Start Them Young!
Junior Showmanship is a venue supported by all recognized show-sponsoring clubs in some way or another. The United Kennel Club (UKC) is a family oriented organization and uses its Junior Program to promote and develop the interests of children and young people in dog sports of all kinds, not just conformation. But for now, I want to tell you how Junior Showmanship offers a very different experience from showing your dog in conformation classes. It is different from “showing” in three primary ways.
First, it is not about the dog’s quality, structure, or adherence to the breed’s standard of perfection. Junior Showmanship is about how I present my dog to the judge. My ability to show the dog to its best advantage is being evaluated. It is all about learning good sportsmanship, developing a strong bond with my dog, and setting a foundation of love and appreciation for dog sports of all kinds. I don’t need an expensive, perfect dog to do well in Junior Showmanship. Many young people work with the family dog, but if you don’t have a dog of your own you can borrow one to train and show. You can even show a mixed breed dog. Like in the regular conformation classes, the dog must be six months old or older and you have to be able to control it.
Second, UKC Junior Showmanship is open to all children age two to age 18 years old. Yes, that’s right, age 2! The youngest classes are divided by age only: Pee-Wee (age 2 but under 4), Sub-Junior (age 4 but under 6), and Pre-Junior (age 6 but under 8). An adult or parent may be in the ring and assist the Pee-Wees and Sub-Juniors to ensure their dogs are under control, but must be outside the ring for the Pre-Juniors. In these youngest classes, every exhibitor receives a ribbon or award for participating. They do not complete for Best Junior Handler.
Once you turn eight years old, you begin to compete in the Junior classes that are divided by both age and level of experience. Junior classes are for ages eight to under 13 years of age. But, the Novice Junior class is for the beginner in the sport and allows those of us with little or no experience to compete with others of a similar experience level. Once you win a Best Junior Handler Award, you move up to the Open Junior class. This is for the same ages but having more experience.
At age 13, you move up to the Senior classes which are for young people age 13 through 18. They are divided similar to the Junior level with Novice Senior for beginners, and Open Senior for those who have won a Best Junior Handler Award at the Novice level.
All the first place winners from the Junior and Senior classes come back in the ring to compete for Best Junior Handler. One Junior handler is selected by the judge for Best Junior Handler.
Third, Junior Showmanship is more than just handling your dog. Part of the class competition is answering questions from the judge about your breed standard, anatomy of the dog, health, responsible dog ownership, or grooming and handling. So it takes some studying about all things dog and about your breed because you never know what the questions will be about or how many they will ask. The judge also looks for good sportsmanship, consideration for other handlers and their dogs, and that you are in-sync with your dog and working as a dog-handler team.
One of the things I like about Junior Showmanship in UKC is the philosophy of the Total Junior. Just like the Total Dog award for conformation where you need to win in the conformation ring and have a qualifying score in a performance event like Rally, Obedience, Agility, etc. with the same dog, they offer special recognition for junior handlers who show in both Junior Showmanship and performance events in the form of the Total Junior. It makes it more challenging and exciting when you are doing more than one event at a show and forces you out of your comfort zone to learn new training skills.
Junior Showmanship allows young people to compete with others their age and experience level to learn the skills needed to move into the conformation ring as you get older. In fact, many Juniors will also show their dog in the regular classes and can compete with the best of them because they learned good habits and skills from the start. Nothing is better than being in the ring with your best friend and working together as a team, knowing you are doing your very best!