It can be hard transitioning from the life of a junior handler to that of a professional handler, but an 18-year-old from Sparta, N.J., Kelly VanNatter, doesn’t seem to show it.

Kelly enjoys going to shows with her new clients just about every weekend, and she aspires to be involved in the dog show world for many years to come.

This junior is known for having a Rottweiler at the end of her lead, but she now shows multiple Working, Sporting and Herding breeds as well. I had the chance to ask Kelly some questions to really dig into where she got started, how she got where she is today and where she sees herself in the future

Here she is…

Kelly is pictured showing her breed, the Rottweiler, at a recent show. All photos courtesy of Kelly VanNatter.

Kayla Bertagnolli: Please give us a brief account of your time in the dog show world.

Kelly VanNatter: Well, where do I begin? I got started showing dogs when my mom got a show-quality Rottweiler from Graudstark Kennels in South Carolina. I started to train her at handling classes, but never really showed her in conformation as she had a shyness issue, but she gained seven AKC points with her handler at the time. My mom then got another female from the same breeder, and from her first litter she kept two puppies, a male and a female. I showed the female, ‘Jayden,’ in Junior Showmanship where we got Best Junior Handler and multiple class placements. I also went on to win Best Junior Handler at a Rottweiler specialty from the Novice class. It was very exciting!

Then my mom had her second litter, and we kept ‘Wynne,’ another female that I later co-owned. I got her grand championship and also received multiple class placements in Junior Showmanship. In the spring of 2012, I started working for Michael and Michelle Scott, and had the opportunity to learn so much from them. It was also a lot of fun working for them. My favorite part of being their assistant was grooming and walking each individual dog, and also the one time each day when I could show my own dog!

KB: Who have been your mentors in the sport? What have you learned from them?

KV: My mom has to be my number one mentor. Without her I wouldn’t be showing dogs, nor would I have the interest that I do today. My other mentors are, as I said, Michael and Michelle Scott. They’ve taught me more about the sport of dog shows, and how to condition and train dogs, as well as what it takes to become a successful handler.

KB: Where do you see yourself and what will you be doing in five years?

KV: Five years from now, I will definitely be involved in dog shows in one way or another. Whether it’s showing or (hopefully) being a juniors judge!

KB: If you could play any role in the dog show world what would it be?

KV: It would be the person who publishes the results at the end of the day. I don’t know, it seems complicated, but fun! For now though, I enjoy handling.

KB: What challenges have you faced after aging out of Junior Showmanship and moving into handling on your own?

KV: One word: conflicts. It always seems that I have conflicts at least every day at a dog show with two or more breeds that I’m showing going into the ring at the same time. When I was a junior, I didn’t really have that problem.

Kelly being awarded Best Junior Handler under judge Edd Bivin.

KB: Which breeds do you currently handle?

KV: Currently I handle Rottweilers, Weimaraners, Boxers, Flat-Coated Retrievers, Brittanys, Bloodhounds, Frenchies, Aussies, Leonbergers, Dobermans, Dachshunds, and Red and White Setters. They are all great!

KB: When you attend shows, do you go on your own or with others?

KV: I usually go with my mom, but when she can’t attend I travel with my Australian Shepherd client, Maureen Grentus, who I’ve co-owned a dog with, my other Aussie client, Candi Dempsey, or my Leonberger client, Karen Stickel. It really just depends on when and where the show is.

KB: What advice would you give to other junior handlers who may want to pursue a handling career after Junior Showmanship?

KV: Go for your dreams because five years from now you might be living your dream.

KB: Describe to us your most memorable moment in the ring.

KV: Honestly, when I pointed my first Rottweiler. It was one of my and my mom’s puppies.

KB: Any last words?

KV: For junior handlers who want to pursue their dreams of becoming a handler, go for your dream and don’t hold back!

In the words of Kelly, don’t hold back and don’t forget, Dogs Freakin’ Rule!