I grew up showing horses, and didn’t experience the world of dog shows until I was an adult. My first show dog was an English Setter. The breeder of this dog interviewed my husband, Russ, and me, and even made a home visit before selling us Chip. He came to us with a few points toward his championship, so a dear friend convinced me to show him myself to finish his championship. From that point on, I was hooked!

I quickly realized I had a lot to learn. The dogs winning in our classes looked wonderful, with amazing coats and great trims, and they showed beautifully for their handlers. That’s when I realized the folks showing these dogs were not like me. They were professionals.

At first I wasn’t nervous. I was intrigued. As time went on, I started to feel a tad sick if I saw particular handlers ringside – not because that person made me physically ill, but because my nerves would eventually get the best of me. I shook. I swallowed a lot. I obsessively brushed my dog while in the ring. I fed him bait until he didn’t want to look at another treat. I knew we would lose because our competition was a dog handled by a professional handler. I became a nervous wreck.

Ch. Oakley’s Icon, my very first Group winner. Photo courtesy of Tricia Stanczyk.

One day in Springfield, Ill., Anne Rogers Clark took me aside after judging, told me what a wonderful dog I had and gave me some important pointers. At that time I had no clue who this person was. I sent Mrs. Clark a note thanking her for her time. She wrote me back! She told me my dog reminded her of a great English Setter from the 1940s. She also told me something that I took to heart. She said to attend handling classes and seminars, and to watch the professionals, learn from them and ask questions about grooming and handling. I thought to myself, “Ask them questions? Is she nuts? They won’t talk to me!”

I watched and I watched. I stayed until the bitter end of each show day, watching these professionals and their dogs. I hated to ever miss Best in Show. I also did as Mrs. Clark suggested. I started asking questions. Most everyone was very receptive to this owner-handler bugging them and studying their every move. Some probably thought (or maybe still think) I was a bit of a stalker ringside, the way I sat and watched and studied. I also went to a George Alston handling seminar. Like others who have been inspired over the years by handlers and groomers alike, I would cut out pictures and ads, then post them near my grooming table to use as an example of what I would strive for in my own dog.

Ch. Oakley’s Nickel Cigar, my “coat machine,” who taught me so much and was my heart dog. Photo courtesy of Tricia Stanczyk.

The constant help from my breeders and mentors, along with advice from the professionals, definitely paid off. I finished Chip and then bought another English Setter named Nickel. I finished Nickel, then started winning Best of Breeds and Group placements. My third English Setter, Icon, was my first Group winner.

I have learned a great deal since this addiction started in 1998. Shows are limited to one or two weekends per month for me, but I have been successful over the years and not just with English Setters. Russ and I also own Parson Russell Terriers, and I have had the fortune of winning the Parson Russell Terrier National Specialty, Best of Opposite Sex at Westminster in 2012, an Award of Excellence at AKC/Eukanuba, several regional specialties, and multiple Group wins and placements. All of our dogs have been ranked. Most recently my multiple specialty winner, GCh. Posey Canyon No Brainer!, was the Number 1 male Parson Russell Terrier through June 2012 – all owner-handled by me.

MBISS GCh. Posey Canyon No Brainer! is my current travel buddy. Photo courtesy of Tricia Stanczyk.

This is a hobby that I greatly enjoy. I go into dog show withdrawals when it’s been a while since my last show. I plan my work schedule based on dog shows. I couldn’t do it without the support of my husband, who, I might add, doesn’t completely understand this addiction, but never questions it. I always look forward to my next weekend spent with friends, including some of the professionals, and my boy ‘Einstein.’

Christi McDonald’s article, “My Take: Leveling the Playing Field”, hit home for me. I think most owner-handlers do find the professionals intimidating, although I have the utmost respect for many of them and consider several good friends. But I won’t lie. My blood pressure tends to rise when I’m in direct competition with them. They do this for a living, judges know them, and they have their dogs presented and trained to perfection. But I have learned from them too. I still watch and study everything they do. I take a little, and I leave a little. Believe it or not, they are human just like us. Sometimes they win, and sometimes we win!

By Tricia Stanczyk

Tricia Stanczyk and her husband live on 40 acres near Seward, Neb. The couple is owned by English Setter Ch. Oakley’s Icon and Parson Russell Terriers NBISS Ch. Posey Canyon Here’s Stu You!, Ch. Posey Canyon U Won’t Regret Her and MBISS GCh. Posey Canyon No Brainer! Tricia is the office manager at Jacobson Veterinary Clinic in Lincoln. She enjoys conformation and earthdog trials, and is just starting a little obedience work with her four-legged kids.