Who Are Dog Handlers? Your Questions Answered

Updated September 28, 2021
Dog Show White Terrier handler

A professional handler is someone who makes a living by showing dogs for a fee. These are people who have opted to offer their experience to those in the show community; however, their expertise and knowledge may differ significantly. You should expect a worthy handler to have spent many years learning about the breeds they show, including their care, conditioning, training, and proper breed presentation.

What Traits Do Dog Show Handlers Have?

Successful dog handlers should not only be dog lovers, but they should also have a variety of communication skills and be comfortable speaking to a range of people on a regular basis. They must also enjoy traveling because they spend a lot of time on the road going from show to show. They should also be able to work in a variety of weather conditions, enjoy working as part of a team, and be in good physical condition.

Dog Show Striker the Samoyed handler

Organizations for Dog Handlers

There are two main organizations involved in dog show handling. They include:

  • The Professional Handlers' Association (PHA): The PHA has been in existence for about 60 years. Members must have shown dogs for at least 10 years, professionally managed for five years, have three PHA member recommendations, and pass a kennel and vehicle inspection.
  • AKC's Registered Handlers Program (RHP): The RHP requires at least seven years of fee-based handling; appropriate kennel facilities and vehicle; proof of care, custody, and control liability insurance; a current driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance; and three reference letters (business, client, and veterinarian).

How Can You Become a Dog Handler?

Those who are interested in pursuing being a dog handler professionally should begin by interviewing well-respected handlers. They should also attend dog shows and observe how professionals interact with the dogs. Effort should be made to speak with dog show judges and learn what is expected of each handler. This is not an easy-to-obtain career and it takes a lot of hard work, so ensuring this is what you want to do prior to beginning the journey is important.

Prospective handlers should then decide which breed they would like to show. Some handlers are comfortable handling all breeds, but most top handlers choose one breed specifically. Research the various breeds and learn to understand them through the eyes of good professional handlers. You can also observe the various breeds at dog shows and learn through reference books.

dog and handler enter the ring to compete

Purchasing a Purebred Puppy

Those who want to show their own dog when they begin their career should search out a purebred registered puppy with a good lineage. Be certain to do proper research on the breeder prior to purchase. You can obtain a list of reputable breeders from your local veterinarian or on AKC Marketplace. Although you don't need your own dog to become a handler, this makes the process much easier when you already have a dog to work with. Most show dog owners aren't willing to hire a handler without experience, so this is the ticket to gaining the experience to begin accepting clients.

Learning the Techniques of a Good Show Handler

Once you have your first client, or you purchase a purebred puppy, it's time to begin developing your skills as a show handler. Attend classes to learn about different dog show stances and how to showcase your dog. Learn and practice grooming standards for your specific breed. Then, go back and attend more dog shows to see how your breed is evaluated.

Wasabi the Pekingese competes in Best in Show

Following Completion of Courses and Training

Next, decide how much you'll charge for professional dog-handling services. Determine how much you'll charge your clients for bathing, grooming, and presenting their dogs in the ring per show.

Finally, spread the word about your services. Make contact with other breed handlers and dog owners to let them know you're eligible for work. In the show ring, offer to handle other people's dogs for them. Create marketing items like business cards and flyers. Create a business website and use social networking platforms to market your company.

Once you've been professionally showing dogs for seven years, you can apply for the AKC Registered Handlers Program. Once you've been handling dogs professionally for five years and actively involved with show dogs for 10 years, you can join the Professional Handlers' Association. Your professional handling credentials will be enhanced if you join one or both of these organizations.

How to Identify a Good Handler

Membership does not indicate whether or not a handler is a good pick, but it is a definite asset if you have no other information. You should, of course, have a lot more information. You may have been lured to a handler because of their ring reputation, but what happens outside the ring is more essential. The following questions must be considered:

  • How do they treat their dogs in and out of the ring, not only in the grooming area?
  • What is the location of the dogs' sleeping quarters?
  • What method is used to keep track of the temperature?
  • Is there a sufficient number of assistants to properly care for the number of dogs the handler is responsible for?
  • Do the dogs receive enough exercise by going outside for a sufficient amount of time?
  • Are dogs cared for as if they were their own?
  • How does the handler interact with others?
  • Does the handler have veterinary experience or a veterinarian on-call in case of emergency?

No handler can guarantee a ribbon in the show, but they should be able to guarantee they will be hard-working and provide dogs with the utmost care and compassion.

It's Not as Easy as It Looks

Being a dog show handler isn't an easy job to master. It takes time, dedication, and passion to become a high-quality dog show handler. The journey to becoming a dog show handler isn't an easy one either. To perform this career successfully, there are a lot of factors to consider. Whether you're pursuing a career as a dog handler, looking to hire a dog handler, or simply wanting to learn about this career choice, a new appreciation comes into play when learning about them.

Who Are Dog Handlers? Your Questions Answered