Junior Showmanship and Handling

AKC Junior Showmanship allows for young adults from ages 9 to 18 to develop dog handling skills, to learn about good sportsmanship and to learn about purebred dogs and conformation dog shows.

By Cassandra Radcliff | January 21, 2013

Junior Handler AKC/Eukanuba 2012

Emma Grayson Echols was awarded the title of Best Junior Handler and a $2,000 scholarship at the 2012 AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. © AKC/Robert Young

AKC Junior Showmanship allows for young adults from ages 9 to 18 to develop dog handling skills, to learn about good sportsmanship and to learn about purebred dogs and conformation dog shows. Junior Handlers are the future of the sport, and the AKC encourages young people to become responsible dog owners and learn about purebred dogs. The Junior Showmanship program began in the late 1920s with the purpose of introducing young people to dog show competition and developing dog show skills. The first "Children’s Handling” class was held in 1932 at the Westbury Kennel Association show. In 1951 the name was changed from Children’s Handling to Junior Showmanship, and competition expanded to include performance events in 1999.

If you want to participate in Junior Showmanship, first learn more about handling show dogs. Attend a class held by your local kennel club, watch show dog handlers at a conformation dog show, or ask a professional handler at a show for some advice. Then work with your dog and attend some shows!


Novice and Open Classes

All participants need a Junior Showmanship number, which a junior can get from the AKC by filling out a Junior Handler Number Request form. Participants are divided into two classes: Novice and Open classes. Juniors in the Novice class have won fewer than three first-place awards in a Novice class at a show. Once the competitor has won three or more first-place awards, he or she can move on to the Open class.

The classes may also be divided further into age groups:

  • Junior (9 to 11 years old)
  • Intermediate (12 to 14 years old)
  • Senior (15 to 18 years old)

When being judged at a dog show, remember that your skills are being judged – not your dog (this is not the case once you turn 18 and compete in regular classes in the conformation ring). You will need to present your dog as the breed should be presented, including correct grooming and stacking (the pose you will place the dog in when showing the dog to the judge). You will need to use bait, brushes and combs, water buckets, ice, etc., if it is applicable when handling the dog breed. For example, if you present a dog breed that drools, you will need to have a cloth to wipe the dog’s mouth. If you have a small dog that is examined on a table, you will be expected to know to table the dog for examination.


The Dogs

Unlike regular adult competition, Junior Showmanship is judged on the junior’s ability to handle their show dogs. The presentation is judged – not the dog. Handling, professional dress, personal conduct and grooming is important in Junior Showmanship competition. While the dog is not judged, it still must be a dog eligible for AKC dog shows or obedience trials (it can be spayed or neutered), and the competitor must own the dog (the dog can also be owned by a family member).


Learn More!

The best thing for a Junior Handler to do is to keep learning. Read all you can about your breed and any other dog breed you are interested in owning or handling. Learn more from professional handlers and maybe even become an assistant to a professional handler. Apply for the AKC Junior Scholarship so you can go on to higher education after you turn 18.

Get started learning right now with these Dogs In Review resources:

Show Dog Grooming
While you can’t be disqualified for improper grooming in Junior Showmanship, your dog might not win in the regular classes once you turn 18. Learn how to groom your dog breed correctly. Learn more>>

Conformation Dog Show Listings
Get important information about upcoming all-breed and group conformation shows throughout the United States. Learn more>>

Dog Breed Standards
Being familiar with the dog breed standards will help you choose a great dog to compete with, present it correctly and win! Learn more>>

Show Dog Health
Health is one of the many important aspects of showing purebred dogs. Make sure your dog is healthy so he can be at his best at the next conformation dog show. Learn more>>

Top Dogs in US History
Dogs can be the top winner in their breed or in their group, but only one special dog each year can be called Top Dog of all breeds. Meet the Top Dogs of all breeds from 1925 to the present. Learn more>>


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