Defining Success with Leon Goetz

A Q&A with the 2013 Winkie® winner for Best Owner-Handler

By DIR Editors | Posted: September 18, 2014 12 p.m. PST

Leon Goetz Winkie Award
Leon Goetz received the 2013 Winkie for Best Owner-Handler of the Year, presented by the 2012 winner, Patricia Craige Trotter. Goetz says that her book inspired him and helped him realize how to achieve his goals. Photo by Brian Bengelsdorf.

Dogs in Review: Tell us a little about yourself. Was/is your family involved in the sport? If not, what sparked your interest in showing dogs?

Leon Goetz: I came to the sport of purebred dogs later in life. I was a horse show kid but grew up with a variety of breeds as family pets. Like many others, my family acquired our first Aussie at a horse show in the mid-1970s. Fifteen years later I was starting my business in Dallas and wanted a pet. That first Aussie was intelligent and loyal, so I began the search for a local breeder. I had sadly given up the horses years before, so thought I’d like to try a dog show. I was in my mid-30s and showed in ASCA before AKC recognition. I attended a couple all-breed shows and of course watched the televised Westminster show every year. Before I’d shown in my first AKC show, I set the goal to someday attend and show at WKC. I was determined to be the best owner-handler of Australian Shepherds I could be.


DIR: Who have been your mentors and role models in the sport?

LG: When Aussies finally gained full recognition and entered the Herding Group in 1991, many breeders and fanciers sent their best dogs out with well-known professional handlers. Since I wanted to handle my own dog, I had to rely on observing and learning on my own. It was a slow and difficult start, but I finally acquired a dog that I felt had potential as a special. BIS/SBIS Ch. Silverwood’s Texas Justice (‘TJ’) was a challenge with a very soft temperament that was beyond "reserved in initial meetings,” but my naiveté and love for the dog kept me from giving up. We started from the ground up, and some of my biggest supporters and mentors were professional handlers who recognized and appreciated what I was trying to do. He eventually finished his championship, and I had a dog to take to The Garden. Naturally, that first year we didn’t fare well. Pat Craige Trotter was selling signed copies of her new book, Born to Win, Breed to Succeed, at the show. I was really not familiar with her amazing success as a breeder/owner-handler but knew enough to buy the book. On the plane home, I realized what a big source of information this book could be. Not only a "how to” tome, it inspired with anecdotes from the road, show ring and whelping box. For me, it was a blueprint for campaigning a top special, and I highlighted passages of text, reading them over and over. I joked in my Winkie acceptance speech that if I’d studied in college as much as I studied her book, I’d surely have a Ph.D. in something. The book inspired me and made me realize that with the right dog, hard work and perseverance, I could achieve my goals. So it was an almost unbelievable honor when Mrs. Trotter was announced as the presenter of my 2013 Winkie for Best Owner-Handler.


DIR: Was it a foregone conclusion that you would show your own dogs in the ring, or did you ever consider a professional handler?

LG: The most important component of showing dogs is handling them myself. I enjoy the training and bond that forms with my dogs while going through the process. I like setting goals and achieving them and would not be fulfilled and rewarded watching others show my dogs. I am always flattered when fellow fanciers ask me to handle their dogs, but it is not something that I’ve done, nor does it interest me. My involvement in the sport is a passionate hobby, and it is important that I maintain my "amateur” owner-handler status competing with my own dogs.


DIR: How do you personally define success in our sport? When did you know that you had achieved it?

LG: There are many levels of participation in our sport. For some it is finishing that first champion, while others go further. I wanted success at the breed level but also set my sights on the Herding Group and BIS. Showing the youngsters in BBE and attaining championships is important and fun, but my real interest lies in presenting a "special” to the fancy at the Group and BIS levels, garnering what I feel is deserved recognition for a great representative of the breed. I am very involved with our parent club and have served for 12 years as its only AKC Delegate. While I would never consider myself an "authority” on any subject, my personal success lies in being recognized as someone dedicated to and immersed in the breed I love.


DIR: How have dog shows changed since you began in the sport?

LG: Declining entries and less competitive except at some of the bigger, more important shows and circuits. Also, we’ve lost many of the nice venues and facilities of the past that made shows much more enjoyable and entertaining.


DIR: What improvements would you make if it were within your power?

LG: The American family is faced with so many leisure choices these days that it is difficult to attract and maintain interest. The Grand Championship title and special attractions like AKC’s National Owner-Handled Series, BBE and Puppy Groups are great ideas that should be refined and built upon to attract and maintain new participants to the sport.


DIR: Have you ever felt disadvantaged as an owner-handler?

LG: Frankly, yes. But I have used that disadvantage to work harder and attain success the next time in the ring. Professional handlers do have an edge. They are called "professional” for a reason. They set the bar and push me to be better next weekend. On the flip side, I also think the one-on-one attention, training and bond of the owner-handler team can be an advantage over the pro who has a full string of dogs. On many occasions I didn’t think we stood a chance but ended up BIS that day, so it all evens out in the end, I think.


DIR: What advice would you give owner-handlers to up their game?

LG: Never give up! Set goals and work hard to achieve them, and remember that no matter how much success is achieved, there is always need for more knowledge and honing of skills. It is important to work as hard outside the ring as inside. Watch other breeds, stay for the Groups, get to know breeders and exhibitors of other breeds. Forge friendships with professional handlers; they can be your biggest source of knowledge and encouragement. Good sportsmanship is paramount. As success comes, it is just as important to be a gracious winner as a good loser. Don’t be a "taker.” Get involved with an all-breed or parent club and give back to your breed and the sport. It cannot survive and go forward without us!


DIR: What has been the proudest moment in your dog-showing life?

LG: I was lucky to be on the ground floor of the Australian Shepherd’s introduction into the American Kennel Club and have been fortunate to achieve many "firsts” for our breed: I owned and handled the first Aussie to place in the Westminster Herding Group (2001), owned and handled the first Australian Shepherd to win a Crufts Pastoral Group, and owner-handled our breed’s first and only Platinum Grand Champion. I was honored to be named first recipient of my parent club’s AKC Sportsmanship award and am extremely proud of the dogs I have bred and owned and their success at every level of our sport. Being honored by Dogs in Review and awarded the 2013 Winkie for Best Owner-Handler is a validation and culmination of years of effort as a breeder/owner-handler. I’ve always been intent on proving that all of us can find our place with the right attitude, good sportsmanship, perseverance and hard work. If I can set an example and inspire other owner-handlers, it would be my proudest achievement in the sport of purebred dogs.


From the September 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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