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As The Wheels Turn


A year or so ago I encountered a very dear old friend, quite visibly upset. He wouldn’t talk about it. But his wife filled me in a bit. A “hot” young handler had “dissed” the very successful elder statesman and he was deeply hurt.

I was sad for my friend, but it wasn’t something I could fix. Until the young man, who happens to be someone I also know and generally like, started running his mouth at me on the topic.

A very Golden Rule!

My response went something like this: “Don’t! Just don’t open your mouth. You don’t have the chops for it. (Insert handler’s name) has been doing this for twice as long as you’ve been alive! Part of being professional is respecting your elders.”

“But he….”

“NO! I said don’t do it! Keep your mouth shut. You don’t have to like or agree with him, but you show respect where it is due.”

The young man’s eyes bugged out, but he quit yapping, at least to me.

I suppose part of the nature of our sport makes folks want to “take out” the competition…. Sort of like young animals vying for position as alpha in the pack, challenging the old “bull of the woods,” if you will. Nonetheless, it is disconcerting to watch established, successful breeders, handlers, club members, you name it, being baldly, even boldly, disrespected by younger, greener over-achievers.

Certainly, a changing of the guard takes place naturally as we all age and slow down. That is reality. My observation is more to do with a generational shift taking place in a far larger tableau than just our tiny tadpole puddle of pure-bred dogs.

I have tremendous admiration for the talented handlers who worked hard, did their time, learned from the masters and moved on. I don’t regret my college degree or my time at a “real” job, but I freely admit, there are days I envy those folks. I’ve learned an awful lot the hard way. I learned even more by the grace and generosity of people far wiser and longer on this Earth.

On the other hand, fewer young adults are being taught that success and respect are earned rather than bestowed. I am not enough of a sociologist to pinpoint where the “entitlement” mentality started. Nonetheless, serving an apprenticeship, which begins with dog walking and poop patrol, is more frequently eschewed in favor of the “glamour” of running around the ring.

Just by way of comparison, one of my first assistants worked for me for 6 years, from the time he barely outweighed the Akitas he was ex-ing. That young man graduated, joined the Marines, served over-seas and is now raising a family of his own. Another of the kids, back in the day, worked a four-day circuit, on concrete, running 20 dogs out of the setup, 18 hour days, with a broken foot. He never once complained. I didn’t even know he was hurt until the trip home, when he ‘fessed up.

Conversely, I had a young woman working for me (very, very briefly) a couple years ago. She dissolved in tears when I asked her to double-check water buckets and dry beds for the dogs in the truck on a cold, miserable January circuit. I was roundly denounced as a meany — that has actually been said more than once, just as a matter of full disclosure. That young woman, promptly upon turning 18, began billing herself as a “professional” handler.

Respect. It’s an extraordinarily rare commodity and should be valued accordingly. Demonstrate it. Earn it.

As always, this is JMHO……..

Written by

Our family always had dogs. Mutt dogs, purebred dogs, but always dogs. I grew up with dogs everywhere. My mother eventually enrolled me in dog care 4-H because I was “shy and retiring and lacked people skills”….. I am the living testimonial to the success of the 4-H program! I continued into AKC shows as my family transitioned from “dogs” to the wonderful world of Purebred Dogs. I showed all of our family dogs in conformation and participated in Junior Showmanship competition. I went to college, earned a degree and worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer. Today, I am an AKC Breeder of Merit and a member of the Professional Handlers Association.
  • Ann Harvers April 30, 2014 at 1:10 PM

    While I will never consider myself a “pro”, I’ve been in & around dog shows close to 40 years, so probably have known & watched many of those folks that you are referring to. I never apprenticed w/one, but I was blessed many a day by their helpful hints & graciousness in & out of the ring & unfortunately, you are absolutely right about “some” of the newer pros. Gone are the days of the graciousness & assistance I received, except on very rare occasions & few have to “work” for their plum spots any longer. It is a great shame to see it, but it is a product of our whole society, not the dog show world alone. I treasure every word, every helpful hint I’ve obtained in those years & relish those moments in the ring where it still applies that good sportsmanship arises. Respect is rare in this world at most times, but I have & always will, regardless of the results, continue to respect those I lose to, those I show to & appreciate those handlers & exhibitors who still hold to those morals. Well said, Laura, well said.

  • Dani Rosenberry May 1, 2014 at 6:21 AM

    Thank you, Laura!! Excellent article!!

  • Julie Wright May 2, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    Very well said. When the ‘young wonderfuls’ openly disrespect the older, wiser dog-men and women who put them there, they speak volumes about their own lack of integrity and depth in the sport.

  • AG May 5, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    There is far too much of that attitude among the younger generation of “handlers” While a few do have actual talent knowledge, and who have put their time in working as an assistant, who were actually apprentices; working and learning on a regular basis, there are far to many who worked for one handler for a few months to a year and then one day they are a “professional” handler, undercutting true professionals by ridiculous amounts, and lets face it in the current economy there are many who will gladly pay less. They have no knowledge of the history of the sport, which is the main reason they disrespect the wealth of knowledge the older generations of handlers have to teach any one truly willing to learn. I have never met a true professional in any profession who was not willing to mentor someone who had a true want to learn.

    That lack of education is what creates the cut throat attitude, and the lack of camaraderie that is seen in the older generations of handlers. Fierce competitors in the ring but once they walked out of the ring great friends and and always said congratulations to the winner. Unfortunately, far to many have missed the opportunity to watch some of the greatest of the great judge dogs, to have Mrs. Clark look down at you, and in one sentence teach you more than every book you can read on the subject of dogs and dog shows. (Far to many do not even know who Mrs. Clark is, which is a very saddening thing, in itself.)

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