I came from a family that raised Boxers; many still do. But for 30 years, I’ve chosen Doberman Pinschers, and now German Pinschers for almost 15 years. The Dobermans were mostly rally, obedience, and agility competitors, albeit owner-handled. It has been the German Pinscher that brought me to the owner handler sport in conformation. I still participate and train in MANY Working Dog activities as well, which are all owner-handled, and I believe that is what makes my dogs still love to do conformation; variety in the ring.
1. When were you first introduced to the sport of purebred dogs? To your breed?
I grew up with Boxers, and then hunting dogs like Labs, Goldens, and German Shorthairs. When I first chose my own breed, it was the Australian Shepherd, as I had horses. But I found my husband, son, and later, my grandson to be allergic to all the pollen that the Aussie’s coat picked up. So, I had to choose another breed; the Doberman Pinscher.
We were searching for a new breed with a short coat when we saw an older woman walking on the beach with a Doberman. We were star struck by the elegance and beauty. As we got older, the German Pinscher literally fell in our lap as a rescue, and we have been hooked on them ever since. Many thanks to Robin Pierce for entrusting me with her rescue and with my own first champion, “Chevelle.”
2. How many years in dogs? How many as an owner handler?
I have been in dogs my entire life. My family always had dogs, and now, it’s been almost 65 years for me personally.
I’ve been an owner handler for, probably, at least 12 years.
3. Do you attend show handling classes?
At first, no. I just read books, watched dog shows on TV, and sat ringside and watched and asked questions. Now, I attend handling classes as much as possible, especially before a show. (So happy—my first class in almost six months!)
4. Have you attended any handling seminars?
Yes! I can’t get enough. I learn something new every time. I have attended Valerie Nunes-Atkinson’s twice, and can’t wait to do it again. I try to focus on learning or perfecting at least one new thing each time. I’ve enrolled my grandkids in all the Junior Handling clinics that I can find for them.
5. Have you found virtual learning tools to be helpful?
Yes, but probably not before COVID. However, they’ve been a blessing ever since.
Classes? Yes. Videos? Yes. Websites? Yes, all that I can find. AKC has some great ones available and they are free. (Though I wish that they were a little easier to locate on the website.)
6. Do you compete in the National Owner-Handled Series?
Yes, we have competed for at least 10 years in the Owner-Handled Series, and have been in the Top 10 most years… and many times in the Top 5. Currently, we are sitting 6th: 10th in 2020; 2nd in 2019. We are still 2nd in lifetime points.
7. Are rankings important to you?
Yes… it gives me a way to judge how I am doing. I strive to sit no lower than 10th every year.
8. In which class(es) are you most likely to enter your dog(s)? Why?
We do almost everything, from Conformation, Rally, Obedience, and Agility to Scent Work, Barn Hunt, Trick Dog, Dock Diving, Lure Coursing, and CGC.
I love the competition, and I think that the more you do with your dogs, the happier you and they are. (Confession: I am a new TITLE chaser… it’s like an addiction.)
9. Is it a challenge to compete with your breed(s) as an owner-handler?
Dobermans were a real challenge when I had them 15 years ago, because we would have 40-50 in a ring… and many were with professional handlers. Our German Pinscher numbers are currently down to the rare breed numbers, but for about 6-8 years we had quite a big group showing in Southern California. We still have a few professional handlers in our breed, but for the most part, I think they are mostly owner handlers like myself. And the breed is a quick study and is very food motivated. A new breed this year for me is the English Cocker Spaniel. I adore his charm and beauty, but it puts me back into a large class again with many good professional handlers. Learning to groom the coat is a real challenge.
10. Are you intimidated by the professional handlers? By the judges?
Of course, but I would be intimidated by any professional because that is what they do, day in and day out. Like a race car driver—even a window washer, if they are a professional and doing it every day—who should be great just based on how often they do it. If owner handlers would practice as much as they complain about the professionals winning or beating them, they just might win a bit more.
Some judges are more intimidating than others, just by their reputation in dogs. But, for the most part, I have found them to be fair.
11. Who has been your mentor(s) as an owner-handler?
Valerie Nunes-Atkinson has been my mentor ever since she won the Westminster Kennel Club dog show with the German Shorthair—at the end of the six foot lead on a perfect free-stack. I still remember seeing the article titled, “The Stack Heard Around the World.”
I have also had the good fortune to have had Ron and Linda Matson, Adrian Ghione, Nancy Amante, Julie Kay, and a few others be willing to share handling tips with me. One of my best dog friends and co-owners, Janet Oatney, is my toughest teacher.
12. How important is the owner-handler to the future of the dog sport?
If you want to keep the average dog owner, the family pet owner, buying the pups that the professionals strive to perfect, then we are important to the sport. Very rarely will we have the opportunity to purchase or breed that top notch special, but we can compete and fill the classes with the numbers of dogs that we purchase that will go home and be loved as a family member. We can also adopt those retired show and breeding dogs for ourselves and for our junior handlers.
13. What are your goals as an owner-handler?
We have been fortunate to own a BOB winner at Westminster, with a few Group wins here and there. Now, we want to win an Owner-Handled RBIS/BIS.
14. Is there a victory that has eluded you?
We have taken BOB and Group wins, but we have never earned a RBIS or a BIS. I’m sure it will be hard with my chosen breeds, but I can still dream.
15. Is there a funny story that you can share about your experiences as an owner-handler?
Yes, a couple of them. A few years back, at one of my earlier wins, I was doing the down and back at Eukanuba. (I have glaucoma, so my vision is like looking through a donut hole. I don’t see down or peripherally very well unless I’m actually looking down or sideways.) In the show ring, we need to look where the judge is or at the corner we are going toward so that we can line up to return to the judge—so they can best see the way the dog travels. I’m usually pretty confident that there is nothing in the way, but as I was looking to the corner, I missed the loose tape on the rug and did a fabulous face-plant sprawl, dress and all! (At least my dog stuck close, licking my face.) I got up and turned around, and came back as best I could, all flustered. As I returned to the judge, Pat Hastings, she smiled and asked, “Would you like to try that again minus the falling part?” We laughed (when I wanted to cry) and I got a second chance. I realized then that judges are really trying to get the best look at the dog that they can. I won the class that day, and the judge told me that it was a good thing she was judging the dog, and not me. She winked as she handed me my ribbon. I have always figured that it can’t get worse than that day!
Then there was the day we were in Obedience in Palm Springs. It was windy, and my dog was supposed to be on a recall when he saw a bag blow by. Of course, he went OUT of the ring to check it out. (I guess the fact that we do Lure Coursing didn’t help.) When it stopped blowing around and he saw that it was just a bag, he came back—with the bag in his mouth—to a perfect sit in front of me like he had never left. Everyone laughed, and I had to too.