This week we hear from Janine Starink of Aerdenhout Giant Schnauzers of British Columbia, Canada.
- Tell us a little about your personal history: How did you get started in dogs?
My family had a puppy from the very first litter of Giant Schnauzers ever born in Canada. I was only 1 year old when he came to us, and he lived to just shy of 16, so I grew up with “Snoet.” Snoet was not a show dog, but he was my loyal companion till the day he died. I had no idea then how much he would influence my life!
Decades later, my husband Dean and I acquired our own Giant. We purchased him from Sylvia Hammarstrom of Skansen Kennel in California. Bough only as pet, Sylvia made me promise to show him to at least his championship. I agreed, and he won … a lot, and I was hooked! The rest, as they say, is history.
- Why did you decide to handle your dog yourself?
My first Giant that I got from Sylvia did not like strangers very much. He would allow others to touch him only if I showed him, so I had to. But I loved it and have never stopped handling since.
- How much do you work with a dog at home before handling him or her at shows?
Whenever I feed my dogs a treat, they have to work for it a little … that is about it. I also attend a few handling classes.
- What is your strategy on the use (or not) of bait?
The Giants I show are very food driven, so there’s no real strategy … just make them work for it.
- Do you get pre-ring jitters? If so, how do you deal with them?
Only at the breed level, when there is tough competition. No matter where I am, I remind myself that this is only a dog show. This is often hard to convince myself of when I am at the Garden, Eukanuba, or the breed’s U.S. national.
- What do you find to be the major benefits of showing your own dog?
We have a great bond. I know my dog’s moods inside and out. But this can also work against you, as the dog knows you will love him the same even if he does not perform. They are not assured of this when they are with a handler, as the handler has many dogs to show, so sometimes the dogs work harder for a pro.
- What kinds of things have you learned from observing good handlers?
Everything, and never be afraid to ask for advice from them. Many will offer help to you as well—LISTEN to them! And if you lose the breed, do not go home! Watch the group and observe how the pros do it. It will only make you better.
- What are the biggest mistakes that you see new owner-handlers making?
Expecting to win right away, and giving up when they don’t. Not watching other breeds getting shown. And please take off the bait bags on your hips—you will never see a pro with one of those things on!
- What are some interesting ring quirks of some of the dogs you’ve shown?
Dog-on-dog aggression is the biggest concern in my breed, especially when showing a male. You have to be thinking way ahead of your dog and be able to anticipate what other people are doing.
- Who was the most difficult dog you have shown, and how did you handle that challenge?
My first, as he did not love other people and really had a hate on for most working dogs. How did I handle it? I learned about canine behavior really fast! It taught me sooo much about dogs, though.
- Can you share with us a memorable moment, either amusing or embarrassing, that you have had as an owner-handler?
When I fell in the ring, and I lay on my stomach, the judge and another exhibitor came over to help me. I was still on the floor when the judge asked if I was OK. I said I was, and then he looked away and walked away. I thought, Sheeesh, how rude. The exhibitor helped me to my feet. I commented that it would have been nice if the judge had offered to help too. The exhibitor laughed and said, “Well, the fact that your skirt was up around your ears might have made him a little uncomfortable. Nice undies, by the way!”
- What is one of your most proud moments as an owner-handler?
No doubt winning the breed at the Westminster show with my favorite male Giant of all time, Solo. What a memory it was to run on the green carpet as thousands of spectators cheered us on, and millions at home on their TVs!
- What advice would you offer newcomers who are interested in handling their own dog in shows?
Make sure you have a great dog to show first, and then just do it. And remember it takes years to be a great owner-handler.
Photos courtesy Janine Starink