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Looking Back With Lee – Will The Real Professional Handler Please Stand Up?

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130 – October, 2014

From the archives of The Canine Chronicle, October 2014

By Lee Canalizo

One would have to be far out of the loop if they weren’t catching some of the controversy that has been escalating of late when it comes to the topic of the Owner vs. the Professional Handler. I think my recent articles may have precipitated others to pen their thoughts on this hot button. Oh well…I might have been one of the first…but I won’t be the last to try and figure out what the disconnect on this might be. We all hear so much talk, mostly negative, about professional handlers.

“Will judge so-and-so put up an owner/handler over a professional handler? Will the professional handler win with the lesser dog?” There are always times when, “legitimately” (for lack of a better word), all four placements in every one of the groups are dogs with a professional handler. According to some, the boogie men struck again! They think something underhanded caused this result rather than the fact that those handlers had the best dogs. And this thinking is repeated over and over, every weekend at shows all over the country! What compounds this perception of them vs. us is the voracity some use when posting to online chat forums. Their words paint an ugly, near slanderous picture of the recent arbitrator.

This behavior has to be brought under control! Far too much is being posted about many decent people in the sport that is far from accurate. Okay, now back to the gist of this article…

Just what is a professional handler, you ask? Many years ago a PH was just that…a Professional Handler. The AKC oversaw everything with regard to the PH. They were licensed by AKC. There was a stringent application process and handlers were “licensed” for an initial breed and, with time and a proven track record, they expanded their scope breed by breed until the powers that be approved them as an All Breed Handler. Trust me….they were well-monitored. Fines for showing a breed not approved were levied. Setups at shows were inspected for every possible infraction including things like unentered dogs and there was hell to pay if you had a dog entered that wasn’t shown. It’s not like today when an exhibitor can stand ringside with an armband on and defiantly “pull” because they have a bug up their a#$ over someone or something. I should add that these professional handlers of that era had a level of respectability that was time-honored and, in most cases, well-deserved. One had to see them in action to fully understand how effectively they performed their craft. Remember this was in the day when EVERY show was in a different location each day, EVERY show had no power, no generators, no bathing facilities and most were benched to boot.

If you were a private professional handler, it was only a slightly different story. You worked for a large kennel or breeder, but the same standards for licensing applied. You just handled your employer’s dogs, and often you managed breedings, whelping, training of puppies and all that this entailed.

The public handlers took on dogs to show, usually for a specified period of time, to either finish a championship or manage a specials career. This was done for rates that were agreed upon between the client and handler, and usually a certain amount of time was specified. There was a certain respect between clients and handlers. The PH took on a dog in good faith and the owners would respond in kind by paying a bill within 30 days once all results, ribbons and prizes were presented.

If I were to take a poll today, care to guess how many exhibitors would know what a ‘tear sheet’ is? A tear sheet is the actual pages of the events catalog with all the placements noted. Every handler would have one for each client to confirm what the results were for each show where their dog was exhibited. How I miss the sight of two assistants calling off the placements to one another at the superintendents table. The best of them had a cadence to call the class as the placements came in order by the number. Open…5 is 3rd, 6 is 1st…11 is 4th… 14 is 2nd… etc., etc. It was cool back then. Today they just wait for some computer to spit it all out. UGH!!!) Back then one had a 3 month wait to be sure any win was confirmed. Do you know how many mistakes are made that go unchecked because today’s exhibitors can’t find the time to go over and check the actual judges markings to be sure they are accurate? And if a mistake is caught: it can usually be rectified on the day. It’s much harder after the fact.

It was infrequent one of these handlers brought an exhibit into the ring that was considered a “pet”. Sure a few “gas dogs” found their way on the truck, but they were conscientious and had pride in their charges. Most would never embarrass themselves by dragging a poor specimen around the ring in front of judges who they respected. And there was respect all around during this time. There was none of this extreme disrespect we see today.

That was then, this is now. The PHA as I knew it is no longer. Somewhere the AKC was challenged with “restraint of trade” and licensing issues that removed their influence about how the handlers could be held to the standard they intended. Many lament this change and I count myself as one of them!

Gone were the controls or oversight for anyone who charged to show dogs. Anyone could be acknowledged (by term and in print) as an AGENT as long as they had a lead and a rate card. Today it is easy to call oneself a professional handler. It took a few years but AKC did find a way to separate the men from the boys with their AKC Registered Handlers Program. Once again those who could pass a litany of requirements on their facilities and vehicles were approved and accredited by AKC. Now the public could verify their status in advance instead of falling prey to a “Secret Agent” who was far from prepared to take on all that one should expect from a true professional.

There are those out there that call themselves professional just because they can. They do not have a solid animal husbandry or dog background, proper facilities, and the other necessities to be a true professional.

This is where the consumer has responsibility. Do your homework. Investigate the person before you entrust your beloved animal to them. Sure, accidents may happen, but be sure the person you engage has the best interest and facilities available to take care of your dog, in the kennel, on the road, and at the shows.

The big guys you see winning aren’t just lucky, or have an in with the judges. They have a lot of experience and years of learning under their belts. They know what they are showing and they know when they should win and also when another dog should win! They know how to behave – win, lose or draw. There is no drama, no temper tantrums. They may go back to their setup and kick the tires but they behave and never take a loss out on their dog!

So it’s up to the owner to be extremely selective and take the time and energy to investigate all aspects of the person to whom you entrust your precious dog. Discuss your needs and goals honestly and come to a mutual decision. If you’re not entirely comfortable with how things are going, make a change or learn how to be a terrific owner/handler yourself! It can be done!

It also happens to be the way many of the professional handlers started!

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Posted by on Oct 14 2020. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, 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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