As published in the August-September, 2003 issue of Los Chihuahuas


John E. Cipollina


Hartsville, South Carolina (843) 332-2313

Fax: (843) 332 1521

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 Many times over the years, I have heard exhibitors lament after leaving the ring a loser, that the judge is only putting up handlers.  And as sure as God made green apples, the winners on that particular day were dogs shown by handlers. Was it ,politics? Maybe so, because whenever human beings become involved in something, there are those who find a way to corrupt the system to suit themselves.  Then, on the other hand, could it be that on that very same particular day the handlers just had the best dogs in the eye of the judge?

Professional handlers generally do a great deal of winning and there are reasons for this. In some cases, favors are done. But how many times can someone blatantly put up handlers with obviously inferior dogs before people get wise to it and stop entering under that particular judge? Exhibitors are not stupid. Quite frankly, my opinion based on my experience is that a good handler does an all around better job than most.

Let's start with the term "professional." According to Webster, it is "one engaged in, or worthy of the high standards of a profession." They charge money for what the do.  To hire a handler to show a dog, with entry fees, handling fees, and other expenses, it easily averages out to $100.00 or more per show.  Most people expect results for that amount of money and if the handler can't deliver with some degree of consistency, he/she will not have very many clients.  That in itself is an incentive to be a cut above the rest.

A good handler has an eye for dogs and knows what the desirable characteristics of the breed are.  The dog they are showing is, in most cases, well trained, in good condition, properly groomed and presented in its best light.  When presenting the dog, virtues are brought out while at the same time, faults are minimized.  Whether or not one realizes it, presenting a dog in conformation is a visual performing art.  The handler is also well dressed.  A professional handler knows a judge's likes and dislikes in a particular breed and will not waste the clients' money on judges which they know wouldn't like the dog. Handlers can also get to shows at times and places when and where others can't.  I'm sure that there are other positive reasons for their success that I haven't mentioned.

As a breeder/owner/handler, I have held my own quite well against the professionals by taking the time and effort to learn to do what the handlers do, and do it as well as they do.  Quite frankly, in many cases, the ones that complain the loudest are those whose dogs are not good representatives of the breed, or if they are, they are either in poor condition, poorly trained, mishandled, improperly groomed, or all of the above. I have had judges, who happen to be personal friends of mine, tell me that on numerous occasions about certain exhibitors bringing a nice dog into their ring to be judged, but could not do anything for them because of lack of showmanship.  Common sense will tell you that you can't judge a dog's movement if it is jumping all over the ring or slinking around with its tail tucked between its legs.

I am not so na´ve to think that all judging is fair at dog shows. I have left the ring wondering what was going on in a judge's head on more occasions than I care to remember.  As I mentioned earlier, there are favors done to pay handlers back for assignments and other things. But, I don't believe that is as widespread as some want to believe. Politics is the easiest "cop out" for losing.

There are also some just plain incompetent judges.  There are those out there judging that have the ability to pass the test and meet other AKC requirements but still don't have and eye for dogs.  There are also judges that are so old and senile that should be retired.  As in all human endeavors, there is a myriad of variables as to why things are as they are. That is what makes life more interesting.



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