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In the Ring With Owner Handler Mary Cornelius

Mary Cornelius at a dog show


Interview with Owner Handler Mary Cornelius

How were you first introduced to the sport of purebred dogs? To your breed?

Mary Cornelius: After our Great Dane passed on, we wanted to downsize to a “big dog in a smaller package.” We liked the “Spanky and Our Gang” type of dog. Back then, the AKC ran a classified ad in the local newspaper. You could call and ask about breed info. The person we talked to suggested the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. We went to a benched show, found the Staffords, and fell in love.


How many years in dogs? In your breed?

Mary Cornelius: I’ve been in dogs since 1985, 38 years? Yeah, wow. Time flies when you are having fun.

Mary Cornelius
Mary Cornelius

I enjoy competing in the NOHS. I imagine, if I showed more often than one weekend a month, I would be more concerned with the rankings.


Do you attend show handling classes? Have you attended in-person handling seminars?

Mary Cornelius: Each puppy I have had goes to handling classes, partially to help socialize and to get the pup used to the showing routine away from home, and to train (both of us).

Years ago, I attended a couple of George Alston seminars with my dogs. Currently, I sometimes have to chuckle while in the ring if his voice echoes in my head… why did you just do that? He made quite an impact.


Have you found virtual learning tools to be helpful? Videos? Websites? Social Media? AKC Canine College?

Mary Cornelius: I like watching big competitions streamed on television or social media. Watching top handlers and dogs is educational.


Do you compete in the National Owner-Handled Series? Are rankings important to you?

Mary Cornelius: I enjoy competing in the NOHS. I imagine, if I showed more often than one weekend a month, I would be more concerned with the rankings.


In which class(es) are you most likely to enter your dog(s)?

Mary Cornelius: I enter Best of Breed and always check the Owner-Handled box. Some people say don’t check that box—if the judge sees it, you are less likely to win. I haven’t found that to be true at all, and if it is for a few, I want to change their minds.


Who have been your mentor(s) as an Owner Handler?

Mary Cornelius: My early mentors are who got me into the breed. Dana and Jenny Merritt of Trugrip Staffords still offer me a tip here and there for how I could present my dog better.


What are the benefits of competing with your breed(s) as an Owner Handler?

Mary Cornelius: I like the opportunity to represent my breed in the Owner-Handled ring. Staffordshire Bull Terriers aren’t as popular as the wire-haired and fluffy terriers, but they belong too. I also enjoy meeting some of the Owner Handlers of other Terrier breeds. It’s a nice atmosphere in the ring.


How are you encouraging new exhibitors to participate in the sport?

Mary Cornelius: I’m kind of an introvert, but I do try to chat with new exhibitors that I meet. I like to mention having fun with your dog and how good it is to exhibit with a healthy perspective. If you can be in the ribbons, great, but making a good experience for your dog is worth all the effort. It can help to build a well-rounded, socialized canine citizen in other aspects of life.


Are there any suggestions you’d like to pass along about the presentation of your breed(s)?

Mary Cornelius: Relax, make it fun, and don’t fuss too much with your dog while in the ring. Make it a smooth dance.


What are your goals as an Owner Handler? Is there a victory that has eluded you?

Mary Cornelius: My goal as an Owner Handler is to share a good experience with my dog, win or lose. It’s part of the experience of being a pet owner for me. My most memorable Conformation wins and Performance titles are when I’ve felt connected as a team with my dog.

I’ve always been a DIY kind of person, so my dog activities are no different. It’s quality time. I like to set small, incremental goals, but my current dog is amazingly competitive and I have to keep moving the goal posts for her. Right now, I would love to be in the Top 5 for my breed at the end of the year and maybe attain her GCHS title.


Is there a funny story that you can share about your experiences as an Owner Handler?

Mary Cornelius: Aside from predictable puppy antics, not much comes to mind. As an Owner Handler, I pretty much can predict how my dog is going to act in the ring. But at one of our breed’s first National Specialties in LA, outdoors with a big crowd around the ring, I found myself in the Best of Breed ring with a friend’s male Stafford. He didn’t know me and he wanted his people. As we are all going around the ring at a good clip, he bolted between my legs, tossing me to the ground, and out the ring he went. I had a long skirt on which, thankfully, stayed in place. I just wanted to catch that guy and make him go around the ring properly.

All these years later, I still laugh at the thought that I forgot to be embarrassed. I wondered why people were kind of hushed around me. Perhaps all my years of competing in equestrian sports altered my mindset—get bucked off, get back on, and ride. All in a day’s work. LOL