It has been a while since I have written, but I am feeling very inspired to write this post! On more than a few occasions, I have had clients say to me, "I know how you feel about handlers, but...". It seems that I may have inadvertently put out there in the universe that I am against people using professional handlers in the show ring. That's actually not the case, let me explain.
I am not anti professional handler, however I AM pro owner handler! I am a huge advocate for people showing their own dogs. It actually saddens me that people who train their dogs for competitive and very challenging sports such as agility or competition obedience automatically believe that they need a professional handler for the conformation ring. Most of these owners would never dream of allowing someone to handle their dogs in agility or obedience, yet they are easily led to believe that they must use a professional handler for conformation. That's just not the case. People can learn to train and handle their own dogs if that is something that they are interested in doing.
Sometimes this apprehension comes from the owner's own personal concerns or anxieties about showing their own dog. Unfortunately, many times it comes from other people. I have heard people at ringside, other owners and even judges tell people that they should have someone else handle their dog. That their dog would finish more quickly or "look better" with a professional handler. To me, that is such an incredible insult to the owner handler trying to not only finish their own dog, but engage in an activity with their dog that they might enjoy doing. For many of us, it isn't just about finishing, it is also about the journey and the relationship with the dog. It is about competing in a sport with your dog for the fun of it. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I encourage people to show their own dogs if that is what they want to do. Please exhibitors, spectators and judges, do not insult people by telling them that they make their dog look bad and should get a handler if they really want to show their own dog. Owner handling should be encouraged in the show ring, in my opinion. Let's not forget that everyone has to start somewhere.
The other thing that may make it seem like I have an issue with handlers is that I work with a lot of show dogs, with issues. Many of them are shy or fearful or just unsure and it is actually BETTER for them to be with their owners. For many dogs, being handed off to someone other than their owner can increase their anxiety. Some people will say, "Oh, he just loves his handler" or "He is much more comfortable with his handler than with me." This can sometimes be the case, but not always. When the owner is claiming this but the dog's body language says otherwise, I have to go with what the dog is telling me. Dogs are incredibly honest. If they are fearful or worried, they will say so. This is who and what I listen to.
I think that there are some really good professional handlers out there that treat the dogs will care, compassion and respect and those are the ones you should seek out. I support people using a good, caring handler if that is what they choose to do, but I will continue to support and encourage owner handling as well.
The bottom line is that if someone really wants to handle their own dog, they should do it and not be pressured into using a professional if they want to do it themselves. Dog shows should and can be a sport that people and their dogs do together as a team!