The Owner-Handler: A Cycle of Learning and Loving

Matina E. Johnson, an Owner-Handler, at a dog show.

I was asked to write an article about the owner-handler. It’s always difficult to know what might be of interest. So, looking inward to my own retrospective over the years was where I decided to focus, to pen into words how my outlook and priorities have developed, and having now been in the sport for 18 years, what I want to focus on in the next part of this journey.

When I was new to the sport, the owner-handler aspect did not exist as a separate competition. A sponge soaking it all in, I loved every part of the sport. When you’re new, it is the perfect time to study the history and functionality of your breed, work with a mentor, learn to condition and train, and take an active role in both your breed clubs and all-breed clubs. This needs to happen for many reasons, not only as vital training for new owner-handlers, but to continue the cycle of breed clubs in general. This is what I would suggest as a starting board for any newcomer.

As you gain experience with your dog, it will grant you the opportunity to develop other great relationships as well—with other owners, handlers, breeders, your veterinary community, and as an ambassador for our sport in general. When our community at large sees us taking great care of our dogs, it has an echoing impact. The legislation that will impact this sport in the future has a direct correlation to the positive message that active people continue to bring to the forefront. That message can absolutely shine forward the love of our dogs and the hobby both they and we enjoy.

I think whether someone is an owner, breeder, or handler is much less important than if they can develop into a true dog person, having the knowledge of form, type, and function, and the unteachable experience that comes with time. For me, preservation breeding became an interest which added a whole other dimension. The future is more than one dog; it’s a process and one you may never see to completion. So, you have to mentor, share, and pay it forward to have real success in the long term. It is a cycle of learning and loving, and sometimes also losing and then gaining hope again.

At the end of the day, I’m happy to see all exhibitors, with their dogs nicely conditioned, taking their best dogs home.

Photo credit: Alvin Atlas, DVM