PDT: Welcome to Pure Dog Talk, THE podcast on pure bred dogs. I’m your host Laura Reeves. Today we’re gonna talk to some of our junior showmanship people, some of our young people, some of our up and coming people in the sport. A lot of you folks are in, or participating in, or have participated in Junior Showmanship, and according to the American Kennel Club, the purpose of Junior Showmanship competition is twofold: to introduce and encourage juniors to participate in the sport of dogs, and to provide juniors with a meaningful competition in which they can learn, practice and improve in all areas of handling, skill and sportsmanship. That’s pretty awesome. These classes are divided by age and experience, so the novice and the open classes, and the classes are available for young people starting at age nine up through 18. And then they’re further divided: juniors, intermediates and seniors. So, if you have or are a child who would like to participate in junior showmanship, you can contact The American Kennel club and they will give you a junior showmanship number, and you can take your dog and participate in junior showmanship as long as it is pure bred and registered with The American Kennel Club. You can spend a lot of time there and you can learn a lot of things in junior showmanship, and I believe that our hope and dreams for a strong and useful dog fancy into perpetuity rests with you guys. The breeders, the handlers and the judges of tomorrow, just like those of us today, started out in junior showmanship. It is quite arguably the most important judging anyone will do on a given day at a dog show, and it’s quite often the most difficult. I am routinely impressed with the quality of presentation from these teenagers, and even some of the little ones. I love to watch a good team working together, and there are quite a number of outstanding young handlers in this sport that I know for a fact have worked hard, and trained, and groomed, and they’re presenting their dog to the very highest level, and they’re doing that all on their own. They have encouragement from their parents or from a mentor, but these kids are doing the work themselves, and I love that. Because of sort of my personal preference and my background, I am always drawn to one of the little ones that has a project dog that they’re working really hard to present to the very best of their ability, the novice juniors that haven’t quite polished all the rough edges. They are adorable to watch, and I think that with just a little bit of effort, almost anybody can show what we call a push-button dog, somebody’s retired special or something. And they can do it with a plug, but grace under pressure, when you have a dog that doesn’t necessarily want to cooperate, that’s a lot more difficult skill to attain. Those juniors that choose to take on tough dogs, you know challenging dogs, those are the ones that I always like to watch. They work by far and away the hardest, and they don’t win as often of they’d like to, and probably as often as they should, but they learn and awful lot. And they just don’t learn about dogs or showmanship, they learn how to get beaten and get back up again, and they learn like puppies do at a young, they learn how to learn. And they learn about commitment, and dedication, and perseverance, stuff that we all need in our lives no matter what, and they learn that the sweetest reward is the one that takes the most effort to achieve. There are times that a fourth-place ribbon that you worked hard for, is really, really exciting. When I work with my juniors we do a lot of encouraging and little teaching, and some nudging, and occasionally wipe a few tears, and that’s part of the deal. When I watch the juniors ring and I see judges that maybe are missing the work that’s going into a junior that’s working with a tough dog, you know one of those determined little guys, it kind of breaks my heart. I want those people to be seen and we need the young people that are determined, and we need to encourage them. They’re the ones that we need in our sport, you know they’re the upcoming leaders. They’re the strong ones, they’re willing to take a risk instead of taking the easy way out. With a little guidance, they might stick around longer than five years, and that’s something we need a whole lot more of. Ok, now I know that some of you guys want to be professional handlers, I know I did. Now I’m going to tell you the same thing that my mentor told me when I was thirteen: are you crazy? He said get an education, get a real job, go to school, are you nuts? This isn’t an easy job, you’re on the job 24/7, 365. You eat bad food, and no food, you have no weekends, forget about sleeping in until 10’oclock in the morning, forget about having a social life, you don’t get any days off, there’s health hazards up the wazoo, and there are no sick days. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel good, your dog’s still have to go out and they still have to get fed. Ya, I know, ok didn’t work for me either, so with that in mind, this is not a definitive list but I have 10 tips for you for getting started in this business. Trust me, I speak from experience here. I offer these as suggestions that are heartfelt advice, and most of them I acquired the hard way, so hopefully you’ll get to do a better job than I did, that would be my goal for you. I would love to see all of our juniors stay in the sport in some capacity, even bring a friend. I believe our sport will never survive without you guys, and that’s a fact. I want to also make sure though, that you’re getting a really solid reality check. Maybe your folks or your mentors have already mentioned some of this stuff to you. If not, somebody has to be the one to break it to you that being successful as a professional handler is a whole lot more than running counter-clockwise and looking pretty in a suit. We want you to bring your love of the dogs and your excitement in the ring and all of that, that needs to be up front. You shouldn’t be afraid to focus on that, and you should never, ever forget why. Why did you start in dogs? Use that every day in your guidance and you’re going to do ok. So, here’s our top 10 recommendations for building a solid foundation if you would like to choose a career as a professional handler.
#1: Climbing the ladder in this business is tough, it’s not for the faint of heart. So, you pull on your big girl panties, you pull on your proverbial suit of armor. People are probably going to say bad things, and say mean things, and that’s kind of how it goes. This is competition and it’s not always as friendly as we would like it to be unfortunately. So, ignore that, you know what, work hard. Keep your head down, take care of your dogs, your time will come, it will be ok.
#2: This, I cannot stress enough, I really believe in this, work as an apprentice. If you really want to do this for a living, work as an apprentice. If you want to go to college first I strongly recommend that. If you want to be an apprentice first and then go to college, that’s fine. But do the work. You start out as an understudy. You can’t climb Mount Everest without training, so you’re gonna go pick up poopy, and you’re gonna wash dogs til your hands bleed, and you’re gonna lift that bale and tote that barge and all that. You’re gonna learn a lot from the person with whom you apprentice. PHA has an apprentice program and show does the AKC registered handler program, and those are great ways to go about it. And they feel so strongly about those apprentice programs that if you have served as an apprentice for “x” number of years, you can actually reduce the number of years that you have to have worked full time as a professional handler before you can apply for your own membership status, so it really is worthwhile. I think the best way is to find a handler that works with the breed, or the group that you want to learn the most about, so if you come from sporting dogs find a sporting dog handler. Go ask them to help, I guarantee you they’ll say yes. If you have to do it for free, do it for free but that’s how you learn. And you keep learning, and you watch what people do and you learn from that, and you do the job and you’ll learn from that too. Alright? Challenge yourself, push yourself, work with the tough dogs, work with a tough situation, master that, because if you can, that’s gonna give you the skills you need to succeed.
#3: Keep working as an apprentice, do it. Do that until such time that you have the knowledge of all aspects of the business. It includes but it’s not limited to: billing, you need to be part of the process of billing, ok if you don’t know how to do your billing this isn’t going to be useful. You need to know about income and balance sheets, insurance for your business, safety for the dogs and for yourself and for your employees. Some basic veterinarian medical practices, you need to know some of this stuff. You need to know what is bloat, you need to know what to do if you see it starting. You are responsible for people’s dogs, you have to know how to take care of them, this is really important stuff. You need to know about how to take care of your vehicle and maintain that properly. What to do in case of an emergency. Conditioning the dogs, training the dogs, grooming the dogs, ya those are important too. You need to know more than just one breed, know more than just how to trim their feet for the ring. There’s a lot that goes into that, to know how to do it and the best way to learn it is by working as an apprentice. I really encourage people to study breed standards. Learn about each breed that you could show. If somebody brings you a dog to show and you know nothing about, you might very well be accentuating a major fault in your handling if you don’t know what the breed is supposed to look like, and what the good of the bad in this individual dog is. Alright? Learn some animal behavior, know body language, know how to work with the different breeds and get in their heads. Learn about their temperaments and their personalities. Your job is to make that dog look amazing and the way you’re gonna do that is to know about each individual breed and each individual animal, and really be able to work with that to bring out their best.
#4: Help other people. Just help, always. What comes around, goes around. As simple as hold the door open for somebody, help somebody put their arm band on right, help another handler that has a conflict. Helping and being friendly, and available and willing to do for others will come back to you, I promise.
#5: Keep in mind that learning the business inside and out takes some time. This isn’t a month crash course, this is going to take you some years. While you’re working as an apprentice, maybe before, maybe after, maybe during, depending on what works best for you, I really recommend taking some college level classes. This is going to give you a lot of skills you’ll be able to use going forward in your business Take classes in accounting, business management, take vet tech classes, take classes on real estate and land use planning and taxes. All of these things have bearing on what you’re going to be doing in the future, and their all gonna be useful, and having that knowledge going into this is going to save you a lot of grief and aggravation in the long run, trust me on this.
#6: Save your pennies. Ya, I know this isn’t always a lot of fun but saving money up front is gonna make, when you actual launch, a whole lot easier. This is not a get-rich quick scheme. Please do not have dollar signs dancing in your head. You can make a living at this and you can make a decent living at this, but when you’re ready to go out on your own. You’re going to be a whole lot happier if you have built up a savings account that will enable you to purchase a safe, reliable vehicle for transporting the number of dogs in the breeds that you are hoping to show. It will help a lot if you’ve built up this slush fund or this savings account, and built some credit so that you can buy, or lease, or maybe even build your dream kennel facility. You’ve got to have runs, and bathing and grooming facility, and exercise yards for housing for you and for the client dogs. These are things that we dream everybody has their dream kennel, well we have to dream about how to pay for it too.
#7: Save up some more pennies. I’m not a really good saver so I’m telling you this from the bottom of my heart, save your money. You will build a consistent clientele slowly, it’s not going to come right away, and you need to be able to have the funds to take care of the animals that you’ve been already been given responsibility for.
#8: My best suggestion is stick with what you know. Start in a breed that you’re familiar with and build your reputation there. You can expand your horizons and I encourage it, I strongly encourage it. I really think it’s my favorite part of the job is learning about new breeds, and learning new grooming and learning about everything, but that’s gonna come more slowly. So, start with what you know, stay based in kinda the general geographic region that you started in. It helps to have that support system, your mentors, your friends, your family, potential clients who will have watched you grow up in you and yours, and work for your handler, and do your apprentice work. Those are all people that are gonna be very, very valuable in the long run.
#9: Be fair and be honest. With your client, with your peers, with your help. Your clients particularly are your most valuable resource and you should guard them accordingly. Word of mouth is your best advertising, and if that word is bad, it can be devastating to that fledgling business, so pay attention. Pay attention to your reputation early and often, and continue to guard your words and your actions throughout your career.
#10: Be respectful and be upfront with your fellow professionals, with judges and with everyone around you. Amongst other things, do not solicit other handler’s clients, this is a no-no, you know this. If a regular client of handler “x” approaches you, check with “x,” be upfront about it. Make sure the client is paid in full on all their invoices, make sure there’s no outstanding contractual obligations, what have you. Clients should get to make changes in how their dogs are represented if they choose too, that is part of the deal. But it’s also part of the deal that you be straightforward and honest with your peers, and you do not want to get in the middle of anything questionable, I promise you.
Ok, final note, I really encourage you to consider joining PHA obviously, or AKC registered handlers program. These are not just a badge of honor if you will, but a mark of respect, and our willingness to give back to the sport that supports us, quite literally. Anybody out there that is acting in the capacity of a professional handler, make sure that you remember people are watching. I guarantee you they are, they watch us all the time. If you give exhibitors and other fanciers a negative impression of our business, it reflects badly on all of us, and that’s part of the gig and you need to own that. I encourage all of you to live your joy, and to do it in such a manner that the dogs come first every time, no matter what. Because they are why you have the job.
As always if you have any questions or input, we’d love to hear from you. The show notes and links to recourses on today’s topic are available on puredogtalk.com Drop us a note in the comments or email to Laura at puredogtalk.com Remember guys this podcast is for you, so if you want to know something, give me a holler, we’ll do a podcast for you. If you wouldn’t mind, you could help me out here. Take a couple minutes to visit iTunes and give us a review. This will help share the love with others out there in the sport. This has been Pure Dog Talk with your host, Laura Reeves. We hope you can join us next time as we continue on the journey to success with your pure bred dog.