Owner Handlers Are a Lot Like Homeowners. Have you ever tackled a home improvement project? If you have, you’ve very likely discovered that a “simple” renovation can easily expand to include a long list of unexpected items. For example, that bathroom redo (How hard can it be to install a new shower?) is almost certain to include demolition of the subfloor and “wet” walls, replacement of the plumbing and sewer line, installation of new finishes, fixtures, and fittings, electrical upgrades, “designer” light fixtures, new heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning, and new energy-efficient windows. Heck, it’s almost guaranteed that the scope of work won’t even be limited to the bathroom. “Simple” home improvement projects are notorious for expanding throughout the house—and even outside the home. Before you know it, that “two-week” bathroom project has morphed into a “small” addition with a new foundation.
Yeah, owner-handling a dog can be a lot like making home improvements.
How often have you been asked, “How hard can it be to run around in a circle with your dog?” My initial response when presented with this question is to hand the uninformed interrogator a thin show lead that’s attached to a six-month-old puppy and wish them well. “It’s not as easy as it looks,” I caution, as I get my smart phone ready to record the spectacle that’s about to take place. “Oh, they’re gonna love this on Facebook.”
Like any home improvement project, the initial plans for showing a dog usually begin with a mental picture of the finished product. A bathroom renovation, for example, might include the image of a warm bath drawn in a soaking tub, washed in the glow of a half dozen candles and an open bottle of champagne. (The choice of whether the image includes one or two flutes should be left up to the individual DIY-er.) Likewise, the decision to show that promising puppy may be preceded by visions of a ringside erupting in cheers as the judge (whose opinion is highly sought-after and well-regarded by “everyone”) points to your pup that has just delivered a flawless—and, hopefully, breed-appropriate—performance. This “vision” could take place at the local all-breed club’s show or on the floor at Madison Square Garden. Maybe it’s the National Specialty. Whatever the venue, that initial mental picture (painted by an owner handler with visions of grandeur) generally reflects none of the problem-solving that’s required in order to achieve the victory.
And just like the homeowner who doesn’t see that new septic tank coming, the owner handler never imagines the humiliating losses, the awkward growth spurts, or the belligerent behavior that seems to come “out of nowhere” in the adolescent dog. If owner handlers could imagine the chewed leads and chewed coats—and homeowners could envision the backyard torn apart by a backhoe—there would probably be fewer dog shows, and outhouses would be touted by real estate agents as an amenity.
Thankfully, there’s one thing that novice owner handlers and naïve homeowners have in common: optimism. It’s the anticipation of the best possible outcome that explains why people choose to “upgrade” their homes or show their own dogs. (The truly optimistic elect to do both—occasionally at the same time!) The belief that “the best is yet to come” continually motivates both contingents to set new goals and develop new strategies for success. Making new plans, after all, can be exciting. They can even become life-changing, as anyone who’s survived a home remodel can attest. The realization of a “dream” bathroom has the ability to make each new day better. (No need for those pliers to turn on the water in that old, rusty tub.) And that same transformative power is available to owner handlers who’ve managed to survive the disappointments and defeats—not to mention the dollars spent—of showing their own dog. Each success in the ring is appreciated precisely because of the many heartaches that have accompanied the hard work.
Making improvements, whether for the home or the ring, certainly requires a lot of hard work. But both endeavors can (and should) be a lot of fun too. Although it’s tempting to view “work” as the opposite of “play,” the reality is that for most owner handlers and homeowners, work and play can be the same thing. (Just ask any homeowner who’s been revived by soaking in that new tub, or the owner handler who’s jumping up-and-down, waving that Best in Show rosette.) Both triumphs are the result of hard work, certainly, but they are also due to an unwavering commitment to achieving a goal that’s fun—no matter the obstacles. Despite the many surprises and the demands of schedules, as well as budgets that get pushed to their limits, visionary homeowners see their projects through to completion because they are committed to their investment, and dedicated owner handlers never lose faith in their dog because they never lose sight of their initial vision.