SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A PROFESSIONAL HANDLER
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
- 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".
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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?)
- 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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