The 10 Commandments for Owner Handlers – Most everyone goes through life guided by a set of principles, a kind of moral code that helps with life’s decisions—great and small. In the sport of dogs, for example, participants are required to adhere to a wide variety of terms and conditions. The AKC Code of Sportsmanship outlines 15 fundamental values that are to be practiced by judges, stewards, handlers, and exhibitors alike. Dog clubs have by-laws which help to regulate the actions of their members, and many have a Code of Conduct as well. Superintendents and show-giving organizations have their own rules for managing events so as to ensure the comfort and safety of everyone—and every dog—in attendance. And, of course, the entire sport is governed by a registry that provides detailed instruction on everything from acceptable coat colors in each breed to managing cancellations in the wake of COVID-19. Even the AKC National Owner-Handled Series has a set of Best Practices to regulate participation in this non-titling competition. But for the owner handler in need of a bit more inspiration, there’s always guidance that’s available through more “traditional” sources. So, with apologies to Moses and Charlton Heston, here are 10 Commandments for Owner Handlers as decreed from the highest of sources—your own dog!
The AKC Code of Sportsmanship outlines 15 fundamental values that are to be practiced by judges, stewards, handlers, and exhibitors alike. Dog clubs have by-laws which help to regulate the actions of their members, and many have a Code of Conduct as well. Superintendents and show-giving organizations have their own rules for managing events so as to ensure the comfort and safety of everyone—and every dog—in attendance.
Thou Shalt Have No Dogs Before Me—It should come as no surprise that your dog thinks you’re the center of the universe. So, maybe it’s only fitting that you return the favor by extending your undying loyalty, obedience, and respect in the ring. Though you may be tempted at times to idolize the competition’s pretty face and glorious figure, your adoration (both external and within) is best reserved for the only dog at the show that loves you unconditionally.
Thou Shalt Not Say My Name (Unless a Treat Is Involved)—Isn’t it amazing how quickly your puppy learned its name? Even more remarkable is how reliably your pup responds to the sound of its name when there’s a piece of freeze-dried liver in your hand. With all that enthusiasm on display, you’d think that every treat was a last meal. However, don’t think of the exchange of food as a bribe. Instead, think of it as the easiest way of reinforcing the bond the two of you share.
Remember to Celebrate My Birthday—Every Day—You might like to think that your dog is happy to receive all those birthday gifts on its big day… and you’d be right. After all, what could be more fun for your BFF than rolling around in a pile of perfectly plush playthings? (Maybe a custom-designed confection from the doggie bakery?) Actually, as much as your dog appreciates your once-a-year effort, what’s really expected is that same level of attention 24/7/365.
Thou Shalt Honor My Sire and Dam—Although your dog enjoys being the center of attention, your participation in the conformation arena signals your understanding that dog shows are the place where breeding stock gathers to be evaluated. Getting dressed up and showing off can be fun for both dog and handler, but it’s your dog’s pedigree that’s really on display in the ring. Be as competitive as you need to be, but don’t forget to celebrate those breed hallmarks too.
Thou Shalt Not Kill My Chances for Success—As long as you’re in the ring showing your dog to best advantage, try not to throw away the win by thinking you’re in the big leagues when you’re not. Though it may be hard to stay focused on your dog when there’s so many distractions (bait on the floor, professional handlers, bitches in season) your job is to “look alive” and be ready when it’s time for the judge to select Winners Dog, Best of Breed, or Best in Show. Stay focused!
Thou Shalt Not Allow an “Oops” Breeding—All the careful planning in the world can’t account for why accidents happen… but they do happen. Mother Nature and Father Time have their way of getting what they want, including the arrival of unexpected litters of puppies. To counter the often unpredictable forces of nature, careful monitoring of a bitch in season (and management of a willing or willful dog) is essential. With care, unplanned pregnancies can be prevented.
Thou Shalt Not Steal the Spotlight—They don’t call them dog shows for no good reason. While you’re competing head-to-head with your fellow exhibitors, don’t throw away your dog’s chances of winning by thinking the show is all about you. One of the biggest pitfalls an owner handler can make is to lose sight of the fact that it’s the dog that’s being evaluated, not the handler’s skillset (or lack thereof). Too much focus on tips and tricks has cost many exhibitors’ dogs a ribbon.
Thou Shalt Not Lie About the Competition—It can sometimes be tempting to trash-talk the competition, but be forewarned. This kind of behavior is more likely to reflect poorly on you—and on your dog. Why jeopardize your reputation and your dog’s career by spreading gossip or telling tall tales? Lies and innuendo serve no meaningful purpose, and they distract from what’s really important; like staying focused on your own goals and your plans for success.
Thou Shalt Not Envy Thy Competitor’s Bitch—All show dogs (the good, the bad, and the ugly) represent someone’s breeding program. And although no dog is perfect, it can be hard to resist the glamor of an Afghan Hound, the physicality of a Doberman Pinscher, or the gentleness of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. However, don’t be dissuaded from appreciating the many charms of the dog on the other end of your lead. Those loving eyes and wagging tail are yours and yours alone.
Thou Shalt Not Envy Thy Competitor’s Win Record—Let’s be honest. Every owner handler wants to win. But winning, as they say, isn’t everything. Winning is simply the reward for showing up and being prepared when opportunity knocks. Winning is the result of years of dedication and an unfailing devotion to your dog. Winning is the acknowledgement that your efforts to preserve your breed and promote your dog have not gone unnoticed. So, celebrate your dog’s wins, but don’t be led to distraction by someone else’s win record. Stay true to your dog and your day will come.
The 10 Commandments for Owner Handlers
(With Apologies to Moses and Charlton Heston)
By Dan Sayers