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Looking Back With Lee – Pro Handlers vs. Owner-Handlers

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By Lee Canalizo

I’m getting to be “a child of the times”. Spending way too much time on my computer and iPad! Of course, most of this time is devoted to that which is near and dear to all of our hearts….the dog, dog shows and everything involved in this way of life.

To be very frank and to the point, I am exceedingly distressed and aggravated by the pervasive attitude and constant complaints aimed at the judging with regard to Professional Handlers {PH} as opposed to Owner-Handlers {OH}. Those damn computer “lists” have opinions as to whether a judge will put up an OH over the dog that a PH is exhibiting. This then becomes the determining factor as to whether to enter under a specific judge. What a bunch of nonsense! A conscientious judge wants to find the dog that is most correct in his/ her opinion. If a PH is showing it….so what…and if the truth be known, many a professional, busy, competent (or whatever term you want to inject) judge will usually favor the OH if the decision is close…but sometimes the OH fails to get within striking distance due to many factors that find them lacking, and which they are empowered to bring into the ring with them!

These professional handlers have become the boogie men of the dog show world! I want to tell you a bit about how the pros got to the position in the sport where they are today! I will mention only the folks that I have more familiarity with, due to living in the Northeast for most of my life.
First of all, they certainly, were not born PHs or decided on a whim, to become handlers. For the most part, they started just like you and I did…no secrets there! Their parents were breeders and/or exhibitors, and as kids they were at the shows every weekend, soaking up the dog show world…whether they realized it or not.

Among these dreaded “bad guys” were the Scotts…both Michael and Michelle, Kim Pastella, Nina Fetter, Colton and Heather Johnson, Larry Cornelius, Mike Work…ALL the Proctor kids…Nancy and Bryan Martin…this is just a few, but all grew up in a dog family, and became tops in the sport. (The generation before them had names like Forsyth, Clark, Holloway, Moses, etc.) I knew these kids for many years and watched them learn, grow and thrive within the dog show world. They had talent and a work ethic which made them what they are today AND they know dogs, they just don’t show them. It just did not happen for them. They didn’t get lucky! I also must add that, like everything in life, not all PHs are created equal.

There are levels of quality to everything, but that discussion is for another day.

My main point of this article is to emphasize that being an Owner-Handler is not a DEATH SENTENCE! We all started out that way. In my original breed, the Afghan Hound, Owner-Handlers ruled the rings. The breed had massive coat requirements and a sensitivity about them that if not properly fostered could cross over into a shaky, shy or uncontrollable specimen. Not many PH wanted to take on all that commitment. A few did, but the OH to this day still holds most of the marbles. What I do see happening is many of my peers have felt the effects of age and it’s not for lack of desire they aren’t running around the ring…it’s just age catching up with them! (but we’re still around enough to get angered by the newbies who think they found a better way to present the breed). If one thing has to be acknowledged, it’s that many of these Owner-Handlers suffer from the same economic climate that has affected the sport. Sometimes it’s just more cost-effective to send a dog out with a pro and benefiting from shared expenses and time away from work.

So now we have the PH showing pretty good dogs from longtime breeders and, naturally, the law of averages is going to start to shift in their favor. But none of those changes prevents the typical OH from using their skill to stay competitive against all comers. You have the power to condition a dog properly, to groom the dog specific to the standard with great detail, and you have the greatest advantage of developing a “team” (owner and dog). You should have a noticeable rapport with your dog that only comes from the bond you share from being together 24/7. Many of those PH that you dread have walked that walk and they know its importance of that relationship. More importantly, they have mastered the key to connecting with a dog…even if they don’t own it or have raised it.

Personally I might not understand the necessity to be singled out for recognition as an Owner-Handled Dog, but I do see where some feel they need to have a special ratings system that reflects their accomplishment. I get that, but you always had something to be proud of by presenting a quality entry in competitive condition.

You just needed to “keep up” with your competition in every aspect regardless of what pin they might be wearing…and BTW: the Owner-Handlers Club of America (OHA) is going to be pleased to see their membership grow! OHA has an official pin just like the PHA that can be worn in the ring! The OHA was formed about 50 years ago with Harry Proctor as one of the founding members and his daughter, Pattie Proctor, is the only remaining charter member. The activities offered by the OHA in both conformation and obedience classes are still resources for the OH to perfect their craft. The local Nassau/Suffolk chapter in New York has a steady number of champions and titleists annually. Most years that figure is around the 30–40 mark. Proof positive that the Owner-Handler is alive and well.

So now, it’s official, the Owner-Handler with the best dog in competition will now be tracked and a ratings system will be unique to them. Just as they are for each breed regardless of who shows them. If you want to make this effort hit home, you better have a good ratio of dogs appearing on both ranking systems.

The pride I had as a Bree-der/Owner/Handler was for a dog to make both the “Breed point list AND the All-Breed point list”! It was like you knew you had a “great one” when the breeder-judge and the all-rounder both rewarded your entry. Some breeders are fine with just being recognized by the breeder-judge and never venture out for other opinions. Now, the Owner/Hander can be recognized. They can achieve recognition for being an OH with a quality dog. I know many are supporting the initiative. Clubs are seeing their entries increase when they offer the OH competition. The program will get past the “growing pains” for the judges, stewards and exhibitors.

Now we might just have a backlash against the “DREADED OWNER-HANDLER”. I hope that’s the case because that means you’re doing great!!!

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Posted by on Jul 6 2014. Filed under Current Articles, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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