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The road to the Westminster Dog Show -- the Superbowl of the dog world -- is long, and many do not make it. Just the same, being a professional dog handler is a rewarding career. If you love dogs, enjoy travel and get a thrill out of competing with the best, then a career as a dog handler may be for you.
To be a professional dog handler, you must love dogs and be willing to work long hours -- the dogs are your 24-hour responsibility when you're on the road. Even though your focus is on the dogs you show, you must also have good communications skills and the physical stamina to pack and unpack the dogs' crates and other equipment you'll need. If your motive is money, be careful. The money may come -- and some earn six-figure incomes -- but at first the compensation will be low.
Many handlers have started their careers with their purebred family pet. If you have a purebred, start there; if you don't, then pick your dog with care. Size is important. You'll have to lift the dog, bathe and groom him and handle him in the ring. Some dogs need extensive grooming, while others don't. Once you've selected the breed you wish to show, join a local dog club. You can find club listings by doing a "club search" on the American Kennel Club's website. Clubs can be all-breed or breed specific. Either way, you'll join company with fellow dog lovers who care about maintaining breed standards.
Preparing to Show
Preparing your dog to show involves more than the basic obedience training. In addition to that, your dog needs to learn how to walk on a show lead, to stand patiently while a judge examines him and to remain calm in the presence of many other dogs. Much of this you can accomplish within your club, which will offer training, provide getting-started tips and sponsor match shows -- local shows that give experience but no points toward AKC championships. Get to know as many other handlers as you can. They can be a valuable source of information, and you'll probably meet some of them in the ring later on.
Building Your Career
Once you've honed your skills, you can find sanctioned shows through your club. Enter as many as you can. While the primary objective is for your dog to win, you should also take the opportunity to network with as many handlers and owners as possible. Let others know that you're a professional and interested in showing other dogs. As a novice handler, you'll not be eligible to join the Professional Handlers Association or the AKC's Registered Handlers Program, but you should familiarize yourself with their standards and make sure you comply with them. Following high standards will establish you as a serious professional.
Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.