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Don’t Be an Over-Handler

Every single time I have the chance to actually sit down and watch Junior Showmanship judging, I learn something. I might be introduced to something new or reminded of something old, or maybe I’ll see a judging style that I think should really be talked about.

So today I bring you something that I think juniors should keep in mind while in the ring.

Who better to judge a group of junior handlers than a former professional handler? Mr. Houston Clark judged all the junior classes at a show I attended recently. He not only inspired and treated each and every handler in his junior ring with a gentle manner, but he made sure that he really problem-solved an issue that kept occurring in his ring.

Mr. Clark made it very clear on multiple occasions that the juniors were not to over-handle their dogs. I find that over-handling is something that comes along with nerves, but I also think it’s something that isn’t necessarily apparent until it’s brought directly to a handler’s attention. It’s as if it’s something you can’t really feel, so in order to know you’re doing it, you have to be told by someone else that you are, in fact, doing it!

But who am I to talk about over-handling? I thought I would take it directly to the experts to see what they have to say on the subject.

Here are few words from the professionals:


Amy Rutherford: “Keep in mind a great handler is someone who fades into the background so you really see the dog putting on a performance.”


Jenny Rangel: “These are dogs. Their ‘jobs’ are not to be show dogs. In order for them to keep moving forward, it needs to be fun! Remember, don’t over-drill or force your dog to be perfect.”


Bill McFadden: “It’s all about finding a fine line of how much you can do with your dog without them giving up on you. My advice is to watch other handlers in the ring and pick out what annoys you. Whatever that is, don’t do it.”

See, I told you, Dogs Freakin’ Rule!

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!"
  • Lynda Beam (Canine Candids by Lynda) June 27, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    overhandling is especially annoying to me as a candid photographer, right up there with constant feeding of the dog, they do not have to stand perfectly still in a perfect stack all the time… it’s how to ruin a good showdog

  • Sharyn Hutchens, Timbreblue Whippeta June 28, 2013 at 2:43 AM

    I think overhandling in the juniors ring is endemic in some regions. It’s an attempt to mimic older juniors or those who win a lot and it should never be rewarded! There is nothing more offputting than a junior (or anyone else) obviously worrying more about handling techniques than the dog!

    • Kaitlin September 13, 2013 at 11:02 AM

      I totally agree with Sharyn, but what are juniors to do when the judges continually reward those kids that over handle their dogs? Either they must adapt to and adopt the incorrect handling style in order to place or win, or they will consistently lose, which is no fun for anyone. I swear, sometimes it isn’t a competition of who can inconspicuously handle their dogs to look their best, but who can make the most “noise” (movement wise, not verbally) while trying to look like the professionals, in order to catch and keep the judge’s attention.

  • Kay September 13, 2013 at 8:37 AM

    I know I was bad about this until my mentor told me, “You’re handling a dog, not a statue.” Totally changed everything for me and my dogs. And surprisingly (or perhaps not), they became better behaved when it really counted once I stopped fussing with them so much.

  • KEVEN HARRIS September 13, 2013 at 8:15 PM

    IN my personal experience as an breeder owner handler of many great quality specimens in a country where there are no paid professionals, I venture to say that there have been and currently are many who have and can compete with the best.anywhere. I only ever handled my own breeding where my best went to an untrained owner in either of my three breeds I have spent a lifetime with. It is the simple things that count in the end, the fine tuning that is learned from the best mentors like Bil McFadden and his kind. For me as a judge, there is nothing worse than the handler who becomes the center piece of attention with unnecessary moves and tactics rather than the dog under examination. It is a great annoyance, as is shoveling a fist full of liver into the dogs mouth just as the judge attempts to examine the bite. It is wise to learn and remember that visiting FCI judges look for full dentition as a natural result of their training and not a mouth full of bait! My advice to any would be handler, is DO NOT take in an obvious poor specimen simply to garner whatever point system is in place in whatever country you happen to be in. A poorer specimen and its handler is always remembered by everyone!
    Handling dogs is relatively easy if the basics are followed,
    “Look, Learn from your mentor, Listen, but importantly hear what is being sad, and Focus and dedication. Without these 5 elements, it will be a tough road to hoe!
    For what it is worth,and long ago, I was lucky enough to have had some intense input to my much improved handling skills from the great Jane Forsyth and husband Robert! JMO.

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