Welcome to Pure Dog Talk, THE podcast on purebred dogs.  I’m your host Laura Reeves.  One of the great aspects of the sport of Confirmation dog shows is you can choose your level of involvement.  This can be a fun, once in a while hobby with the family.  You can show your purebred dog at the local shows, have fun with your friends from your kennel club or from your breed, and enjoy watching all the other dogs.  You might even plan a family vacation around a trip to your breed’s national specialty.  As a kid, my family’s only major road trip ever was to the 1985 Clumber Spaniel National Specialty.

We drove from Oregon to Ohio and back, camping all along the way, visiting national landmarks and traveling backroads.  National Lampoon’s Vacation had nothing on four people, four dogs, a stick shift Dodge Cargo Van my dad customized himself, and two weeks on the road, but it’s a lifetime memory that will never go away. And there’s a place for everyone, from the folks who just want to earn a championship, to those who want the number one dog in the country.  Once you decide what level you want to participate, all your other decisions will follow from there.  If your desired level of participation is to have a part-time weekend family hobby, Finish a Dogs Championship is a very feasible goal.  The variables can make a difference, the dogs breed, the quality of the dog, the area of the country you live in, what’s available for competition, your skill as a dog handler, all of these can have an impact on how much time, effort and money that you mind wind up putting into your hobby.  So now we can talk about a notch up in your earning of goals.  Earning a Grand Champion title on your dog as an owner and handler is very achievable.  In most breeds even ranking a very good dog in the top 10 of the breed is quite within reach.  So, we’re talking about rankings, we need to remember show dogs are ranked and sorted, and number one it’s always a stars in the eyes kind of goal, and the rankings are figured two different ways.

The first is based on dogs defeated at the best of breed level, and the second is based on dogs defeated in all breed competition in the groups and in Best in Show competition.  They also have lots of other sorting’s and rankings, and top 20 in the group and all of that.  They have rankings for the National Owner Handler series and that can be a goal, is to be ranked in that.  They have rankings for every conceivable thing you can imagine.  The ones you set your goals in and what you need to pay attention too, and setting sensible goals that are based on personal budget, an honest evaluation of your dog’s quality and your skill, is going to go a long way towards your enjoyment and your satisfaction in the sport. If you don’t have the time and resources to travel, to consistently attend the shows at which the entries in your breed are going to be significant, it’s just plain unrealistic to expect your dog to be ranked in the top echelon of the breed, based on the number of dogs that you could even find to defeat.  That doesn’t minimize your dog’s quality in and of itself.  I’ve known a lot of great dogs, really good dogs in different breeds that earned their Championships and that was it.  Contributed to the breed in the whelping box and were never campaigned or ranked at any level, didn’t make them any less a dog.  So, let’s talk about the starts in the eyes goal.  Number one. Everybody wants to be number one, and let’s say you have a very good dog, a lot of free time, and a very comfortable budget, and your goal is to have the number one dog in your breed.  And that’s when you have to do some very serious planning, soul searching, and laying out a campaign would make the biggest war time general jealous, because that’s what it takes.  So, you’re going to take a look at the dogs on the horizon in your breed, is there an opportunity for you?  In other words, you know what’s out there in your breed. If you’re the second coming of everything holy, the number one dog all breeds in the world happens to be a dog from your breed, probably this isn’t the year for you to be number one in your breed, and you might just practice a little more until it gets to be your turn.  And I don’t mean that in any way to be negative, it’s just reality.  Is your dog of sufficient quality, in other words, is it a good enough dog based on the standard?  Is it a grown-up dog fully mature?  Is it a sound minded dog who is able to be competitive at least three weekends a month, at minimum 12 months running?  If you don’t have that, you don’t have a dog that you’re going to take to number one, and that’s the bottom line.  Saying you do have that, ok good, check that off.  Now, do you have a show dog, or do you have a really great dog?  And this is going to sound a little odd and I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m saying, evaluating your own dog can be tough.  So, you might a professional handler, a mentor, your breeder, whatever to help you.  Is your dog a solid, reliable, very correct for the breed, but maybe it’s not super show-y?  If that’s the kind of dog you have, that’s a great dog, excellent, good for you.  I would take that dog and aiming for number one in the breed rankings.

On the other hand, if you’ve got a super show dog, “high-chrome” we call it, very flashy, “dig me I’m cool” kind of dog, that’s the type of dog I’m going to think has the potential to aim for the number one all breeds dog in your breed.  Now if you happen to have a dog that’s both, and you can make it to number one, all systems, ya more power to you.  But a lot of times it’s best to aim for one or the other, and if they both flow, then happy days.  So now you have a plan in place, and that’s going to help you guide your decisions about what shows to attend, a lot of times we have choices on where we can go.  You can decide to enter the big shows that are going to have a lot of dogs in the breed, or you can kind of look at what’s around you.  You can go to the littler shows, where the groups aren’t going to be 10 deep in best in show dogs, and you’ve got a chance to pick up group placements and start adding up points, and your dogs defeated in the all-breed rankings.  So that’s major decision making that’s gone all the way back to what kind of dog do we have, how much money and time?  All that.  One last note on this:  advertising.  I know, it makes everybody twitch.  The fact is, marketing your dog to the fancy, when you’re campaigning, when you’re aiming for that higher plateau, it’s a necessary evil.  Arguing about whether it should or shouldn’t be the case is sort of pointless, just like Crest versus Colgate, advertising works.  The key to this, it’s important to remember it’s not always the budget, although that helps, but being smart with your ad medium, your placement, your design and your copy, it can be very, very effective even if you’re not buying covers on every magazine every week.  You don’t have a marketing, seek out a good designer, find somebody who has that skill and they will help you, let them help you.  I think that sometimes we forget that getting people, and designers and graphic designers, they’re trained to know how to reach an audience in a good way, and we have to accept their guidance just like any other trained professional.  Just slapping a win photo in a magazine isn’t going to give you any cost benefit ratio.  Now if you’ve got the lofty goals, you’ve got the big goal, you want to rank your dog in the top all breed contenders, you want a million best in show ribbons on the wall, you’re ready to travel, you should be prepared to spend enough to buy a new house.  This is not kidding, this is a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money that goes into this.   You better have a heck of a dog, a lot of good connections and thick skin. And you better have a whole lot of time to spend at this, because for anyone who’s doing it, whether you’re doing it as an owner/handler or a professional handler, no matter who’s doing it, there’s a lot of travel and a lot of expense to trying to reach that level.  You’re talking about something that even really the master handlers, the masters of the sport, owner/handler, professional handler, doesn’t matter, often don’t run into, and that’s ok.  Set your goals, find your joy in achieving them no matter what level you’re aiming for.  And keep in mind, it’s about the journey, right?  Even if you don’t achieve your goal, the effort and the work to get there are not wasted as long as you have treasured the chance to get there, to even try.  Now there’s another part of the equation that you may have thought about or be considering, and that’s to decide whether you want to show the dog yourself, or whether you want to hire a professional handler.  And the answer to this is a whole lot less about cost, and a whole lot more about personal priorities. A lot of folks think hiring a handler is expensive, but frankly the cost is significantly less than doing it yourself just on economies of scale.  You have to pay the gas and drive the distance, and take the time of work and get a hotel and eat, and you’re going to spend all that money, and by the time you’re done doing that you will pay a handler probably half of that for the same amount of work.  Just something to think about.  But there’s the part about personal pride, you want to have the team work, you want to have the comradery with your dog that comes from owner/handling, and that’s great, I love that.  I think everyone should aspire to that.  And I understand that people get frustrated because they don’t win as often as they think they should, or as fast as they think they should, I understand that.

One of our goals here is to share knowledge that we’ve gained from years at this, to help you master the craft, and there’s an awful lot of very talented and very dedicated amateur owners and handlers that have done just that, and they beat me all the time. But realistically, you have to keep in mind, professional handlers, we work at our jobs 24/7, 365 all the time.  If we aren’t better at the job than the average person, I would recommend that we hang it up and become a Walmart greeter, ok?  We should be better at this!  I don’t expect to be as good at plumbing as the guy who does it every day.  I don’t expect that because I have a hammer and nails, I can go build a house.  Now if you’ve opted to hire a handler, how are you going to go about this?  Ok, so you’ve decided that this is the direction you’re going to go, this is what you’re going to do.  Hiring a handler requires a little bit of common sense too.  First of all, watch people, find a professional handler that interests you and watch them work.  Watch them win and lose, watch them for a weekend, for Pete’s sake, watch them for more than one day.  We all have good days and we all have bad days unfortunately, and as I said, contrary to popular opinion, dog handlers really are people too.  I’ve had people tell me they watched for years before they hired me.  It’s a little scary but there it is, it’s the way to do it.  Second of all, as other people, ask more than one person. Talk to a handler’s clients, current clients, former clients if you can.  I guarantee you, every dog handler out there has somebody that hates them, and somebody that loves them.  Throw out the most negative and the most glowing, just kind of leave those out, you know, sort of weight your responses.  You get one negative to 20 oh my goodness that person is fabulous, great.  But if you are hearing 20 people say, ehh, they’re kind of hedging their bets and ducking and covering, and you get one that says oh ya that person’s great, you should probably pay attention to the weight there, alright?  The third thing you need to do is take a look at the PHA in the AKC registered handlers in your area. I’m giving you a link to the list of the members in both of these organizations.  PHA and AKC registered handler programs, you’ve got to realize there’s no special dispensation here guys, there’s no magic bullet, there’s no invisible plane, nobody gets a cape out of it, alright.   We get a little bit of a life insurance policy and a five-dollar lapel pen.  But you’ve got to realize that pen on a handler’s lapel, tells you that these members have taken the extra step, it’s kind of a badge of honor.  That pen says that we’ve met very specific requirements for care and custody of our charges.  That’s your dog, and that we’ve agreed to abide by an enforced code ethics to take care of your dog.  For PHA particularly, we have earned the respect of our peers.  Both PHA and AKC registered handler programs maintain the same basic minimum requirements to define a professional.  That individual has to document no less than five years showing dogs for a fee, they have to have a valid driver’s license and insurance.  They have to own or lease a safe and suitable transport vehicle and kennel facility for the care of the animals.  Care and custody insurance, which is essentially liability insurance, on all animals carried is necessary.  In all cases, the vehicle and the kennel facility have to be visited in-person and inspected by a member of the specific organization.

Now PHA is especially peer reviewed.  Before a person can even apply for membership, they have to get three letters of recommendation from other PHA members.  When I went through this process, I had my vehicle inspected, my kennel inspected, my finances inspected, my background inspected, everything had to be approved by people that I think of as legends in this sport.  The AKC registered program offers an excellent pamphlet that’s created so clients can be assured your dog is being cared for by a true professional.  The code of ethics and the standard for handler professionalism that AKC puts out, are designed to ensure the well-being of the dogs first and foremost.  Always remember, the dogs come first.  These also offer guidelines and business dealings and other areas of importance when you’re having this sort of interaction.  You can find links to both of these in the show notes, and well as most of the other things we’ve talked about today.  Keep this in mind:  anyone can identify themselves as a professional handler.  In fact, anyone can take money for handling a dog.  Before you hire someone, ask about their membership and organizations that are designed above and beyond all else, to keep your dog safe.  So, there you have it guys.  Set your goals, acknowledge the level of participation you can afford, both in terms of time and finances, and you will find what is, for most of us, a wonderful family-friendly sport, that helps create lifelong friendships.  And then step back.  Take a deep breath and appreciate what you have, and remember we do this for the love of the dogs.


As always if you have any questions or input we’d love to hear from you.  The show notes and links to resources on today’s topic are available at 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 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 purebred dog.

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