A MODEL JUNIOR SHOWMANSHIP PROGRAM FOR A NATIONAL
DOG CLUB OF AMERICA
By Amy Johnson
When I took on the title of Junior Showmanship Chair for the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America’s 2009 National Specialty, I was not sure where I was going to go with the title. I knew that competing in juniors 25+ years ago, there were very few classes for kids and not a whole lot of folks who really knew how to mentor a junior. Over the years at our Nationals, there have been a couple of classes here and there, but I wanted to make 2009 SPECTACULAR! I set forth with a letter requesting donations of both items and money – folks really came through with things. Now what was I going to do with the donations I had procured?!?
For daily participation activities, I created 6 different quizzes that I placed at the morning hospitality table for the juniors to collect at their leisure. At the end of each day, the kids turned them into me in exchange for a raffle type ticket. Because of the varying ages and experience, I made these participation tickets, not tickets for 100% correct quizzes. I also offered the answers for each quiz and allowed the juniors to keep them for reference for years to come. There were quizzes on dog show rules, anatomy of the Berner, AKC rules and the like. I put together prize bags for each activity with the items I had received and some that were purchased with the money donated. At the end of the day, we drew a prize from that day’s raffle tickets.
I solicited the help of long timers in the breed and asked them to do a grooming presentation for juniors only. Our breed is one of minimal grooming, so we did not get into the controversial “scissor work” but focused on trimming the feet and how to blow dry a coat to lay flat and ring ready. The greenest juniors as well as the sourdoughs all walked away with new knowledge. This was an activity I had the kids sign up for in advance, and put together a “grooming kit” for each of the kids including brushes and a grooming apron and other goodies. I did put together a few extra in case someone did not get pre-registered for the classes.
The evening before showmanship competition, I had selected breeders and AKC handlers and judges to assist and we divided all the kids into age and experience levels and had them work in small groups with each instructor for a hands-on handling seminar. I must say, I wished that I could have been a junior again, the tips I picked up as I observed each group were phenomenal! After about an hour and a half, kids were getting tired, dogs were bored, so we handed out more goodie bags, had the kids water and potty their dogs and put them away. We then all met back up for a pizza party, to allow the kids to get to know one another. We wanted everyone to be happy for each other the next day - win, lose or draw.
Junior Showmanship competition was held after judging of regular classes ended. Usually the room tends to empty out at that point. I was shocked when the kids filed in for their classes and there was not an empty seat in the house. There was such a build up for the juniors this year, everyone stayed and watched! At that point I was a bit nervous for the kids, there were so many novices’ out there – would they be able to perform with such a large audience? All my worrying was for nothing, as I doubt that any professional handler would have been able to keep up with these kids that day! My heart swelled with pride as each class went in, after a week with most of these kids, I came to know them and doubt I would have been able to judge them. Sara Karl, breeder judge ran them through their paces and from a spectators stand point, had to really nit pick to choose “The Best”.
Upon completion of judging, what impressed me the most was that each of the juniors congratulated each other; there were no hard feelings that you often see in the conformation ring. I know that the future of AKC Dog Sports and the Bernese Mountain Dogs are in excellent hands when these juniors take the leads! I hope each and everyone out there remembers that’s what the juniors are; OUR FUTURE. When a child comes up to you and asks for assistance, when someone asks for a donation for junior showmanship activities or trophies, always keep this in mind! I enjoyed myself so much this year, I volunteered to do it again next year – I will keep everyone posted on the new activities I add to the event!