Westminster Kennel Club handlers offer show dog tips for your pup

Allie, a standard poodle, waits to compete in the Best in Show category in the Westminster Dog Show on February 11, 2014 in New York City
Allie, a standard poodle, waits to compete in the Best in Show category in the Westminster Dog Show on February 11, 2014 in New York City.
Credit: Getty Images

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show returned to Manhattan this week. Dogs of all breeds from all over the world travel to Westminster each year, but the trick is getting a show dog to stand out among its fellow quadrupeds.

Metro got the inside scoop from professional dog handlers on what it takes to turn your average pup into an award-winning show dog. 

Westminster competitors are tested on agility, obedience, and how well they’re groomed, and all dogs are judged according to their breed. But it’s not just the dogs that have to go through training; dog owners must first take confirmation-handling classes to prepare for the show. During these handling classes dogs, are examined and taught to socialize with other dogs, according to handlers.

Outside these classes, it’s important to keep your dog healthy and in shape, said Ana Carlson, from Sweden, who told Metro she bathes and walks her Chinese Crested dog, Amy, every day.

“We train her on agility at home so she does a lot of running and jumping,” Carlson said.

Amy began training as as 6-month-old puppy and this year won the Award of Merit for her breed.

But just how long can it take to prep these pups for the show floor? Handler Cheryl Schaffer said of her dog, “It can be a full-time job, but it’s not my full-time job. I do take him out to shows quite often — two, three times a month to prepare him.”

For some, like Barbara Canton, dog training is a full-time job. Canton is a professional dog handler and the owner of a Yorkshire Terrier named Jerry. The average age to start training your dog is eight weeks, when they can be picked from the litter, she said.

But don’t lose hope if your dog is past the eighth-week mark. “People have brought me dogs that are a year or two years of age,” Canton said. “As long as they have the right attitude, they usually do pretty well.”

She starts with a command like “watch me.” Once the dog imitates her actions, she offers a treat.

The most coveted treat a dog and owner can get, of course, is Westminster’s Best in Show award. Getting to that point, however, doesn’t come easy — or cheaply.

“If you’re campaigning your dog for the year, anywhere from $25,000 to a half million dollars people might spend for the training, handling and advertising.”

How to get your dog into the ranks at Westminster

“Talk to your good breeders. Come to these shows. You’re going to see the best of the best and get a lot of information from them.” -Cheryl Schaffer

“Find our local Kennel Club and attend handling classes and obedience classes.” -Barbara Canton

“Have a really good relationship with your dog. It’s important that you and you’re dog have fun together. I do everything with Amy. She’s always with me. She even sleeps under the blankets in my bed every night.” -Ana Carlson

“Just keep trying. Don’t give up. I was like ‘I’m not going to do anything here today’ and to win Best of Breed is spectacular. It was very exciting and unexpected.” -Sheryl Parcell 


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