A show dog handler presents a purebred dog to the judges of a dog show so they can evaluate how well the dog's physical traits conform to breed standards. While a professional handler makes showing a dog look easy, it's actually very hard work. A successful show-dog handler must commit hundreds of hours to training, conditioning, grooming and showing the dogs in her care. However, if you are willing to put forth the effort, you can have a fun and rewarding career working with your favorite animal.
Consider whether you have the personal traits possessed by most successful show-dog handlers. Not only must you love working with dogs, but you should also feel comfortable dealing with people and possess excellent interpersonal skills. You must enjoy frequent travel, because you'll be spending a lot of time on the road attending dog shows. You should enjoy working outdoors in all types of weather, be in good physical shape, and perform well as a team player.
Research the profession by interviewing well-respected handlers. Attend dog shows and observe the way professional handlers present themselves and interact with their dogs. Talk to dog show judges to learn what they expect from the handlers.
Decide which breed you'd like to show. Research the various breeds through interviews with breeders and handlers, quality reference books and online resources. Observe the breeds at dog shows.
Purchase a purebred registered puppy with a good lineage from a reputable breeder if you plan to show your own dog. You can obtain a list of recommended breeders from your veterinarian or the AKC. You don't have to own a dog to be a handler, but showing your own dog is a good way to build the expertise you need to show other people's dogs. Many show dog owners hire expert professional handlers because they are unwilling, unable or unqualified to show their dogs themselves, and because a good professional handler can make certain a dog gets the best showing possible.
Join a local kennel club. You will pick up invaluable tips and tricks from other handlers, and these clubs hold matches where you and your puppy can test and refine your show skills.
Enroll your puppy in basic obedience classes and basic agility classes. Make sure the instructors have shown dogs at the professional level, so that you're learning from someone with hands-on experience.
Train yourself as a show handler. Attend classes to learn about the various dog show poses and different presentation techniques. Learn and practice the proper grooming techniques for your breed. Attend dog shows to observe your breed being judged.
Show your puppy at dog shows with puppy classes. Keep improving your handling skills while your puppy works her way up the championship ranks.
Set your professional dog-handling fees. Determine how much you'll charge your clients per show for bathing, grooming, and showing their dogs in the arena.
Get the word out about your dog-handling business. Network with other handlers and dog owners of your breed, and let them know you're available for hire. Offer to handle other people's dogs for them in the arena. Print up promotional materials such as business cards and fliers. Create a business website, and promote your business on social networking sites as well.
Neutered or spayed dogs can't compete in dog shows, because the purpose of the judging is to evaluate and rank potential breeding stock.
Consider becoming a handler's assistant. The assistant usually gets the dogs groomed and prepped for dog shows. Working as an assistant would provide you with plenty of hands-on experience before you try handling show dogs on your own.
Ask the breeder for advice on show poses and grooming techniques for your dog's specific breed.
Apply to the AKC Registered Handlers Program once you have professionally shown dogs for seven years. You can join the Professional Handlers' Association once you have been handling dogs professionally for five years and actively involved with show dogs for 10 years. Membership in one or both of these organizations will boost your professional handling credentials.
- Labradoodle image by Leticia Wilson from Fotolia.com