Archived Message

How to choose a show handler?

by Jasmine & Harold

Hi. We need some advise on how to choose a show handler for my Maltese. We don't know what questions to ask or what qualities to look for in one. Can someone give us a pointer or two on how to go about it. We considered doing it ouselves. We not experienced. Would this be foolish on our part to attempt such a thing? Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.


Showing a Maltese yourself can be the most rewarding experience you can imagine - especially when you breed it, condition it, and then "finish" it on your own. But, everyone is not cut out to be a "handler". The Maltese is a very gentle-tempered dog and is probably best handled by a toy dog specialist as opposed to a gig-time all-breed handler. Yes, there are exceptions but this response is based on our experience.

Keeping the dog in coat, yourself, is the real trick. Handlers, as a GENERAL rule, don't do as good a job of keeping a dog in condition (coat) as an owner. You don't want to "grow coat" for almost a year and then ship the dog off only to have all of that work go "up in smoke" before the dog is "finished".

The best way to find a truly good handler is to get a reference from someone who has placed their Maltese out with a handler. They have discussed handlers with other "show breeders" from across the country and have a grasp on who to send the dog out with and who to avoid.

Often, you can get the "single" points yourself and then send the dog out with a handler to get those precious majors you'll need to finish the dog. This is probably the most cost-efficient method.

Don't be afraid to send the dog off across the country and pay a higher handling fee - in dogs, as with most everything, you usually get what you pay for. A highly successful and knowlegdeable handler can often "finish" your dog for you in a matter of weeks where a less-skilled handler might "drag your little Maltese around for months" and still not have it "finished".

A "good handler" is one with YOUR best interests and the best interests of your dog. He or she can often guide you in the selection of a fine show dog - they don't want to even be seen in the ring with an inferior dog. Plus, they know which judges to take your dog to and which ones to avoid, etc. We use two handlers plus we show our dogs, ourselves. Both of our handlers are among our closest and most treasured friends we've ever had and would trust them with our own lives - which should be the level of respect and admiration in such a relationship as you are trusting them with your Maltese baby's life.

Good luck. Larry & Angela
-Larry Stanberry Divine Maltese

Jasmine & Harold - The first decision you have to make is why you are showing your dog. If it is because you want a Champion then perhaps a handler is the way to go. But if it is because you enjoy your dog and you would enjoy the experience of being in the ring with your dog as well as doing the necessary training then at least try it yourself. The first step in this process would be to contact your local kennel club to find out if and when they have handling classes. Go to as many of those as you can and you will gain much valuable information and you will soon discover whether you are comfortable in the ring with your dog. If you are not comfortable in the ring your dog will sense this and not perform to the best of his ability. I started out using a handler as I was learning 13 years ago and soon discovered that I enjoyed working with my dogs and taking them in the ring myself. Yes, it usually takes longer to do it yourself and is often more expensive but the satisfaction you gain as well as the rapoire you develop with your dog makes it twice as much fun to do it yourself. Let us know what you decide.
-Vivian Brownlee - Fantasia

Dear Jasmine and Harold:

As someone who has both succesfully shown my own dogs and having also used a handler, I feel qualified to comment on this matter.

Larry and Vivian are right, nothing can compare to the thrill of training and exhibiting your dog yourself. It is my opinion that if you are setting out to establish yourself as a breeder/exhibitor, then you must get your feet wet and become a competent groomer. The best way to do this, is to have to finish a couple of dogs and develop techniques for growing and maintaining coats. Then there is the matter of TOP KNOTS ! I say even the most gifted among us, still take a year to perfect the art of the perfect "poof". What any novice maltese exhibitor needs is a mentor. When I was getting started, I learned a great deal from handlers and established breeder/exhibitors about grooming and presentation. It would be helpful if you could find someone in your area that would help you learn how to condition and prepare your dog for the ring.

After a number of years, I decided to use handlers for most of my dogs. I had two reasons for doing so. The first was that my husband and I had started another breeding program and had produced two human homebreds (now ages 6 and 2 ). I really could not be away from my family on the weekends.

The second reason was cost. Trust me when I say that showing your own dogs is A LOT more expensive than having a handler do it. Start with the gas, the hotel room, the meals, then add the "tons" of stuff that you have to buy to groom and set up at the shows. Now, I assume that you want to look good in the ring ?! Well, add to your budget some money for a few nice outfits. They not only must provide a beautiful background for your dog but they must have POCKETS, to keep your bait, comb and brush in. Do keep in mind that it may take you more than one season to finish wee "Harold", so you may have to buy fashions for more than one season. When I was showing myself, it was the rare weekend that I was able to keep expenses under $500.00 . My husband says that this is beacuse I can say "Five Star Hotel ", in any language but this is not true !!!! So, take a good hard look at your finances before deciding whether to show "Harold" yourself or not.

I think that if you feel you have or can acquire the techniques required for the conformation ring and can afford the expense, go for it and show "Harold" yourself. If not, ask people to recommend a good maltese handler and if possible, go and check their premises yourself. Also, ask for references and CHECK THEM ! I help that the foregoing helps. Best of luck !

-Andrea Noel Snoel Maltese

Copyright 1996, 1997© Maltese Only All rights reserved