I participated in junior handling from the age of 10 (which used to be the minimum age requirement) up until I was 18 years old. My first year of junior handling with my Saluki, Shadow, I was the American Saluki Association Junior Handler of the Year. Junior handling is very, very different from regular handling (in the breed ring). In the breed ring, it is supposed to be strictly judging the dog, granted having a handler that handles the dog well is a bonus; the handling is not what is being judged. In junior handling, however, the judge is strictly judging the handler and their ability and skill. Here are a quick five tips that every junior handler should be doing!
1. Smile! This is one little thing that is seldom forgotten. Smiling is definitely not the first thing on your mind when you are nervous and thinking about all the other little details that go into dog handling, but it is oh so important! Just remember that you’re doing this because you enjoy it! So make sure to show the judge that too!
2. Be calm and collected. Believe it or not, your dog is very in tune to your emotions and nerves. Your dog will be able to sense your nervousness and will react to it. Take deep breaths; trust in what you know and what you’ve practiced. Also, try a breath mint (not gum, chewing in the ring is not very professional)! The dogs can smell the nervousness on your breath.
3. Know your breed. Every breed is shown differently, so make sure you know how to best show off your dog. Know how to stack your breed, and at what pace that breed should be moving. If there are different ways to show the bite for your certain breed, make sure you know how and show the judge that you are knowledgeable!
4. Know the rules and etiquette. There are many, many rules and small details to remember when you are a junior handler. Know the ring patterns and, if possible, watch classes before yours to see what the judge is asking them to do. Always be working and showing off your dog because you never know when the judge is going to look over. If you have a table dog, make sure to check the table’s sturdiness before placing your dog on the table. Know how to stand and where your boundaries are.
5. Practice, practice, practice. This is the most important part of junior handling! The more you practice, the more confident you will be in the ring, and that will show. Make sure your dog knows what you expect from it and practice the things you aren’t very good at or your dog needs more practice at (such as free stacking).