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A Junior’s Journal: Raini Johnson

Raini Johnson with her Bernese Mountain Dog puppy and a horse.

A Junior’s Journal: Raini Johnson

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

Raini Johnson: I live and go to school in Somerset, Wisconsin.

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

Raini Johnson: I compete in gymnastics and I take band and choir at my school. I participate in our local 4-H. Other hobbies I have are riding horses, camping, snowmobiling, skiing, and four-wheeling. No, I don’t have a job. I am only 12 and stay pretty busy with all of my activities.

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

Raini Johnson: Yes, we have mostly had Bernese Mountain Dogs, but when I was little we had a mutt named “Koda.”

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

Raini Johnson: My Mom used to show dogs with my aunt Karen when she was my age, and so, I started showing in Pee Wees. I started when I was 8 and showed my aunt’s BMD in Rochester, Minnesota.

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

Raini Johnson: When I turned 9, my very first show was at the Bernese Mountain Dog National Specialty in Estes Park, Colorado. I showed a dog named “Biscuit” who is owned by a friend of ours, Coleen Carroll. I was so nervous as it was my first actual show. Luckily, there were some other Juniors who helped me out. I ended up in Third Place in the Junior Novice class and from there, the rest is history.

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

Raini Johnson: I like to groom my dog and touch them up right before I go in the ring. It calms me down and lowers any anxious feeling I have about competing. It also gets my dogs looking their best. My good luck charms are my special leads that I show my dogs in.

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

Raini Johnson: I tend to get the butterflies when the pressure is on. I have to tell myself to take deep breaths and that calms me down. I have to tell myself to keep calm and that my dog will be calm too. She depends on me and I depend on her.

Raini Johnson

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

Raini Johnson: Yes, I have a few mentors who have helped me along the way: First, Joanne, who helps me by coaching me at her classes; Christina Olson because she teaches me different techniques to help me and my dog stand out in the ring; Coleen Carrol who helps to teach me how to make my dogs look their best with grooming techniques; my Mom (Lisa Johnson) because she calms me and helps me to keep my dogs happy; and my Aunt (Karen Johnson) who knows so much about our breed—I have learned so much from her. All of my mentors come and cheer me on and I am so grateful they are there to support me.

I have helped Christina Olson at shows by being her grooming bag girl ringside.

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

Raini Johnson: At a Specialty in Joliet, Illinois, that had a large entry, I won Select Bitch the first day and then Best of Opposite Sex and Best of Breed Owner-Handled. The other win I am very proud of, and is most memorable to me, was winning Reserve Best Junior Handler at our Specialty in Sacramento, California.

Not making the cut in Florida for Juniors made me feel like I wasn’t enough for the judge, and that was a tough loss. However, knowing that I have come as far as I have, and even the fact that I qualified for the National Championship show, is pretty special and it was a great learning experience. It was a lot different than an average show. There were so many talented Junior Handlers competing and it pushes me to try and be better next time.

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

Raini Johnson: I would say that it’s not just for Bernese but specifically for my dog, “Nina.” I like to show off her free-stacks. It sets her apart from other dogs and she really shines. I try to be a little different in my technique and not just follow what the other kids are doing. I may free-stack at a different angle. Or, if she is being “extra” that day, I will do different turns and stacks to refocus her brain.

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

Raini Johnson: I would love to show a Leonberger someday because they are big and fluffy and super adorable. I would also like to show a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. I just like the breed. They seem like they would be a lot of fun even though they are smaller than the dogs I’m used to.

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

Raini Johnson: We could do more demonstrations at our state fair. I participated in it this last year, it was a great turn out. I also think that different clubs and AKC can keep highlighting Juniors and what they do. This will encourage other kids to see all the fun they can have with their dog.

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

Raini Johnson: I have helped to raise litters of puppies that my Aunt and Mom have had. I have learned that you have to have patience with them and they are a lot of work.

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

Raini Johnson: Yes, 100%. Breed preservation is important because breeding a dog with a different type of breed can change the dog, which is not what we want to do as responsible dog owners. It could also create or make it more likely to get a disease or a bad temperament.

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

Raini Johnson: My goals for the future are to get people to do more stuff with their dogs and to be active with them. I see myself continuing after I’ve aged-out, yes, because it’s so much fun!!!

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

Raini Johnson: “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work.” She means the whole world and without her I probably would not have the same opportunities or successes I have had.

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

Raini Johnson: One time, I was showing our veteran in Juniors and the gating was a low fence that my dog had never seen before. She decided it was a great idea to turn into an Agility dog and jump the fence. So, I had to call my dog back. (Thankfully, she knows obedience.) I was embarrassed, but it was really funny.