Articles Index/Handlers
Posted 05/19/98


It is great fun to handle your own dog in the breed ring. But, whether for reasons of time, or talent, or just plain nerves, some of us engage the services of professional handlers. While most handlers are dedicated professionals who have the best interests of their clients' dogs at heart, there are nevertheless differences in personality, handling skill, business acumen, and just plain chemistry which makes it imperative to choose wisely. Some things to think about, in addition to success rate, when choosing a professional are:

  1. Go to dog shows and observe, observe, observe. Notice how dogs are handled in the ring, Does the handler roughly plunk dogs on the examining table while gabbing with the judge, or does he or she focus on the dog and its needs? Also notice how dogs are handled outside the ring in the grooming area. Be alert to how the handler's assistants treat their charges, for these are the people with whom your dog may be spending the majority of its time while "on the road".
  2. Make appointments to interview handlers about their philosophy and experience. Asking questions while a professional is on the fly between breeds at a busy show isn't fair to them or informative to you. But, they should be willing to set up a time when you can talk with them at some length. Are they experienced Norfolk handlers, or people just breaking into the breed? Are they willing to work with you in planning your dog's show career, or do they expect you to keep your distance while they make all the decisions?
  3. Look for honesty. Have the prospective handler assess your dog, and then ask where in order of preference it will be put in the handler's string. This is a business. If a handler already has several clients with superior quality dogs, where is your dog going to fit into the order of things? Ask how often and under what circumstances your dog will be shown by an assistant. And, keep in mind that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Many young professionals-in-training have a wonderful way with dogs and do a perfectly fine job of showing them in the classes. However, you have a right to know how conflicting client needs are handled.
  4. Visit the handler at his or her "home base". Between shows, while coats are growing out or dogs are being trained; your dog will often need to be housed at your handler's kennel. Are the surroundings clean, safe, and appropriate to the needs of the dog? How are dogs exercised? Who stays behind to look after them while the handler is off at shows? How are veterinary emergencies handled?
  5. Ask for referrals. Talk with people who have given their dogs to a particular professional. Who is happy, and who is not? If there is dissatisfaction, where does it originate? (And remember, handlers have as many complaints about difficult clients as clients do about uncooperative handlers.)
  6. When you've narrowed your choice down to a particular handler or two, talk specifics about what each of you expects from the other. Now is the time to talk about money! How much are entries going to cost you and who is responsible for making them. What kind of fee are you going to pay for just getting the dog into the ring? Do you just want your dog "finished" (i.e., earning its Championship) or do you have visions of launching an all-out campaign for year-end honors and national recognition? Also, find out if the handler expects to have the dog in residence for the entire duration of its active show career or whether you can have your dog at home and deliver him to the handler days or hours before the show begins. Many handlers legitimately feel it necessary to have their clients' dogs in residence virtually all the time, while others can be more flexible.
  7. How does your dog react to the handler and his or her assistants? If your dog is acting like a typically wagging, happy Norfolk in the presence of the pro, this is a great sign. (Also, note the demeanor of the other dogs the professional is handling. Do they seem happy?)
  8. Finally, go with your instincts. Sometimes the best choice is the top pro, while other times your dog and a beginning professional is the better match. Remember, this is not a marriage. If you've made a mistake, you can take your dog home again without hiring a lawyer and asking for a judge's approval. But, if your first choice is a good one, then there will be smiles and wags (and wins) all around.

ANTIC, March, 1998


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