I don’t always work and play well with others. I know — this comes as something of a shock (tongue firmly planted in cheek). Nonetheless, in 1994 when I left my full time, good-paying marketing job with paid health insurance, paid days off and a cubicle to call my own, at a Credit Union in Seattle, that was the bottom line reason.
Originally, my plan was to work as a freelance writer and marketing/PR consultant.
My first Akita and a renewed involvement with GWPs arrived at roughly the same time as my declining interest in corporate America. It was only a few years before the income from handling dogs outpaced the writing, so that was the path I followed.
To this day I question whether this was the best decision I ever made, but it’s stuck. I’ve managed to stay afloat in a tough industry, working primarily alone or with an assistant. I’ve carved out a niche working with rare and uncommon breeds, difficult dogs, finishing show champions on trial dogs to make duals and generally focusing on a small string of high-quality dogs. Sort of the boutique versus the department store handler.
In order to make this business plan work, I’ve learned to keep my overhead down, treat clients fairly and to only show dogs I believe in 100 percent.
The job gives me the luxury of spending my days with dogs. Lots of kinds and sizes and varieties, all of whom challenge me, make me laugh, make me cry and keep me humble. It has taken me to places and down roads, literally, I could never have dreamed of going. Since I don’t prefer to fly and really don’t like flying dogs, I drive as much as 40-50,000 miles a year going to dog shows.
My “show” week starts with bathing and trimming dogs for the upcoming weekend. I normally have three to five dogs “living in” all of which need nails done, breed specific grooming, bathing and blow drying.
Once all the dogs are clean and ready to go, I have to prep the truck: clean crates, clean beds and towels, clean buckets and bowls, dog food, grooming supplies, show clothes and sundry are on the check off list.
Then comes a drive of anywhere from three to eight hours (or more) to arrive at the show grounds in time to set up in the daylight. Crates, exercise pens, EZ up tents, grooming tables, tubs of supplies and tack box all need to be arranged. Indoors or outdoors working off the truck depends on the venue.
I once calculated my “lifting routine” … Ten repetitions of 20-25 pounds for pens, another 10 reps of 20-25 pounds for crates, another 10 reps at the same weight for tubs, boxes and bins. Double all of that if we’re working in the building and have to lift out of the truck to the wheels, drag into the building and lift off the wheels and set up. Add a portable generator for at least five reps at 50 pounds to build muscle mass. With the addition of cel phones and FitBit gear, I’ve come to learn that I walk and/or run anywhere from five to 10 miles a day, depending on the show site, so I’m getting my aerobic workout in as well.
A typical day at the dog show starts at 5 a.m. and runs until 10 p.m.
Up and to the show grounds by 6 a.m., with generally 10 dogs to get exercised, fed, played with, pottied and grooming underway before rings begin at 8 a.m.
I show a variety of breeds in several groups, so scheduling is always a nightmare. Especially since there is only one of me. Clients hire me to show their dogs, not an assistant, a friend or another handler. When we have ring conflicts, the decision on which dogs I show is based on priority that starts with the “specials” — in other words the dogs competing for Best of Breed. While there is some wiggle room here, I’m the decision-maker and I take the responsibility for it — good or bad. This one area causes me easily the most stress in my day.
Breed judging typically goes on from 8 a.m. to about 2 p.m., with group judging lasting another three or four hours depending on how many dogs I have in group competition and the size of the show. Hopefully we’re done showing dogs by about 6 p.m. Dogs are taken out to potty at lunch break and before their ring times, but at the end of the day they need to be let out again, exercised, fed and given free time. By 10, we’re generally crashed so we can do it all over again the next day. In this day and age, dog show “weekends” most often last three or four days. Add a day to drive there and a day to drive home, my at-home time is often minimal to say the least.
Obviously, having a paid assistant or apprentice is a necessity most of the time. The older I get the more of a necessity it is!
Finally, the “show week” isn’t the only work I do. At home, on my “days off,” I take care of billing, accounting, travel planning, schedule planning, routine veterinary care, occasional land-use planning, facilities maintenance, etc ad nauseam in addition to feeding, training, conditioning, maintenance grooming and just play time with the dogs. This is, by definition, a 24/7/365 job. I worked 15 years before I took a vacation that wasn’t staying for the Field Trial at our national to ride horses and watch dogs run.
So, what’s that upside again, you ask? The dogs. The connection and bond with the dogs I show is irreplaceable. The scared dog who blossoms into a Best in Show winner. The tough dog who learns to trust me. The new breeds I learn about. Constantly testing and improving my skills. The challenge of moving from Mastiff to Chihuahua in a split second. The friends who become family. The freedom to choose my “employers” (ie clients). The flexibility to throw my hands in the air and drive to the coast for the day, on a random Wednesday, just because. The satisfaction that I am helping fulfill someone’s dream.
I honestly can’t say I recommend this as a career path. But, my first mentor tried to discourage me and that didn’t work either. For those interested, I cannot emphasize strongly enough to apprentice for an extended period of time with a highly respected professional handler.
For more suggestions, feel free to stop by http://puredogtalk.com/episodes/page/4/ and listen to Episode 18.