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As the Wheels Turn – Just a dog handler?

Litter evaluator. Puppy kindergarten teacher. Teenager (human or canine) bootcamp drill sergeant. Handling instructor. Breeding plans advisor. Therapist. Veterinary assistant. Stud dog manager.

These are just a few of the services handlers provide their clients, in addition to grooming, conditioning and traveling. Oh, yeah, and we run around the ring, too.

For many of us, these are simply value-added items for which we do not charge.

So, in the spirit of offering services pro bono, I thought we could add a slightly new dimension to the column.

Introducing “Handling Tips FAQ.” Anyone with a question they’d like addressed in the area of handling their dog, from simple to complex, drop me an email at scotiadawgs@gmail.com.

Meanwhile, I’ll get us started with a common topic.

Pacing 101

I can remember standing outside a ring at the Gig Harbor Kennel Club dog show watching Vizslas, maybe 15 years ago. An obviously novice exhibitor was attempting to move her lovely dog to the judge’s satisfaction. The VERY famous judge was clearly becoming more and more frustrated while attempting to tell the exhibitor how to fix the dog’s pacing. Finally, in a completely illegal moment, the judge turned teacher, grabbed the dog from the exhibitor and ran it around the ring without pacing. The judge returned the dog to the exhibitor and said, “There, that’s how you do it.” When the exhibitor *still* was unable to manage the exercise correctly, the judge handed her a blue ribbon in the class of one, looked wildly around the ring, glommed onto me and said, “Hey, you, come show this dog.” Flabbergasted, I did as I was told. The dog didn’t pace and it won the points.

The pace is a two-beat lateral gait in which the legs on each side move back and forth exactly as a pair causing a rolling motion of the dogs body.

Pacing is a mode of travel which is easy for some dogs. It can denote a structural issue or simply laziness on the dog’s part. When a dog paces, the legs on each side move forward at the same time. Rather than right front/left rear, then left front/right rear, the dog will carry right front/right rear, left front/left rear. The dog’s movement will feel awkward up the leash, the body will roll from side to side and it is very obvious to an experienced observer.

Training a dog not to pace and correcting the pace in the ring are both important skills. In training sessions, the dog should be moved with a spotter if you aren’t comfortable identifying the improper movement alone. If the dog is pacing, the handler’s job is to provide a little lift to adjust his balance. This can be done with the leash and collar, or a beard if it’s handy!

Both training and in the ring, start the dog in a slightly larger than normal courtesy turn, such that the dog is actually slightly behind the judge when you begin your pattern. I normally teach folks 1-2-3 goooooooo in a gradual increase in speed to produce collected, correct movement. With a pacing dog, the goal is 1-2, lift, go. Ideally, your lift will happen at or behind the judge’s peripheral vision such that by the time they see the dog moving, it is traveling properly and smoothly.

Every dog is different in this area. Some will pop right out of the pace. Some I’ve shown over the years could switch from correct movement to a pace on the fly. Generally, though, keeping the dog moving will prevent his switching gears from a correct show ring trot to a pace.

In all things to do with handling your dog, practice makes perfect. ALL dogs are imperfect in some way. Know what is good AND bad about your dog and learn how to present the dog in his best light.

I’m looking forward to continued conversations. Feel free to include comments on the BISD website or Facebook page.

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.
Comments
  • Bob Pierce
    Bob Pierce August 27, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    MMMMM…
    And I thought all handlers did was to dress up nice and collect ribbons and stuff :)

    PS…
    You have a fan in Wyoming

  • Babs August 27, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    I respect your work but it would really be nice to hear from Owner-Handlers as well…..we are the people that truly maintain the AKC, not the handlers. We pay the bills. If it wasn’t for all the Owners of the Dogs you show, the AKC would no longer exist.

    • Laura Reeves PHA
      Laura Reeves August 27, 2014 at 3:51 PM

      Hi Babs. Thank you for the input! I rather hoped this particular column was targeted toward owner handlers who were working through a particular issue…. Interestingly, I do have a series I’m working on which features interviews with some of the top owner-handlers in the country. I would love to hear topics or column ideas that would interest YOU and other readers. By all means, chime in!! ;-)

  • AR August 27, 2014 at 3:24 PM

    Agree wholeheartedly with Babs. You give too much credit to PH’s. It’s the owner/handler/breeders that produce the dogs we take into the ring. We do the research and pick the studs and stay up all hours of the night with the bitch in whelp. We also pay the hefty vet bills. However you are losing us because the playing field isn’t level.

    • Laura Reeves PHA
      Laura Reeves August 27, 2014 at 8:27 PM

      Hi AR

      Thanks for the feedback. I always appreciate folks that read the column and are willing to speak up and share their opinions. I do have a question, for you though. What are your thoughts on breeder-owner-handlers who are also paid to show other people’s dogs? Should we not be allowed to breed dogs? Or should we not be allowed to show dogs for a fee? I am not being flippant, I’m quite serious. There is a very significant percentage of professional handlers who are also quite serious breeders. I’m not sure how to respond when folks say it’s all about the breeders, professional handlers are the problem. I am both. And I am far and away NOT the minority. I am interested in any input you can provide. Thanks!!

  • Kari August 28, 2014 at 5:18 AM

    Dear Babs & Laura, please re-read the article, this is not about OH vs Pros. Laura is introducing a new topic… Dog Handling Tips FAQ.

    She wrote “Introducing “Handling Tips FAQ.” Anyone with a question they’d like addressed in the area of handling their dog, from simple to complex, drop me an email”

    This is an opportunity for people to ask questions about handling their dogs. Whether they are new comers, top OHs or pros.

    Please don’t turn everything into OH vs Pro. Especially when that isn’t on topic. You may not have ever encountered a dog that had a problem that was hard to work thru. But the rest of us have and this column will be of high value to many. In fact as soon as I get home from my business trip I have a question to send in! Thanks Laura for this idea and the willingness to share your knowledge.

  • JHC August 28, 2014 at 6:07 AM

    Breeders, owner handlers do play the biggest part of this dog show sport that we are all so passionate about. The AKC has listened (alibet to their benefit) and added the Owner Handler series. Handlers like Laura are quite willing to offer advise to people who have nice dogs, ask yourself why? They love dogs, can appreciate a good one and like to see good dogs win.

  • Shaun Garrity
    Shaun August 28, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    I always enjoy your articles and insight. Keep up the good work!

  • Sharyn Hutchens August 28, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    Come on, folks! This is a regular column by a pro handler. The comments are here so we can gripe about pros. If you want an OH column, write it and see if they’ll use it! Meanwhile, Laura has generously offered to help with handling problems.
    Here’s mine. I have mostly shown my own dogs and do okay with it. Not great, but I don’t usually embarrass myself. I am in a very competitive breed (whippets) and do use handlers at the national and large shows, though I have never sent a dog out for campaigning.
    Recently I have been unable to show my dogs because of knee problems. Had both of them replaced last year and am ‘learning’ to run again but don’t feel confident yet so have not been in the ring.
    I have a three part question. Do you have tips on running gracefully? (to be honest I have always felt like a lumbering yak in the ring and now it’s worse!)
    Second, if one is not especially graceful but doesn’t fall on the dog or trip over one’s feet, is it still possible to show a dog well…that is, can you gait a dog properly even if you yourself are limping a bit or are otherwise clumsy?
    Third, my dogs are wusses and mama’s babies. They show well for me but usually shut down when a professional takes them. Is there a solution for this if all I can afford are ringside pickups? Any way I can work with them at home or in the building before ring time?
    Always enjoy your column and sincerely appreciate your offer to help!

    • Laura Reeves PHA
      Laura Reeves August 29, 2014 at 7:47 AM

      Hi Sharyn! Thanks much for a great column topic!!! If it’s OK, will save the lengthy reply and include in an upcoming Handling Tips FAQ.

  • Sharyn Hutchens August 31, 2014 at 9:57 AM

    Laura that would be great! Needless to say, my third sentence above should read ‘The comments are NOT here so we…’ Boy, what a difference a not makes!

  • Karyn Cowdrey August 31, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    Hey Laura,

    Love the idea of interviewing Breeder/Owner/Handlers for an article but PLEASE don’t just limit it to those that have the top ranked dogs, there are a LOT of GREAT BOH’s that only show limited amounts, still do a great job and have a ton of knowledge to offer an AVERAGE BOH :)

    There are few BOH’s out there that can afford to hit every show every weekend since most of us have to have a day job OR are on a fixed retirement income :)

    AND I agree there is room for BOH’s, AOH’s (Amateur Owner Handlers) AND those that are also Pros and owner/handlers :)

  • Janet Oatney October 20, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    I’m with Sharyn – any tips for running gracefully? Especially for people “of a certain age” that are no longer size 8s? I watch videos of my performance so I can improve and while the dog moves great – me…….. not so much & it does distract from the overall presentation.

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