing at Westminster Kennel Club. What goals do you hope to fulfill this year?

MN: The juniors that qualified this year are all great handlers, so it will be very stiff competition. I’m hoping to make at least one of the cuts. That would be a great achievement for me, and making the finals would be a dream come true!

KB: What is your greatest memory in the junior showmanship ring?

MN: Probably my first Best Junior Handler. It was my first time showing in the Open Intermediate class and also the first time showing my special, GCh. Million Dollar Question of Marquess. I had 12 in my class, and I was not expecting to place, let alone win. Then when I went on to win my first Best Junior, my mind was blown. It was a very exciting experience, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

KB: Any last words?

MN: I would like to thank my mother and friends for all the support they have given me over the past five years. I really don’t know where I’d be without dog shows and the wonderful people involved in the sport.

There you have it DFR readers! Marina is living proof that while showing a Toy dog can be hard, it can also be rewarding!

P.S. Dogs Freakin’ Rule