Dear Readers,

Taking a close look at the agenda, you will surely notice that the second part of the show and sport season is rather busy !

Over the next three to four months, not less than 4 major FCI Championships will take place:

From 17 to 19 June, the European Lure Coursing Championship will take place in Velke Pole (Slovak Republic). It is a unique opportunity to enjoy this very specific and enthusiastic atmosphere of racing dogs major championships (info:

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Yves De Clercq
FCI Executive Director
Welcome guidelines from FCI on junior handling
© A. Brace
Devoted sisters – Barbara Müller and Christina Bailey at Crufts. Barbara, an FCI all breeds judge, had the honour of judging the International Junior Handling Final at Crufts this year. The show was a triumph for sister Christina’s Old English Sheepdog breeding. The dog CC and BOB was won by Ch Zotttels Best Kept Secret and the bitch CC by his half-sister, Zottels Xtravagance, who was winning her second UK CC and is owned by Barbara’s husband while the reserve dog CC and also best puppy was Zottels Ferrari Fantasy of Noggybanks, half-brother to the BOB winner.

When I first became involved in the dog world back in the 1960s my introduction to showing dogs came with an opportunity to show a friend’s Boston Terrier in what was then known as ‘child handling’ (an expression that would doubtless be considered politically incorrect these days). Invariably these classes were judged by local celebrities and treated as nothing more than a novelty class. Frequently the judges knew nothing about actual handling and the skills that were required and their winners tended be chosen on ‘cuteness’ … smallest child with largest dog seemed often to be the yardstick.

With the passage of time and the interest of such people shown by Joe and Liz Cartledge and the Hurleys junior handling gradually begun to be taken more seriously, the discipline became more formalised and judges were chosen more on their ability and understanding of handling.

My own belief has always been that junior handling should be a training ground for showing in regular classes and demand nothing more or less than would be required in a conventional breed ring class. For a while the discipline became much more complex with the advent of ‘patterns’ and the like which I could never understand. Were I to be asked to execute a figure of eight or a ‘reverse L’ in the show ring I know I would have fallen flat on my face. Yet this seemed to be part and parcel of the new junior handling world. Thankfully I see less of these complex routines being asked for these days.

Sadly the present junior handling cult has developed (not in all cases let me stress) a junior celebrity mentality where it’s all about drama in the ring, fancy suits and impeccable hairstyles and not about natural rapport with the dog and deep understanding of type in different breeds (necessary if you are to handle breeds with which you aren’t familiar). I am also disturbed when I watch junior handling competitions, live or on video, to see so many handlers that seem to treat their dogs like commodities rather than living beings. There is no compassion, no real contact and no natural interaction. Before teaching complicated moves and balletic routines our young people need to learn how to love their dogs and how to respect and cherish them. I have even heard of some successful junior handlers who are happy to leave their dogs crated on the showground overnight at circuit shows. This to me shows exactly how much they really think of their dogs! Get back to basics first, then develop the handling skills.

That said, we do have a number of gifted juniors who show their dogs with feeling and ability and they can be found in many countries these days. Apart from the natural talent we witnessed at Crufts in the International Junior Handling competition, one of the most impressive memories has to be nine-year-old Lauren Bridges who handled the Samoyed BOB winner to take G4 under Frank Kane. What most people remarked upon was not actually Lauren’s handling skills but the spontaneous sportsmanship she displayed when, before taking up position at the G4 board, she rushed up to the winner to congratulate her. That was a real crowd pleaser.

As junior handling has been taken more seriously so have the opportunities to compete increased. Many countries have their own domestic conditions and now of course there are more chances to travel. The International Final at Crufts has been run for many years now and some of the early winners are now successful adults with children of their own.

Not all the countries that fall under the FCI banner have the same level of interest or depth of experience in junior handling and for some time concern has been expressed that there should be an attempt at uniformity. FCI Youth was born at the time of the World Show in Milan last year, led by seven young enthusiasts from around the world who will steer the section in the hope of stimulating and maintaining interest among the young. The purpose of FCI Youth is to ‘Get and keep young people involved in the cynology, educate young people in taking proper care and training of dogs, educate responsible dog owners, offer quality and meaningful pastime with dogs, involve a new generation with the FCI, and contribute to moulding a cynological culture around the world’. These are admirable objectives. Certainly worldwide, as the dog fancy seems to be facing a rather ageing population, there is greater awareness than ever that we need to attract new and younger people to the sport.

Earlier this year the FCI issued new ‘Guidelines for World and Section Junior Handling Competitions’ which have been welcomed internationally. It is a very sensible and well thought out document and includes some very pertinent information. Firstly I was delighted to read ‘Junior handling should be a constant sport inside the dog show hobby. It should not include anything what normal dog show handling does not comprise’. This was music to my ears especially when the guidelines elaborate further in its recommendations, ‘Figures: Up and down, circle, triangle, and moving together – avoiding elaborate figures such as 8s and more intricate shapes that are not usually used in judging rings’. This is common sense and should discourage those that seem to think that junior handling should be more of a dance routine than a test of skilful handling.

The other matter that has been causing dissatisfaction within the junior handling ranks is that of national representation. It was becoming increasingly apparent that in some cases countries were being represented at international competitions (including Crufts) by young handlers who had never actually set foot in that country. That was something I could never quite understand. However FCI has now grasped the nettle and its guidelines state quite clearly, ‘The representative of each country has to be a national citizen of the country that he/she is granted to represent. If the country does not have junior handling activity, it is not allowed to send a candidate to FCI World and Section Junior Handling finals’. Not only is this logical and fair, it will also prevent any abuse of past loopholes. I now understand that Crufts will adopt the same conditions which may reduce the total number of countries competing ever so slightly, but will more importantly enhance the integrity and credibility of the competition no end.

Going back to the FCI document, I rather liked the inclusion of: “Because the overall focus of attention in dog-handling should be kept on the dog, it is recommended that handlers avoid standing between the judge and the dog, without the practice of any exaggeration, but rather relating to this method as part of the handlers main purpose, in being present yet discreet.”

Present yet discreet’ is the key to superb handling in my opinion. Although we have seen many successful handlers who are, to put it politely, flashy in their approach the really stellar handlers are those who have the gift of being able to almost disappear into the background, such is their talent for emphasising their dog’s virtues while not appearing to actually do anything at all. If you notice a dog before you notice its handler the chances are that it’s a great dog with a great handler. One of the greatest gifts a handler can have is ‘soft hands’ and this is something that is born rather than learnt. It is also something that I feel is not emphasised as much as it could be when junior handlers are being taught. Some can efficiently replace limbs and apparently screw a dog into position while those with soft hands will get the same result from just imperceptibly stroking the dog so that it looks right. Jane Kamp Forsyth, the famous American handler and later judge left British Boxer people spellbound when she demonstrated this art once at a seminar here. Watch some of our talented and discrete handlers in action … they will get a dog to adjust itself if required by gestures and quiet words, with no apparent manhandling of their charge. There could be no finer example of this than Jason Lynn when he took Ricky through to BIS at Crufts … this was sheer poetry yet Jason never seemed to touch the dog.

We need to nurture the young talent we have if the sport is to survive.

In my next column I shall be reporting from National Terrier where one of the highlights of the day will be the first ever breed classes in the UK for Jack Russell Terrier and 47 of them from all around the world have entered under Liz Cartledge. I anticipate a packed ringside and huge interest as I am sure this breed is due to take off rapidly. The other lure of the ‘dog man’s dog show’ is the fact that Peter Green is judging BIS, someone who has created all manner of records in the terrier world and beyond. I doubt that his eight Montgomery BIS and four Westminster BIS with a Crufts BIS thrown in for good measure will ever be approached by any other handler so an exciting day is guaranteed.

Group shows have an attraction all of their own but National Terrier has always been a ‘proper’ dog show … no undue frills but huge entries with mainly specialist judges and always draws people from outside the group as interested spectators.

Marie Burns and her family have also invited friends to join them at the Westie benches after judging for a celebratory buffet following Devon’s Crufts BIS, a very generous gesture so in keeping with this modest lady.

Andrew Brace
This article was published on April 13th, 2016