Welcome to Pure Dog Talk. The podcast on Purebred dogs. I’m your host Laura Reeves. Everybody starts somewhere. I did. Every famous handler you’ve ever seen on TV did. We all started in the same place. Rank beginner. A newbie without a clue. And we all advanced through these stages, some of them a little bit faster, some a little slower, but nobody ever came out of the womb as a Master Handler. What we are going to talk about today is how to identify your level of development as a handler where you want to go, how you want to get there and we can help you do that.

So to start with, we have our beginner handlers. You are just getting started. Maybe you have your very first showdog. You are still trying to figure out the points and the classes and holding the collar and the tail and remembering the look at the judge all at the same time. That’s 2 things too many. You might have had a chance to get to a basic handling class. You may or may not have an active mentor. And sometimes you still feel like a deer in the highlights when they call your number. This isn’t always an easy place but I guarantee you we can get you past that and into an experienced exhibitor.  Somebody that’s been doing it for a year or two, maybe you’ve put some points on your dog, maybe you even finished his championship already. Good job! You pretty well understand how points, and what the classes are and you normally make it to the ring on time, you’ve made some friends that are able to help you, you can get down and back to the corner in a straight line most of the time. You’ve got a good handle on the basic mechanics and the principles and where you feel you need some work is you are lacking polish and you need to feel a little bit more comfortable in the ring. And sometimes you feel invisible. Every now and then other exhibitors will block you into a corner and that’s ok. We can help you. We  can move you up  into a competitive exhibitor.  And you folks have probably been doing this 5 years, maybe more. You’ve finished a couple of dogs. Maybe even you’ve bred your first litter already. Now you’ve got a nice young special and you are really frustrated because you cant seem to get over the hump. You can’t win the breed more than 1 in 5 times. And you’ve raised and trained this dog from the get go and he is ready to be a winner. And the judges notice your dog and the other exhibitors are generally friendly to you. You win alot of owner handler ribbons and you place pretty regularly in the National Owner Handler Series in the groups.  And you just, you want to get to that next level and the next level, that’s the Master Handler. These are folks that have put 15 years or more into the sport. They are smooth and they are polished and they are confident and they are comfortable in their skin and with their dog. And these folks have dogs that are trained and trimmed and conditioned to the very best of their ability.

Folks have respect for a Master Handler and the Master Handler has respect to their peers and you’ve made some great friendships over the years. And now you’ve got that really good one.  You’ve got that one you’ve been working toward. You’ve got a homebred champion and you want to take him just as far as he’s going to go. And we can help you with that. So as we look at these levels and these ideas of where everybody is in their handler this has got some flexibility but it gives you kind of a basic ideas of what we are working with. And now we need to look at what your goals and how we can help you achieve them at each of these levels.

We are going to start with all you folks that identified yourselves as beginners and I’m going to use examples throughout this session. So don’t worry. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. I’m not going to get anybody here. We are going to start with the Brad the beginner. And Brad tells me he is nervous. His dog shies away from the exam and he feels like he has ten thumbs and 2 left feet the entire time he is in the ring with his bulldog Rufus. His goal is to finish Rufus’ championship but he is just not sure that Rufus is really good enough or that his handling skills are sufficient to get his dog to the top. So here’s the deal Brad. A couple things that you can do right away, right now, that will answer at least one of your questions.

The first is to find someone who will help you decide if Rufus really meets the bulldog standard closely enough to become a champion. You can start t his process by going back to the Bulldog standard and rereading it. My task for you today is to read it carefully, top to bottom. I want you to read it 3 times in a row and take each paragraph in that standard and apply it to Rufus. Keep in mind Brad this is a breed in which 39 points out of 100 apply only to the head. So read that section very carefully. If you have questions about what are some of these lines or these sections or what does it mean by cheek or jaw or what have you. If you have questions about that, ask your breeder or seek out a member of your local club or an All Breed club,  a professional handler that specializes in Bulldogs. People who are competitor or master breeders, make a point of asking them. It’s okay to ask questions. And a side note, for folks out there in any breed, who are at the level of competitive or master breeders or handlers, make a point of answering questions from folks like Brad in a fair and honest way. Whether Brad bought his dog from you or not doesn’t matter. We need to make a point of helping folks who want to learn. And that means YOU. All of us.

Ok Brad, good job! The concensus of opinion is that Rufus, well maybe  he’s not perfect, he’s a good and worthy representative of the breed and deserving to finish his championship. That’s a confidence builder number one right there. Next, you’re going to go find some handling classes, matches, show and goes any place that you can practice stacking and gating Rufus in such a way that you show off every one of his finest features. You are going to go listen to our podcasts on stacking and moving your dog and mastering the ring and problem solving. These will help give you tips and tools to make this go a little bit more smoothly. Stack old Rufus up in front of a mirror so that you can see what the judge sees and you are going to tweak that stack a little bit until Rufus looks as close to the picture of a Bulldog in the book as you can make him look.

Finally, once you and Rufus are working together as a team and both of you have the muscle memory that makes it so that you don’t really have to think about what goes where, you are going to sit yourself down with Rufus at your side and give yourself a little pep talk. You’ll remember that your nerves go right down the leash and into Rufus’ brain. Directly. If you are nervous in Rufus’ mind its because you’re scared. And if you are s cared he should be too. So don’t be scared. There is no firing squad in that ring. We aren’t curing cancer or solving world peace. It’s a friggin dog show. Okay. Go have fun! Relax! Enjoy your time with your dog! As you settle down and your dog does too, the judge is going to be able to find you in a crowd and pretty soon Rufus will have a champion title in front of his name. Now that Brad and Rufus are on track, we are going to visit with our experienced handlers.

For this group I’m going to pick on Ellen and her English Setter Amy. Ellen finished Amy’s championship this summer and they’ve been trying to earn Amy’s grand champion title. Amy is showing pretty well but that’s a tough ring. Ellen is feeling a little out of place and she wants some ideas for stepping up her game a notch. Ok so here you go babe. Three things I want you to work on:

First, make up a song for Amy. What’s your mental theme song for her? Personally, I use Eye of the Tiger whenever I feel like the underdog. You get that thing going in your head. It works. And you are going to hum your song under your breath. I’m not kidding okay. While you wait for your turn outside and even inside the ring. This is going to actually help you focus and get, if you pardon the pun, in the groove with Amy. I want you to really pay attention to her watch command and I want you to stand up. Quit dropping your shoulder when you move her and quit hovering over her when she is stacked. If you need to kneel so that you can get her to reach her neck and still be able to hold her tail, then do that. Keep your core of your body strong and your shoulders back while you are doing it.

Second thing Ellen, I want you to literally say Amy you are the bomb! We are awesome! Hell, I’m the bee’s knees. Whatever. Give yourself and your dog that pep talk. And don’t forget to watch her spacing. Be sure to give the dog in front of you 3 steps before you take off on your go round and another little tip, if the handler behind you has a tendency however innocently to crowd into your s pace, try free stacking Amy backwards while that exhibitor’s dog is being examined. Give yourself plenty of room in front of you and when the exhibitor behind comes around, they have to stop at your back. Then, just about time to line up for the last look, you just swing Amy around into all that free space in front of you and nobody will be crowded.

Last, but not least Ellen, your job is to watch the judge. I don’t mean to stare at him. Don’t glare at him. Just use your peripheral vision to keep track of where the judge is. What he’s doing, what he’s watching. I know that Amy is still tap dancing a little bit so time your efforts by watching the judge so that when his glance falls on her, she’s making the perfect little English Setter picture for him.

Next up for all of you competitive handlers out there just aching to break out of the pack with your dog, this one’s for you. I was talking with Connie about her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Teddy recently. This is a pretty little dog. But Connie just can’t seem to make it all the way to the front of the line as often as she’d like. So Connie, I’m going to tell you the truth. Teddy needs a little work. He’s soft, he’s a little flabby, he isn’t using his rear as well as he should, his coat needs more shine and polish and he’s got a few little stains here and there and he’s looking like the way even his coat is making him look a little bunch at the shoulders. So the thing for you to remember at this point, the difference between good and great is very often in attention to the details. Teddy needs some more exercise. Put him on a treadmill. Take him for a long walk every day. Whatever it takes. Talk with your mentors and friends about their favorite solution for eye stings. Buy him a slinky jacket to help lay the hair down that wants to stick up in the wrong places. Good enough really isn’t when it comes to the big whigs. You can make Teddy shine. It will take a little effort on your part to get there. Meanwhile, you are doing a great job with all the important stuff in the ring. The thing I want to see is for you to give the judge just a little flare. A little pizazz. That extra half a second at the end of the down and the back when Teddy is giving his cute little smile and wagging his tail, that extra half a step back while you are standing in front of him on the line. That gentle twitch of the eyebrow when the judge makes eye contact that says yea he really is that good. You can do it.

Finally, we are going to move on to my friend Mark, the Master Handler who has a very exciting home bred Mastiff Special by the name of Dudley coming up next year. Mark is pretty much the bomb diggity and he knows it. Dudley is a heck of a dog and he’s going to make his mark in the breed.  Mark’s on a bit of a budget but he has plans for getting to all the right shows, getting the word out to the fancy, letting them know about this cool dog that’s coming off his warm up gear with you know some nice group placements, a couple of specialty wins, he’s just ready to hit his stride. So Mark is going to advertise sparingly probably that he has a great designer who can help really sell that advertising message.  Timing you see is everything. Mark has Dudley in great shape and good weight, amazing muscle, perfect attitude, showing like a million bucks. But dude, sorry it’s a Mastiff. This is not always an easy breed to win with when you get to the bigs. But looking around the working group in his area, Mark is seeing that some of the big winners, some of the top winning dogs from the last year or two are about ready to retire. He’s got some good panels of judges coming up in the year, people he knows will appreciate  Dudley’s style and soundness that he brings to the table. And Mark’s pretty sure he has a shot at the number one all systems ranking in Mastiffs. And with a little luck and an awful lot of hard work, he might even crack the top working dog rankings. That’s pretty awesome and his national judge next year loved the type of dog that Dudley and did alot for his siring grandsire. So boom. Here’s a master exhibitor that has a winning plan.

OK. So what’s Mark’s problem? Point is, he doesn’t have one. He’s mastered the game. He has a blueprint. He’s evaluated his dog, he’s put in the time to build h is skills, he’s arranged carefully and is realistic and prepared for whatever might come down the road. He knows what he wants to do and how best to do it. So beginners. What’s your plan? Experienced exhibitors, what’s your goal? I really encourage everyone to write down the steps that you need to achieve realistic goals. This way when your plan is to have successfully navigated the ring for example, or gotten your dog stacked in five seconds, or earned the first point with your dog, whatever it is your still winning. You don’t climb Mt. Everest without training for it. Dog shows have a learning curve too. It’s going to save you alot of time and money and grief and aggravation in the long run if you come into this prepared and with a road map of how you want to get where you are going. For all of you exhibitors, as you move up through the ranks, make a point of watching and learning from the masters. They’ve already made all your mistakes for you. If you are patient and willing to listen, they’ll help you and maybe you won’t have to make all the same mistakes yourself.  I hope you guys enjoyed our journey today. We’ll catch you all on the flip side.

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