Featured image: All-Breed Judge Langdon Skarda awards the first major to Ch. Mirkwood’s Cameo Appearance CD, pictured with owner handler Dan Sayers and trophy presenter Shari Conley-Edwards. Graham Photo by Sabrina.
Every owner handler’s start “in dogs” is a series of firsts. First-time exhibitors take great pride in receiving the first registration certificate for our first show dog. That first pup introduces us to our first show handling class, our first show collar and lead, and our first (hopefully, gentle) critique. We enter our first dog show by reviewing a premium list for the first time, and we receive our very first judging program in return. We arrive at our first show with our very first case of dog show jitters, and we fumble with our first armband right before our first venture into the show ring.
Though fledgling owner handlers can be forgiven for being overwhelmed by the “newness” of it all, most of us eventually learn that each “first” is quickly replaced by knowledge and experience. And experienced owner handlers understand that participation in the sport of dogs is a never-ending series of firsts, marked by ribbons, rosettes—and many rewards.
We enter our first dog show by reviewing a premium list for the first time, and we receive our very first judging program in return. We arrive at our first show with our very first case of dog show jitters, and we fumble with our first armband right before our first venture into the show ring.
The First Show Dog
Nobody forgets their first show dog. Whether we are six years old or sixty-five when we begin our purebred dog journey, our first show quality pup can often lead us in a direction that we’ll follow for the rest of our lives. Sometimes, if we’re very lucky, our first show dog is a natural with type and temperament to spare. This dog’s good form and joie des vivre can translate into show ring success as well as lead to its status as a top producer. In most cases, however, our first show dog serves as a patient and forgiving partner, sharing in the experience as we make mistakes and measure ourselves against the competition. Although our first show dog’s role could be that of our first Best in Show winner, it is more likely that it will simply provide us with a firm foundation for the future.
The First Mentor
The breeder of our first show dog often becomes our first mentor, if only through circumstance. As our journey into the world of the purebred dog begins, our dog’s breeder can be a great source of information about both the breed and the sport. A breeder’s experience can offer the novice owner handler solutions to problems that are breed-specific, saving a lot of time and avoiding potential heartache. The breeder’s wisdom can also provide much-needed direction should the future—and the entry forms—seem daunting. As a mentor, our dog’s breeder can introduce us to aspects of the sport that might otherwise go unnoticed due to our inexperience. Likewise, a good breeder-mentor can become a sort of parent figure, offering guidance when needed, and allowing us to figure some things out on our own.
The First Point
It can be a surreal moment when a judge points to our owner-handled dog for the first time. Time can seem suspended as the reality of the win sinks in. Our reaction might be one of euphoria, an explosion of emotions as our young dog leaps into our arms. But it can just as likely be one of bewilderment. We might be asking ourselves, “Did that really just happen?” Only the congratulatory handshakes from our competitors offer proof that, indeed, it did. That first single championship point can be the most significant point that an owner handler ever earns. It represents proof that the dog is worthy of being considered, and it suggests that we have what it takes to succeed in the ring. If we’re smart, we’ll get a photo of the win to inspire us to set new goals and achieve new firsts.
The First Major
Of course, the only thing that’s better than getting that first championship point is getting that first major win. Owner handlers can pick-up plenty of singles (and they can provide their competition with many single points in return) before that first major is awarded. When this happens, it always comes as recognition of our dedication to both our dog and our personal development. Major wins are (usually) awarded when a breed is represented in the ring by class dogs that are (hopefully) just as competitive. Sometimes the major is awarded to a deserving puppy, aided by its charming appeal as well as its conformation. More likely, however, the first major is given to a young dog whose owner handler has been working hard to earn the win. If that’s you, be sure to commemorate the milestone with another WD, WB or BOW photo.
The First Champion
Eventually, for owner handlers with a good dog, a supportive mentor, and a major or two under their belt, the day eventually comes when the dog—finally—earns it championship. (Note: This is another important photo op moment.) All the training and travel are rewarded with the “CH” that now resides, permanently, in front of the dog’s registered name. A little celebration is deserved, as is the decision to pursue additional titles. Grand championships have become highly prized, as have the companion and performance titles offered to every recognized breed today. And, with health clearances encouraged by the parent clubs, owner handlers can consider if their new champion is a suitable candidate for breeding. In fact, it might be time to pursue another first: The first Bred-By-Exhibitor medallion.
Remember, owner handling is a continuous series of firsts. So, be sure to set your goals carefully, strategize thoughtfully, win and lose graciously, and enjoy your dog, lovingly.