What Are Dog Show Handlers & What Do They Actually Do?

Want to know more about what it takes to be a dog show handler? Get the deets on their job, fees, and what it takes to handle a dog in the show ring.

Updated January 26, 2024
Lagotto Romagnolo seen with handler

If you've ever seen Best in Show, you might be curious about what actually goes on during a dog show. And what exactly is the role of a dog show handler? These professionals are valued team members that help pooches achieve "top dog" status. 

The Job of the Dog Show Handler

What people see dog show handlers do is present a dog within the show ring, but there's a lot more to it than that. They have to understand breed standards, show etiquete, and make their prize-winning pup look as good as possible, among other responsibilities. In a nutshell, it's the dog show handler's job to:

  • Properly groom the dog according to the breed standard
  • Train and condition the dog for the show ring
  • Be present and on time to present a dog in the ring when called
  • Move the dog around the ring competently to show it off to its best advantage
  • Keep the dog looking good at all times in case the judge gives an unexpected glance
  • Remain alert for the judge's instructions and follow them
  • Do all of the above, with a courteous and professional manner

That takes care of basic ring presentation, but many handlers offer more services than this. A handler might also:

  • Offer boarding, conditioning, training, and daily grooming services
  • Provide safe care and transportation for the dog to and from the show in the event an owner chooses not to attend
  • Handle breeding services for any dog under their care as agreed upon with the owner

These are the standard duties of any dog handler, but each handler and owner team works out their own unique agreement as well as what kind of fees these services entail. At best, the agreement should be in writing and signed by both parties to establish a true meeting of the minds.

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What Makes a Good Dog Handler

Handler Janice Hayes holds Buddy Holly the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen after winning the Best in Show award

There are a lot of people out there who might try to handle dogs at a show but haven't done their due diligence. The trick is sorting out the true professionals from the posers. In no particular order, a good handler: 

  • Dresses professionally for the ring
  • Exhibits good manners no matter who may or may not be watching
  • Handles each dog with kindness and affection both in and out of the ring
  • Is prepared with all the supplies and paperwork necessary for the show
  • Keeps the dog's holding pen scrupulously clean

How Much Does a Dog Handler Cost? 

Fees vary widely between handlers, and they can reflect the demand for that professional as well as their winning record. A standard ring fee can run from $250 to $1,500 or more, depending on the breed being shown and the show itself.

Larger breeds and dogs with substantial coat care needs generally rate a higher fee. Some handlers will charge extra fees to present a dog in the group and Best in Show rings. 

If a dog is boarded with the handler, they'll charge a daily fee that includes feeding, cleaning, exercising, and grooming. Show bathing may cost extra. Most owners get all of the various fees in writing before making an agreement, so they have a good idea of how much this venture will cost. 

Related30 Best Show Dog Names — Plus Names That Deserve to Be

Where to Find a Professional Handler

Some handlers are members of professional organizations, while others are independent. Either one may suffice since it is each handler's personal conduct, talent, and professionalism that determines whether it is worth paying this individual to show a dog.

That said, members of handling organizations are often bound by a code of ethics that helps ensure owners and dogs will be treated properly. There are many ways to scout out dog handlers, including:

  • Checking for handlers listed in the show catalog and watching them present a number of dogs
  • Watching handlers that present your own breed
  • Asking other dog owners for references on their handlers
  • Contacting handlers via the business card section of any show catalog
  • Contacting a professional handler's organization

Handlers Reach Out to Owners

Sometimes, a handler will actually contact an owner. This often happens when a handler spies a truly good specimen and wants to present them in the ring.

Handlers want to show winners and will sometimes be willing to offer a deal if someone has a dog they really want to show. This can often be beneficial for owners, even if they were planning on showing the dog themselves.

Quick Tip

A great dog and a top-notch handler are a difficult combination for anyone to beat!

Dog Show Handlers Are Skilled Professionals

Dog show handlers have a super specialized job that takes years of research and practice. The next time you watch a dog show, you'll have a deeper appreciation for the artistry of these individuals and know exactly what they're doing there in the ring. Pretty cool, huh?

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What Are Dog Show Handlers & What Do They Actually Do?