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What Junior Handlers Expect in the Ring

Two prominent Junior Showmanship judges recently shared their perspectives on what they expect from junior handlers in the ring. Today we take a look at the expectations of the young handlers, courtesy of a trio that actively participates in the American Kennel Club program, just one example of the AKC’s commitment to protecting and assuring the “continuation of the sport of purebred dogs.”

Caleb Campbell Calls for Fewer Smiles

At just 14, Caleb Campbell is the Number 3 Junior all-breeds in the country. He lives in Puyallup, Wash., and currently has seven first place wins and three Best Junior wins from the Open Intermediate class. He shows mainly Border Terriers, but has also started showing West Highland White Terriers.

BISD: Can you give a brief history of your dog show experience?

CC: I have been showing in juniors for two years. I actually got started in AKC shows with my mom’s Scottish Terrier in rally obedience, and did juniors once and absolutely hated it. I never wanted to set foot in a juniors ring again. Then, during that same summer, we went to an earthdog trial and I saw a Border Terrier. I fell in love, met a breeder and she gave me a 16-month-old male that had nine points with a major.

I’ve loved ‘Mullins’ ever since. When I got him, his breeder wanted me to finish him, so I went to shows and after a few months I got started in juniors. It took me a long time to get the hang of showing, but all of a sudden it clicked, and then I was hooked.

Junior handlers Caleb Campbell, Mallary Ross and Daniel Fabelo showing at the 2012 Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Photo by Kayla Bertagnolli.

BISD: Why are Junior Showmanship and the participation of young people important to the sport of dogs?

CC: We are the future of the sport, and honestly, I don’t think it’s very popular. In my opinion, AKC could get more juniors involved by having the kennel clubs lower the costs for Junior Showmanship at shows.

BISD: What is the most important factor in Junior Showmanship?

CC: First impressions! You walk in that ring, and right away you want that judge to know from the moment they lay their eyes on you that you’re the Best Junior.

BISD: What are some of the ways you think Junior Showmanship can benefit you in the dog show world?

CC: I think Junior Showmanship not only helps me to become a better handler, it also helps me with friendships, confidence, dog bonding and learning how to manage my funds. Since I dream of becoming a veterinarian, I can make connections with the right people, starting at a very young age. It’s very important to be with the right people who can help you to become a great adult.

BISD: Are you involved in any other aspects of the sport?

CC: I do not currently breed, but since I hope to one day become a judge, I see breeding in my future when I finish with college. I assist professional handler Ed Thomason and his assistant Aaron Bradshaw when needed. I could not ask for a better pair to teach me the ropes at dog shows. They are simply amazing.

I want to get started in agility, and I also do rally, earthdog, obedience and therapy dog work, and am in my fifth year of 4-H.

BISD: To date, what has been your favorite moment of your juniors career?

CC: No doubt, competing at Westminster. I always struggle with nerves and thought I would pass out because I was so nervous. But stepping into the ring released a newborn confidence within me, and I handled the best I think I ever have. It truly is an irreplaceable experience. I have to say that every time I win, I burst with excitement. It’s a new feeling every time. I wouldn’t replace it for anything!

BISD: What would you like to see more or less of from Junior Showmanship judges?

CC: I would like to see fewer smiles. I know that sounds crazy, but it drives me bonkers when a judge is smiling at you and you think they like you and then you get dumped. Now, I don’t want judges who look like they’re out to get you, but no more jokey smiles. I would like to see the judges work us more, if possible more “L” patterns, because doing a down and back or triangle all the time gets boring.

Mallary Ross Wants More Action

The current Number 1 junior handler all-breeds in the country, Mallary Ross is a 15-year-old also from Washington state. She competes in the Open Senior class and attends shows on a regular basis with her Doberman Pinschers. She has received eight first place wins so far this year and three Best Junior Handler awards.

BISD: How long have you been showing in juniors?

MR: I was born into dog shows, so I have been showing in the breed ring my whole life. I started in AKC juniors when I was 9 1/2, and I have shown in Canadian juniors a few times as well.

BISD: Why are Junior Showmanship and the participation of young people important to the sport of dogs?

MR: I believe it’s important for young people to participate because there’s so much to learn and so many great people to meet. Juniors also provides a lot of great opportunities. It teaches us how to handle better, and it also encourages us to continue on in the sport.

BISD: How do you think junior showmanship can help you in the dog show world?

MR: I think one thing it helps you with is making connections. A professional handler might see you showing in juniors and think you’re a great handler and want you to work for them. This would give you the chance to show new breeds of dogs and just learn a lot in general. Along the same lines, if an owner sees you showing in juniors and wants you to show their dog, that could help your handling career in the future.

BISD: Are you involved in any other aspects of the sport?

MR: I show in conformation all the time. I have put obedience and rally titles on a dog, and I also just started agility. I’ve worked for a handler part-time for about four or five years, as well as helping out various other handlers for a couple of weekends at a time. I’ve also bred and co-bred a few litters.

BISD: What has been your favorite moment so far showing in juniors?

MR: My favorite win in juniors was definitely making the finals at AKC/Eukanuba and then taking second place. It was especially great because it was with a dog I bred, owned and trained all by myself.

Another great moment was just showing at Westminster. Even though I didn’t place, I had worked hard my whole juniors career and had qualified for six years before I showed there, so it was great to finally be able to experience it. The same year I got second at AKC/Eukanuba, I also got an Award of Merit in the breed ring with a dog I co-own. It was amazing because there were a ton of great dogs in the ring. To be trusted to show one of the nicest Dobermans in the country at such a prestigious show was great.

BISD: What would you like to see more or less of from junior judges?

MR: I’d like to see judges work the handlers more in juniors. A lot of judges do the examination and a down and back with everyone, then make their decisions based on that. I wish they would at least go down the line, look at fronts and make us go around one at a time. Let us show off our abilities a little. I think that would make things a little fairer as well.

I also wish judges could leave some of the politics outside the breed ring and base their decisions just on the handling ability of the junior.

Daniel Fabelo Votes for More Teaching

A 17-year-old from Hamilton, Ohio, Daniel Fabelo shows in the Open Senior class and is well on his way to competing in the Masters class, with seven first place wins this year and four Best Junior wins. Daniel primarily shows his English Setter in juniors, but also shows Wirehaired Dachshunds and Redbone Coonhounds. He’s currently the Number 4 junior handler in English Setters.

BISD: Daniel, could you give a brief history of your show career?

DF: I was 7 years old my first time in the ring. The professional handler, Carlos Puig, handed me one of his dogs and I’ve been showing ever since, for 10 years. I’ve been very fortunate to qualify for Westminster three times where I’ve competed twice. I’ve also qualified for AKC/Eukanuba about five times and finally got to attend last year.

BISD: Why are Junior Showmanship and the participation of young people important to the sport of dogs?

DF: I think Junior Showmanship is very important because, to me, the sport of dog showing has gone down the past few years, but the kids who keep joining are showing everyone that they still enjoy it and want to be involved. Juniors is also a great way to educate yourself about the different breeds. It is also an opportunity to stay in tune to the needs and requirements of other breeds, should you have the opportunity to work for a professional handler.

BISD: What do you think is the most important part of competing in Junior Showmanship?

DF: To me, the most important part is being able to walk away with your head held high if you don’t come out with the blue ribbon. I think, win or lose, everyone should be proud of how they showed. The judge only has four ribbons to give out, and when we don’t receive one, we should never get angry with ourselves. Sometimes things happen, and we don’t know why they didn’t pick us for a placement. In the judge’s mind, we did something wrong and this gave them the opportunity to place someone else.

I am a firm believer that everyone deserves to win. If you get mad because you lost one day, you might consider how you would feel if you were the person who won. Remember, no matter what happens in the ring, never let it get you down. There’s always the next show.

BISD: How do you think Junior Showmanship can help juniors in the dog show world?

DF: Junior Showmanship can help because it not only shows how kids are taking an interest in showing, it also shows how the sport is becoming more of a family activity. I am one of those kids who travels to almost every show with at least one of my family members. My dad and I like to travel to a lot of shows, and my sister enjoys showing too. I think this can help dog shows because it is bringing more people into the show world, increasing the numbers and allowing more people to have fun like I’ve had these past 10 years.

BISD: Are you involved in any other aspects of the sport?

DF: Yes, I have the litter from my first breeding on the ground and I also have been fortunate to be able to assist handlers when I am at shows. I don’t work for anyone at the moment, but hopefully over the summer I can find someone who could use extra hands at the show and at their kennel.

BISD: So far in your juniors career, what has been your most memorable moment?

DF: Up until now, I would say my favorite moment was at Westminster this year. During junior prelims, I got pulled for the top eight in my class. I was so thrilled. My adrenaline was pumping! It was the first time making the cut for me, and I wouldn’t change that moment for the world. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the finals, but it’s all OK. There’s always next year.
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BISD: What would you like to see more or less of from junior judges?

DF: I would love to see more judges having fun in the ring. The juniors ring has become very competitive over the past few years, and I would love to see more judges run the ring with their own style. I understand that some judges like the whole competitiveness of juniors, but I always was taught to go out there and do the best you can, but most importantly, win or lose, to always have fun.

I also think it is important to recruit judges who are willing to take the opportunity to teach while judging in the juniors ring. I always admire those judges who take that time to teach either individually or as a group. I have never hesitated to go ask a judge why I didn’t place. I use it as a learning opportunity and to improve next time I’m in the ring.

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!"