Junior Showmanship Life Lessons
by Beverly Vics, AKC Group Judge
I recently judged a Regional Specialty sweepstakes sponsored by the National Breed Club. I also judged Junior Showmanship, as I am AKC approved for Juniors in all breeds.
This was an assignment in a breed for which I would like to, eventually, be approved by AKC for regular judging status. There were only two entrants. The first, an Open Jr, entered the ring with confidence and brought her dog to where the steward had indicated, stood in front of the dog and baited.... flawlessly! I asked her to gait the dog around the ring and put him on the table. She gaited him around the ring, appropriately watching the dog, me and the matted area. As she lifted the little dog onto the table it was apparent that the dog was now almost as tall as she was.... very cute!
She carefully placed each of the feet so the dog was now perfectly stacked and ready for my examination. I examined the ears and head and then asked her to show me the bite, which she did, a bit awkward, as the dog was so high up for such a short person, but correctly. I examined the rest of the dog, asked her to take the dog off the table and gait the dog on the diagonal, to the opposite corner and back, indicating with my hand to which mat I was referring.
She gaited the dog away and back, flawlessly, however when she stopped in front of me, she positioned herself directly in front of the dog, thereby blocking my view of the dog’s front end, face and expression. I walked around the dog, as I always do in my judging procedure, and indicated “Number One”.
The second class of one, Open Intermediate, entered the ring, again baited, gaited, examined, showed the bite, and I asked her to gait the dog exactly as I had asked the Open Junior to do. This handler gaited to the corner and back to me, and angled her dog ever so slightly as to be able to stand in front of the dog to bait, without blocking my view of the front, face and expression. I gave her her first place also.
Then the two Juniors came in together, I asked the Open Intermediate to enter to the front of the line with the Open Jr second. I did this deliberately so that on my next exercise the Junior had the opportunity to watch the Intermediate gate the pattern. I brought the two around together to where the table was placed on my left. I asked the Open Intermediate to gait her dog to the right hand corner, across the back mat, back to the right hand corner and back to me, indicating an “L to the left” pattern. The handler did as requested, not changing hands in the far corner in order to keep the dog between me and her, and stopped as before, giving me full view of the dog’s front end, face and expression.
I asked the Open Junior to do the same, she did exactly as her predecessor, also not changing hands in the far corner, but stopping in front of me, as she had before, blocking the view of the front, face and expression.
I then walked to center of the ring and observed both handlers presenting their dogs appropriately; one stacking on the floor, one baiting in front of the dog. I walked to the rear of the line, looking at both rear setups. The Open Intermediate was “down” with her dog stacked, the Open Jr was standing baiting her dog... both correct. I then walked to the front of the line, now the Open Intermediate remained next to her dog with him stacked, “presenting” the head for me to see, the Open Jr continued to stand in front of her dog baiting, totally blocking me from seeing the dog’s front, face and expression.
I then spoke to both of them. “You are both exceptional handlers and have done an excellent job today, and my winner for today is number 7” indicating with my hand, the Open Intermediate..... Applause... Applause...Applause.
As the Open Jr went to leave the ring, I asked if she would like to know what the other handler had done better to win. She sheepishly nodded yes, but was looking very sad, with these huge sad eyes. I put my arm around her and assured her she had done an outstanding job with her dog but the other handler had done one particular thing better. I asked the Open Intermediate to again gait her dog down to the corner and back. She did so exactly as she had done before, angling ever so slightly to the side to give the judge full view of the dog. I said to the Open Junior that she should practice doing it that way in the future, so as not to block the judge’s view of the dog, as this is the correct way to present the dog to the judge upon returning from a movement exercise. I awarded the Best Junior Rosette to the winner and congratulated her.
When I turned around, the mother of the Open Junior and her daughter were standing at the entrance to the ring. The mother wanted to tell me that her daughter had to stand in front of the dog to keep him from lunging at the bitch in front of him, as she was in season.
I told the mother that I did not note any mis-behavior on the part of the dog, nor any indication that the bitch was in season, and if the dog was in fact not behaving, the handler did an excellent job of keeping him under control, as I did not see any misbehaving by the dog. She, the mother, asked “Well did she do that in the individual class?” (referring to the blocking my view of the front end) to which I responded, “Yes, she did.” As she stomped away, she mumbled something about “Well we’ll see what AKC has to say about that.” She went to the show secretary and asked for an examination of the competitors dog, to determine if “it is in season.”
I felt so bad for that poor little girl. Not that she lost the competition, but she had absolutely NOTHING to learn here today. Certainly not sportsmanship, or that if she had not handled as well as the competitor, or that if she had, in fact made a mistake, everybody makes mistakes.
I suppose I could have called for a Bench Hearing at some point. The little girl could have then learned that bad sportsmanship will NOT be tolerated in this sport. If, in fact, I was right and she had made a “mistake” because she already knew she shouldn’t block the judges’ view of the front end while baiting, than accepting herself as being a human being who makes mistakes, is an invaluable life lesson. No one is perfect!
Learning to accept that if you make a mistake, it’s OK.... you can learn from that mistake, and do better next time. And if you really don’t believe you made a mistake, gee... maybe the Judge made a mistake.. that does happen, you know. But then you learn that judges are human beings too. They see things through their own perspective. It may not agree with your perspective, but for today, she is the judge. And if you truly believe that judge made a mistake, you learn forgiveness. I know that when I make a mistake, I am so grateful that another is forgiving and doesn’t hold it against me forever.
The hardest lesson to learn, but maybe one of the most important, is to forgive yourself. To admit you made a mistake, decide not to repeat that move, enter another show and try again. THAT is the best lesson a parent can teach a child.
If a child learns that making mistakes is a part of the learning process, he or she is not afraid to try... not afraid to make a mistake; IT’S OK.... mom still loves you! You are not a bad or stupid person. You can try again tomorrow or next week. You can show your dog because you enjoy playing the game, win or lose.
There are several young professional handlers in the ring today who were Junior handlers. They either showed in Juniors competition, or simply showing their parent’s dogs in the conformation ring. They have taken their experiences and love for the sport and created a lifelong career in which some are succeeding quite well. There have been many youngsters who showed their parent’s dogs but then chose to go in different directions, out of the sport of dogs, as they grew up.
But whether a youngster stays with the sport, or moves on, there are valuable life lessons a youngster can learn about consequences of your actions, forgiving yourself, and others, if mistakes are made. Acceptance of things you cannot change, respect for another’s opinion, even if it differs from yours. Sportsmanship and the fact that each person in the ring wants to win, just as you do, but only one can on any given day. That one may be you, a friend of yours, or may be a stranger. No person wins all the time. That, and how to handle a loss gracefully, is a valuable lesson we all need to learn during our most impressionable years.
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