Junior Handling is an exciting way for children and teens to explore their love of dogs!
What is Junior Handling?
Junior Handling is an awesome event offered by the Canadian Kennel Club at most dog shows across the country in two disciplines: Conformation and Obedience. This blog will focus on Junior Handling in the Conformation ring. This is where children and teenagers under the age of 18 compete but, it’s not the dog’s conformation being judged in this ring – it’s the handling skills. Teamwork between handler and dog is what brings home the ribbons here.
A Professional’s Story
To learn more about the sport, I reached out to Allison Foley, a former Junior Handler and mentor to many current Junior Handlers. Allison is famous around the dog show world as a professional handler and the president of the Canadian Professional Handlers Association. She is a regular competitor at major international shows including Crufts, Westminster and The World Dog Show. While she is known as “The Poodle Princess”, Allison has taken 3 dogs of 3 different breeds to Top Dog in Canada and has consistently had dogs she’s handled in the Top 10 throughout her career.
Allison started in Junior Handling as a child in British Columbia but wasn’t exactly a natural.
“You know those people who say that they tried something for the first time and it was all unicorns and rainbows and they KNEW this was the world for them? Well, that wasn't me! My first time in Juniors I went fifth out of five and I cried. Of course I didn't want anyone to see that I was crying -there's no crying in baseball- so I said the comb I was using accidentally hit me in the face! I guess I was happier admitting I was clumsy than a poor loser!”
What made Allison persevere? A strong and supportive team. “I had watched Juniors at quite a few shows. Tempest and Laurel Deptuch and their parents, my mentors, really encouraged me to continue.”
You can do it, too!
The world of dog shows can seem intimidating at first, but in Junior Handling tends to be a very welcoming sport. If you or your child is interested in starting, Allison suggests going to a dog show* and watching lots of Junior Handling. One of the volunteers at the dog can tell you when it starts and in which ring. If you already own a purebred dog, your dog’s breeder might be a great resource to help guide you. At a show, you can introduce yourself to handlers, owners and breeders outside the ring area and they are usually more than happy to answer questions about Junior Handling or will guide to towards someone at the show who can.
Once you’re ready, registering for Junior Handling is very easy and inexpensive. Unlike an adult handler, Juniors do not enter the show ahead of time. It is done day of. As a Junior, you can show any dog entered in the show for a nominal fee up to one hour before the start of the Junior Handling competition. If you don’t have a dog entered in the show, there’s a good chance that someone will offer you one of their dogs to take in the ring as this happens often at shows at many competitors are more than happy to help out someone interested in Junior Handling.
Why compete in Junior Handling?
Apart from learning a new skill, meeting great people and getting to be around gorgeous animals, Junior Handling offers lots of lessons in the same way all sports do. I asked Allison which lessons she learned as a Junior. “So many lessons. Sportsmanship is the obvious one. But have you ever heard a director say how working with children and animals is the most challenging as you never know what can happen? Imagine being a child (young person or teenager) and having your performance evaluated using a living creature! Dogs can be so unpredictable! In my opinion, this really shapes a Junior to think on their feet, think outside of the box, be a problem solver, think of another creature before themselves, be humbled by a dog and show kindness and compassion to something that has let them down in their moment of glory! Juniors are the sweetest, kindest and hardest working kids I know!”
Meet a Junior Handler
How can current members of the dog show world support Junior Handling?
Are you already involved in the dog show world, but want to help Juniors out? Allison suggests that you can be supportive “Be aware of Juniors and especially those that may need to borrow a dog for competition. Educate yourself on the rules for Junior Handling and make yourself available to judge Juniors or coach someone who is interested. And last but not least, when you see a new family at a dog show, tell them about Junior Handling so that dog showing is a sport the whole family can enjoy!”
*Find a dog show or trial in your area by using our Events Calendar: https://www.ckc.ca/Event-Calendar/Default.aspx