Dog Show Handler

Kelly Roper
Show dog being examined

A dog show handler can be a valuable team member when trying to achieve "top dog" status. Find out just what handlers do and where to hire one.

The Job of the Dog Show Handler

Piloting a great dog around the show ring can be a thrilling experience for some people, and an uncomfortable moment for others. The fact is, that while many people love dogs and want their purebreds to become champions, it takes a lot of skill and knowledge to present a winner. If you're uncomfortable with ring procedures and/or being the center of attention, it may well be worth hiring a dog show handler to take over for you.

In a nutshell, it's the dog show handler's job to:

  • Properly groom your dog according to the breed standard
  • Be present and on time to present your dog in the ring when called
  • Move the dog around the ring competently to show it off to its best advantage
  • Keep the dog looking good at all times in case the judge gives an unexpected glance
  • Remain alert for the judge's instructions and follow them
  • Do all of the above with a courteous and professional manner

That takes care of basic ring presentation, but many handlers offer more services than this. A handler might also:

  • Offer boarding, conditioning, training and daily grooming services
  • Provide safe care and transportation for the dog to and from the show in the event an owner chooses not to attend
  • Handle breeding services for any dog under his or her care as agreed upon with the owner

These are the standard duties of any dog handler, but each handler/owner team works out their own unique agreement as well as what kind of fees these services entail. At best, the agreement should be in writing and signed by both parties to establish a true meeting of the minds.

What to Look for in a Good Handler

Finding a dog handler is easy. There are many exhibitors that would like to begin presenting other people's dogs for a fee. The trick is sorting out the true professionals from the posers.

When searching for a dog handler, it's best to take your time and watch each potential handler in the ring, as well as back at the grooming set up.

In no particular order, a good handler:

  • Dresses professionally for the ring
  • Exhibits good manners no matter who may or may not be watching
  • Handles each dog with kindness and affection both in and out of the ring
  • Is prepared with all the supplies and paperwork necessary for the show
  • Keeps the dog's holding pen scrupulously clean

Fees

Fees vary widely between handlers, and they can reflect the demand for that professional as well as his or her winning record. A standard ring fee can run from $50.00 to $150.00 or more depending on the breed being shown. Larger breeds and dogs with substantial coat care needs generally rate a higher fee. Additionally, some handlers will charge an extra fee to present your dog in the group and Best in Show rings. If you board your dog with the handler, you will be charged a daily fee that includes feeding, cleaning, exercising and grooming your dog. Show bathing may cost extra. Get all of the various fees in writing before you make an agreement so you'll have a good idea of how much this venture will cost. Also make sure whether the handler will send in your show entries for later reimbursement, or if you will need to coordinate sending entries for shows the handler will attend with your dog.

How to Find a Professional Handler

Handler Lindsey Kuhn

Some handlers are members of professional organizations while others are independent. Either one may suffice since it is each handler's personal conduct, talent and professionalism that determines whether it is worth paying this individual to show your dog. That said, members of handling organizations are often bound by a code of ethics that helps ensure you and your dog will be treated properly.There are many ways to scout out dog handlers, including:

  • Checking for handlers listed in the show catalog and watching them present a number of dogs
  • Watching handlers that present your own breed
  • Asking other dog owners for references on their handlers
  • Contacting handlers via the business card section of any show catalog
  • Contacting a professional handler's organization

Sometimes a handler will actually contact you. This often happens when a handler spies a truly good specimen and wants to present it in the ring. Handlers want to show winners, and will sometimes be willing to offer you a deal if you have a dog they really want to show. This can often be beneficial for owners even if they were planning on showing the dog themselves. A great dog and a top-notch handler are a difficult combination for anyone to beat.

Inspections

If you're planning on boarding your dog with a handler for the duration of its show career, you'll need to take extra steps to ensure your dog will be well cared for.

  • Visit the handler's kennel to make sure it is clean, roomy, well-equipped with grooming/handling supplies and staffed by friendly employees who stay behind to care for dogs not being shown that weekend. Also make sure the kennel is properly climate controlled.
  • Take a good look at the kennel dogs. Are they just as clean and cared for as the dogs currently being shown? They should be.
  • Likewise, take a look at the handler's vehicle. Does it look road safe? Does it have heat/AC? Is there enough room for all the dogs and equipment without blocking air flow and quick access to the dogs?

Resources

Dog Show Handler