Another Big Win for the AKC Owner Handler

Another Big Win for the AKC Owner Handler


Another Big Win for the AKC Owner Handler

If you were paying attention to the announcements from the American Kennel Club, on May 17, 2023, they published a significant win for owner handlers. Starting May 31, 2023, the owner handler will be considered nearly equal to professional handlers in yet one more area directly affecting competition.

There was a change in the Policy* that governs the time frame for showing dogs to judges with whom you’ve had a relationship. In the case of the owner handler, the relationship addressed is that of handling instruction or mentoring. In the case of professional handlers, it addresses the length of time between handling for a judge and the first show where they are eligible to show to that same judge who has paid them for their services.

For a long time, owner handlers have felt erred upon because of the extensive length of time (compared to the professionals) they had to wait to show to an instructor or mentor, even though there could be a case for the idea that the professional relationship could be stronger than, say, an occasional handling class. Now the time frame is the same.

The May AKC Board of Directors meeting voted to change the Policy so that an owner handler may take handling classes or online instruction/mentoring and show to that judge SIX months later. Formerly, the time allowance was one year. A significant change, indeed. Here’s the actual wording of the new Policy. (You can find this wording in the so-called “Red Book,” Rules, Policies and Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges on the Pink Insert.**)

Revisions to the Rules, Policies and Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges Effective May 31, 2023 This insert is issued as a supplement to Rules Policies and Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges amended to September 2022 and approved by the AKC Board May 5, 2023. Replace the existing section on Handling/Presentation Classes (page 5) with the following: [P] Handling/Presentation Classes—No entry shall be made at any conformation show under a judge of any dog or owner for which said judge has provided in person or virtual handling and presentation instructions in either conformation or obedience training classes. This restriction will apply within six-month prior to the date of the show.

As you can see, this wording allows owner handlers to exhibit their dogs to judges following participation in educational resources from that judge. Notice that this time frame is HALF what it used to be.

Where there’s competition, the bar is raised.


Why is This a Win for the AKC Owner Handler?

First, this allows all owner handlers, whether novice or advanced, to participate in a high level of continuing education available to them. When exhibitors are more proficient and understand more fully what judges are looking for, they develop their skills and understanding of the Sport more quickly. Experienced exhibitors can jump to a higher level with this kind of instruction.

When they learn about the Sport directly from a judge, from a professional perspective and in the judge’s own words, the exhibitor learns to present their dog more effectively. For example, in a typical handling class, the exhibitor learns to stack their dog correctly. When learning from a judge, they are more likely to understand why that is important to their eventual “win rate.” They learn how and why the results vary from show to show because of how different judges interpret the Breed Standard. Learning from judges is an invaluable experience, and now AKC is allowing, if not encouraging, this through this Rule change.

When judging recently, I had quite a few novices in my ring. AKC doesn’t want judges to provide actual “instruction” in the ring, but wants us to work with our newer exhibitors so that they feel welcome and desire further dog show experience. Enhanced explanation of details in the ring, naturally, takes a little extra time. Of course, AKC requires judges to stay on time, so these added few minutes every hour accumulate, adding up to time that isn’t spent actually “judging.”

We always want new people in our Bigger Game of Dog Shows, so it’s well worth it. Later, my steward remarked, “You helped a lot of new people today. That was really nice to see.” My response? “That’s what we do.” Pure and simple.

Indeed, I see the handlers willing to pitch in as needed ringside. Whether owners or professionals, I consistently see them helping each other get dogs into the ring. These are the types of things that elevate each of us and create exhibitors for the long haul in the Sport.


The Great Equalizer—Professional Handlers and Judges

There has been a long-standing four-month Policy that stated: a “professional handler may not show to a judge for whom they have handled dogs for four months before and four months after. In the May Board of Directors meeting, the Directors voted to INCREASE the time a handler may not show to a judge. It is now equal to that of an owner handler who has taken instruction, coaching, or mentoring from a judge to the same amount of time: SIX months.

Here’s what it says, officially:

Revisions to the Rules, Policies and Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges Effective May 31, 2023 This insert is issued as a supplement to Rules Policies and Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges amended to September 2022 and approved by the AKC Board May 5, 2023. Replace the existing section on Judges Who Use The Services Of An Agent (page 5) with the following:

[P] Judges Who Use The Services Of An Agent—If you use the services of an agent, instruct the agent that he/she, any member of the agent’s household, or any handling associate of the agent may not exhibit dogs under you or any member of your household while in your employ and for at least six months after working for you. In addition, you or a member of your household must not knowingly use the services of an agent, any member of the agent’s household, or any handling associate of the agent to handle your dog(s) for at least four months after the agent has exhibited under you. This Policy applies to all levels of competition. A judge/agent conflict cannot be circumvented by having an otherwise eligible individual exhibit the dog in the class under the judge with whom the conflict exists.

The Board chose to keep the amount of time before the show to the original four months. This Policy equalizes the time the owner handler may receive important instruction to the time the professional handler may receive monies from a judge to be equal.

However, the tables are turned now. The professional handlers now have to wait four months longer than the owner handlers; previously, it was the owner handlers who had the greater four months. It will be interesting to see if this is changed in the near future.

This change reverses the long-standing Policy that had previously been untouchable. The reasons are, of course, known only to Board members. Still, the owner handlers’ power and participation in the NOHS program is of primary importance and, therefore, should be protected at nearly any cost. NOHS has kept the entries up at many shows; over 80 percent of entries are owner-handled eligible. At this point, almost all shows have NOHS on at least one of the days of their show weekend or cluster.


What will be the biggest effect on the Sport of Dogs?

This change benefits everyone in the Sport. When the integrity of the Sport is elevated, everyone is a winner. When there’s equality between the handlers, there is a heightened awareness that just because someone chose to go the professional route rather than the owner-handled route it doesn’t mean one is more ethical or entitled than the other. The aura of entitlement, whether real or imagined, has been alleviated by the change in Policy.

Moreover, with the time being equalized, I predict that everyone will work together. Less disparity equals more commonality. In turn, the exhibitors benefit from learning faster, judges benefit from having more knowledgeable exhibitors, and breeds benefit from more knowledgeable breeder/exhibitors. Where there’s competition, the bar is raised.


*AKC has Official Rules and Policies; thus the capitalization of both.


  • Ms. Lee Whittier has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs for over three decades. Her involvement began as an owner, exhibitor and, subsequently, a breeder of Rottweilers. She has owned Akitas, Bullmastiffs, and a Sussex Spaniel. She currently owns, breeds, and exhibits Tibetan Terriers. Ms. Whittier began judging in 2000, and then took a hiatus for several years to work for the American Kennel Club as an Executive Field Representative in the Pacific Northwest. She returned to judging in 2011, and currently judges the Working, Terrier, Toy, and Non-Sporting Groups, seventeen Hound Breeds, ten Sporting Breeds, Bouvier des Flandres, and Best in Show. Ms. Whittier has judged dog shows around the world, from the United States, Canada, South America, and Asia, at shows large and small; all of great importance to each and every exhibitor. Some of the larger shows are Westminster Kennel Club, Kennel Club of Philadelphia, Del Valle Dog Club of Livermore, Great Western Terrier Association, Northern California Terrier Association, Hatboro Dog Club, Inc., Malibu Kennel Club, and the Kennel Club of Palm Springs. Ms. Whittier is a standing member of Dog Fanciers of Oregon, The Central Florida Cairn Terrier Club, Columbia River Cairn Terrier Association, and the Tibetan Terrier Club of America. As an active member in numerous clubs, she has worked in the capacity of Show Chair, President, Vice-President, Secretary, Board Member, and Constitution & By-Laws Revision Committee Member. In addition to judging, Ms. Whittier developed the Dog Show Mentor program, exclusively for owner handlers. This is an online program where owner handlers of all stages and levels learn to develop an individual, strategic approach to showing dogs. She also travels to speak to owner handlers all over the world. She currently lives in Vancouver, Washington, with her husband, Wayne, and their three Tibetan Terriers. Her other interests include gardening and hiking with the dogs.

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