Interview With Breeder/Owner Handler Jackie Kuk
I breed Yorkshire Terriers under the Prefix JaLa along with my Mom, Laura Vance. Although Mom no longer exhibits or raises puppies due to her health, she is still a huge part of JaLa Yorkies. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. I attended Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and finished my clinical training at Michigan State University. I work in a busy, five-doctor small animal practice in Elkhart, Indiana.
1. How were you first introduced to the sport of purebred dogs? To your breed?
Jackie Kuk: I grew up with purebred dogs. When I was little, we had an Old English Sheepdog and two Miniature Schnauzers as pets. When I was a young teenager, my Mom and Stepdad started showing Boxers. They raised beautiful Standard Poodles, which was my first exposure to helping raise puppies and I loved it. I guess most teenagers don’t enjoy coming home after school to clean up after 12 Standard Poodle puppies, but I found it so rewarding.
Near the time of my high school graduation, Mom was looking for a smaller coated breed to show and raise. Being a groomer, she was exposed to a lot of different breeds and the one she kept going back to was the Yorkshire Terrier. Shortly before I graduated high school, she bought her first one. “Rosie” ended up being a pet only, as she was too small and didn’t have the right coat as she matured, but anyone who met Rosie fell in love with her—and I fell in love with the breed.
2. How many years in dogs? How many as an Owner Handler? As a Breeder?
Jackie Kuk: I started in dogs assisting my Mom as a kid, then started in the show ring as an owner handler in 2005. I’ve been breeding my own dogs for the past 15 years.
3. Do you attend show handling classes? Have you attended in-person handling seminars?
Jackie Kuk: In the beginning, I regularly attended handling classes at Kinley Training Center in Ohio. I learned so much from Carolyn Kinley. She was such an incredible resource and gave me such confidence to continue with my dreams. Early on, I would also sit ringside with my Mom after we’d finished showing and watch other Breeds, Groups, and BIS. I would watch the handlers I admired, how they touched their dogs, held their leads, and interacted with their dogs. Watching was so informative for both of us, and we learned so much.
4. Have you found virtual learning tools to be helpful? Videos? Websites? Social Media? AKC Canine College?
Jackie Kuk: These tools have become more available since I started showing, so I haven’t utilized them as much. I enjoy reading the articles from experts. I’ve watched some videos on YouTube in the past few years, and recently, I listened to the wise words of George Alston again. His words have always resonated with me and pushed me to be better. I also follow Will Alexander and listen to his Dog Show Tips.
5. Do you compete in the National Owner-Handled Series? Are rankings important to you?
Jackie Kuk: I enjoy competing in the National Owner-Handled Series. It is nice to see this part of the sport showcased. The competition in Groups has been amazing and tough in my area, which I love. I really love when you see dogs competing in both Variety Groups and NOHS Groups. Rankings are nice when they reflect on the quality of the dog. I love seeing a quality owner-handled dog do well in both NOHS rankings as well as All-breed and/or Breed rankings.
6. How important is the Bred-By Class to you? How important are Specialties?
Jackie Kuk: The Bred-By Class is extremely important to me because I am immensely proud of the breeding program I have. When I present a dog to the fancy whether it is a class dog or a special, I am presenting it because I am proud of it and I think it is worthy, and I like that this class allows the judge to know I bred this dog. I definitely believe in quality dogs over quantity of champions produced.
Specialties are important to attend when you can so that you can take your breed’s pulse and see where it’s at, see other breeders’ hard work, meet new breeders/exhibitors, and make connections. Winning your class or earning a placement at a Specialty is an honor, especially when you have dogs and breeders traveling from all over to come together.
7. Is it a challenge to compete with your breed as a Breeder/Owner Handler?
Jackie Kuk: It certainly can be a challenge depending on where you live. When you are new to the breed, coat care can be a challenge. So, having a mentor can be very helpful.
8. Who have been your mentor(s) as an Owner Handler? As a Breeder?
Jackie Kuk: I wish I could tell you I had this specific amazing mentor who taught me so much and introduced me to the breed, but I can’t. Unfortunately for me, this breed was very difficult to get started in with good dogs. For us, the dog show fancy became our mentors—there are so many people who have no idea they even mentored us. I learned so much by watching, reading, and buying every Yorkshire Terrier grooming video I ever could.
I watched every professional handler like a hawk while they groomed and handled their dogs. Some of it was trial and error, and in the process, we had some very worthy dogs that didn’t finish. I will forever be proud of the fact that we worked hard and didn’t give up. It makes every success in the whelping box and in the ring all the sweeter. It is also why I am always willing to help any newbie who truly wants to learn and has a deep appreciation for the breed. Today I have wonderful breeder-friends who I can discuss upcoming breedings with, and their feedback is so valuable. Having those relationships in dogs is amazing and a huge part of the fun.
I watched every professional handler like a hawk while they groomed and handled their dogs. Some of it was trial and error, and in the process, we had some very worthy dogs that didn’t finish. I will forever be proud of the fact that we worked hard and didn’t give up.
9. How important is the Breeder/Owner Handler to the future of the sport? To your breed?
Jackie Kuk: They are the future! The sport certainly needs professional handlers, but my goodness, the shows would be quite small without the breeder/owner handlers. We are the backbone of this sport and the future. Every breed needs them to continue.
10. What advice would you give to Owner Handlers who are thinking of breeding their dog(s)?
Jackie Kuk: Have a great veterinarian who understands breeding and is willing to work with you, and then find someone who can help you make a good match. Don’t fall for popular sire syndrome or which boys are highly ranked. Rankings sometimes match the quality of the dog, but they certainly don’t always match the quality of what they sire. Know your dog(s) faults and don’t double up on them. And although Yorkshire Terriers are beautiful dogs with lovely coats, remember, they can’t walk on those pretty heads. So, please make sure they are physically sound!
11. What are your goals as a Breeder/Owner Handler? Is there a victory that has eluded you?
Jackie Kuk: My goals are always to produce Yorkshire Terriers that are sound in mind and body, that represent their Standard well for me to present to the fancy. I love having fun with my dogs in the ring, and to be show dogs, they have to love it as much as me. So, happy show dogs are also a goal. And while I’ve had many successes and victories in the ring with several dogs, who wouldn’t love an Owner-Handled BIS or National Specialty BISS? My Mom and I always have goals for our dogs and our breeding program, but the dogs always come first—always!
12. Is there a funny story that you can share about your experiences as a Breeder/Owner Handler?
Jackie Kuk: Well, yes. I have to laugh to myself even thinking about this story because I will never forget it. I was still fairly green as a handler. It was my first weekend out with my very first bred-by champion as a special; day three of three. He’d been awarded Select Dog the first two days behind the No. 1 dog in the country. I was struggling terribly to get his topknot in on that last day. I must have put it in and taken it back down three or four times. Finally, I gave up, and said, “It is what it is.” So, I moved on and finished grooming my boy.
Well, my boy won Best of Breed, and during the win photo the judge asked me if I knew the professional handler who was showing the other boy? Yes, I did. She then asked me to ask him to do my boy’s topknot for the Toy Group. I was shocked, and so embarrassed. Embarrassed that I didn’t get my topknot right and embarrassed to go ask this handler. But we did go ask, because my Breed judge was also my Group judge. The professional handler was as taken aback as we were, but very kindly did my boy’s topknot.
Both the professional handler and myself were in the Toy Group that day, as he had another breed as well. When I put my boy on the table for examination in the Group ring, the judge asked, “Did he do it?” and I happily replied, “Yes.” Both my boy and the professional handler’s dog received Group placements that day, and we all still fondly remember that story and laugh. I got better at my topknots pretty quickly after that.