Dog Show Protocol – A Helpful Guide for New
Chambray Partner Program Participants
To the first-time visitor at a dog show, “walking” a dog in the ring seems like a walk in the park in difficulty. I often hear the comment from the doe-in-the-headlights neophyte “Oh, I can do that!”
While anyone can walk a dog or better yet, be walked by a dog as is the case with most people that own a dog, the proper presentation of a dog to show off the best of the dog’s conformational qualities requires as much know-how, skill and talent as it does to acquire a black belt in martial arts.
How many people do you know that possess a black belt in any endeavor?
To begin with, the proper term used in the vernacular of the dog world realm is “handling” and the people performing the artful dance with the dogs are called “handlers”.
This article/essay is to enlighten the many new people that are part of the Partners Program of the ins and outs of dog handling, the protocols, etiquette and proper ways of the profession.
“Handling” is a Competitive Sport:
How do I know that it takes very specialized skills to achieve a high degree of mastery to be an accomplished dog handler? Simple, in my lifetime I have achieved high levels of mastery in several sports and endeavors. Baseball/softball came natural to me and I played it to high school level and semi-pro leagues, bowling became an obsession and it took me to the tour where I bowled 3 perfect games, racquetball was a super pastime but playing at the top levels in tournaments and achieving my share of success also gave me mastery of that game.
From personal experience, dog handling at the top levels requires as much expertise as it does to become top drawer in any of the sports that I achieved high levels of success with.
A primary measurement that I use to gauge the level of difficulty involved in learning how to handle dogs is that I teach dog handling and have been doing so now for 18 years. In that time there have been hundreds if not a thousand people that have attended my weekly classes (multiply about 30 people per week for 18 years), dozens of all-day seminars and hundreds of private training sessions with me at the farm and at other meeting places.
The great majority of those attending all those sessions came in totally green though many overlapped and attended other trainer’s classes throughout the area. Many were active for numerous years of attending classes and even handling their own dogs at dog matches and shows.
From the seeming ease that is first perceived by those new to dog shows, you would surmise that there are hundreds of people from those thousands that have gone on to become accomplished dog handlers.
What does the tale of the tape say? I can count all of those that rose to a level of competency with the fingers in both of my hands!!!
In 10 years of bowling I witnessed over a hundred people rise from average bowlers (175+ averages) to accomplished bowlers with 210+ averages.
I personally know of 7 baseball players that I played with that made it to the big leagues.
I also know of dozens of my buddy racquetball players that stayed on the circuit at the professional level for many years.
Yet, there have only been 10 people from well over a thousand that have gone on to a very proficient level of dog handling. For the bankers, financial gurus and math addicts out there that may be reading this essay, that’s less than 1%!!!!!
There are thousands of people that own dogs and go to dog shows and handle their own dogs. I see them weekend in, weekend out. They trot their dogs into the ring and minutes later they trot out, the only difference is that when they go out of the ring they are not as happy as when they trotted in.
Ok, this article is not to dissuade anyone reading it to not get involved in dog training/handling, gee that would be like committing economic suicide for me as a dog handling teacher. On the contrary, I want more people to get involved in the training and handling of their own dogs. It is my job as a trainer to teach you the best techniques and presentation. But what you need is a commitment to the “sport” and a competitive spirit to be the best you can be in the ring. Our reputation depends on it!
Handling Procedures and Protocol:
The primary job of a dog handler is to present a dog in the ring to a person that has been designated as a judge for that breed. That presentation entails many facets, from gaiting the dog around the ring in prescribed ring patterns at a breed-specific speed, to stacking the dog for the judge to view the dog’s outline, front and rear assemblies, with once again breed specific attention to certain features of a dog that may be prominent with certain breeds.
The judge also performs a “hands-on” examination of the dog, examining the teeth and bite, feeling the texture of the coat, measuring the height and proper proportions of legs, arms and back, even feeling the testicles to ascertain if a male dog possesses two of them. While this is being performed, the handler’s job is to keep the dog in a steady pose for the thorough exam.
A handler is hired at a pre-arranged fee to handle a dog and that then becomes his handling assignment. The rules of engagement call for this handler to be on this dog when the right time comes for the dog’s breed to be judged and that particular dog’s class is called into the ring. At which time, the handler then walks into the ring and performs the routines that are called for by the particular judge.
If for some reason the handler can not be there at the time that the dog must go into the ring, he designates a backup handler to take his place. The original handler is responsible for the compensation of this substitute backup handler.
The fees for handling vary greatly from handler to handler and even from breed to breed. The average* going rate for handling service in Florida is currently $75 to $95 (all-breed dog shows) to go in the ring with a dog.
The basic fee covers going in for the dog’s first class and the going in for Winner’s Class.
There are add-ons to this basic fee which may include the following:
Handlers may also take on “ringside pickups” to augment their regular handling assignments. With ringside pickups, the handler is only responsible for entering into the ring with the dog and takes it from the owners or a designated “holder” minutes prior to ring entry. The holder is responsible for having the dog nearby the ring entrance for the handler and then taking the dog as soon as the handler is finished with the dog.
What You Need To Know About Priorities:
Handlers take on more than one dog in each breed to avoid having to run all over the building or grounds, thus covering that ring and those dogs at that ring more efficiently. This is why there are different handlers for different breeds and some handlers are seldom seen with some breeds.
Since a handler may have numerous dogs to handle in one particular breed and since the possibility exists that he/she may win more than one of the classes with his handling assignments, priorities are set up in advance as to which dogs will be handled by the handler and which dogs will need backup handlers to bring them back in the ring for Winners Dog/Winners Bitch. Also some handlers have a specials dog (champions) that they handle in the breed ring and this dog will also figure into the pre-determined priorities once Best Of Breed is called for in for that breed.
There is a natural order according to the classes that has become the accepted protocol for priorities, although changes may be made by the handler according to circumstances.
Since dogs being shown in the Open Class* are usually the most seasoned and thus the ones with the most points and also because it is the last class to go into the ring before the Winners Class, this then becomes a handler's first priority and most handlers will stay on this dog in the ring for Winners. If the handler had other dogs that won other classes, then a backup handler is designated for those dogs to go back into the ring for Winners while the original handler stays on his priority dog from the Open Class.
The usual order of priority succession is as follows
It should be noted that nothing is cast in stone with priorities and the handler may at his discretion make changes as he/she sees fit. Bottom line, it is the handler that calls the shots according to which dog receives her or his priorities! In most cases, it has been pre-arranged with the different dog's owners.
A handler is in tune to judging trends that may become apparent as the judging progresses and the game plan for the day may need to be changed. A dog in a lower class may “get hot” and start being notice by the judges by winning and thus need to hopscotch over a higher ranking dog. Since entries are made almost 3 weeks before a show, at times a dog may win several shows and actually accumulate more points from a lower class way before it can be changed to a higher priority class and thus the handler may make him his priority even though he is in a lower ranking class.
For those in the Partner Program that receive the great benefits of the program, it should be very evident that each of you are receiving unheard of monetary discounts by having your dog be part of our handling assignments. From comparing the going rates of handlers at our level of handling proficiency, those in the Partners Program pay half of what handlers are charging their clients in the Labrador ring. Unless we travel with your dog and you pay the extra $12 per day for maintenance, your dogs are considered “ringside pickups” and each owner must act as holders for their own dogs. The dogs must be ready to go into the ring at the prescribed time and the holder must be waiting outside the ring entrance to receive the dog back once it is finished showing.
Those dogs that take a 1st place are called “class winners” and must go back into the ring for Winners Dog or Winners Bitch, so the holders must be aware that they need to go back in for more competition. Also, dogs taking a 2nd place in a class may need to go back into the ring for Reserve, so they too must be held close by until further instructions from the handler. Dogs receiving a 3rd, 4th or no placement may be taken back to their crates as they are done for the day. If there is special "Puppy Best of Breed", then those winning a first place out of their class will also need to go back at the end of Best of Breed competition for Best Puppy as well.
Although there are usually 3 of us at the dog shows to handle dogs, Jessie, Johanna and myself, at times it becomes necessary for us to hire backups to cover our class winning assignments. I set up the strategies weeks in advance before the deadline for that show’s entries. Those ring strategies may be fine-tuned days before the actual show and then I go over them the morning of the show and at that time I assign the handling assignments to Jessie, Johanna and to myself. I make changes as I see fit according to the fast moving developments and sometimes they are at a second’s notice with the changing scenario as it presents itself to me. 95% of the time it works like clockwork and the show runs smoothly.
However, there are times that most of our dogs win their individual classes and we end up with more dogs to go back into the Winners Class than we have handlers and then backups are needed. Most of the time these designated backup handlers are present and will cover our dogs that need to go back into the ring, however it must be remembered that they also have handling assignments of their own at other rings away from our ring and even though they have been contracted to cover our ring, they may or may not make it over in time to cover us as backups. Sometimes I recruit from my competitors at ringside and these handlers I will owe my services as a backup sometime down the road. As much as I would like to have all the bases covered, there will be those times when things get very hectic and rabbits will need to be pulled out of hats!
I have established handling priorities for each of our handlers and have covered each scenario for the dogs that they handle before hand with Johanna or if she is not there with whomever I designate as ring manager for the day. Generally, I follow the accepted protocol listed previously for priorities from the classes, unless a dog really comes on strong in previous shows and I feel that that dogs needs more attention.
The following are a few of the many priority situations that may come up at a dog show:
There are many more priority situations that may arise that will need to be resolved, too numerous to mention here, however rest assured that each situation will receive the utmost attention that the best decisions will be made to assure success for all involved.
The Role of the Partner:
The reason we can afford our Partners the great discounts is that we handle more Labradors than most handlers take on. That is why each of you can enjoy dog showing and not have to pay as much for handling. This makes it more affordable for those in the program. Those discounts are only made available to Labradors in the Partners Program. For other breeds of dogs that we handle that are not part of the program, the going rates (full fare) apply with bonuses and the add-ons just as other handlers charge.
If I need a backup handler, I will secure them as the manager and handler of the dog. It is never proper etiquette for owners to enlist a handler once you have “contracted” us to handle your dog. However, you may hire a handler for the next day’s show if you are not satisfied with the service you received from us, but you need to advise me before hand of your decision as most handlers will not take on someone else’s clients without clearing it with the original handler.
If the situation calls for me to enlist the owner of the dog to be the backup, that means that I have enough faith in your handling abilities to do your dog justice as a backup handler. If this is the case, then you will not be charged for that day's handling fees even though we already handled and won with your dog from the Classes.
Least but not Least:
One of the protocols that must be understood by all owners is that I am 100% responsible for all decisions for handling and backups for those dogs in the Partners Program that we handle. None of my handlers are responsible for decisions I make, they just go in the ring with dogs I assign them and will not explain anything to any owner. They will direct those owners to me for any handling assignment and priorities questions.
Finally, one of the most important things for you to understand is that I don’t have the time to explain any of the handling assignments or backups to anyone the day of the show while we are working the rings. We are simply too busy and too focused on the show to address those concerns. There is a time and place and that will be the day after the shows, which is usually Monday.
Following these procedures will create a better working relationship between all of the people involved in this simple-looking, but rather complex endeavor. Owners may ask during the week all the questions that they have and I will make sure that a clear understanding is had by all.
One More Thing:
If we are handling your dog and you do the entries yourself, you need to consult with me about the classes that your dog will be showing from. There are strategies that pertain to each single dog and after 38 years of doing this, I have it pretty much down to a science as to how all this works. There are many things that have to be considered when thinking about ring strategies and I will be more than glad to cover all those eventualities before the days of the show.
Keep in mind that I have the best interest of each of those dogs in mind when I make decisions about each of them and that it is for their betterment. We don’t handle dogs for the shear “numbers”, we don’t pad entries to build a major, if a dog is in our program it is there because I feel it deserves to be showing and can win at any given time under the right circumstances. If a dog or owner does not fit the Betterment of the Breed program, I will be the one that decides that and I will make it known about that particular dog or to that person.
Each of the owners in the program has a special working relationship with me and together we will ensure that the Betterment of the Breed is served and that we continue to enjoy the sport with our dogs. We all need to be on the same page about how all this works so that it will work smoothly and the dissemination of this information is very educational in the learning process for all involved.
Feel free to contact me with questions about any of the preceding.
EDITORS NOTE: I have received numerous feedback from this essay already and will address most of the inquiries and questions with a follow up article, hopefully it won't take 3 more years to complete as this first one did.
As with the other articles, I will include responses to this one. Here is one I just received from one of our Partners
I just finished reading the Handling Primer 101. It is very interesting and it confirms feelings that I have developed during my short time in the "dog show world."
The show priorities that have to be set by our handlers is something that I became aware of an it makes TOTAL sense to me. When kids play sports in school, and are part of a team, they are expected to understand when they sit bench in favor of a player who happens to be "hot" at that time. This is just how it is. You still root for your team.
I am happy to be part of this partners community and one of the things that makes it more enjoyable is that, whether my own dog wins or not, if a Chambray dog gets the purple (or even better BOB) I have cause to celebrate. WE have won!
In reverse, every time that my bitch has won, I have been surrounded by cheering and genuinely happy partners. WE have won!
Don't get me wrong -- I would love for Caramela to win every time that she steps in the ring. But since that is not really possible, I love that the Chambray dogs are doing well.
It is natural to want all the attention and the best handlers to be put on your own dog. We all want our own dogs to be number 1 with the handling team. But that is not always possible.
I really don't know enough to make the decisions that you make when you set your priorities. I just have to trust your years of experience and knowledge.
We have beautiful dogs, several of which show true championship potential. We are lucky.
Several of us have started competing our dogs at UKC conformation events and have found them to be very enjoyable. Very much less stressful than the AKC events, and with no professional handlers allowed, a little bit of an adventure for us owners. We sometimes handle each others' dogs and generally have a nice time. Very low key and educational. I recommend these shows as an alternative to the AKC experience.
I would also like to point out that, for those who get impatient with the slow road to success in AKC conformation, there are other options. As you know, I dallied in "Rally" and Caro qualified for her Rally Novice title. Now, I am training for obedience competition. Soon, I will take my waddling body and beautiful dog to the obedience ring and try for her Companion Dog title. It is a challenge to both of us and we are having fun in the preparation for the competition.
Also, I would like to encourage our partners to consider using their beautiful dogs to bring happiness to others by registering them as Therapy Dogs. Several of our dogs already participate in this type of activities - and we find it very rewarding. As you know, I recently developed and implemented two different therapy dog reading programs. Now, we are offering therapy dogs to work with autistic children and at the local pediatric hospital. ALL of our dogs are champions! They are contributing to our community in a very real way.
Thank you for sharing your handling philosophy with us -- which is why I was sending you this email before I got derailed and went on and on.
It makes total sense.
See you soon,
Thank you for taking the time (3 years!!!!) to put together the Dog Show Handling article. I only wish I had this information when I started in dog shows! It took me a good year or so to learn what you condensed so well into one article. Though nothing can replace the actual experiences, this is a wonderful reference and gives an explanation for so many things that occur at the shows.
I know at first I asked a million questions, and I still feel like I have so much more to learn. It’s great having you as a resource!
Hi Mr Herzon
I only wish I lived in your area and could partake in your offerings. We have nothing like this around here where a breeder is actually there for the dogs they breed, with training and handling for those new to the dog shows. We purchased a show puppy from a breeder in our state and are going through the learning process now, however there is so much to learn and we get so much conflicting information according to who we speak to. We now have half a dozen different show leads, collars and the such, some tell us to use this and others say use that. It would be great if you could write a book for those new to the dog show world, we would be the first to buy it.
Emily and Toby Smith
EDITORS NOTE: Thank you for your feedback, it took me 3 years to write the article above, a book might not be finished in the years I have left. LOL!!!!!!
Come back often, as more terminology will be added from time to time.
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