Monarch Chesapeake Bay Retrievers | Craig Dennis & Tammy Dennis

Tammy Dennis at the dog show.


Monarch Chesapeake Bay Retrievers – Craig Dennis & Tammy Dennis

In dog shows, there are three primary differences between the people who participate in the sport. They are: the professional handler, the owner-handler, and the breeder/owner-handler.

There are ways these can overlap, though, and sometimes quite literally. Enter Craig Dennis and Tammy Dennis, who are the people behind the highly renowned Monarch Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, located in Houston, Texas.

Tammy was an established professional handler whose entire life is dedicated to the sport, while her husband, Craig, ultimately fell in love with it as an owner-handler.

“I got into showing dogs after I met my wife,” Craig said. “She was showing dogs before we met and I asked her about it.”

Tammy, who started showing Akitas and now has over two decades of experience in a variety of different breeds across the seven Groups, had some requirements of her own before Craig had the opportunity to enter the ring for the first time as a newcomer.

After all, showing dogs is much more difficult than it looks, and most people who did not come from a dog show background have at least one newbie story to tell about their first few times entering the ring that has stuck with them ever since.

“She said that if I wanted to do it, I needed to read this book on the rules of the dog show. So, I read the book, and she quizzed me on it,” Craig said.

Since then, Craig has been showing the Chesapeake Bay Retriever with some success. The dog he is currently out with is GCH Monarchs Bring Me To Life, “Evan,” who has won multiple owner-handled Groups.

2022 marked Craig and Evan’s first trip to Royal Canin for the owner-handled competition, where Evan earned a prestigious honor, taking Best of Opposite Sex to the breed’s two-time National Specialty winner.

Owner-handler in a suit and tie holding a ribbon with a brown dog, showcasing elegance and companionship.
Craig Dennis

While the pair has had a lot of success in the ring, there are still some challenges involved that Craig notes.

“It’s hard to win in the regular Groups as an owner-handler because some of the professional handlers have been doing it since they were Juniors. The owner-handled competition just showcases you with your dog,” Craig said.

While there are several who do things the right way, evaluating the dog by the Standard, some politics and familiarity can consciously or subconsciously come into play, as it does in every industry.

“Some of the judges now used to be professional handlers, and have known some of the pro handlers of today their entire lives, whereas I have been an amateur. Some professional handlers have assistants who help to groom and train dogs, whereas an owner-handler works a full-time job, has daily activities, and then has to take the time outside of that to work with their own dogs. We are doing it by ourselves with little assistance.”

Outside of the shows and a “couple of minutes of glory” in the ring, the most enjoyable thing about it all for Craig is watching the Chesapeake Bay Retriever rise in a positive way, something he feels he has had the chance to be a part of.

The “Chessie,” as those who love the breed have nicknamed it, is one of the more rare retrievers, not quite as often seen as the Goldens and the Labradors. But that is something that is changing with time as more and more have been exposed to the breed and grown fond of it.

“I believe my greatest accomplishment in the dog show world is bettering the breed that I have,” Craig said.

“When we started, our breed was not as prominent in the state of Texas as it is now. I have been able to travel to the United States and enriched families with some of our dogs from our breeding program by creating family bonds.”

And those have been lasting relationships, something any good breeder maintains with their clients for a lifetime.

“I am still in communication with some of our puppy buyers from over 13 years ago. I have made some great friendships with professional handlers and owner-handlers alike, but I feel my greatest accomplishment, looking at it from the broad scope, is spending time with my dogs.”

At the end of the day, beyond what they accomplish in the ring, they are just that—dogs who serve as loving companions first and foremost with the ability to perform their jobs well.

“The dogs don’t understand points and rankings. They just know we’re asking them to do something and they try to do it the best they can for us. They just know it’s time with us.” Craig Dennis

  • Crissy Froyd is a sports journalist of nearly a decade, specializing in football coverage for Sports Illustrated with stops at USA TODAY SMG and NBC. She also breeds German Shepherd Dogs and has been assisting handlers for 12 years.

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