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Are We Short-Changing Our Juniors?

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178 – May, 2018

BY CAROLINE COILE

Prepare to read blasphemy. I am not a huge fan of today’s AKC Junior Showmanship competition. Yes, I want Juniors in the sport. And yes, Jr. Showmanship has created Juniors who can outhandle most adults, many of whom have gone on to be leaders in the sport and successful professional handlers. The sport not only produces young people with superior handling skills, but also with heightened poise, confidence and sportsmanship outside the ring. So what’s not to like?

It’s not so much that there’s anything not to like, it’s that it’s just not enough. Not when we keep hearing that “Juniors are the future of our sport.” Maybe I’m an optimist, but I hope the future of our sport will know more than how to run in a counterclockwise circle and bait a dog.

First, though, a confession: I never showed in Juniors. I was of Junior age when I finished my first dog, but I was far too intimidated to enter any competition that was judging my (lack of) skill! So nobody gave me tips or prizes or scholarships or even encouragement to show my dog— I did it simply because I loved it, and I’m still doing it 43 years later. That’s not to say my way was the right way— it wasn’t. Except for a few judges who gave me handling lessons in the ring, I learned everything about showing from reading books and spying on handlers. Junior Showmanship would have been a better choice; but there must be an even better choice than how Juniors learn today.

RUNNING IN CIRCLES

Junior Showmanship has produced some of the sport’s most acclaimed professional handlers. A glance at the roster of Westminster Best Juniors reveals old greats such as George Alston as well as cur- rent pros such as Valerie Nunes, David Stout, Angela Lloyd and Zack Helmer. But just because they won Junior’s highest accolade doesn’t mean they raced out to become pros as soon as they aged out. Valerie Nunes-Atkinson, for example, went to college and showed as an owner-handler for 10 years before turning pro. She’d also had considerable experience apprenticing for established professionals. Even she laments the changes in the sport since she won Westminster in 1981: “We don’t have Dog Men and Women any- more, only young people that want to be superstars in the ring.”

Click here to read the complete article
178 – May, 2018

Short URL: http://caninechronicle.com/?p=143724

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