Junior handling - what is the future? by Marina Scott
WE’VE HAD overwhelming feedback in response to ‘Has the art of handling been forgotten?’ in Paws...for youth, DW May 4.
In the article Geoff Corish mentioned his concerns on the current state of junior handling saying: "It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse!”
There have been a record 300 comments left on the Paws…for youth Facebook page (see below for some examples) following this article, which illustrates the passion our readers have for junior handling. Former junior handlers, parents, judges and even some who had never competed in junior handling, have all given their views. However it was noticeable that there was a severe lack of opinions from present junior handlers under the age of 16. Aren’t they the ones we should be listening to? In fact, we have received just one letter from 11-year-old Min Witheyman, from Winchester, who said: "Sometimes the judges don’t seem to know very much about handling. It can make me feel quite disappointed because you try so hard and you do your best but they don’t know what handling is.”
Let's examine what it was that Geoff was so concerned about. His two main issues centred on judging and training although the specific areas he highlighted were "stupid ring patterns” and the requirement for "judges to be good handlers themselves”.
In the case of the ring patterns, these are endorsed by the Kennel Club as laid down in the Young Kennel Club guidelines. These can be downloaded from www.ykc.org.uk/competing/handling and contain set guidelines of what is expected of a young handler competing in YKC handling classes. It explains that a good handler, "…should aim to become ‘invisible’ and the dog should always be in the forefront. The handler should try to show off all the good points of the dog and minimise any faults. Movements and corrections while handling the dog should be subtle; your goal is to give the impression of the dog showing itself. Basic moves have been designed to test the handler in the show ring.”
It goes on to explain that judges can request a triangle and up and down and that they should be ensuring that the dog is walking in a straight line and that you should slow down, not stop, on the corners to ensure the dog creates a ‘flowing sharp turn’. Then it says that the T and L may be used on occasions to separate final placings. It does not mention any unofficial patterns such as S, H, Q, upside down Z – all of which some handlers have been requested to complete at open shows.
So, perhaps everyone needs to read these guidelines or revisit them.
As Pat Dufty, YKC vice chairman, said in a letter to DOG WORLD, she often puts out a plea via the YKC’s quarterly newsletter Fetch and via these Paws…for youth pages but it seems not enough or experienced people are putting their names forward. Should clubs/societies only be picking judges for future appointments from this list?
Continuing the issue of judges, in an ideal world would it be much fairer if each judge had received training into what is expected when judging junior handling? This training would emphasise that it is the handler not the dog being judged and could include careful examination of the YKC handling guidelines mentioned earlier. Possibly a junior handling judges exam?
The fact of the matter is, and several people have mentioned on the internet, that, currently, a judge with any level of experience or qualification can seemingly accept an appointment to judge junior handling at a limited, open or championship show.
Jon Norridge from Gloucester, a parent of a junior handler, said in a letter to DOG WORLD that youngsters need to have the confidence that the judge who is assessing them has a knowledge and understanding of junior handling. He said his daughter is now reluctant to attend shows because of many bad experiences of poor judging. He said she feels "what’s the point if the judge does not know what they are looking for?”.
Mr Norridge also echoes what many have raised online: "I do think it is about time some basic standards for judges and basic written rules for the handlers were put together, it is almost time to put a working party/committee together to oversee the development of junior handling for the future of our past-time.”
So would such a group help the situation? It could be argued that there are already established official organisations that currently work in this way.
First, the YKC deals in show handling and breed and all other canine disciplines. In the YKC’s aims, which are easily accessible via their website, it states: "The Young Kennel Club (YKC) encourages interest in the care, training and activities associated with dogs and has the following aims: To educate young people in the care and training of dogs. To develop courtesy, sportsmanship and self-discipline. To encourage a sense of responsibility in dog ownership. To enable young people to enjoy participation in and management of all activities connected with dogs. To promote activities which fulfil the foregoing aims.”
Then there is also the well-known and established Junior Handling Association (JHA) run by Liz Cartledge which focuses solely on junior handling.
So has the 'art' of handling been forgotten? Many have argued that the more technical elements of junior handling are clouding some judges to the extent that they are using this to decide their final placings. But of course, in the YKC guidelines, it says: "The T and the L may also be used on occasions for the judge to separate handlers for their final placings.” So is it that judges are simply following the rules?
Jacqui Leech, from Milton Keynes, another parent of a junior handler contacted DOG WORLD to say the junior handling scene is "alive and kicking” but added that some of the negativity in the scene is definitely down to poor judging.
Stop creating divisions
Writing to DOG WORLD, Matthew Hunt, another parent of a junior handler said how he had seen so many young people handling well in the group ring at Crufts. Many of them he added, turned out better and handled their dogs to advantage compared to the adult handlers.
He said: "I suggest we give these young people our support rather than trying to add them to the ever growing list of issues with which to score political points and create more divisions within the showing world.”
At face value when we discuss junior handling it all seems very simple; we are merely talking about juniors handling dogs. However, as proven over the past fortnight since publishing Geoff Corish's thoughts, the more contentious issues seem to arise when questioning the real purpose of junior handling.
Is it purely to teach newcomers to be able to handle and compete in the senior dog show world? Or is it to be able to compete in an organised structure of weekly junior handling competitions, at all levels of dog show, which youngsters can enjoy between the ages of six and 16, culminating in annual regional, national and international events?
If you believe the purpose is the former then you will understand Geoff Corish’s view of keeping handling simple and relevant solely to breed showing. If you believe the purpose is the latter, then you will understand where the YKC, JHA, and those actively involved in junior handling training and development are coming from. They are all helping youngsters improve their confidence and achieve their potential in an enjoyable, sociable and competitive hobby, which may last ten or more years. And remember, some of these may never show in the breed classes. It stands to reason that a number of juniors may naturally progress into the adult events but these are probably in the minority.
The success of ‘junior handling’ as a valid dog show activity in its own right, can be evidenced by the proliferation and popularity of ‘adult handling’ classes on offer at many shows around the country. It could be said this demonstrates that ‘handling’ is a perfectly valid activity to be judged in its own right, in the same way as agility, obedience, flyball and working trials are.
With so much response and concern from our readers over the future of judging junior handling and its purpose within the wider dog showing community, isn't it about time that these issues were addressed properly in order to secure this hobby for generations to come?
HERE IS a selection of comments taken from the DOG WORLD Paws...for youth Facebook page.
Laura Nicholas said: "Bringing the best out of the dog you are handling should be key and if this carries on there will be lots of ‘wooden’ handlers who are only able to go through the paces and not be showing the dog to its best advantage. I agree with Geoff, handling is an "art” not a "science” and to show a dog well is to adapt your style to the dog not follow fixed rules.”
Hannah Escott said: "I think complex ring patterns are great for training. They get the dog working on both sides, make the handler aware of the ring space and better prepared for some breed judges’ odd movements. Yet, when it comes to competition the dog must be shown to its very best, this should be at the forefront of every handlers mind. If it came down to it I would place a handler that proficiently showed the dog and broke the golden rule than a handler with a regimented routine who handled with no consideration to the dog. This all comes down to handling experience, however, and high level showing certainly requires a great deal of practise in both "science” and "art” of showing.”
Fran McWade said: "I think junior handling gives the youngsters a chance to shine! And I love being asked to do a T or L as I often find a triangle a bit boring. When I judge I often ask the older classes to do a pattern to see their technique and to see how straight their lines are. I think it is important that in handling and breed you can walk in a straight line! When I have judged breed I often have to move all over the ring because people don’t walk straight. I have done it on occasions where I have been so busy watching my dog I have almost walked into the ropes that create the ring! Practising your straight lines at training and in handling gives you the advantage to plan your route ahead before you move your dog as you will be able to see if there is something like a ditch in front of you. And I feel more confident and professional if I know my lines are straight. When I was asked questions on the table I could confidently answer them and I loved being given a reverse pattern because I had practised them so much and it gave me a chance to show off my skills. If I was placed highly I knew my hard work and practise had paid off and it is such a great feeling when you know you have worked your socks off and been placed in a strong class. Junior handling is a class for juniors to show the judge how well they can handle a dog and that they can keep control in complex patterns that may require difficult lead changes and concentration. Junior handling I feel has really helped me in the breed ring. I have been at shows in the breed ring where the judge has moved and if I hadn’t noticed and done a lead change then the judge would have a poor view of my dog and then I would have ruined the chances for my dog. So having done junior handling I have been able to ensure my dog is shown to the best of its ability, correctly and I can ensure that the judge will always have the best view of my dog as I am aware of my surroundings and where the judge is.”
Andrew Dawson said: " I completely agree with Geoff, I’ve never been big on the whole junior handling thing and never really seen the point in all the odd shapes. I personally feel juniors should be judged the same as normal breed classes, simple triangles, up-and-downs etc. I feel the YKC Stakes are the way forward for juniors, they still have to demonstrate there capabilities with their dog, yet keeping the whole idea simple.”
Jenny Shorer-Wheeler said: "An interesting debate! Personally when judging junior handling I prefer to use only ‘normal’ ring patterns, but I think the patterns can give handlers some food for thought in training and help them and their dogs become more fluent and comfortable with lead changes and use of ring space. Reading this article I thought ‘ah but the problem is it is much harder to teach the ‘art’ of handling than it is to teach the science’. Perhaps that is why the scientific bits are being focused on? I got into showing fairly late by junior standards, and had ‘pet quality’ dogs for many years, and I don’t agree with Andrew’s original comments (see above) about stakes, they are judged on the dog and juniors with parents who are involved in the sport are often at an advantage as they generally have better quality animals. In recent years I have been extremely proud to have bred animals that other juniors have won with in the YKC stakes, but I wasn’t a junior long enough to achieve it myself. Handling on the other hand is a level playing field and as others have said it is how hard you work. For me rapport and enjoyment of the sport is the most important thing to see between dog and handler, and my pet hate is over-handling, usually when juniors are shadowing, this can often be excessive and distracting. But straight lines are useful and important, I wish more of the breed handlers I judge could manage them!”
Michael Craig said: "I personally believe that junior handling is a great way for youngsters to learn how to handle and control a dog efficiently. But I don’t think it’s necessarily to prepare them to be ready for the breed rings. I have always seen junior handling to be fun and something youngsters enjoy without the pressures of the breed rings. The patterns have a purpose. Personally standing in the breed rings it is very clear to see who has done junior handling and who hasn’t! You have people doing their triangles and ups and downs and are so off course it’s unreal and sometimes I am surprised the judge can even assess any movement whatsoever! Then in the same class you see somebody who has done junior handling and to me personally it is a clear difference even based on how they move the dog in front of the judge. I am not saying you have to do junior handling to be a good or even great handler, I mean there are people I know that are fabulous handlers that have never done it, and it is very interesting to see in this conversation people commenting that I have seen handle, and could definitely do with some more lessons in how to handle dogs and move them in line.”
Jane Ashwell-Carter said: "If junior handling is about great handling, then those lines do need to be straight. It’s almost impossible to assess movement on a dog that is weaving around. It’s not the be all and end all, but when I was a junior handler I have to admit I loved the patterns. I loved the Ts and Ls - what a chance to show off. I still school all my show dogs to complete a figure of eight - keeps them interested and supple. What I do hate seeing is the shadowing as the judge walks round a dog. All the shuffling and weaving around really doesn’t seem to me to be about handling, more about "catching out” the kids who aren’t handling quite so steady dogs.”
Karen Forbes said: "Having helped train a reasonably successful junior handler I know that she can go in the ring and present her dog to his advantage. One of the main advantages of our well trained juniors is that they have better manners than a lot of the adults. All juniors are taught to congratulate each other and not to run up behind another dog as happened at two shows this year (one I was judging at the time).
Fay Matthews said: "When I judge JH I want to find someone who I would like to handle my dogs. I don’t recall using any shapes or shadowing in my search. There have always been, and always will be, juniors who over-handle and judges who seem to prefer this ‘style’. In my opinion judges should be looking for rapport and natural handling ability. I do think the junior handling classes are a good thing - when used correctly, they train you for the breed ring and, more importantly, children get to make friends! I don’t know about anyone else but my friends from home found me showing dogs odd so it was nice to know there are others my age in the same boat. Some still find it odd the only difference is now that I actually don’t care! My junior handling days ended some 14 years ago however only last week, in a breed critique by Annette Oliver from WELKS even I got a mention - ‘quality exhibit handled expertly’. In my opinion that’s what juniors should be aiming for - being able to please a judge with their handling skills. After all, it’s about showing the dog, not yourself.”