In Chinese Astrology, 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit. Thought by those who follow the lunisolar calendar to bring luck and good fortune, the lapine year ahead is expected to provide a bounty of success for those who believe. However, only devotees who are prepared to achieve their objectives through hard work, determination, and strategic planning should expect to find luck with any consistency. After all, anybody can get lucky once. Realizing a “personal best” for the coming year, by contrast, is going to require more than a “fat chance” or a lucky rabbit’s foot.
For Owner Handlers looking to improve their odds of winning in 2023, the following considerations should prove helpful toward finding show ring success throughout the year.
Evaluate Your Dog Objectively
It goes without saying that a dog show isn’t a dog show with the dog. Sadly, the emphasis for many owner handlers is too often placed on the show (and more specifically, on the results of the show), with little consideration for the shortcomings of the dog on the other end of the lead.
For in spite of every exhibitor’s professed love for their dog, the hard truth is that not all lovable purebreds are created equal. Some, it must be acknowledged, fall short in key areas of type and temperament for their breed. These dogs can have a minor, serious or major fault that allows them to compete but generally prevents them from being considered for top awards. A mismark or misaligned tooth can be a deal breaker when the stakes are high.
Other dogs are just not equipped to reliably handle the rigors of competition—week in and week out. No matter their breed-specific qualities, these dogs lack confidence which puts them at a distinct disadvantage in a ring filled with outgoing personalities. Their apprehension can make them a challenge to examine and their poorly carried tails betray their true feelings about spending the day at a dog show.
These dogs, no doubt, can be wonderful companions for their owners and may even be top producers, but unfortunately, their quality is too often difficult for judges to accurately assess. Unhappy show dogs rarely get lucky and are best left at home (or in the RV) where they can keep the sofa warm while awaiting their owners’ return. There’s no shame in having a beautiful dog all to yourself, but if you want to be truly competitive in the coming year you’re going to need the right dog.
So, evaluate your current dog’s faults and merits objectively. Get a second (or third) opinion if you’re unsure, and stick with whatever decision you make. If a new dog is what’s needed, spread the word so that your peers know what you’re looking for. Be open to working with a new dog—or even a different breed. And don’t worry, the right partner is waiting for you to take the lead.
Handle Your Business Like a Business
Showing dogs can certainly be fun, but for exhibitors who are looking to achieve greater success this year the stakes have never been higher. The National Owner-Handled Series (NOHS) has quickly become a highly competitive arena where the top-ranked dogs in each breed can also be the top-ranked dogs for their breed overall. The very best Owner Handlers today handle their business like the pros, leaving little to chance as they strategize their way throughout every show day—not to mention the weeks and months ahead. Successful exhibitors think winning is fun and they consistently do what is necessary to experience as much fun (winning) as possible. How do they do this?
Well, they always come prepared and they don’t fall victim to many of the temptations that disadvantage their competitors. Winners don’t make excuses when they lose, choosing instead to graciously accept the ribbon they are handed. They don’t belittle the winning dog or its handler and they never disparage the judge. When they win, they don’t gloat in the ring or brag excessively on social media.
Winners know that today’s top dog can walk out of the ring tomorrow. Winners understand that mistakes can be made, but unlike exhibitors who become fixated on them they choose to learn from them instead. Winners remain encouraged and avoid becoming overly critical of themselves. They simply strive to do their best and continue to expect the best from their dogs. Winners expect the best from judges and from their competitors too, so they never let down their guard until the final decisions are made.
They also respect the sport and are always prepared. They know how to follow directions and they (usually) play fair even when the pressure is on. And they never let the competition see them sweat. Instead, they assess the playing field carefully. Winners only enter shows where they think their dogs have the best chance of winning, and not coincidentally, they know how to mind their own business too.
Expect the Unexpected
A funny thing happened on the way to the dog show. This seemingly innocuous reality of life is ultimately understood by every dog show exhibitor whose day doesn’t turn out as expected. Despite the best laid plans of mice and men (and dogs and women), things can and do happen on “dog show days” that are beyond our control. Dogs can get sick, tires and engines can fail, and very good judges can be replaced by an exhibitor’s worst nightmare.
As in life, nothing in the sport of dogs is guaranteed—including the results at the end of the day. This is why Owner Handlers who truly want the win should be mindful to prepare for each day just as an athlete prepares for a game or a meet. Set a schedule that allows for life’s little mishaps, such as the GPS that sends you to the other side of town at 8:05 a.m. when you have an 8:30 a.m. ring time.
Pack a lunch that is both nutritious and delicious instead of having to leave the show to do a drive-by at a drive-thru. A crudité platter can be prepared the night before and is a much better choice than a McSomething that can send your circadian rhythm plummeting just as Groups are about to start. Set up for the day or weekend alongside trusted friends who are part of your support system. Enjoy the camaraderie while remembering that dog shows are more than mere competitive events.
They are shared experiences where a good neighbor will remind an errant BOB winner that “the Working Group is in the ring NOW!” But should a ring time be missed, it’s important to remember that every obstacle is also an opportunity. Take each experience as it comes, and always measure progress incrementally (even when it’s two steps forward and three steps back). Above all, remain resilient when circumstances change or things don’t do your way. Your legacy in the sport will not be determined by a single win or loss.
In 2023, remember to always give it your all and never give up on your goals. Luck will eventually find you when you least expect it at the intersection of preparation and professionalism.
Successful Owner Handlers are competitors and collaborators who wish each other good luck.