Handlers — Professional and Otherwise

dog handling


Not unlike other aspects of dog shows, the subject of handling attracts different opinions. We have a very successful National Owner-Handled Series (NOHS) competition which has grown exponentially since its early years. There are beginners in the sport who, at some point, acquire their first show dog.

Often the advice given to these novices is to get a professional handler, but many want to enjoy the day in the ring with their dog. Granted, there is a learning curve for individuals to learn the mechanics of exhibiting their breed, which often includes breed-specific grooming. There are those who become accomplished in the ring and spend their time in the sport of dogs as a breeder-handler. Many of these individuals can present their own dog as well as any professional.

We have all seen the other side of that coin where a novice handler takes their first puppy into the ring for its first dog show. If nothing else, it can be entertaining. I often ask the novice to come back into the ring after I finish judging. I usually tell them that going into the ring the first time is one of life’s truly humbling moments. I then tell them to look around the dog show. Every person who is the ring has stood in their shoes at one time. I tell them to keep up their efforts with their dog and simply have a wonderful day with their puppy until such time that they have learned the mechanics of exhibiting.

Every club, including the AKC, asks the same question: “Where is our next generation of dog people coming from?

The millennial mindset tells our youth that you do not have to work to achieve, and anything you want you’re entitled to… NOW! In the past, a couple developed a decades-long successful breeding program. When they were getting too old to continue the rigors of dog shows, their kids took over the program—and did so for many years. Today, many of our youth have seen how much work is involved in maintaining a successful breeding program and they don’t want any part of it.

My own opinion for developing the next generation of dog people is to support Junior Showmanship (JS) and puppies. These young people who participate in JS are nothing short of an asset to our sport. Their abilities, and more importantly, their demeanor and sportsmanship, are what we should want in every ring.

Several years ago, the AKC National Championship began a Puppy Sweepstakes at their show in Orlando. I was asked to judge at the first year of this event. The AKC was projecting a total entry of around 400 dogs. The actual entry was 1,100 and they had to get seven more judges once the entries had been tabulated.

The professional handler is a much-needed aspect of any dog show. There are breeders/owners who simply do not possess the ability to show their own dogs, have reached an age where it is no longer viable for them to go into the ring, or believe (rightfully so) that a professional handler can show their dog to its best advantage. There is also the fact that professionals earn their stripes and reputations by how much their dogs win. Taking “gas dogs” into the ring does little to promote a handler’s reputation or the quality of a breed.


I have always classified handlers into two categories:
  1. People who Handle Dogs for a Fee
  2. Professional Handlers

There is a difference. Most handlers fall into category No. 2. They do their job beautifully and conduct themselves in a highly professional manner. I come from a breed (Great Danes) which is one of the best-presented breeds at any show. We have a plethora of handlers who specialize in the breed, and their clients certainly get their money’s worth.

Then there are those who fall into category No 1. Many judges have had experiences where a handler needs to take Winners in order to finish their dog, but the judge that day awards the dog Reserve or Second Place in the class. When the judge is handing out the ribbons, the handler will show their displeasure by snatching the ribbon from the judge’s hand. I have had this happen a few times.

I will call the handler back into the ring and ask them to give me back the ribbon. I will then tell them that I am giving them the opportunity to take the ribbon in a manner appropriate for a professional handler or, when I am finished judging, we will have a conversation with the Field Rep. They know what that could mean and have always complied. Behavior that reflects poorly on our sport, in particular from individuals who are categorized as professionals, is simply not acceptable.

In closing, please remember to support our JS competitors and our puppies.

  • Bill Stebbins began his involvement with purebred dogs and, in particular, the Great Dane in the late 1960s. He and his wife, primarily due to their good fortune with having a wonderful mentor, had a lot of good fortune with their dogs. One of their dogs was ranked No. 1 in the nation and several were in the Top 10. Bill began judging in 1986. He is approved for the Working and Herding Groups, and he thoroughly enjoys the opportunities he has to be in the show ring. Bill was on the Board of the Great Dane Club of South Florida for approximately 25 years and was a member of the Ft. Lauderdale Dog Club. He is currently an honorary member of the Ann Arbor Kennel Club and a member of the Wolverine Great Dane Club. He has also served on the Board of Directors of the Great Dane Club of America (GDCA). In recent years, Bill has become a member of the Palm Beach County Dog Fanciers Association and the Great Dane Club of Southeast Florida. Bill was Chairman of Judges Education for the Great Dane Club of America for several years, assisted in Breeder’s Education, and manages the GDCA’s Breed Mentor program. He writes a regular article for the only printed Great Dane magazine still in existence and, occasionally, has had articles in some of the all-breed magazines as well. Bill retired in 2012 and now has the ability to devote more time to an avocation which has become a vocation.

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