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What Junior Showmanship Judges Expect in the Ring

Part of the mission of the American Kennel Club is to “Take whatever actions necessary to protect and assure the continuation of the sport of purebred dogs.” The AKC’s Junior Showmanship program is just one example of the kennel club’s commitment to fulfilling this portion of its charter statement.

Most fanciers agree that everyone should do their best to help promote the sport as well, which for many people means getting their children involved or being a mentor or coach to a young person. The younger generation will one day lead the sport, so what they learn as participants in Junior Showmanship is important.

To get a better understanding of what current juniors judges want from young handlers, a pair of Junior Showmanship judges agreed to answer some questions about their expectations.

Mr. Edd Bivin Talks Dogs

Edd Bivin got his first dog, a Pomeranian, when he was 12 years old, and thus began a lifetime involvement in showing and breeding dogs. He judged his first match show at the age of 15, and was among the youngest people to be approved as an AKC judge, at the age of 21.

Now a respected and popular judge, in 1999 he judged Best in Show at Westminster, and he has judged Junior Showmanship at Westminster numerous times, most recently the finals in 2008.

Mr. Edd E. Bivin and the 1993 Westminster Kennel Club Junior Showmanship finalists: Best Junior Handler Stacy Duncan; 2nd place, Jesse Brown; 3rd place, Alexandra Feldman; and 4th place, David Loebs.

Best In Show Daily: How did you get involved in judging Junior Showmanship?

EB: The daughter of a past friend of mine showed in Junior Showmanship, and I think that permeated over to me. At that time, we saw kids showing dogs in juniors who jumped from one side of their dogs to another, and who posed and did all of that. It wasn’t really about handling the dogs; it was about the juniors always keeping the dog between themselves and the judge, but not in the right way. Today we have become more interested in how well a young person can present a dog.

BISD: Is that what you look for while judging Junior Showmanship?

EB: Yes, how well they can handle the specific breed they are showing.

BISD: How often do you see that and would you like to see more of it?

EB: Well, you see good presentation of dogs today in many instances, but you don’t see it done in an inconspicuous way. I always adhere to the principle that the best handler is the one that you are least aware of. It’s about dogs, not the handler, and this business of posing and running around the ring flinging your hand, and in general being conspicuous, is not the way you show dogs. You don’t see good handlers in the ring, in regular competition, doing that. You present the dog so that the dog is seen at its best, without making yourself, as a handler, conspicuous. That is what I would like to see coming through in the younger handlers.

BISD: Where do you suggest junior handlers go to learn that?

EB: They need to watch very successful handlers and learn what they do to present their dogs.

BISD: Why is it important for the younger generation to get involved in the sport and in Junior Showmanship?

EB: Obviously, we have an aging population in the sport of showing dogs. We need young people to come into the sport who want to show dogs, but we also need young people who want to own dogs, foster dogs and breed dogs. It’s not just about showing; you have to learn to care for and condition dogs. You have to learn what coat care is about for the specific breed you are showing. Once again, there is not a paintbrush, so to speak, to paint all of these breeds with. They’re all individual breeds, and young people need to know something about what makes their breed different from any other.

We need people who will care for a breed, nourish it and eventually become the guardians of that breed’s future. That’s what we need in dogs today, and then eventually we hope that would lead to well-qualified judges.

BISD: How were things different when you were starting out in dogs?

EB: When I was 16, I had 20 to 30 dogs in the kennel. I think many juniors get handed one dog for juniors. They do develop a team relationship, but without really knowing a whole lot about what their breed is about. Younger generations need to take the time to look at litters and learn how to evaluate them and take the time to know their breed specifically.

BISD: On average about how many times a year do you judge Junior Showmanship?

EB: About 10 or 12 times a year, and I have judged Best Junior Handler at Westminster three times.

Ms. Terry Hundt Talks Presentation

Many of our readers will remember that Ms. Terry Hundt judged the Junior Showmanship finals at 2012’s Westminster Kennel Club. She has been involved in the sport of dogs since 1963.

BISD: Could you start off with a brief history of your dog show experience?

TH: I bought my first Doberman when I graduated from college and was talked into showing him by the breeder. As it turned out, the handler I hired needed a helper and I became an apprentice to him. When he retired, I applied for my handler’s license. At that time handlers were AKC-licensed. I started handling full time in 1974.

My handling career was very rewarding to me both personally and professionally. My success was due to having great dogs and great clients. I also feel that my years as an apprentice were very valuable to me. The knowledge that I gained during this time was so important, including the care of the dogs – the conditioning, the grooming and the exercising – and the handling aspect. This experience is very important for young handlers. Handling of the dog in the ring is only a small part of becoming a professional handler.

I was granted a judging license for several Working and Hound breeds, and Junior Showmanship. I applied for juniors because several of the kids that worked for me when I was handling were junior handlers. I now judge the Working Group, the Sporting Group, Junior Showmanship, Best in Show and half the Hound Group.

Ms. Terry L. Hundt addressing the final eight junior handlers at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club show.

BISD: What would you like to see more or less of in the Junior Showmanship ring?

TH: I am very adamant about the fact that junior handlers should be focused on presenting their dog and not themselves. By this I mean that the handler should not be staring at the judge while stacking or gaiting their dog. I would like to see a natural, unassuming style of handling. The handler should pay attention to the judge to get directions and be aware of the judge’s position in the ring; the rest of the time they should be focused on their dog.

BISD: Why is it important for the younger generation to get involved in the sport and in Junior Showmanship?

TH: I feel that Junior Showmanship is very important for several reasons. It gives juniors the experience of competition and provides them with the opportunity to learn by watching other juniors. It also gives them the opportunity to learn the habits of their dogs in competition, and it teaches them to accept winning and losing.

BISD: About how many times a year do you judge Junior Showmanship?

TH: I would say I judge juniors about four times a year.

BISD: In the junior ring, what would be a deal breaker for you?

TH: On several occasions I’ve had to make difficult decisions because of the quality involved. It’s important to me that the handler is able to adjust to difficult situations, such as their dog shying, not showing or misbehaving when the judge is looking. These are some of the things upon which I base my evaluation.

BISD: How was the experience of judging Junior Showmanship at Westminster this year?

TH: The competition was awesome. I had to judge eight worthy finalists. Obviously, some were better than others, and I think the added stress of showing at Westminster took its toll on a few of them. They were all focused on their task, and my decision was difficult. Also as a side note, I would like to see Westminster give Junior Showmanship a little more exposure. This is a real coup for these youngsters to become finalists.

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 in a two-part series about what juniors judges and junior handlers expect from one another. Part 2 will publish on Monday, April 16, 2012.

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!"
  • Leslee April 13, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    Great article. I agree……….kids that qualify for Westminster need to be recognized. It is a difficult accomplishment filled with many sacrifices and emotion. Knowledge is an asset.

  • Peri Norman April 14, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    I have not had the pleasure of meeting Ms Hundt, but I think the world of Edd. While I enjoyed their comments and think that they have a lot of validity, I also think it is important to recognize that not every junior handler is going to grow up and become a judge of the stature of Mr. Biven or a power handler. When we walk into judge a ring full of juniors, we need to meet each child at the place where they are that moment and recognize that they are doing the best they can with the resources they have available to them. Their parent may not be a world-class breeder, so they may not have a top quality dog. Their parent may be a single parent with six children and it could be that those ARE the best shoes that child had to wear that day. We like to focus on the ones that grow up to be “famous” dog people; judges, handlers or bloggers , but the ones that “just” learn to better life skills and develop enduring friendships are just as important. To that end, I would really like to see the AKC offer a juniors class for children with PAL animals. It could be judged just like we judge the 4-H kids. Is the dog clean and well-presented? Is there a good relationship? Is the lead appropriate to the size of the dog and being used correctly? There is so much to be gained by being inclusive.

    • HurricaneDeck April 17, 2012 at 7:00 AM

      Peri – The UKC allows Juniors to compete with their AMBOR dogs – (American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry).

      All you have to do to “register” them is to send in proof of spay or neuter – it is fun to see them in the ring!

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