OWNER HANDLERS: HOW TO RISE TO THE TOP 20 PERCENT
You do have to have some level of preparation and experience for your dog to be competitive. For some of you, this means you must at least become a force to be reckoned with in the breed ring. Imagine marching around the game board picking off your oppo- nents one at a time. Getting the pieces, the cash, the hotels—the ribbons and the wins. Cha-Ching! RAMP UP YOUR EXCELLENCE QUOTIENT I ask you, where have you set the bar? Are you coasting or are you continually improving? For all of you who are experienced, I know this sounds really basic. But trust me, I see this in the ring and I’ll bet some of you have seen it too—the longtime, experi- enced exhibitors showing their untrained dogs. These folks don’t train, or minimally train, their dogs because they’ve been around so long, and their “good enough” quotient is pretty low. They have set their own bar to coasting rather than to excellence. Ask yourself if you’re coasting, or do you aspire to excellence? And I want to insert here for a moment that even if you’re winning Groups, you can still be coasting. If you’re not always trying to up your game; if you aren’t looking for that competitive edge, that advantage; if you’re not looking to evolve and are not competitive—you are coasting. If you are relying on your experience, but not adding to it—ramp it up! Consider upping your game. WHERE DO YOU START? Are you looking at the back of a select few elite handlers who consistently make the winner’s lineup? Are you one amongst a group of top competitors who are knocking at the door to step into the elite 20 percent? If you are in a position to reach the top, or if that is your long-term goal, stop worrying about who is already there. Start here: 1. Compare your dog to your breed standard. 2. Compare your competitor’s dog to the standard. 3. Compare the dogs to each other, keeping faults and virtues in mind. BACK TO BASICS Take your standard and go line-by-line. Look at each of your dog’s qualities. Don’t go by memory, even if you have it memo- rized. With each reading, you will see something with new eyes and with a new perspective. Each read-through will allow you to notice a point that you did not have in previous readings. It’s amazing how even seasoned breeders gain insights that they didn’t think of before. Then, address how you and your dog will stand out amongst other quality dogs and other skilled handlers. CREATE A SYSTEM Be in the habit of tracking what you are doing with your dog. Create a spreadsheet or a tracker. Put the list on your phone, print it out or write it on paper. Wherever it is, create a system for yourself. I created a tracking system that I use with members of the DSM program. They work through a “Rate your Dog Checklist,” which functions as a tracking system to get the most out of each dog. Every dog is an individual and you should be working through a system with every dog. ADOPT A PROFESSIONAL APPROACH Do you want your dog to be competitive with the top 20 per- cent? What I heard before I started DSM—and still hear—is what made me start this program. I saw people sitting around complain- ing that professional handlers win the lion’s share; the 20 percent.
A GAME OF NUMBERS—ONLY IF YOU REALLY WANT TO WIN MORE Let’s look at the 80/20 rule as it pertains to dog shows. As we started out saying, at 80 percent, owner-handled dogs make up the majority of entries. Next, we’ll apply this to the win rates. Flip the numbers, and we see that 80 percent of the wins are taken by 20 percent—the top dogs. It’s a little bit of a mind bend here, but stick with me. In other words, those who occupy the top 20 percent show up with a dog that presents better than 80 percent of the other exhibitors. You must “up your game” if you want to be a part of that 20 percent. Consider how you will elevate your presentation enough to join the elite. Remember, this is not the best of the owner han- dlers; it is the best of the entire field. Make the decision to be the driving force, and move up into the winner’s circle. At this point, be ready to move beyond any self-imposed limitations. It’s up to you to set and work towards your goals. The new reality is that your competition is both owner-handled and professionally-han- dled dogs. I call them quality-handled dogs. How impressive it is when you see a handler and their dog in the ring, and they’re in sync. Right? You’ve seen it. It stops you in your tracks. It stops me as a judge! Sometimes they’re professionals and sometimes they’re owner handlers. Seeing the handler in sync with their dog is a sight to behold—it’s beautiful. As both a judge and a dog person, I want everyone to aspire to that level of excel- lence. This is what Dog Show Mentor (DSM) is about. WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO WIN A LITTLE? TO WIN A LOT? What it takes to win is not to be blinded by a drive to suc- ceed. A well-rounded evaluation will also include the questions: “How do I define success?” and “What would be fun for me and my dog?” My own research reveals that owner handlers go to shows to both have fun with their dog and to win. The defi- nition of “fun” is different for each of them. In all the cases that I’ve seen in the last four-and-a-half years, “fun” includes at least some winning. This can be an entertaining game. Think of a board game where you get money for every win, or in this case, for every ribbon. The strong players go into each game of Monopoly or Chess with a strategy to win. If your goal is to go to dog shows with your dog for fun, and winning is part of the fun, what are your considerations? “THE NEW REALITY IS THAT YOUR COMPETITION IS BOTH OWNER-HANDLED AND PROFESSIONALLY-HANDLED DOGS. I CALL THEM QUALITY-HANDLED DOGS. ”
186 | SHOWSIGHT MAGAZINE, MAY 2021
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