In the Juniors Ring: Dropping the Lead

There’s no way to anticipate the variety of things that can go wrong in the ring. All you can do is maintain your composure, recover from your mistakes as best you can and laugh at yourself.

By Amber Leonard | Posted: Apr 18, 2014 9 a.m. PST

Mistakes at Westminster
The best thing you can do if you make a mistake in the ring, like dropping the lead during a big show like Westminster, is to keep your composure. Photo by Congleton.

The primo accomplishment for a junior handler is to qualify and exhibit at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show. When competing against the most exceptional junior handlers in the country, all juniors can really do is cross their fingers and hope they’re lucky enough to return home with more than a participant ribbon. This year Westminster was bittersweet because it was my final time showing in juniors. During preliminary judging I was stunned, humiliated and overwhelmed with disbelief when I made a disastrous mistake. But, without hesitation, I would decline the chance to do it over again.

I had just completed my individual evaluation, stacked back up in line and was fortunate enough to be chosen to join the other three juniors who had made the cut. Judge Ms. Bonnie Threlfall asked us to go around and exit the ring so that the second half of juniors could be judged. This was something I had done about a million times in all of my years showing dogs. Going around the ring is the simplest and easiest aspect of showing a dog. On a bit of a high, my Longhaired Dachshund, ‘Rooster,’ and I proceeded to go around the ring. My dog is trained to move on a dead-loose lead, and sometimes it feels as if we aren’t connected by a Resco — we’re just moving in complete unison with no effort required. We both know exactly what our objective is as we show off flying around the ring. However, nothing would prepare me for what took place about halfway around the ring. I would never imagine this happening to me, especially after more than seven years of showing dozens of dogs and during my last shot in juniors at Westminster.

It happened so fast. I was holding on delicately to the very end of the lead, and Rooster was moving a bit faster than usual, so all it took was a tiny tug for the lead to slip between my fingers. Rooster wasn’t fazed and kept trotting along; I, on the other hand, was in absolute disbelief. Because we looked normal — except for the fact that I was wide-eyed staring at the lead dragging on the green carpet — I decided to follow his lead just long enough for us to complete the go around and before he could run out the ring into the thick crowd of dogs. Getting closer to the gate, I had to speed up and lengthen my strides and try my absolute best to look as nonchalant as possible. I had one last opportunity where the lead was in reach and Rooster was about a foot from making a dramatic exit from the ring. Unfortunately, there’s no graceful way to step on a lead and stop a dog that’s in full-blown motion. Somehow I was able to stomp on the lead and regain possession of my dog.

I left the ring laughing hysterically. I laughed even harder when I realized everyone else was, too; we even cracked the judge’s serious and focused expression. My first thought was that I was done for, but the best I could do was own up to what had happened and let the cards fall where they may. Even at that point I wouldn’t revise what I had just done because of how bizarre and ridiculous it was that a mistake I’d never made occurred at that moment in time, and was caught on camera. Surely, I thought it was for a reason, whether it was to serve as a harsh lesson to hold the lead tighter at the cost of a scholarship, or perhaps to stand as an example for other people that mistakes like these happen all the time.

Whether you stumble over your words during a speech, forget the lyrics in the middle of a performance, or accidentally pass the ball to the other team during the last seconds of a tight basketball game, mistakes happen to everyone. And with dogs, there are always variables. I’ve worked for handlers and have been presented my fair share of dogs, and there’s no way to anticipate the variety of things that can go wrong. All you can do is maintain your composure, recover from it as best you can and laugh at yourself. Sure, this was Westminster, but when you strip it down, it’s nothing more than another dog show. To many, I made an unforgivable mistake, but it’s unrealistic to say that even the finest don’t misstep once in a while or never should. We’re humans; imperfection is inescapable.

My situation was susceptible to result in way more calamitous ways. Many of these scenarios vividly flashed before my eyes in those few seconds, one being that the dog could run into the large mass of dogs, start a fight and get loose, never to be found again. But nothing catastrophic happened because I kept my composure and remained calm and collected. I was able to play it off and make certain I held that lead once again before leaving the ring. Ultimately, all we did was go "no hands” for half the go-around.

After the second half of juniors were cut, I walked back into the ring just as confident as I did originally, if not more self-assured that I still prevailed as the best handler in the ring. I ended up convincing the judge that I was still worthy to go to finals and was honored. Making finals was a testament. No matter how far the situation goes south, if you lose no hope and stand no less tall, you can end up triumphant. How handlers deal with inevitable mishaps separates definitively the superior and mediocre handler. This incident made my last Westminster as a junior unforgettable, especially because I have qualified four times for Westminster but never before made finals. I am not a bit ashamed that I was that junior who lost her dog in the ring; I am proud.


From the April 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.


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Lynda   Grayslake, Illinois

5/4/2014 10:39:50 AM

I had a shiba shake her collar off on the go round at a show (thank goodness it was indoors), but I just kept running and so did she, and when we stopped I grabbed her and put it back on! It's all you can do!

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Kerrie Kuper   St Petersburg, Florida

5/3/2014 8:18:37 AM

I have dropped the lead MANY times in the ring. As a matter of fact I won TWO GROUP FIRSTS at TWO different shows when I dropped the lead and my dog went around the ring all by time the judge jokingly said ( I THINK) that the dog looked better without ME on the end of the lead....!!! HAHA. So it happens and not a big deal. You handled it perfect!

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