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2023 Top Junior Handler Lila Holberg

Lila Holberg

2023 Top Junior Handler Lila Holberg

Behind the majority of most successful professional dog handlers is a long career in Junior Showmanship that precedes it.

While she has not gone out on her own yet, such has been the case for Lila Holberg who finished out 2023 as the Top Junior Handler in the country, according to one system. She defeated a total of 1,881 other Junior Handlers, amassing 43 class wins, 66 Best Junior wins, and 19 Reserve wins.

“It is a huge honor to end 2023 as the Number One Junior Handler All-Breeds,” Lila shares. “It’s especially exciting as this is the second year in a row I have earned the top spot! It was a great amount of hard work, dedication, and long hours spent on the road to achieve this goal of mine. There are so many talented kids and to be among them is an honor in itself!”

Lila Holberg

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon breeders Lisa Boyer Miller and Lisa Durand are who Lila says encouraged her and her sister to try Junior Showmanship.

Lila and her family had three Griffons who were their companions, and started out showing them by attending her first show with “Indy” when she was nine years old. Ultimately, Lila stuck with showing dogs, while her sister chose not to continue on in the sport.

It’s been an interesting and busy journey for Lila, who wasn’t able to be in the ring on an every weekend basis due to school.

“The first few years I showed were quite limited as I was attending in-person school and had many extracurricular activities,” she reports. “I was quickly growing a profound passion for the sport, and made the decision that I wanted to dedicate more time to dogs. I settled on cutting back on some of my extracurriculars, so I could devote more time to dogs.”

Lila Holberg

Since then, Lila has gone on to work for professional handler Terri Erickson, who has served as a mentor to her in multiple ways.

“While she is an all-breed handler, and has taught me all there is to know about the handling and care of dogs, she has also been very insightful into the fundamentals of breeding,” Lila shares. “I greatly look up to her as a person and handler. She continues to exemplify a great work ethic and sportsmanship.”

Holberg has also had a lot of support from mentor figures in addition to Terri. These include her Pointer breeders of the acclaimed Southern Kennel, Tina McDonnell and Lydia Frey.

“I have the utmost gratitude to both ladies for their unwavering support throughout the years and for allowing ‘Fidele,’ GCHS Southern Malmason Pheasantly Surprised, to be my Juniors dog for two years,” Lila says. “Additionally, Kim Abbott of the ColdWater Kennel has been a fabulous mentor to me! A few handlers I greatly look up to are Valerie Nunes-Atkinson, Laurie Fenner, Janice Hayes, Andy Linton, and Tiffany Skinner.”

Learning under so many people who have had success in dogs has paid dividends for Lila. She views apprenticing as something that’s critical to having a solid career in dogs, but does not necessarily believe everyone needs to have a Junior Handling career to become a successful handler themselves. It’s a different journey for everyone.

“Some Juniors get a late start to Juniors and are aged-out after only a year of showing,” she explains. “Many people also get started later in life. I think more than anything, if you want to become a professional handler, you should apprentice under multiple professionals themselves. There is a reason they are called the professionals.” Lila also doesn’t believe there’s any one set of criteria that makes a good Junior, as all handlers have different styles and different breeds.

“I don’t think there is one correct answer for what makes a good Junior,” she notes. “However, I do think it is important to know the breed you are showing. Meaning, the condition, grooming, and presentation of the dog. Not every breed is shown the same, so I think it’s important to know how to show your breed, breed-specific. Thinking back on when I was younger, I have improved immensely over time. Even a year ago, I was not the same handler I am now. Weekend after weekend I learn new things, and that has helped me further excel.”

Lila Holberg

Lila feels she has gained a lot from learning under professional handlers. And it goes beyond just the show ring, something that is important for people like her who want to have a career in breeding as well.

“They know and can teach all about animal husbandry, the nuances of each breed, and the conditioning and grooming that goes into each and every dog,” Lila assures. “They have spent a lifetime cultivating their skills, and their knowledge of dogs is
truly remarkable.”

Moving forward, Lila hopes to continue accomplishing more milestones while furthering her career in the dog world. And it’s easy to get the sense she’s just getting started.

“There are many great memories as a Junior so far, but if I had to choose just one, I would have to say making it to the Junior Showmanship Finals at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club under judge Miss Whitney Meeks is the best one,” Lila says. “Later down the road, I would love to breed a Best in Show winning Pointer.”