The Types of People Who Show in Conformation.

1 Feb

In today’s entry, a companion to our earlier piece “The Types of People Who Do Agility” , we will walk you through some of the most common types of people you will encounter in the conformation world.


Owner Handler

Easily recognizable by their pant-suits and haggard demeanor, the owner-handler is the bread and butter on the AKC’s plate of money making ventures. Not to be confused with the Breeder Owner Handler, the Owner-Handler owns the dog outright and puts points on their dog the old-fashioned way… dumb luck. And like training, presentation, and having a nice dog and all. These are the people you need to buy a drink. They’re supposed to have done the work themselves, and if they really have? Rain-check. They’re exhausted.

Breeder Owner Handler

The Breeder-Owner-Handler, has a similar status as the owner-handler. Unlike the OH however, the BOH rarely if ever actually lives with the dog in question. Instead, they pawn the dog off on a poor unsuspecting puppy buyer and Co-own till the dog is finished and occasionally bred. These people are more easily spotted by watching the edge of the ring for the dog’s actual owners. They can usually be seen peeking out behind poles and talking about how cute Pookie is.

Pro Handler

You absolutely cannot miss the pro-handler. They are the least flustered people in the ring. Every movement is smooth and designed to highlight the strong points of their dog… at least the good ones. When not performing a figure skating routine with their dog (your dog, Martha Stewart’s dog… whatever) they can be seen shouting at their legion of lackeys and storming around their RV, looking for their perfect sequin jacket to match the sensible pumps.

The Assistant Handler

Less polished than their employers above, the assistant handler is the “alternate”. They are brought in when the Pro has another (better paying) dog in the same class. You can spot them by looking for the person that looks like they have just been shouted at/ is about to be shouted at.


Rich Folk

What do Martha Stewart and Bill Cosby have in common (besides being really really rich)?  They both own champion show dogs.   While Martha loves Chows and Bill has a soft spot for Dandie Dinmonts, both celebrities have been involved in the dog world for years and have both had dogs compete at Westminster.  With money to spare, rich folk can hire the best of the best to show their dogs (see pro handler above). You will very rarely see a Rich Folk-type at a run of the mill dog show but they can often be spotted in the stands at the big events, like Westminster or Eukanuba.

Money can’t buy class, but it can buy you a gold-plated Chow

My Kid Outgrew 4-H

These people have gotten in way too deep. It started with the kid taking Scruffy to the local fair and now they’ve spent the kid’s inheritance campaigning their first homebred champion. The kids are often not seen anywhere near a dog show once they graduate out of juniors. “County fairs:  where you can find both Junior Handlers and Deep Fried Butter”

Cross-over Sports People

It starts out so innocently. You have such a nice dog and you want another from the breeder who you have stayed close with all these years, showing your dog in your sport of choice. The breeder is elated! They’ve got the perfect puppy for you, they had planned on keeping him themselves. If you agree to show him, he’s yours. How hard can it be? Way less training than the sport you’re already successful in. You’ve just gotta wear a skirt suit for a few weekends, take a few grooming lessons from the breeder, simple right? Now you’re hooked, you poor schmuck. Might invest in a panel van and a bumper sticker that says “A Well Balanced Dog Has Titles on Both Ends”.


Skirtsuits: Not just for Hillary anymore.

Fabulous Gay Men

Think Stefan and Scott from “Best in Show” (sidenote: if you haven’t seen this movie, you seriously need to re-evaluate your life).  With immaculately groomed dogs and properly fitted suits,  Fabulous Gay Men are a staple in the conformation world.

The Intrepid Breeder
“For the good of the breed.” is their mantra and it’s what gets them out there every weekend, showing their own dogs. They spend money to show the dogs, so they can spend money to breed the dogs so they can MAYBE break even. We’re pretty sure this is the actual definition of insanity.

Pictured above: A Breeder campaigning her dog.

The Rank Novice

You can spot them from a mile away, but no one is really sure how they got there. They’ve got the wrong shoes, the wrong clothes, the wrong dog even. They thought it’d be a fun lark to enter. Now they are in the ring and you can see the “Oh, Shit!” look on their face. Their dog won’t stack, they’ve realized the fashion faux pas of wearing pants that match the dog, and you can tell… they are never coming back. Until next weekend.

46 Responses to “The Types of People Who Show in Conformation.”

  1. dachshundnola February 1, 2014 at 3:49 am #

    This is way too awesome. I love the Fabulous Gay Men!

  2. Kelley February 1, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    At 45 years old, I AM the Rank Novice. Everybody was new once.

    I’ve wanted to show dogs since was 9. Junior Handler wasn’t available to me back in the 80s. After high school I joined the military, got married, raised kids and finished college before I could afford the time/money dog showing requires. I’m a working class, overweight white woman with ugly shoes and an ugly gait. My dog is just as clueless as I am. Despite this, we picked up reserve last weekend — our third time out. Laugh all you want. I’m living my dream, despite the dog snobs.

    Guess I’ll see you next weekend!

    • TheDogSnobs February 1, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

      Once you’ve been to a conformation class and shown your dog, you’re no longer a rank novice.

    • Debbie February 1, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

      Who’s laughing we know you’ll be joining us for drinks and discussing the judges placements in the next few months!! LOL Welcome to the insanity and GREAT FUN!!!

    • Diana Heins Zander February 1, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

      I started showing at age 62. I wasn’t very good at it, but I now have 2 grandchildren who are extremely good handlers!! This is the best of all, I can be proud of my dogs and proud of my grandkids at a single show, so I always FEEL like a winner!!

    • Pam Desmond February 1, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

      Nice! You go girl

    • Patti Goettler February 3, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

      You GO Kelly!!!!

    • Bree February 4, 2014 at 3:13 am #

      Heck YEA! Live your dream! Someday I shall too 🙂 🙂 🙂

  3. bgszap2 February 1, 2014 at 4:09 am #

    Ah yes, there I am, hobbling around the breed ring with my shattered knees, aching hips and the dog I have spent more money training that most people spend on a full college education through their PhDs. My house is a dump but by God my Van has every dog grooming item ever made and sparkling clean crates. Am I happy? When I win, You Bet!!

  4. Charlee Helms February 1, 2014 at 4:30 am #

    If you find any rank novices, find out if they’re on Facebook. If they ARE, send ’em to Learning to Show Dogs. We’ll try to knock the new off of ’em!

    • snowbrooksamoyeds February 1, 2014 at 11:32 pm #

      I bet you are in America, there is very little professional training done here.

  5. twobigears February 1, 2014 at 4:54 am #

    Haha! I’m a Cross-over Sports Person!

  6. Tracy S. February 1, 2014 at 5:36 am #

    My dog and I won our national specialty as rank beginners…it was our first show, my first time showing, she was just over six months old, and we were both absolutely clueless. Talk about a high that I’ve tried to repeat ever since! 🙂

    • Sharon M February 1, 2014 at 8:20 am #

      What breed?

  7. Jennifer Smith February 1, 2014 at 11:57 am #

    This is my favorite of your posts. Keep telling it like it is with humor!

  8. Kristen H February 1, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    hahaha I keep wanting to be the cross-over sports handler! The obedience dog I have is a bit too short (and I’m not putting that much weight on her to show) and the other never descended his “bits”. Maybe the next dog! Love the article!

  9. Wendy Hess February 1, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    Wow, this is so spot-on. Been going to the shows, on and off, since 1971. One sub-category I didn’t see, though (which would be me): The long-time show person who never quite learned to groom and can’t handle worth squat. I used to go in the ring myself for the fun of it, looong ago. Now I pay someone who can do it without making the dog look like crap. I’m living proof that you can do something for 30+ years and still never get very good at it.

    • Assegai Rhodesian Ridgebacks June 3, 2014 at 1:28 am #

      I’m good at the breeding sound, healthy happy, well put together dogs – but not at the showing part. That’s why I love my pro handlers 🙂

  10. Nan's Mom February 1, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    Funny, I always wanted to join one of these groups but alas I love mutts and I’m not rich or gay.

  11. Laurie February 1, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

    I have just entered back into the conformation ring after being away from it for 10 yrs. I am an owner/ handler. Once you get the fever it NEVER goes away, I LOVE IT!

    • Birdie February 4, 2014 at 1:58 am #

      Exactly! I was coming to the comments to add the “it’s the family business” exhibitor. When I graduated college and finally had an excuse to stop handling for my mother’s kennel I said I would never ever have a show dog again. Many years later I got a dog to be a family pet, who ended up in obedience class and as a junior’s dog…. who started getting attention ringside and nervous glances from O-H and pros ringside. We decided to enter her to “just see what would happen” one purple ribbon later and we are back – in for a penny in for a pound.

  12. Melissa Arab February 1, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

    We fit into two categories. Our kids outgrew 4H and Intrepid Breeder. In 9 years as a breeder of Siberian Huskies, I am proud to say Taja Siberians did manage a profit in one of those years. We made a whole nine dollars that year. 🙂

  13. Kelsey February 1, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    I think these are mostly accurate but you missed on Breeder Owner Handlers. BOH work just as hard, if not harder, than anyone else at the show. They often groom and show multiple dogs they’ve bred, help people they’re trying to introduce to showing and teach them how to groom etc, not to mention all the hard work and planning it took to produce those dogs in the first place. BOH are not usually just passive spectators.

    I’m still a rank novice for the most part…I know a fair amount about my breed and structure but I am a terrible handler, haha.

    • Corey Rigoni February 1, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

      You hit it on the head….I’m a BOH and I “pawn” very few dogs off on people and usually, only AFTER the dog is finished. I’m hardly hiding behind a pillar somewhere.

    • Odalys February 2, 2014 at 6:07 am #

      The description of the Breeder/Owner/Handler is ALL wrong . First the careful planing of the breeding, the expenses on health clearances and titles on the parents. The hours of lack of sleep to raise the puppies then the training/grooming of the puppies before going to the handlers and owner-handlers. With out the BOH there will be no dogs to show!. Finally the money to compete against the handlers just as much as the owner-handlers. Also as someone mention the hours mentoring new owners on how to take care of the new puppy/grooming and showing, not to mention that many of us are also mentors for the National clubs also educating the new judges. We BOH do not get as much credit but we are the heart of the sport. I have been showing for 30 years and has been #1 Breeder/Owner/handler for many years and dogs. Again we are just as competitive as any professional handler and spend as much money or maybe more than any owner with a handler since we have to play the politics as BOH

      • TheDogSnobs February 2, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

        Modest too.

        It’s a joke. My big dog is from a BOH, as is the upcoming puppy, as is Potnoodle’s dog and likely next puppy. If we didn’t have respect for the work they put in, we’d be going elsewhere. 🙂

      • Leo Maxwell February 20, 2015 at 6:13 am #

        I agree regarding BOH. Bred and showed Afghan Hounds for over 30 years and I considered winning BBE onto WB WM etc to be more important than winning or placing in a group. Don’t have the same type of classes for my American Saddlebreds so I do hire pro’s for them.

  14. Feral Pudel February 1, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

    I don’t agree about the rich owners. I regularly see several sitting ringside at local shows. Another shows her puppies (standard poodles) quite credibly before handing them off to a pro.
    I can’t miss a chance to share this gem, written years ago by a judge and exhibitor:

  15. sterregold February 1, 2014 at 10:08 pm #

    I also think you missed the mark on the description of the BOH. I don’t think that is the right label for someone who has dogs out on fosters all over the place and borrows them to show once in a while. Many BOH’s (Breeders who Own and Handle the dogs they bred) are far more like your “Intrepid Breeder.” My dogs who I bred live with me and I show them and I think that is the definition of what a BOH really is.
    So then maybe there should be a category for those of us who are truly nuts–Intrepid Breeder-Owner-Handler Cross-Over Sports people who finish the dogs we bred from BBE, and also train and handle them to titles like UD in obedience, and Master Hunter in the field. Suit one day, camo the next!!

    • Dawn February 2, 2014 at 4:22 am #

      Exactly!! Very good explanation of what a BOH really is/should be. Although in my case it’s suit one day, boots in the stock pen the next. =)

  16. Diana February 1, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

    Well said as usual, but you missed the most important (to the future) type found at conformation shows. They are a special subset of the intrepid breeder (& possibly the BOH). The mentor. Worth their weight in gold. I recognize them by the cloud of well meaning but stressed owner-handlers-in-training & in high-grooming breeds, by the row of unrelated dogs on tables being touched up. I had two of the best. Had it not been for them, I would not have gone from rank novice to flushing my $ down the toilet.

  17. Sand Spring Chesapeakes February 1, 2014 at 11:29 pm #

    That was awesome. I have done a little showing and can relate to all of it! Thank you!

  18. Bonnie West February 2, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    I’m an OH to start the dogs out but with mega grooming in my breed, have had handlers finish them. I started over age 50 and am definately in the dollars in the toilet category BUT have to say every dime has been worth it.Have friends in about 40 of the 50 states, have some performance titles on some of the dogs, do health testing…a friend said that conformation people spend hundreds on travel and motel and entry fees and are OVER THE MOON to get a 4 cent ribbon. yep, thats me!

    • TheDogSnobs February 2, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

      I feel the same way. And if it makes you feel better with inflation that ribbon is at least $.75 🙂

  19. shelties! shelties! February 2, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    That photo reminds me… I need to get my Juniors judging license so I can tell the kids with Shelties to GET UP OFF THE GROUND ALREADY. That’s not the way our breed is shown, but it’s become a terrible, ridiculous fad in the Juniors ring. It makes your dog look crummy, and it makes you look stupid.

    Would you do that in the breed ring? Do you see (super-successful pro Sheltie handler) doing that? Do you see (amazing, dedicated Sheltie breeder) doing that? No, you do not. Get up on your legs and show the dog like a Sheltie.

    And Juniors judges, quit rewarding this crap. You’re only encouraging it.

    • TheDogSnobs February 2, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

      The kids with herding breeds are at such a weird disadvantage in junior handling. They really shouldn’t do the hands on like the sporting breeds, but the pressure to be “working harder” is rampant and I suspect partially parent driven. The kid with the springer is almost automatically going to look busier in the ring while the kid with the collie or the sheltie is going to functionally be standing there baiting the dog. I think there’s an impression that busier is better, and that’s patently untrue with pretty much every herder. At least shelties get the table. Anything bigger and the kid really looks out of place. I really think it’s parental drift. 😛

      • shelties! shelties! February 3, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

        You make a good point. It’s really too bad, too – because we WANT juniors to stay in and be successful in their breed rings someday. What wins in the Juniors ring might be counterproductive when it comes to showing in conformation when the dog is being judged.

        Our parent club does a really nice job of setting up a juniors workshop at our national – but that’s just once a year, and of course not every kid is able to go to the national.

        OK, so maybe what we need is for more breeders and pro handlers to take kids on as mentees and students… and let them take some dogs into the breed ring!

  20. Pat Swabey February 2, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    Fabulously funny, well written, and dead on as usual!

  21. Moms in the ring February 3, 2014 at 6:36 am #

    I had the professional handlers finish my first 2 Danes which cost a small fortune. I am now handling the puppy I kept out of my first litter in BBE. She got a 4 point major reserve her first weekend out. I have also got SB while handling her mother in Breed so it’s all good.

  22. Birdie February 4, 2014 at 2:05 am #

    You forgot the “It’s the family business” handler. I grew up on the dog show circuit. having gone to my first dog show at just a few weeks of age. When I graduated college and got a job I finally had a reason to stop handling for my parents’ kennel. Many years later we got a dog to be a family pet. She ended up going into the ring a handful of times as a junior’s dog “just for fun” because my kids wanted to see what dear ole grandma was always talking about. After getting some attention ringside from O-H and pros alike we entered our (from a really good kennel with really good bloodlines, never intended to show her despite the breeder’s assurances that she was truly show quality) “family pet” in the breed ring. One purple ribbon later we were back in it. Now on our fourth champion we are looking to finish our first as a B-O-H. Sometimes it’s “in the blood”.

  23. Kat, Holly & Bri February 4, 2014 at 2:12 am #

    Oh my life… I so did not need this looking glass held up to it. Denial was sweet… Oh well, on the bright side, I haven’t yet spent a fortune on a professional handler! Then again, that could be because I haven’t had the money to do that… Hmmm…

  24. Amanda Rizner February 4, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    I also think the BOH description is off. I show the dogs I opt to keep for myself. I know many other BOH who are showing that one special one they kept out of the litter for themselves. My biggest frustration as a BOH who is also a crossover type is that I’ve had judges knock my girls for their weight when their fitted up for agility. I’ve been told that my highly muscled agility dog is too thin. Funny, eight years of college and with DVM after my name, I think I’m qualified to judge my dog’s weight.

  25. All Things Collie February 22, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

    Very funny, because I have met people just like the ones you described in these categories. Truthfully, we fit into one or two of these categories ourselves! 🙂

  26. Cindy, Chance & Raine September 4, 2016 at 2:21 pm #

    I began showing a couple years ago because I wanted to get an AKC point on a dog. Never thought it would happen. I really just wanted to get ONE point! Just so I could say to myself that I did it by myself. Several thousand dollars later we are half way to earning his GCH and I bought another puppy to show. I am beyond hooked. As a novice I once stumbled the entire length of the ring after I turned left and my 8 month old puppy turned right – hitting me in the knees.

  27. Rick October 7, 2016 at 9:31 pm #

    While we are more interested in obedience/agility/rally, We have spent a few weekends with our breeder at the confirmation shows. We will show our new puppy, in part because we like every person we have encountered at the shows.

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