By Jason Sheppard
The Newfoundland Kennel Club welcomes and encourages children to come have a dog-gone good time
When Danielle Pike attended her first dog show at age seven, she admits she was very shy. Back then, she would always have her head down and wouldn’t talk to anyone. Today, Pike is a completely different person. She says she owes her change to a summer she spent in Manitoba where she was invited to stay with a woman who took her all over Canada, and even the U.S., to compete in dog shows. After that summer, Pike shared that she was a completely different individual.
“It definitely helped me grow as person,” said Pike, now 20 and the lead junior conformation handling instructor of The Newfoundland All Breed Kennel Club (NKC).
Tanya Martin, the Vice president of The NKC, has seen many young people such as Pike grow as individuals and learn important skills while competing in junior handling dog shows. They describe these shows as a great sport for building children’s confidence.
The main goal of Junior Handling according to it’s organizers, is to create and nurture a lifelong affection and understanding of animals. “It teaches people how to take care of their breed of animal,” explains Pike.
‘The Human Bond’
Each province across Canada has its own Junior Handling organization. The NKC here in Newfoundland offers junior handling classes in the fall, winter and spring. Children ages 4-18 are encouraged to participate.
Martin explains the primary goal of the sport of junior handling as one that creates a nurturing and lifelong affection and understanding of animals. “It exposes children to the social, emotional and physical benefits of the human bond, “ she said.
Martin stresses that junior handling, while fun and supportive, is indeed a sport and one where individuals participating are assessed on their skill set.
“It is a sport if you look at the definition of ‘sport’,” said Martin. “It is an activity involving physical effort and skill in which an individual or team (in this case the team being the junior handler and dog) competes against each other for entertainment.”
As with any sport, learning sportsmanship and teamwork are key elements when it comes to junior handling. The NKC organizers stress these elements when training and mentoring young participants in their shows. “Sportsmanship is the single most important skill for any junior handler,” said Martin. She also adds that traits such as having a positive attitude and courteous manner is actually judged in the competitions. One of the main goals in junior handling is building friendships, supporting one another and learning from each other. “It teaches them sportsmanship and it teaches them to be part of a team,” said Martin. “Nobody goes away heartbroken. You actually see the child who came in first place hug the child who came in third place. They want each other to win and that’s what we want to see.”
Sportsmanship is Key
Children not only make new friends that they bond with, but they form bonds with their animals. This bonding is one of the core elements which manifests in Junior Handling. “Personally, I feel the most valuable piece of the sport is that it does indeed help children learn about having a healthy relationship with the dog and how to properly care for a dog,” said Martin. “It allows children the opportunity for education, self discipline and helps many grow. It’s a great sport for building children’s confidence – and the dogs love it too.”
In fact, when Pike would handle some of the more bigger breeds of dogs she said she definitely got her workout. “I never ran so fast in my life,” she laughs.
The competitions involve individuals and their dogs going into a ring to compete with judges observing. Advancement is based on age and wins.
Even if a child does not own a dog, the NKC will work to connect anybody interested in participating with a dog. “This is a sport that is open to any child who is interested,” explains Martin. “Even if you do not own a purebreed dog, the NKC will work with you to connect you with an owner who will allow you to borrow their registered dog for handling purposes for classes or shows. What I like about it is that people are either using their own dog or they’re using a different dog,” said Martin.
A Grooming Education
Grooming is also an important factor in terms of Junior Handling, which isn’t just about presentation, according to organizers. It helps children understand about the structure of the dog. “It’s amazing what grooming teaches your kids,” said Martin.
It costs $5 to enter a show and ribbons are handed out to everyone who participates. Because of this, according to Martin, everyone comes away a winner.
“Junior Handling teaches young people self-discipline,” adds Martin. “If you can develop these skills when you’re 10-11 years old and hold onto them by the time you’re 20, you’re going to have a great life.”