Part of the mission of the American Kennel Club is to "Take whatever actions necessary
to protect and assure the continuation of the sport of purebred dogs." The
AKC's Junior Showmanship Program is just one example of the kennel club's
commitment to fulfilling this portion of its charter statement.
In the late 1920's a group of dog show exhibitors led by Mr. Leonard Brumby,
Sr., decided to develop a special competition for children. The purpose
of the competition would be to introduce a new generation of fanciers to
the sport and to give children the opportunity to measure their skills against
those of their peers. The children would be judged by how well they presented
their dogs with respect to the nuances of the breed being shown. The first
Children's Handling class was held at the Westbury Kennel Association show
of 1932, and quickly became a popular feature at other AKC events.
In 1949 the Professional Handlers Association donated a trophy in honor
and memory of Mr. Brumby to the winner of the Children's Handling Classes
at the Westminster Kennel Club show. This trophy is still awarded to the
winner of the Junior Handler competition at Westminster and is the most
sought-after prize in the sport.
Children's Handling classes were very informal when the program began. The
judging of the classes would normally start whenever the first breed ring
became available. The judges were usually professional handlers themselves,
and the participants were allowed to use any dog that was available to them.
In 1951 the name of the competition was changed from Children's Handling
to Junior Showmanship. Twenty years later, in 1971, the American Kennel
Club recognized the virtues of Junior Handler competition and granted official
recognition for these classes at AKC events.
The Junior Showmanship program has grown and changed in dramatic fashion
since its humble beginnings in 1932. The AKC now has guidelines for participation
and adjudication of this event. For example, juniors must be between 10
and 18 years of age to participate. They must win three first placements
in the Novice class before advancing to the Open class. Judges must be approved
by the AKC to judge Junior classes, and the dogs that the junior handlers
exhibit must be owned by them, a member of their family, or a relative.
In 1999 the Junior Showmanship program was expanded to include performance
events. Currently, a Junior Handler that handles a dog to a performance
title will receive a certficate from the AKC acknowledging this accomplishment.
The American Kennel Club also awards Scholarships to deserving Junior Handlers
to encourage them to continue on with their education. The AKC awarded 38
Junior Handler Scholarships in 2002. The Board of the American Kennel Club
has just increased the Junior Scholarship Fund from $60,000 to $100,000.
This can truly be seen as affirmation of the AKC's commitment to the youth
of our sport.
Junior handlers become ineligible to compete in Junior Showmanship classes
at the age of 18. In most cases, their participation in the sport of purebred
dog does not cease once they have "aged out" of competition. From the ranks
of Junior Handlers we find the future breeders, AKC Club Members, approved
judges and Registered Handlers who will be the caretakers of our sport in
the future. We see many of these kids go on to pursue careers as veterinarians.
One former Junior is now the CEO of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals;
others have gone on to serve as Board Members of the American Kennel Club.
Still others have gone onto make their contribution to the sport as AKC
While the Junior Showmanship program itself has gone through changes, the
concept and reasons for its implementation have remained the same: to encourage
participation in the sport by young purebred dog enthusiasts; to teach good
sportsmanship, win or lose; and to educate the next generation of the fancy.
So the next time you find yourself at a show with a few moments to spare,
stop by the Junior Showmanship ring to witness the AKC's commitment to its
mission statement and the future of our sport.