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The Step Ladder System

The beauty for dog fanciers is that there are many roles we can choose from to be involved in this business: breeder, owner, handler, junior, AKC rep, judge, vendor… and the list goes on! Moving from one to another takes time and patience, but each step will move you higher and closer to your ultimate goal.

In my last few posts here at DFR, I shared my own personal story about how I came to assist a professional handler, and I gave you all the details about how a day in the life of an assistant goes. Now, to follow that trend, I want to get into the different steps that are commonly taken by assistants on their way to becoming professional handlers. There are a few different directions, along with steps that are a necessity in order to get to that point. These steps are similar to a “step ladder” like tool personalized for the dog show world.

A common path that is taken towards becoming a handler begins with someone who has shown in juniors and moves on to assisting a handler while they’re still competing, or shortly afterwards. What many people don’t realize is that the AKC offers our future handlers a way to help develop their skills in a proper and official way.

The AKC Registered Handler Apprentice Program was established in 2004 to recognize and encourage full-time assistants of AKC registered handlers to continue on that path. Not only do apprentices gain recognition for their dedicated work, they also have the chance to continue developing skills in all aspects of the dog show world. They learn not only about handling, but also about proper dog care, good sportsmanship, business management, and more.

Currently, there are roughly 122 AKC Registered Handlers – and growing – who offer assistants the chance to become apprentices. With so many great things that come along with this opportunity, who would want to pass it up? The requirements to apply are minimal, and you may already qualify without even knowing it.

Potential applicants need to be at least 18 years old, must have worked for an AKC registered handler for six months or longer, and are required to read and understand the Apprentice Code of Ethics. Then, all you need to do is apply! For more information and to get an application form, click here. It’s as easy as that!

Stepping out of the Apprentice Program and continuing on in your dog show career will come with a sense of ease. After continuous years spent learning and focusing on dog handling specifically, making your next move should be simple. With time, you will be able to gain clients, build relationships, and start on your own path. The time and effort spent as an apprentice will be sure to pay off and, who knows? After a professional handling career, your future could quite possibly take a different course into judging or one of many other roles within the dog show world. The possibilities are endless!

So, the step ladder system takes you from junior to assistant, and then on to apprentice. With so many great professionals out there willing to share their knowledge and experience, one of them may be looking for you!

Becoming a handler may take some time, but once you become established you can only expect that the best is yet to come!

Go out there, work hard, and do what you love!

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!"