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Where Are They Now

Since 1934, The Westminster Kennel Club has bestowed the title of Best Junior Handler to one deserving recipient. These talented handlers, who are between the ages of 9-18, come from all across the country to be judged on their dog handling skills, with eight advancing to the finals competition. These dedicated dog lovers spend countless hours training, grooming, and perfecting their ring techniques throughout the year to qualify for a chance to show at Westminster. Each year, approximately 100 qualified Juniors make their way to New York City for the most prestigious junior handling competition in the sport. The Westminster Kennel Club congratulates these Juniors for their continued involvement and future success in the sport of showing dogs and beyond.



Tell us about your experience competing in Junior Showmanship at WKC. Participating in Junior Showmanship at the WKC Dog Show has been an amazing journey. Before 2021, I teamed up with my Cirneco dell’Etna named Deagan, whom I had raised and trained from 7 months of age.. As 2021 approached, I decided to compete with a different breed I had grown to love over the years, a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. However, a setback emerged when the dog I intended to show, “Goose,” experienced bloating the day before my departure. Although thankfully Goose’s condition improved within a few hours, I had to find another dog to show. In a stroke of luck, my friend Randi Huff discovered Goose’s half-brother, “Gunner,” for me to handle. Without hesitation, I accepted the opportunity. Most juniors walk into WKC with a dog they have worked with for years. I met Gunner just 48 hours prior to stepping into the Juniors ring, with a two-hour handling session led by Kendall DeSanto, Gunner’s owner.

A dog with its handlers receives an award at a dog show event, posing in front of a backdrop decorated with flowers and event signage.

The morning of entering the Junior Showmanship ring with Gunner was fraught with nerves. I struggled to maintain composure and recall my strategies during our brief practice time. Remarkably, I made the first cut and advanced through the second and third cuts, earning my spot in the finals. It was unbelievable; I had never before made a cut with my Cirneco, yet I found myself in the finals with Gunner after just two days of preparation together. If I thought the preliminary rounds were nerve-inducing, the finals took my anxiety to new heights. The prospect of progressing beyond the initial cut and into the finals had never crossed my mind before. Stepping into the finals arena was a daunting experience, with a sizable audience, blaring music, and a mere 30 minutes allotted for all participants. Unfortunately my father was not able to watch the Finals since he was working in Idaho at the time, eagerly awaiting a phone call to learn about my results.


How has being a Junior Handler impacted your life? Becoming a junior handler has provided me with greater insights into my own capabilities and strengths than any other sport I’ve engaged in. I deeply appreciate my mentors and steadfast friends who have stood by me throughout my challenges and triumphs over the years. The role of being a Junior Handler has profoundly influenced my life by fostering personal growth and enhancing my skill set in ways that no other sport has. Through this experience, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of myself and discovered strengths I didn’t know I possessed. The guidance and unwavering support of my mentors and cherished friends have been instrumental in my journey, helping me navigate both the highs and lows with resilience. Being a Junior Handler has offered new learning experiences that combine practical skills, emotional growth, and social connections. It’s an enriching journey that continues to shape who I am now, and how I approach various aspects of life. The experience of being a Junior Handler has profoundly influenced my life in various ways. It has taught me valuable lessons about responsibility, teamwork, patience, and the importance of nurturing a strong bond with animals. This role has also boosted my self-confidence and improved my communication skills as I interacted with judges, fellow competitors, and audiences.


Can you share any advice for any current or future Junior Showmanship handlers? For current and future Junior Showmanship handlers, I’d like to offer a few pieces of advice:

  • Embrace your learning! Approach each competition and interaction as an opportunity to learn and grow. Be open to feedback, both positive and constructive, and use it to refine your skills.
  • Practice Diligently: Regular practice with your animal partner is key to mastering your routine and enhancing your connection. Consistency will lead to better communication and performance.
  • Maintain Sportsmanship: Respect your fellow competitors, judges, and animals. Show good sportsmanship regardless of the outcome, and remember that it’s the journey and experience that truly matter.
  • Build Relationships: Forge strong connections with your mentors, fellow handlers, and friends in the dog show community. Their support and insights can be invaluable on your journey.
  • Stay Patient: Progress takes time. There will be ups and downs, but perseverance is essential. Stay patient, and remember that setbacks are part of the learning process.
  • Celebrate Achievements: Whether big or small, celebrate your accomplishments. Acknowledge the milestones you achieve and the growth you experience along the way.
  • Focus on the Bond: Your connection with your canine partner is at the heart of Junior Showmanship. Nurture that bond through positive reinforcement, regular training, and genuine affection.
  • Manage Stress: Competitions can be nerve-wracking, but practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or visualization to manage pre-show jitter.
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