One of the complaints I frequently hear from exhibitors is that the amateur owner-handler doesn’t have a chance in the ring against the professionals. I used to feel the same way. However, during my first couple of years in the sport I got some advice from the legendary handler, now judge, Robert Forsyth. After I whined about my 25-show losing streak, he told me, “Billy, bring a mediocre dog into the ring and I will beat you every time. Bring a really good dog and you will win your fair share.”
A while back, INFOdog published a survey with some surprising data, shown in the chart above. The 2010 survey showed that the amateur actually had the advantage at the Breed level and was very competitive at the Group Level. Only at the BIS level did the professional demonstrate any real dominance. Now the survey had a couple of issues. It was based on MBF catalog entries with an agent listed. Those entries did not account for all ringside pick-ups, nor all dogs owner-handled by professionals. Nonetheless, those exceptions did not significantly change the basic results.
Because I am a numbers nerd and because this subject still seems to be one frequently debated in our community, I thought I would take a look at our top dogs and see how many are professionally handled, owner-handled by professionals, and owner-handled by a non-professional. Even among our Top Ten Dogs All Breeds we have three breeder/owner-handled dogs: the Number Three Dog, the Doberman Pinscher, GCH CH Protocol’s Veni Vidi Vici; the Number Eight Dog, the Boxer, GCH CH R and G’s Mystical Dancer; and the Number Ten Dog, the American Foxhound, GCH CH Kiarry’s Pandora’s Box. The Doberman, FiFi, is handled by a non-professional, breeder/owner Jocelyn Mullins. The Boxer, Danny, and the Foxhound, Jewel, are handled by professionals, breeders/owners Kimberly Steele-Gamero and Lisa Miller.
The above chart shows that among our Top 100 Dogs All Breeds, non-professionals account for only 20 percent of the dogs with another 15 percent of the dogs being owner-handled by professionals. Almost two thirds, 65 percent, of the dogs were professionally handled by non-owners. OK, I hear a collective “I told you so,” but remember, this is entirely consistent with the INFOdog data as these are all-breed points and reflect the dogs that have won multiple BIS and Groups.
I decided to dig a little deeper and look at the Number One Dog in each breed to see how successful owner-handlers were in the breed ring. Remember INFOdog had 38 percent of the breed winners handled by non-owners? Well, that was just about the reverse for the Number One Dog in each breed with 63 percent. Again, I hear that collective “I told you so.” Well, I suspect that if I had the time and inclination and included the top ten in each breed that the data would more closely align with the INFOdog survey.
I don’t know if any of this will change any exhibitor’s opinion of the influence of the professionals in our sport. However, I do know this. If amateur owner-handlers spend anywhere near the time on their dogs that the professional does, they will, as Bob Forsyth counseled me all those years ago, win their fair share. I would add that amateur owner-handlers have two other distinct advantages. First, they generally are showing one dog at a time, giving them more time to condition, train and groom their dog. Secondly, the experienced breeder/owner/handler who focuses on just one breed should have more in depth knowledge about that breed and be better able to select the show prospect than a professional who shows multiple breeds. Just remember, experience and knowledge in the dog game are not something you can gain overnight or even in a couple of years.
I’ll close with another piece of advice I got in my early years. There is no guarantee you will win at any show, but I can guarantee you won’t win if you don’t enter. And that’s today’s Back Story.