wikiHow to Become a Dog Show Handler

Three Parts:Learning About the JobTraining as a Show HandlerDeveloping Your Skills and Business

Dog show handlers are responsible for working with dogs at dog shows on behalf of their clients, who are often the dog's owners. Handlers are expected to help the dog make the most favourable impression on the judges, and they are often responsible for grooming and preparing the dogs for shows, as well as arranging transportation.[1] Most dog show handlers are self-employed and have a number of dogs and owners as clients. Become a dog show handler by getting to know everything you can about dogs and the business of dog shows, and attracting clients who will hire you to handle their canines.

Part 1
Learning About the Job

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    Research the job. Start by doing some thorough research about the nature and demands of the job. Being a dog show handler is about much more than showing dogs in the ring in front of judges. It's a job that means a lot of time on road and a lot of time on your feet. You will need excellent knowledge and enthusiasm for every aspect of showing and caring for pure breed dogs.
    • Once you have a good roster of clients you may be competing in 100 or 200 shows per year.[2]
    • Each show requires a great deal of preparation and organization to ensure all the dogs are in top shape.
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    Assess your qualities. Before you go about trying to develop a career as a dog show handler you need to evaluate your skills and weaknesses against the requirements for a successful handler. Remember you need to be able to work well with people as well as dogs, so strong interpersonal and communication skills are a must. You will be part of a team with the owners and the dogs, so you need to work well with other people.[3]
    • Being a handler can be a physically demanding job so you need to be in good shape and enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors, even if it's wet.
    • You have to be passionate about the presentation and grooming of the dog as well as its physical fitness.[4]
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    Observe the professionals. A great way to learn about how dogs are shown and try to pick up some expert knowledge is to spend lots of time watching professionals at as many dog shows as you can make it to. Arrive early and stay late to observe how the handlers work in and out of the ring, as well as how they conduct themselves around the show. Things such as dress and manner are important parts of showing dogs so the more exposure you have to that environment the better.[5]
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    Join your local kennel club. To get to know more people interested in dog shows and become involved in your local dog community you should join your local kennel club. You will learn great tips from people with experience and knowledge as well learning when and where you can go to shows to develop your skills and watch other handlers.[6]
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    Estimate basic start-up costs. Starting up as a dog show handler is not a minor investment, so you should take some time to draw up some figures that detail the kind of costs you will face at the outset. It's good to do this early so you can begin saving up some money and looking out for good deals on key items while you go about developing your skills and making contacts. The kind of equipment you will need includes:
    • A good van or other vehicle suitable for transporting dogs.
    • Dog crates, crate fans, crate pads and cooling mats.
    • Grooming tables and professional standard grooming equipment such as scissors, dryers, combs, brushes and shampoos.
    • As you develop your business you will need to provide kennels and exercise space.[7]

Part 2
Training as a Show Handler

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    Show your own dog to start with. The easiest way to get experience in handling and showing dogs is to practice with your own dog. If you don't have one, you will need to buy a registered purebred puppy that has a demonstrably good lineage from a good breeder if you want to show it. Having your own dog to work with will help you practice whenever you can to improve your handling and learn about showing dogs.
    • Start by enrolling your puppy in obedience classes with an experienced handler, and then progress to the presentation and grooming techniques needed for shows.[8]
    • Show your puppy at your local kennel club shows and pay attention to feedback and judging.
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    Consider starting as a handler's assistant. A great way to learn about the job while gaining valuable skills, experience and contacts, is to get a job as a handler's assistant. Successful handlers who work with a number of dogs will often hire an assistant to take care of preparation work, grooming, conditioning and training. Working as an assistant will give you a much clearer picture of the day-to-day working life of a handler.[9]
    • If you develop a good relationship with the handler she could act as mentor and help you develop your own handling skills.
    • You can ask the handler for feedback and advice on your handling work.
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    Try a Junior Showmanship event. Another good way to get more practical experience with handling dogs is to participate in the American Kennel Club's Junior Showmanship classes and events at licensed dog shows.[10] The classes are open to those between 9 and 18 years old and are divided into three age groups: junior, intermediate, and senior. The classes are also divided into novice and open classes. Once you have gained enough points, you can graduate into open classes.
    • These classes give you a good introduction to handling and experience of competition and judging.
    • You will also get to know other people your age interested dog handling and can share tips and experiences.
    • You must enter a dog that is eligible to compete in obedience trials or dog shows. The dog must belong to you, your family, or a member of your household.
    • Look up a local show near you and go to see how it all works before you join up.[11]
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    Apply for an apprentice program. You do not require any official certification or training to become a dog handler.[12] You can gain a lot of experience working as an assistant or participating in junior classes, but you should seek out professional instruction to hone your handling whenever possible. If you are working with a registered handler you can apply to the American Kennel Club's apprentice program.
    • This program gives you the chance to develop your skills in all aspects of dog handling and care.
    • This can be an accelerated route to the prestigious Registered Handler Program.[13]
    • The Professional Handlers Association also run a well-respected apprentice scheme.[14]

Part 3
Developing Your Skills and Business

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    Grow your contacts. Once you have all the necessary skills to show dogs you need to work on developing your client base. Word of mouth and reputation are crucial in the dog show world, so begin to network at shows and events and raise your profile among owners and other handlers.[15]
    • Create a website and use social media to raise awareness of your business and attract new clients.
    • Doing well in competition is arguably the best way to raise your profile and gain clients.
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    Develop your physical infrastructure. If you want to grow your business and take on multiple dogs who you will have to care for out of competition, you will need to develop a good setup of kennels, grooming and exercise space for all of the dogs you are working with.[16] This can be expensive, but is essential if you want to increase the number of clients you have.
    • Boarding expenses will be charged to the client, so will need to understand the costs and make sure your prices are appropriate.[17]
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    Apply for official recognition. Once you have gained significant experience as a handler, anywhere between five and ten years, you can go one step further and apply for official recognition of your status as an elite handler. You can apply for this with the American Kennel Club's Registered Handlers Program and the Professional Handlers Association. Having recognition from these two bodies with give you added prestige as a handler, and may enable you to charge a higher rate.[18]
    • The Registered Handlers Program requires seven years of experience, and you must sign a code of ethics.[19]
    • The Professional Handlers Association requires ten years of involvement with show dogs, including at least five as a handler.[20]
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    Consider employing assistants. If you find that you are becoming a successful handler with a number of dogs and a hectic schedule of shows to attend, you might consider hiring an assistant to help with the grooming and preparation, or to assist with the administration and finances. If you started out as a handler's assistant it could be very satisfying to help the next generation of trainers to get started in the business and learn the ropes from you.


  • Always maintain a professional appearance. Dog show handlers are required to dress up for dog shows.

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Categories: Dog Obedience