This week we hear from Kerrie Kuper, of Karasar Whippets.
Tell us a little about your personal history: How did you get started in dogs?
My parents started in purebred dogs in the late 1950s in obedience and then went on to the conformation ring in the mid 1960s. My family acquired our first Whippet then and bred our first litter, born in 1967—the start of Karasar Whippets.
I started showing in Junior Showmanship when I was old enough and put the first Best of Breed from the Bred-by-Exhibitor class on our first homebred champion from our first litter, Ch. Karasar’s Silver Sassafras. All of our current dogs are descended from that first litter nearly 50 years ago.
I have shown over 50 different breeds over the years, but I’ve never worked as a professional handler. I am currently the only Whippet breeder who has bred five consecutive generations of breeder-owner-handled multiple Best in Show–winning Whippets and have bred owned and handled 11 different Best in Show–winning or Reserve Best in Show–winning Whippets since 1993. I also have four different Best in Show–winning and Reserve Best in Show–winning National Owner-Handled Series Whippets, including two generations there.
Why did you decide to handle your dog yourself?
I was basically born into the sport, as I mentioned above. I have had many professional handlers work for me over the years, but I get more satisfaction from showing the dogs myself, the interaction with the dogs, and the close relationship with them. All have different personalities, and I look at it as a challenge, figuring out how to get each individual to enjoy the ring together with me.
How much do you work with a dog at home before handling him or her at shows?
It depends on the dog—all are different. Some are natural showmen, and others need more work. Since I breed and show all my own dogs, they start their training from the whelping box forward. When they are old enough, I start setting them up on a table and train them to free-stack and bait for me. I use the older dogs to help train the younger ones—they show them the ropes, so to speak. Training never stops.
What is your strategy on the use (or not) of bait?
We overuse it in the ring now, I do believe. I like my dogs to stand naturally, but Whippets should not have to have their ears alert all the time in the breed ring. Unfortunately many judges nowadays believe that a Whippet who isn’t baiting all the time in the ring isn’t worth awarding. VERY WRONG. If they use their ears once so you can see the ear-set, that is enough. A knowledgeable judge of my breed can tell if a Whippet has good ears by just feeling them.
Do you get pre-ring jitters? If so, how do you deal with them?
Not too often anymore, but on occasion. Positive thoughts and mindset seem to help me the most.
What do you find to be the major benefits of showing your own dog?
The interaction and bond with the dog and the enjoyment and pride in showing my own homebreds are the major benefits to me. Plus I like the travel, going to see different places and meeting different people.
What kinds of things have you learned from observing good handlers?
Thousands of different things. I think the best handlers showcase their dogs and not themselves.
What are the biggest mistakes that you see new owner-handlers making?
Not being talented enough or aware of how they are handling their dog. Many owner-handlers have top-quality dogs but their lack of handling ability holds them back from winning. You need to be very realistic regarding your handling ability and work to improve it. Have someone video you and critique your handling. Some people are naturals … some need more work.
What are interesting ring quirks of some of the dogs you’ve shown?
One of my multiple Best in Show winners never wanted to stand still on the table while being examined. I even had judges ask me, “Can’t you get that dog to stand still?” I had to reply, “NO!” This one also liked to drag me around the ring full-speed.
Who was the most difficult dog you have shown, and how did you handle that challenge?
That would be my first number-one Whippet, MBIS/MBISS Ch. Karasar’s Preference, ROMX, who was number-one Whippet (Pedigree system) for 1994 and 1995. I never knew what dog was coming out of the crate that morning. I prayed a lot!
Can you share with us a memorable moment, either amusing or embarrassing, that you have had as an owner-handler?
There have been many of them … but probably it would be one time when I was showing Preference in the group ring. The judge had made a cut, and as we were about to take off to go around individually, I dropped the lead, and she went around the entire group ring by herself. Of course everyone was laughing hysterically. After I retrieved her and finished her go-around, we won the group. The judge then said, “She looked better without you on the end of the lead!”
What is one of your most proud moments as an owner-handler?
Winning Bests in Show with ten different Whippets? Nope. My most proud moment was winning the Brood Bitch class at the 2012 American Whippet Club national specialty with Ch. Karasar’s Artistry, ROMX (Number 1 Whippet AKC, 2008), with her two multiple Best in Show-winning daughters behind her, MBIS/MRBIS/MBISOH GCh. Karasar’s Remembrance and MBIS/MBISS/MRBIS/MBISOH GCh. Karasar’s Masterpiece.
Thank you, Kerrie, for taking the time to share your comments with us!
Photos courtesy Kerrie Kuper