Interview with Owner Handler Jennifer Redfern
I am from Puyallup, Washington. I am the granddaughter of dairy farmers and I showed dairy cattle in 4-H. I attended Washington State University, but left to join the military in order to pay for further education. I eventually graduated from University of Maryland European Campus with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and Management Studies. After retirement from the US Army, I earned a certificate as a Master Gardener with Washington State University. (I am definitely a WSU Fan.)
I am married, with two adult children. My husband and I were both in law enforcement in the US Army and we both retired as Chief Warrant Officer Five. We both served in the Military Police and US Army Criminal Investigation Command as Special Agents. We have both led very competitive lives. I was the first female CW5 Military Police, serving as a CID Special Agent. We worked alongside Military Police Working Dogs and we appreciate the relationship between a dog and its adult partner. One of my sisters is also a German Pinscher owner and an Owner Handler. Our daughter served in the Army for six years in Civil Affairs, serving two tours in Kuwait and Iraq. She is a dog lover too. Our son is an accomplished chef. I am a lay minister and pastor. My dog, “Winston,” is not only a show dog, he was also raised alongside our transient population that we feed in an outreach program through our church. I believe in the healing properties that our canine companions can provide. Winston is one of those special dogs; he senses when to turn off the guarding instinct and become a stabilizing presence for a person in distress. I saw this with an autistic boy who had Winston’s head in a vice grip, and another time when he led me to a woman having an emotional meltdown in a parking lot where he placed his head in her lap until she could get herself together. I see other dogs doing similarly great things, with little prompting or notice from passersby… even at dog shows. I love the community the dog world has brought me to.
1. When were you first introduced to the sport of purebred dogs? To your breed?
Jennifer Redfern: Since my childhood, we have owned purebred dogs. Our first dog was a Sussex Spaniel who wandered, in bad shape, onto our property. My dad took him to our grandparents’ vet. “Pup” lived with us for eight or nine years before crossing that Rainbow Bridge. Our next pet was a Samoyed, “Queenie.” Dad brought her to us from Alaska where he had delivered hay. Queenie lived with us for seven years before succumbing to complications from cancer. Then I met my first husband who had a young St. Bernard puppy named “Max.” Since then, we’ve owned an English Cocker Spaniel that was stolen from our yard; then a Shetland Sheepdog. Travelling back and forth to Germany with the military, we came across many purebred dog enthusiasts and had friends in one of the German Shepherd clubs. While stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington, near my hometown of Puyallup, I began going to the Winter and Summer AKC Clusters at the Washington State Fairgrounds to watch the shows that are held there. Before I knew it, I was holding dogs for people who were rushing in and out of show rings. I was thrilled to be involved in some capacity. I retired from the military in 2010, and a few months later, my heart dog, a Lhasa mix, passed away. My husband soon decided that we needed another dog. He liked the Min Pin mix that our son and daughter-in-law had. The Puyallup Winter Cluster was going on, so I headed down to the show to seek out Miniature Pinschers. I fell in love, however, with a Border Terrier. (My husband was not a fan.) Well, the next day, I met what I thought at first was a Doberman puppy; I was quickly corrected by the owner. The handsome black and rust-colored male was, in fact, a German Pinscher. On the third day of the cluster, I took my husband to meet this boy. At that time, the breeders asked if we would be willing to adopt their foundation girl and, before we knew it, we had a new pet dog. I continued to visit the Puyallup shows for a few years and stayed in touch with “Bahn’s” former owners. They were pleased with how we were doing with her and asked me to raise their next pick-of-the-litter male. The catch? He had to be made available for shows. In October of 2013, I entered the show ring at Ridgefield for the first time as the owner of a future champion. GCHS Immer Treu v Oakwood Braveheart, aka “Winston,” has taken me on an amazing ride. He is a hard-working boy with a nose for scentwork. He wants to please, and we have achieved titles in Nosework, AKC Scent Work and Barn Hunt, as well as in Obedience and Rally. Winston has his International Championship and Gold Championship with IABCA and his UKC Championship. We even accomplished his CGC, CGCA, and CGCU as well as his ATT and Farm Dog Certification. Winston enjoys hunting rats and mice when we are at my sister and brother-in-law’s family farm, and he shows instinct for pushing cows.
2. How many years in dogs? How many as an Owner Handler?
Jennifer Redfern: I have only been involved in the sport of dog shows and performance events for eight years. For all of those years I showed my own dog. I have competed in the Owner-Handled competition for seven years with two German Pinschers, “Winston,” and his daughter, GCHB Oakwoods Chanel No. 5, aka “Gabi.”
3. Do you attend show handling classes? Have you attended any handling seminars?
Jennifer Redfern: In the beginning, I attended quite a few handling classes on a weekly basis for several years. Later, it became more difficult so that I have often resorted to YouTube videos with Will Alexander, Eric Salas, and lately, Amy Booth. I attended one workshop, which was a combination handling class and canine fitness. I am also a huge fan of the Dog Show Mentor program led by Lee Whittier.
4. Have you found virtual learning tools to be helpful? Classes? Videos? Websites? Social Media?
Jennifer Redfern: In recent years, I have found YouTube videos to be very helpful. (Not so much when I first started.) I was not raised in the AKC world of dog shows, but I am finally grasping the language so that now the videos are helpful. I have not participated in online handling classes. The Dog Show Mentor program has been extremely helpful. Lee brings on some great speakers not only from the dog world but also in the area of goal setting; building self-confidence; focus; self-image; and building self-worth. She has built a community of Owner Handlers who reach out to one another at shows, and on Facebook in groups, to share good news and lessons learned.
5. Do you compete in the National Owner-Handled Series? Are rankings important to you?
Jennifer Redfern: I do compete in the National Owner-Handled Series. Rankings are important. They help to keep us motivated as the competition becomes more challenging.
6. Is it a challenge to compete with your breed(s) as an Owner Handler?
Jennifer Redfern: It is a challenge to compete as an Owner Handler with my breed, the German Pinscher. We are a low entry breed that is not seen at every dog show.
7. Are you intimidated by the Professional Handlers? By the Judges?
Jennifer Redfern: I was very intimidated by the Professional Handlers for many years. I am finally becoming more comfortable competing against them and have received helpful tips from several along the way. I still feel a little intimidated by many of the Judges. However, as I’ve become more involved in a few dog clubs by setting up shows and volunteering to ring steward, I interact more with some of the Judges who are also club members. I find them to be a great resource for my own improvement in this sport.
8. Who have been your mentor(s) as an Owner Handler?
Jennifer Redfern: The breeders of my dogs were my first mentors, and then the people providing handling classes and puppy classes. When I began competing in the National Owner-Handled Series, I soon developed a core group of fellow competitors who shared tips and tricks. We supported—and still support—each other. I became more involved in our parent club, and at our national specialties my group of mentors broadened some more. A fellow Owner Handler introduced to me to Dog Show Mentor, which is of great help to me.
9. How important is the Owner Handler to the future of the dog sport?
Jennifer Redfern: I believe the Owner Handler is a huge contributor to the overall sport of dog shows. Among those of us who are breeders and dog fanciers, some of us have children who are not competing as Juniors but are Owner Handlers. I believe that we outnumber the Professional Handlers at most dog shows, and some of our group members are highly competitive in the variety Groups and in Best in Show as well.
10. What are your goals as an Owner Handler? Is there a victory that has eluded you?
Jennifer Redfern: My primary goal is to have fun with my dogs while training and showing them. Of course, I would love to earn the ultimate prize on any given day—Best in Show. However, my current goal is to learn to train and show my dog so that judges appreciate his soundness, conformation, breeding, and conditioning, and say that he is the best German Pinscher they have seen.
Variety Group Placements and Best in Show have eluded me, but I have not quit competing. I am still learning. So, I can say the victory is not yet lost… it is still out there. I am still on
11. Is there a funny story that you can share about your experiences as an owner-handler?
Jennifer Redfern: Oh my! Winston is such a funny boy, but he can also be quite serious where my medical needs are concerned. He loves to bow and will do this when he thinks the judge might feed him. However, on more than one occasion, he has turned away from the judge and started pushing his nose in my face. At first, I was very frustrated by this until I realized that he was warning me that my blood sugar was “off.” We have since done some testing and training, and confirmed that his behavior is his alert for blood sugar issues. Lesson learned: Make sure to eat a proper meal before going into the ring.
I believe the Owner Handler is a huge
contributor to the overall sport of dog shows. Among those of us who are breeders and dog fanciers, some of us have children who are not competing as Juniors but are Owner Handlers.