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A Junior’s Journal – Mary Grace Kocab

Mary Grace Kocab and her dog at a dog show.


Interview with a Junior Handler, Mary Grace Kocab

Where do you live? Where do you go to school?

Mary Grace Kocab: I live in Kirtland, Ohio, and I attend school at Kirtland High School.


Do you have any hobbies or interests apart from purebred dogs? Do you have a job?

Mary Grace Kocab: My other hobbies, apart from showing dogs, are golf, swimming, baking, and cooking.


Have you grown up in a doggy family? What is your breed(s)?

Mary Grace Kocab: I was born into a dog show family. My main breed is the Saluki, but we also own a Golden Retriever and a Whippet.


How were you introduced to Junior Showmanship? When did you start competing?

Mary Grace Kocab: I wanted to show in Junior Showmanship ever since I started showing dogs with my parents at the age of three. I started showing in Juniors the very day that I was old enough to compete.


What do you remember about the first time you showed as a Junior?

Mary Grace Kocab: While I don’t remember the very first time I showed dogs, I do remember my very first time showing in Juniors. I got to show at the Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on my 9th birthday, and I was very nervous. I was showing my Saluki, “Mojito,” and I won my class the very first day of the show—and I was so excited.


How do you prepare your dog and yourself for the ring? Any rituals? Any good luck charms?

Mary Grace Kocab: Typically, before I go into the ring, I try to play with my dogs to get them relaxed and let them get a bit of their energy out before we show.


What’s it like in the ring when the pressure is on? Do you have a secret for handling the nerves?

Mary Grace Kocab: When I’m showing and the pressure is high, I try to hum a song to myself to keep me focused and to not fidget.


Do you have a mentor in the sport? Have you assisted any Professional Handlers?

Mary Grace Kocab: Growing up in the sport, I have gained so many wonderful, talented mentors and great people who have been there to help me on my journey. Professional handlers I have helped at dog shows are Kathy & Dave Musto and Leslie Racine.


Are there any wins for which you are particularly proud? Any memorable losses?

Mary Grace Kocab: My most memorable win took place at the Saluki Club of America National Specialty in 2023. I got to show two of my dogs that I am the Breeder/Owner/Handler of and I was honored to show both of them to first place in their huge Dual Title Sweepstakes classes. Then, I stayed on my girl, “Shine,” and we won Best in Dual Title Sweepstakes at our National, which meant so much to me as a Breeder/Owner/Handler.


How do you accentuate your dog’s breed type in the ring? How do you try to stand out?

Mary Grace Kocab: The way I try to accentuate my dog’s breed type while in the ring and make my dog stand out is very specific to showing a sighthound. When showing my Saluki, an aloof breed, bred to not really care much about humans or the shenanigans I am asking him to do, I have to show the judge that I know how to work with my dog and quickly adapt to his many “feelings.” I need to know how to keep him in the proper mindset while in the ring. Keeping him mentally focused on me and the task at hand allows him to relax and look his best!

Something that I believe can be done to encourage younger people to participate in Junior Showmanship is having a more kind and accepting environment.

Are there any breeds that you haven’t yet shown but would like to some day?

Mary Grace Kocab: A breed that I would love to show but haven’t yet is the Doberman Pinscher. I think they are a gorgeous breed and I love how they are presented in the ring.


What can be done to encourage more young people to participate in Junior Showmanship?

Mary Grace Kocab: Something that I believe can be done to encourage younger people to participate in Junior Showmanship is having a more kind and accepting environment. I know a lot of younger Juniors are very intimidated and nervous to show, and the environment pushes them away.

Mary Grace Kocab
Mary Grace Kocab

Have you bred or co-bred a litter? If so, can you share what you’ve learned from the experience?

Mary Grace Kocab: I have co-bred three litters with my parents and I have taken away from all three that breeding litters is never easy. Even if you don’t consider the costs of everything, there is choosing the breeding, the health of your male or female, placing puppies, stress, and the sheer time and effort put into everything.


Is breeding something that you’d like to pursue? Is breed preservation important to you?

Mary Grace Kocab: Yes, breeding is something that, once I am more educated, I would like to pursue. I believe that the preservation of my breed is crucial due to Salukis being an ancient breed, and that is very important to me.


What are your goals for the future? Do you see yourself continuing in the sport once you’ve aged-out?

Mary Grace Kocab: I am not entirely sure what my goals are for the future, but I love showing dogs and I know I will stay in the sport long after I age out.

Mary Grace Kocab
Mary Grace Kocab

Can you share a word or two about your relationship with your current dog? What does s/he mean to you?

Mary Grace Kocab: My current relationship with my dog is very rewarding. Me and my boy, “Douggal,” have worked a lot together both in Conformation and Obedience training classes and he has improved so much over the past two years.


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

Mary Grace Kocab: I have so many funny experiences as a Junior, but I think one of the best times in Juniors (when I couldn’t stop laughing) is when my friend once lost her shoe mid-stride during the go-around.