Interview With Owner Handler Hunter Calvelage
I am Hunter Calvelage of Carma Que Bernese Mountain Dogs. I am a twenty-two-year-old third generation Breeder, Owner, Handler from Ohio. I was raised in the sport and spend every day trying to do my part to better the world of purebred dogs.
How were you first introduced to the sport of purebred dogs? To your breed?
Hunter Calvelage: I am third generation Breeder, Owner, Handler of Bernese Mountain Dogs. I am so grateful to have been brought into the sport since the day I was born. I experimented around with other breeds, but my heart always brings me back to my original love.
How many years in dogs? In your breed?
Hunter Calvelage: I have been involved with our dogs since before I could walk and talk! I have always shown a deep interest in the care, love, and sport of the dogs. I am now twenty-two years of age.
Do you attend show handling classes? Have you attended in-person handling seminars?
Hunter Calvelage: I attended many handling classes and seminars while I completed in Juniors. I admittedly have not attended one in years, but that does not mean I would not attend another.
Have you found virtual learning tools to be helpful? Videos? Websites? Social Media? AKC Canine College?
Hunter Calvelage: I am a sponge for learning. I love using virtual tools! Nobody ever stops learning, but I feel comfortable with my handling skills that I spend my time finding knowledge in the aspects of structure, grooming, health, and other things that I feel I could benefit deeper on. With that being said, you can only learn so much virtually. If you have the opportunity for in-person lessons and experiences, then absolutely take them! I love listening to podcasts while driving to and from shows.
Do you compete in the National Owner-Handled Series? Are rankings important to you?
Hunter Calvelage: I am not currently eligible to compete in the National Owner-Handled Series. I have handled professionally, removing this opportunity for me. Hopefully, five years from now I will have this eligibility back.
When I did compete in Owner-Handled, rankings were important to me. They showed my hard work, time, and beliefs on a larger scale. With that said, I would never let rankings be the only thing that fuels my desire to show. Rankings are fun to follow, but they can absolutely consume someone and consume the fun that is supposed to come from showing your own dog.
In which class(es) are you most likely to enter your dog(s)?
Hunter Calvelage: I am never picky on which classes to enter. If I have the opportunity, I always prefer to enter in Bred-By. But if I’m not a breeder on paper, then I like to enter in the age-appropriate class.
Who have been your mentor(s) as an Owner Handler?
Hunter Calvelage: I have so many people I could list here. I was lucky to have the opportunity to be brought up in dog shows, so I’ve been mentored by people since a young age. I could not thank anyone more than my Mom. She gave me the opportunity to work for numerous handlers, spend summers with fellow Bernese breeders to deepen my understanding of the breed, and make connections on my own that will last a lifetime. Again, there are so many handlers, breeders, and co-owners I could list here and they all know who they are. One of my dearest mentors and friends, whom I miss every day and wish I could call for her opinion now that I’m making my own breeding decisions, is the late Fara Bushnell of Ayehli Bernese Mountain Dogs. I can only hope I am making her proud.
You get the praise for all your hard work, for the countless hours of conditioning, raising, training, and driving to shows, and for the time and money you spend.
What are the benefits of competing with your breed(s) as an Owner Handler?
Hunter Calvelage: I love showing my own dogs. After showing numerous client dogs, nothing feels better than winning with one of your own dogs. It is not just the joy of just being handed a ribbon. You get the praise for all your hard work, for the countless hours of conditioning, raising, training, and driving to shows, and for the time and money you spend. It is all being honored in that moment of a win. You don’t get that deep connection as a handler. I’m not saying a big win is not exciting, but it is not deeply personal. That is worth the world to me as an Owner Handler; the joys of showing something I can say is mine and that I’m proud of it.
How are you encouraging new exhibitors to participate in the sport?
Hunter Calvelage: I am proud that I had the opportunity to put some of our puppies in new show homes. This opportunity is so honoring, to watch people grow into loving the sport like I do alongside a dog that I love equally.
I also love helping people who I do not have a connection to. I am always trying to help my fellow Bernese lovers or other new exhibitors I meet along the way. If that is just being a friendly face, helping with motivation, being a listening ear, or doing something I can physically help them on, like grooming or handling. Everyone needs a friend in this sport and I try to give that friendly feeling, knowing it can be hard to find sometimes.
Are there any suggestions you’d like to pass along about the presentation of your breed(s).
Hunter Calvelage: The Bernese community as a whole is a friendly place. I love that our breed is growing to become a lot more common. We are seeing many new Owner Handlers and professionals being added into our breed. I just hope that the dignity of our Breed Standard continues to be brought into consideration. I am seeing so many handlers that, like every breed, are sculpting them until their fingers bleed. I would just like to pass on the note, “Read your Standard.” Dog shows are about breeding stock. Not every dog is built for the show ring and not everything needs to be over-groomed. When you present your Bernese, you should be proud and happy to be out there with that dog! If not, maybe you should ask yourself why you are showing in that ring.
If you have the opportunity for in-person lessons and experiences, then absolutely take them! I love listening to podcasts while driving to and from shows.
What are your goals as an Owner Handler? Is there a victory that has eluded you?
Hunter Calvelage: I have many, many goals as an Owner, Breeder, and Handler. I am still young and hope to obtain them all over time. I feel my most complex goal is to have a breeding program that I can be proud of. I am absolutely proud of where my program is now, but where does that goal end? How many beautiful dogs do I have to breed?
How many wins do I have to receive to fulfill that dream? I hope it is a never-ending goal, so I can continue reaching for the stars and continue to find them. My big goals are more rooted in my breed ring than in the all-breed ring, as I feel the win is more personal. Winning our National Specialty is the top of my win goals, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be equally as excited to receive an All-Breed Best in Show.
Is there a funny story that you can share about your experiences as an Owner Handler?
Hunter Calvelage: I feel like every dog show brings its own funny stories home. I like to enjoy and find the humor at every show with my friends. Nothing directly comes to mind to share, but I hope everyone can at least hear me when I say, “Relax and enjoy it.” If you are not having fun with your dog, then what is really the point of all this?