Owner-Handler Interviews

Top Owner-Handlers Share Their Experiences in Dog Conformation.


“This question is, to my way of thinking, ludicrous,” says Hafford. He notes that exhibitors would need to be familiar with the standards of every breed in the Group in order to make such a determination, adding that “so much of judging is subjective in that many judges are drawn to particular breeds either because they simply love them, or because they are more familiar with the standards of certain breeds. I may be a Pollyanna in my thinking, but I feel that great dogs do get to win enough to make their presence felt even with breeder/owner-handlers like myself.”

Jay HaffordHafford adds that owner-handlers have been the dominating factor in Afghan Hounds until recently when professional handlers have made serious inroads and become a force to be reckoned with. “Is this a good thing? I am not sure.”

Struble’s experiences have only reinforced her belief that owner-handlers can successfully compete against professionals. “My ratio of Group placements is very high, and I very rarely walk out of the Group ring [unrewarded].” However, she acknowledges that “the Golden Retriever is a great Group-placing dog” and admits that BIS competition can be a different story. “Since I don’t do much advertising, I do think that there is a difference there.”

Huff feels that owner-handlers can be overlooked in Group competition. More frequently she notices a reluctance to award the Group to a great dog shown by an owner-handler, placing it second or third instead. “I think it’s hard for some judges not to do the safe thing. I’ve also been told by handlers how much more my dog would win if it were shown by a well-known handler.”

Lorentzen hasn’t experienced this problem to a great extent because she has “never really campaigned a specials dog, week in and out. I primarily show at specialties. On occasion, I have specialed at all-breed shows and done quite well.”

In part, Lorentzen attributes this to strategy. “Having been in the dog show world since childhood, and not being in a position to have to show every weekend, I am very careful about choosing the judges that I show to, which obviously ups my odds.”

Lorentzen rates her experiences as basically positive, but acknowledges that she has occasionally walked out of Group rings with dogs she considered quite superior. She sees lack of breed-specific knowledge as the primary reason for this, rather than her status as an owner-handler. “Great dogs in many breeds are overlooked in favor of the ‘all-American generic show dog’ every weekend. It’s a fact of life in today’s dog show world, unfortunately.”

Janet York2. Given those experiences, what motivates you to continue as an owner-handler?

Most cited the personal satisfaction they derive from breeding truly great dogs, and the singular sense of accomplishment produced by doing it all yourself.

Hafford’s primary motivation comes from a love for his breed. “I have given my whole life to them and I wouldn’t change a thing. They are a source of great joy. I cannot imagine my life without my beautiful Afghan Hounds!”

“Good dogs do get recognition but perhaps not as often as the heavily campaigned top dogs,” says Santana. “Nothing compares to the sense of accomplishment that comes from standing in the BIS spot with your dog and getting a wonderful pat on the back from the ‘face’ handlers!” She also derives motivation from the great people she meets in her travels. “You get inspired and encouraged by the friends you make.”

Huff’s motivation comes from “the whole circle of activities associated with breeding and showing; that is, to whelp your puppies, pick, raise and train your show prospects, show the best ones yourself, and then breed the next generation.” She emphasizes that this type of experience is essential to become a truly great dog person.

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