1. When were you first introduced to the sport of purebred dogs? To your breed?
Dr. Michelle Wiberg: I was first introduced to purebred dogs as a very young child by my mother who bred and showed Lhasa Apsos. As my brother and I got older and started getting involved in our own activities, she put her hobby on hold until she was an empty nester and acquired another Lhasa that she campaigned both as an owner handler and with a professional handler. When my husband acquired a well-bred German Shorthaired Pointer, my mother encouraged me to start showing her. She did remarkably well, especially with a novice dog handler, and she became the foundation of our GSP breeding program.
2. How many years in dogs? How many as an Owner Handler? As a breeder?
Dr. Michelle Wiberg: My family has always owned purebred dogs. We acquired our first purebred German Shorthair in 2012, and I began showing her in 2013 with the encouragement of my mother. After she finished her championship, grand championship, junior hunter, and multiple obedience and rally titles, we decided to breed her. I began showing my first bred-by puppies in 2016, and have been ever since!
3. Do you attend show handling classes? Have you attended any handling seminars?
Dr. Michelle Wiberg: I have attended conformation practice sessions at Total Recall in Hugo, Minnesota, intermittently to give my dogs or puppies practice in the ring. I haven’t attended any handling sessions, but I do sit ringside often and study handlers’ techniques.
4. Have you found virtual learning tools to be helpful? Classes? Videos? Websites? Social Media?
Dr. Michelle Wiberg: I found a lot of good training tips on the Puppy Culture videos, “Killer Free Stacks” and “Winning in Motion.” I am part of several conformation critique groups on Facebook, both for GSPs and all-breeds.
5. Do you compete in the National Owner-Handled Series? Are rankings important to you?
Dr. Michelle Wiberg: I have competed in the National Owner-Handled Series since I had my first bred-by puppy in 2016.
My first bred-by puppy has been ranked in the top 10 for four of the last five years, as have several of the dogs I have bred! I do think the rankings are important and I follow them. I find it interesting how many owner handlers are also ranked in the breed or move on to become top-ranking dogs with handlers in the years to come.
6. How important is the Bred-By Class to you? How important are Specialties?
Dr. Michelle Wiberg: Both Bred-By Classes and Specialties are important to me. I love seeing breeders show their own dogs in the Bred-By Class and I respect the breeder-judges’ selections at Specialties, oftentimes moreso than the all-breed judges as breeder-judges have more experience and expertise within the breed.
7. Is it a challenge to compete with your breed(s) as a Breeder/Owner-Handler?
Dr. Michelle Wiberg: Generally, in my area (midwest) the majority of GSP handlers are also owners. I find it an honor to be both a breeder and an owner handler of my dogs. Generally, I do not find it too challenging to compete with my dogs as a breeder/owner handler.
I find it an honor to be both a breeder and an owner handler of my dogs.
8. Are you intimidated by the Professional Handlers? By the Judges?
Dr. Michelle Wiberg: Most of the time I would say, no, I am not intimidated, as I feel I am presenting quality dogs that should be able to compete with the professionally handled dogs. I expect the judges to be fair and look at the dog, not the handler, when making their selections. There are, of course, judges that are known for only putting up the familiar faces of the professional handlers, and I do not go out of my way to show to those judges. Instead, I seek out the judges whom I feel are fair and select the best dogs, regardless of who is on the end of the lead.
9. Who have been your mentor(s) as a Breeder/Owner Handler?
Dr. Michelle Wiberg: My mother has certainly been a mentor both as an owner handler and as a breeder. She pulled me into the world of dog showing and she has been a breeder since I was a small child. She’s helped me whelp my litters and has been my biggest fan and supporter. The breeders of our foundation bitch, the Morris’s, have also played a big part in mentoring us in our breeding program.
10. How important is the Breeder/Owner Handler to the future of the dog sport?
Dr. Michelle Wiberg: I think the only way to grow the world of dog showing is to support the owner handler. Small victories can be huge to the owner handler. An owner-handled Best of Breed or an Owner Handler placing in the Group can be just what an Owner Handler needs to stay interested in showing and coming back for more. To a Professional, it’s just another ribbon, another bonus, or just part of the job. A win (or even just a positive experience) in the ring will keep an Owner Handler coming back and will help to build the world of dog showing.
I think the only way to grow the world of dog showing is to support the owner handler. Small victories can be huge to the owner handler. An owner-handled Best of Breed or an Owner Handler placing in the Group can be just what an Owner Handler needs to stay interested in showing and coming back for more.
11. What are your goals as a Breeder/Owner Handler? Is there a victory that has eluded you?
Dr. Michelle Wiberg: At first, my goals were to become a Breeder of Merit. I am now a Breeder of Merit Bronze and I hope to keep advancing in those levels over the years.
I am fortunate that my first bred-by dog helped me accomplish so many goals; many Bests of Breed, Owner-Handled Groups placings and wins, several Owner-Handled Bests in Show, several regular Group placings, and even a regular Group win. Someday, I hope to come home with a ribbon out of the Best in Show ring, and be invited to some of the large national shows like Westminster (and maybe even come home with a ribbon). Most importantly, my goals are to continue to produce great dogs that become champions, master hunters, and great family pets.
12. Is there a funny story that you can share about your experiences as a Breeder/Owner Handler?
Dr. Michelle Wiberg: I have been fortunate enough to mentor many more owner handlers into the world of dog showing. These people have purchased puppies from me and I have been able to drag them to shows by sometimes showing their puppy in the Puppy Class, and then have the owner take the puppy in for Winners if I am also showing my own puppy. Some of the handling mistakes that newbies make can be comical, like picking puppies up by their tail to set the back feet, not being coordinated with the lead/treat/stacking the feet all at the same time, dropping leads, dropping bait, placing feet by grabbing too low on the leg, etc., All I can do is laugh, face palm, and use the experience as a teaching opportunity. Many of these new owner handlers are embarrassed by their handling mistakes, but in the end, they all learned to be better handlers who became successful with their owner-handled dogs.