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Choosing the Perfect Juniors Dog

Choosing just the right dog for a junior handler today can be a challenge. For some, the choice is easy, but for others it can be a struggle to find the “perfect” dog.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find the dog that will essentially become a teammate both in and out of the ring. Not only do juniors need to learn how to handle, they also learn about the breeds they enjoy showing. Picking that perfect dog from among all the recognized breeds isn’t always so easy.

I think it’s safe to say that most juniors go through a phase where their current dog isn’t working out anymore. Maybe things have gotten to the point where you need to make a change in order to have a fresh start with a new challenge. I know this is what happened to me!

My current dog was getting a bit older and didn’t seem very interested anymore. I decided to play around with a few other dogs to see what would work for a new start. I showed about four different dogs for various lengths of time. We had our successes, but none of the dogs seemed to be the “right dog” for juniors.

Eventually I did find the right dog – my Beagle, Parker. We finished out our juniors career with many accomplishments, but we also had a lot of ups and downs. This experience is typical for most juniors, I think.

So how do you know when you’ve found the perfect juniors dog?

Kayla and her juniors dog, ’Parker,’ winning Best Junior Handler at the 2006 Beagle National. Photo by Kit.

Only through a lot of hard work and time spent working with one dog can the perfect team come together. This is exactly why it’s so hard to find the right dog for any junior. Teamwork is the key, and it’s especially crucial in tough competition. All I can say is that when it truly is a perfect match, you will know. There is this feeling you get in the ring when things start to fall into place, and just click!

People talk quite frequently about how some juniors show “push button” dogs, or dogs that are basically handed to them perfectly trained to perform in the ring. From what I’ve seen in the past – and continue to see – this isn’t necessarily what judges are looking for. Judges seem to look for kids who have control, but also the ability to work in and out of the ring with their dog. There’s something special about knowing all the little tricks and games your dog tries to play in the ring and knowing how to respond to them when it counts.

I know that Parker just loved to be a pain in the butt. He’d move his leg at the worst moment or reverse sneeze at the most inappropriate time. I think that when judges notice these things occurring, they want to see how well the junior can manage a tough situation. This demonstrates not only good teamwork, but also a sense of calmness that can give you some extra spice in your performance.

It was many years before I had that moment when I thought, “Wow, I think I’ll stick with this dog for a while!” I know all of you junior handlers out there can have that same feeling as well.

After all, our Dogs Freakin’ Rule, right?!

Written by

Kayla Bertagnolli is a 23-year-old from Ogden, UT, who's been involved in the dog show world her whole life. A former junior handler who learned about breeding Beagles from her mother Leah, she assisted several professional handlers and is currently working to become a Junior Showmanship judge. Kayla is passionate about photography and writes the twice-weekly blog, DFR. She plans to continue breeding and showing, and expects to stay involved in dogs "for life!"