Owner-Handler Interviews

Top Owner-Handlers Share Their Experiences in Dog Conformation.

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“Attending shows will enhance your breed-specific knowledge and provide a better understanding of the complexities of conformation showing,” adds Huff, but breeding and handling your own dogs “produces depth of knowledge as well as breadth, since you’re involved with both individual dogs and a family of dogs in multiple ways. I’m convinced that many of the best dog people are owner-handlers who have immersed themselves in a particular breed and I would argue that showing your own dogs helps avoid kennel blindness.”

Tonya StrubleLawrence continues simply because she loves breeding and showing. “I enjoy the competition and take pride in what I do. We all dream about having a great dog, but it’s a much greater accomplishment to breed a great dog, and watch it grow up to meet your expectations. That is a wonderful thing.”

3. Have well-meaning professional handlers or judges ever suggested that you trim/groom/present your dogs in defiance of the standard to get ahead?

This question produced mixed reactions, but general agreement that grooming and presentation now play a bigger role in the sport, and this emphasis can undermine correct type.

Huff notes that “the pressure and the suggestions are frequently more covert than overt.” She cites the increasing emphasis on presentation and length of hair, to the detriment of outline.

“It’s very hard to win now at breed level, let alone the Group or Best in Show level, with a Poodle with less hair on the back of its neck and top of its head. The expression often heard about a Poodle with less hair that doesn’t win is that it doesn’t ‘look the part.’” Huff notes that this increasing focus on outline can mean that basic structure and breed qualities delineated in the standard begin to take a back seat to presentation.

Lorentzen describes herself as a “torch carrier” when it comes to Springer grooming. Possibly because she is generally regarded as one of the country’s best Springer groomer/conditioners, no one has suggested that she groom her dogs in defiance of the breed standard. “However, there are a number of handlers in this country who do trim their dogs in defiance of the standard, and they continue to win on a weekly basis with these dogs,” she says.

Karen Staudt-CartabonaNoting that the breed standard clearly prohibits excessive trimming, Lorentzen feels that many judges do not understand how to interpret and apply the information in this description. “Trimming is an art form and few people want to take the time to hand-strip topcoats and shape underlines to fit the dog without creating a scissored look. We now have a lot of dogs doing a lot of winning that look like they had a cookie cutter stamped on them, and it is quite incorrect.”

Over the years, Staudt-Cartabona has also witnessed a shifting emphasis away from a presentation of correct type to a primary focus on the beauty contest aspect of judging. “I have always believed in minimal trimming. I am constantly told that my dogs could be ‘better groomed,’ or that they don’t look ‘finished.’” She adds that extreme grooming can detract from type. “I leave hock hair. Since a high narrow hock is a serious fault in any sighthound, I wonder why so many exhibitors trim hocks to the skin?”

York admits that a professional handler once suggested that she fix her dog’s tail “so he could win more. I would never consider such a suggestion, and this particular dog went on to win five all-breed BIS and become No. 1 Cavalier All Systems.”

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