By Kayla Bertagnolli

When I was young, I never pictured myself being so involved in the sport of dogs. Look at me now!

In 21 short years, I‘ve been to hundreds – if not more – of dog shows, assisted two professional handlers and have been learning about the breeding aspect of the sport for the past 12 years. Not to mention I was born into a “doggy life.” It’s funny to look back and remember how it all happened.

For many of us dog fanciers, our parents are somehow involved in the sport. For me, it was my mom. She and I would attend dog shows every once in a while during the school year, and we’d spend multiple weekends and circuits together in the summer.

One year we decided to go on the big Montana-Idaho circuit where I could show our Beagles and compete in juniors. Half way through that trip, a handler approached me and asked if I’d ever thought about assisting. Well, to be honest, I had and I hadn’t.

Part of me thought I was too young or it would be too overwhelming, but the very next day would start a whirlwind of things to come. That’s right, the next day I officially was a handler’s assistant. I was so unprepared and had no idea what to expect. I mean, I was literally thrown into a world of early mornings and late nights and fast-moving schedules. Not to mention the multiple breeds of dogs that I had absolutely no clue about.

After that first day I was exhausted, but at the same time I was more motivated than ever to learn more and to succeed. Just being in that environment, around people who are so knowledgeable and love what they do, was so exhilarating.

When I arrived home from those shows, I found myself seriously pondering my future. I’d say to myself, “This is something I can see myself doing more often.”

So, I made the call. I decided that following summer that I would go all out. I’d live with a handler, go to shows every weekend, and see where it goes from there. That year was truly my first big dog show adventure. I learned so much about the sport and many different breeds, but I also learned a lot about myself through the experiences and people I met along the way.

Once again, I arrived home for yet another year of school. Of course, education and school always came before the dog shows, but I had bigger plans for the years ahead.

During my first summer as an assistant, I did a lot of people-watching. I didn’t intentionally scope out the competition, I just observed what I liked about certain handlers to help me determine what I’d like to be working towards. The following summer I took a jump into the deep end, so to speak, and made a call to the handler I admired the most.

Luck was obviously on my side, because when I asked about working as an assistant, the answer was yes!

I’d called Bruce Schultz totally out of the blue. In fact, he hardly even knew me. I asked him if he could use an extra pair of hands for the Montana-Idaho circuit that year, and he said that he could. So, there I was again, jumping into something I was unfamiliar with. I hoped that it would work out – and not just for the summer – but for the long run. Turns out it did! I continued to assist Bruce and Tara Schultz for 4-plus years (on and off while attending college). To this day, if they ever call me to come to a show that I’m able to attend, I absolutely say, “Yes!”

The greatest knowledge you can gain from assisting a handler is the overall love for the sport and for the dogs. There’s so much more involved than just walking into the ring.

If you want to assist – even if you’re unsure – just go for it! Put in one hundred percent, even if it means calling someone you don’t know to see if you can learn and help. If I can do it, you can too.

Never forget why we’re here: DFR! Dogs Freakin’ Rule!