In the Ring: At Your Best

Serious owner-handlers aspire to become "professional amateurs.”


Bill Trainor, a professional handler from Massachusetts and one of the best in the business for more than 40 years until his death in 1997, was one of my first mentors in conformation. He coined the term “professional amateur,” which he applied to breeder-owner-handlers or owner-handlers who were as serious about the sport of dogs as he was. He often said that every breed has one or two professional amateurs who had advantages over him in the ring.

This may surprise people who assume professional handlers are extremely difficult for amateurs to compete against. What can amateurs learn from professionals? And what advantages do amateurs have over professional handlers?

Experience counts
Nothing makes up for experience, and professional handlers have it. Within a year, most professionals participate in 100 to 150 shows; I’m lucky if I get to 40!

Experience gives professionals confidence in the ring that amateurs often lack. They know what is expected of them at all times. They arrive at the site early to set up their crates and equipment in the best area. They know the judges they’re showing to and what those judges look for. They understand the nuances of each judge’s procedure and how to make their dog look its best at each stage. Essentially, they know how to win!

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