Choosing A Handler

There are many things to think about when hiring a professional handler. First and foremost, of course, is how he or she cares for the dogs. Handling is a tough way to make a living. Before your handler can socialize or get something to eat or some much-needed sleep, the dogs must be attended to…fed, watered, groomed, exercised, and socialized. Are the crates and pens kept clean? Is someone watching any dogs left on a grooming table? You should be able to sense if a handler’s dogs are happy to enter the ring with their “best buddy” on the other end of the lead. If not, look elsewhere!

For a breed like the Shih Tzu, grooming is especially important. Is the coat kept clean and mat-free, without a lot of broken or stained hair? Shih Tzu topknots require special skills beyond many otherwise accomplished handlers. Admittedly, some of the dogs you see with a handler might have arrived in poor condition, but overall the handler’s grooming ability should be evident in the ring.

Does a handler allow a Shih Tzu puppy to be a bit naughty? A young dog is not a machine. If his initial experiences in the show ring are not happy ones, he may never show well.

Once you think you have found a handler that you like, be sure that you are clear on where your dog falls in the “pecking order.” It is likely that an experienced handler will be showing more than one Shih Tzu for more than one client—and may be showing some of his or her own dogs as well. The special almost always has priority if there are conflicts. If your dog wins BOB, does your handler have another top-winning toy? If so, which one will he take into the group? If your handler has several class dogs and more than one wins, which dog has priority for winners? Many novices naively expect that their handler will always stay on their dog. This is unlikely to happen, but you should be told what to expect. If there is a conflict, the handler has an obligation to send your dog back in with someone well qualified to show your dog to its best advantage.

An experienced handler well known for only taking quality dogs into the ring is likely to win more often than one who accepts every comer. You need to be clear about what you will be expected to pay…for entry fees, handling, board, travel expenses, veterinary bills, etc. Travel expenses can mount up swiftly, especially if the handler is journeying long distances with only a few dogs. Will you be expected to advertise? Where and how often? Will there be extra fees for group placements?

Once you have found the right person to trust with your Shih Tzu, you may make a friend for life who can enhance your knowledge of our breed and the sport. However, don’t be a pest. Remember that time a handler spends on the phone with you is time that could be spent caring for your dog!

Credit: This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue of the AKC Gazette and is reprinted with permission. To read the Gazette in digital format, go to www.akc.org/pubs/gazette/digital-edition