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Handling In Hawaii: A Young Handler Embodies ‘Ohana’ and the Aloha Spirit

Jake Lum handling a dog at a show in Hawaii

Hawaii is a place known for its natural beauty, culture, and family-oriented communities. However, not many discuss the islands’ close-knit community of dog lovers.

Aloha! My name is Jake Lum and I am writing to share my experiences with you. I have been involved in the sport of purebred dogs all my life, starting with my favorite breed—English Mastiffs. I had first-hand experience in raising and showing dogs, and the dog show community here has helped to guide me into the handler I am today.

I always looked forward to the dog shows because I would spend time with my friends. I remember running around the showgrounds and being at the playground, not paying attention to the dog show. As I grew up, I began to help my parents with preparing the dogs for the ring. The thought of handling a dog never crossed my mind at the time.

One day, a handler called me aside and handed me a Chihuahua and said, “You’re going to show this dog.” I was shocked and nervous, as most kids would be. I had to step into a ring not knowing ring procedures or anything about showing. The judge noticed it was my first time and made it very clear to me what to do.

After being in the ring for the first time, I fell in love with showing a dog and wanted to learn more. I attended handling classes on the weekends, and yes, I started off training with Mastiffs. After a few years of gaining experience, I got my first dog—a Chihuahua. I showed him to many successful placements. The success ignited the drive and passion to become a handler for others.

Being a kid, it was difficult to approach breeders to inquire about showing their dogs. I started to ask my trainer for assistance in helping me find dogs to handle, and the trainer was able to find someone needing help with their dogs. I accepted the offer to assist in showing a breeder’s dogs.

When I started showing, I was not given the trained dogs to handle, which was frustrating to me. However, as time went on handling this breed, my trainer said that having difficult dogs would improve my skills—but it won’t be overnight. I soon found out what my trainer meant by that statement. My time, dedication, and help from the breeder reflected in my handling of this breed.

As time went on, I kept active by attending weekly training classes. When I would attend dog shows, I sat at ringside and watched different breeds being shown. I wanted to handle and learn more about other breeds. At training classes, I started practicing with different breeds. I began to understand more about each breed. I would read the Breed Standards and watch YouTube videos of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. From doing all of this research and observations, I learned that you have to develop the basic skills first and then you can modify your handling for each breed. Each breed is shown differently because all Breed Standards are never the same.

Gaining more experience in handling and knowledge allowed me to handle many other breeds. The breeds I have shown are the Chinese Crested, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Mastiff, Shiba Inu, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Shetland Sheepdog, Border Terrier, Toy Poodle, Yorkshire Terrier, and Wire Fox Terrier. Showing all of these breeds has greatly helped me with personal skills in becoming a better handler and expanded my knowledge of different breeds.

Being in my mid-twenties now, I realize how much dedication and time it takes breeders to ensure they’re breeding healthy, quality dogs. I have come to understand that there is always something to learn, whether you’re a professional or a breeder. I am learning how to have an open mind when others are giving me tips and pointers about my handling.

Hawaii dog show

Coming from Hawaii, the dog show “ohana” [family, including blood-related, adoptive, or intentional] is small; everyone knows each other. As an exhibitor of my own dogs and other people’s dogs, I have to say that the show ohana here truly embraces the aloha spirit. Everyone is readily available to help one another in showing, breeding, grooming, and sharing of knowledge. People are very involved in the local all-breed and breed clubs. Members and exhibitors provide generous donations and assistance in ensuring the shows run smoothly and successfully.

There was a time recently when shows here did not have an official show photographer, so exhibitors with personal cameras would volunteer to take official and candid photos. Show venues are becoming hard for clubs to secure in Hawaii due to high costs or unavailable grounds, but luckily many club members have friendships or connections that allow use of private properties for shows. My favorite parts of the shows are going from tent to tent, enjoying the company of other exhibitors/friends, and having conversations full of laughter and smiles. I also enjoy the bake sales full of delicious treats baked by exhibitors and club members. All of these examples I’ve mentioned show how the ohana feelings are prevalent in Hawaii.

Sadly, I have noticed over the years that the numbers of entries, exhibitors, and breeders are declining, not only here in Hawaii but also throughout all of our AKC events. I always question why this decline is occurring. We may never know the answers, but we can all work together to help others get involved. I have noticed exhibitors only focus on winning and show poor sportsmanship when they do not win. I think, a lot of the time, people forget that dog shows are not only about winning. From what I have learned, dog shows are about showing your dog in which your breeding is evaluated by a judge. The judge judges your breeding to the Breed Standard. Their opinions are important because it can indicate if you need to reevaluate your breeding.

I firmly believe in having sportsmanship and fun with your dogs and your fellow competitors. I tend to see some exhibitors getting discouraged when they don’t win. I understand the discouragement at times, though I always say to never give up.

I felt nervous starting off showing when I was younger, and I got scared showing against very talented handlers. Those handlers helped me to better my skills and ignite the drive to learn more. That drive pushed me to succeed in exhibiting. I obtained many Group placements and my first-ever back-to-back Best in Show wins throughout my years of handling. I could not have done it without all the support, knowledge, and guidance from the breeders, trainers, exhibitors, and the judges.

In 2019, I attained a huge goal of mine, which was becoming an all-breed Junior Showmanship judge. My main goal with this was to encourage and pass down the knowledge I have gained to “the future of our sport.” I truly enjoy judging Juniors because I enjoy evaluating the skills and abilities of each Junior in presenting their breed. I encourage them to have fun, bond with their dogs, and learn their breed. I highly encourage sportsmanship and creating friendships with other Juniors. I have judged many times in other states and I can say the Juniors are very supportive of one another… and the future looks great in their hands.

I would love to further my involvement in the sport by becoming a Breed Judge and expanding my knowledge. I stay active in the sport by being a previous owner handler, professional handler, and judging Junior Showmanship. Outside of dog shows, I am currently majoring in Biology at the University of Hawaii Manoa. Once I graduate, I would love to further my education and become a health care practitioner. I am still debating which field I would like to go into, but I know I will figure it out soon. I truly enjoy science courses in school and once I enter the medical field, I would provide the best care possible and help people.

Hawaii dog show

I’ve enjoyed sharing my experiences as an exhibitor and owner handler with you. I want to encourage you to embrace the aloha spirit to help others get involved in the sport. If you get the chance to come to Hawaii and attend a dog show, you won’t regret it! You will eat lots of delicious food and experience the feeling of ohana.