Junior Handler v Snowflake

by Susi on September 15, 2016

in Junior Handling, junior showmanship

Post image for Junior Handler v Snowflake

If one talks with a fancier long enough, inevitably the subject of the “greying” of our sport comes up. We fret over the future of our respective breeds; club members wring their hands over how to attract new and younger members, and the AKC grapples with finding relevancy with a generation raised on the “adopt-don’t-shop” mantra. It’s natural to wonder how best to attract the young (as if they were oddities being lured into a humane trap with the most effective bait) when the future of the sport has wrinkles.

In reality, the fancy already has a young demographic. We call them junior handlers, and while we talk a good game about the importance of supporting them, the fact is that we could do more. Junior Finals should be part of the evening line-up for televised dog shows not only to show how much we value them, but to attract young viewers to the sport; Prize money at premier shows should get serious (as in “college tuition-money” serious), and more clubs might consider “adopting” a junior by helping mentor and/or sponsor their career.

Every enterprise needs an occasional renaissance, and our sport is no different, but as I see it, there’s a more compelling reason to encourage our juniors than to safeguard the future of our sport. We need them to help safeguard the future of our society.

Living among us are young adults who, in their short lives thus far, have been rewarded for simply taking breath, figuratively speaking. As children, they’ve received soccer and little league trophies not for having the best record in their league, but for participating. Some attended schools where letter grades have been eliminated as “relics from a less enlightened age,” and because Valedictorian and Salutatorian honors have come to be seen as encouraging an “unhealthy” level of competition, many high schools and colleges have dispensed with them. A Columbia University survey in 2007 found that 85 percent of American parents thought it was important to tell their kids that they’re smart, as opposed to telling them that hard work, a good disposition, or consistent effort was valued at least as much. Many Millennials have grown up in a world where self-esteem trumps actual accomplishment, “trigger warnings,” must accompany their forays into the real world, and being offended is to be avoided at all costs.

It doesn’t seem to have worked out. A growing body of research indicates that the self-esteem movement has hurt kids more than help them. A review of over 150 praise studies by Reed College and Stanford scholars determined that highly praised students become risk-averse and lack perceived autonomy.  No surprise, then, that we now have the “Snowflake Generation:” Young adults so easily offended that they demand “safe zones” at college campuses where they are protected from words and ideas they don’t like. These people are genuinely distressed by ideas that run at odds with their worldview. Rather than embrace a different point of view, they insist that history be rewritten to eliminate the bad guys, and that life come at them with warning bells to ensure a stress-free future.

The fact that some Millennials have became this way is rooted in how their parents raised them, coupled with society’s tolerance of their hypersensitivity. Some parents have gone to ludicrous lengths to eliminate all risk and disappointment from their children’s lives, and worse, they’ve done it to spare themselves the unpleasantness of dealing with their children’s rejection, disappointment, or failure – some of the basic “food groups” of just being alive.

The end result is a group of individuals who lack the resiliency children learn in a competitive environment such as junior showmanship. Early on, juniors learn about winning and losing, team work, effort, competition, and sooner or later, the importance of balance. They must take criticism from strangers, fellow competitors, friends, and parents. They don’t always win, and learn that life isn’t always fair. In time, they’ll learn about good breeding practices where they’ll inevitably encounter words like, “bitch,” semen,” “penis,” and other steamy biological words, and they’ll be able to talk about breeding without blushing or giggling foolishly. Contrast this with Harvard law students who in 2014 asked professors not to teach rape law, or even use the word “violate” because it might distress the students. Don’t we all want an attorney who can’t say the actual word of a crime committed against us without falling apart?

The world of Junior Showmanship isn’t perfect, or at times, even pretty: Children can encounter stage parents (both their own, and that of the competition), snarky competitors, biased judges, ugly comments, spectator scrutiny, and any manner of things that can, and do go wrong. There is room for criticism: Some juniors compete with a finished champion that could show itself and thereby miss the point of what junior showmanship is supposed to be about, but guess what? The show ring is a lot like real life, and few of us emerge out of it unscathed. Some of us have advantages from the start, some of us don’t. The more “reality” that youngsters encounter in the somewhat protected environment of a show ring, the more resilient they’ll be in a big bad world that comes without safety net.

In 1999, the junior handler in my life entered a show ring with her dog and lined up next to kids who’d been her regular competition for the previous few years. For a few of them, it was the first show they’d entered since a shooting at the school they attended, Columbine High School. Their world that day had been a very, very bad place. Some of these kids “bended” in the weeks that followed, but not one broke, and the group hug that occurred in a familiar place surrounded by instant therapy dogs had become their safe zone.

In adversity, a “Snowflake” will be most apt to run and hide, but I’d lay odds that a junior handler will say, “Bring it.” I’ll put my future in the hands of that junior over the melt-on-contact sensibilities of a “Snowflake” any day.

This piece first appeared in Dogs in Review, September 2016

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen September 15, 2016 at 6:16 pm

Bravo! Very well said! Susi-for an interesting read along this line of thought, read “When Did White Trash Become the New Normal?”


Susi September 15, 2016 at 6:19 pm

Thanks, Jen, and I look forward to reading the article you’ve suggested! Looking for it now.


Jackie September 15, 2016 at 6:42 pm

You have a grave misunderstanding of what trigger warnings and safe spaces actually are. And this is basically just another “Why millennials suck” rant.

The older generation either cannot or will not adjust to the younger and somehow that is our fault.


I am one of those so called “Millennials” that people keep referring to as if we’re still like, four years old. The oldest of us are in our 30s. The way the older people of my generation function differs vastly from the younger, and you cannot lump all of us together as one, even though we share a generation.

The days of children being seen and not heard are over. That is an adjustment the elders need to make, not us. Kids challenge what they are told these days (and they should). That’s not being ungrateful, disrespectful, or being a “know it all” (lord I hate that moniker). It’s learning how to think critically and not just accept everything you’ve been told, which is, quite frankly, desperately needed in our country right now.

The one thing I agree with in this article is that we definitely need more support for our juniors (college tuition level money, televising juniors finals). But it stops there.

You want more juniors? Don’t treat the millennials (who are the current/newest pro handlers of the sport)as some sort of toxic mold you don’t know how to deal with.


Lindsay September 15, 2016 at 6:44 pm

I 100% agree with Jackie. We can talk about how to make the sport more accessible for juniors but I honestly hate how it always becomes some sort of generational battleground. I’m a “millennial” too and I think it’s a worthy goal to teach kids to be nicer and kinder and more understanding rather than make them “suck it up” because they need to be “tough.” I know I want more than that for my daughter


Susi September 15, 2016 at 7:51 pm

Lindsay, teaching our young to be respectful and kind, no matter what generation, is never trendy, but it’s a disservice to them to suggest that the world bows to their discomfort.


Susi September 15, 2016 at 7:48 pm

As the parent of two millennials, Jackie, I can’t agree with all your points, and I certainly object to being characterized as ranting against all millennials. Is the older generation somewhat culpable for not building better bridges with those who came after them? Sure, but not entirely. “Oldsters” who have millennials in their lives and who’ve kept up with technology and trends do a better job of understanding what has shaped your generation, but the traffic goes both ways, and I see this every time I work at two prominent dog shows in a field (social media) usually regarded as the purview of millennials: I’m dismissed as soon as my younger colleagues set eyes on me, and it’s not a pleasant feeling given that I was the one who established the social media presence for one televised dog show in the first place.

As for millennials challenging what they’re told, oh Jackie, this is nothing new, nor did your generation invent it. The entire 1960s and 70s was ALL about challenging authority and society’s norms by using critical thinking, and anyone who was in higher education at the time, as I was, find your remark a little naive. Furthermore, critical thinking is not engendered by “safe zones,” no matter how one spins it. When really lived, life is hard. It can suck and it can be unfair. If you had said this to MY parents, they wold tell you to get over it.

In the world of high fashion, it’s often said that styles change, but taste remains. I’ll conclude by paraphrasing te phrase. Times do change, but at the end of the day, qualities that are integral to being human prevail.


Jackie September 15, 2016 at 7:51 pm

“If you had said this to MY parents, they wold tell you to get over it”

AKA, invalidated my feelings as if they weren’t worth anything.

But thanks for talking down to me. It’s been fun. Can’t imagine why there aren’t kids lining up in droves to learn how to show dogs.


Susi September 15, 2016 at 8:20 pm

But Jackie, you’re also validating MY point which is the hypersensitivity of some of our young “Talking down? Invalidating your FEELINGS? ” What about the intellectual side of the debate? I have no doubt that with a robust back-and-forth in person, we could come to a meeting of minds, I’m just sorry we have to leave this dialogue in print.


Jackie September 15, 2016 at 8:24 pm

Pointing out that feelings matter isn’t hypersensitivity, Susi. Acknowledging feelings is basic human decency instead of chucking them out the window like they mean nothing.

“COPE WITHOUT BEING TAUGHT!” is what it amounts to.



Jackie September 15, 2016 at 8:43 pm

“Times do change, but at the end of the day, qualities that are integral to being human prevail.”

True. And there are more qualities in the world than “hard ass.” Softness, sensitivity, straightforwardness without cruelty…all valuable.

Some kids will cry with a super blunt mentor. Doesn’t mean they’re wrong for the sport, just means the wrong mentor. And part of being a mentor is being able to adjust to the student you have in front of you.

I don’t train all of my dogs the same way, I don’t work with all juniors the same way.

I have one child that will apologize *constantly* for *everything* she does. I’ve had old timers tell me that I need to tell her to stop it and toughen her up.

You know what happens? She shuts down. She’s incredibly anxious. I am also incredibly anxious. I get it. Yelling at her to be tougher will solve nothing. It will drive her away, though.

I won’t pretend it’s not frustrating or annoying sometimes. But then I remember that I was also that person. Still *am* that person to some extent. I apologize less, but still say sorry for things that aren’t my fault.

“What are you apologizing for?”
“I don’t know.”

What would telling me to get over it do for me other than cause me to potentially quit *and* harbor resentment?

It would be a waste for me to risk throwing away a brilliant, attentive, eager, hardworking child because I think she should be tougher.

I don’t sugar coat, but I also don’t use that as an excuse to be mean. Too many people *do*.

“I’m not being mean! I’m telling it like it is!”

Dude, you were cruel. Doesn’t matter if what you said wasn’t considered cruel “back then”. We aren’t in “back then”. We’re in 2016.



Susi September 15, 2016 at 8:58 pm

Jackie, I don’t know where to start. Somewhere along the line, you interpreted my post as a mandate to “go forth and be a jerk.” Somewhere along the line, you got angry for reasons I suspect have little to do with what I wrote.

Do you imagine that your generation invented sensitivity? Artists, poets, philosophers, and composers have exited throughout time. Along side them, mathematicians, logicians, engineers and the like have also shared their oxygen. History reveals which era favored one or the other, but at the end of the day, it’s about balance, and that the “snowflakes” of this generation don’t have it. When feelings trump thought, or visa versa, it never ends well. I stand by what I’ve written, but I appreciate your thoughts.

Jackie September 15, 2016 at 9:34 pm

And I stand by what I’ve written.

This is just the same old same old, reiterated for the umpteenth time. Clearly nothing is going to change. I will enjoy the sport while we still have it.


Larkin Vonalt September 15, 2016 at 9:50 pm

Aw come on, Susi, give Jackie a gold star for being such a good sport. Clearly, she’s a very, very special person.


Kari September 16, 2016 at 7:09 am

Im in my mid 30s. I grew up in 4-H and then on to AKC juniors. Later on I became a 4-H leader and taught training classes and mentored many young 4-Hers and junior handlers. The children I had before me were not hard working, open minded, driven. They were lazy, handed everything in life, absorbed in a fantasy we call the internet. They were there due to their parents thinking it would be good for Sean or Mikayla to learn to train their family dog, get to know other kids outside of school, or the parents had been in 4-H in the past. I had 3 types of parents. The helicopter parent that would prevent their child from ever failing by training the dog for the child, completing activities for the disinterested child, playing defense between their beloved “china doll” and the world. The absent parent whom either didnt stay for an event (drop off and left) or sat in the car waiting till things were done. No involvement at all, not interested in helping in any way. The last parent was the involved to support but willing to let their child fall to learn life skills. The last one was becoming more and more rare while I participated and later lead our large 4-H group. The helicopter parent was common. If any experienced volunteer advised the helicopter parent to sit this out, let your child work through it, nope, didnt happen. That parent would pack up and leave, because “your being mean and uncaring.” How we treat children at a young age is important, but over sheltering them is very harmful to them. It becomes paranoia. Coping skills are needed throughout a child’s life, as well as adulthood. Without it, you create adults that can not deal with change, can not work through something mentally or physically challenging. They collapse into a heap on the ground and want someone else to solve their problem or make it the way it has always been. You do realize that the human race is the most adaptable species on Earth, right? We learned to work with what we have, curious enough to venture into unknown territory, and test what works and what does not. This article is spot on as far as how parenting styles have changed and not always for the better. It has not suggested that children all need to be treated the same exact way. Every person is an individual and its fine to treat them as such. But at the end of the day, there is nothing “special” about each of us. We are all human.


Susi September 16, 2016 at 9:04 am

I appreciate your comment, Kari, particularly coming from your first hand experience with kids, their parents, and their dogs. I can’t disagree with a word you’ve written (but I suspect Larkin’s comment was written tongue-in-cheek). I suppose time will tell if the delicate sensibilities of some folks serves them well in an increasingly tough world….


bestuvall September 17, 2016 at 10:20 pm

LOL Jackie.. really?/ part of being a mentor is making sure they do not end up like you


Jackie September 16, 2016 at 10:23 am

Well, I’ve been in this sport for sixteen years, in spite of people like Larkin. I work hard not to treat people with the same condescension they just regarded me with.

Those experiences didn’t make me stronger, just more committed to not treating people in the manner I was. And I won’t apologize for that.


Lindsay September 16, 2016 at 10:27 am

I can personally attest that Jackie is a wonderful person. I own one of the dogs she’s bred and aside from the dog being beautiful, sound, great-tempered and a lovely representation of her breed, Jackie has helped me break into a highly competitive breed that I never imagined I’d be able to show owner-handler.


Susi September 16, 2016 at 11:15 am

Now we’re trotting out folks who can vouch for our character? Look, ladies, clearly something in this article touched a nerve for you, or perhaps you identified with something I wrote, and you didn’t like what it looked like on paper, I don’t know. I don’t doubt that you are both lovely, caring and sensitive people, but that doesn’t make you right or my opinion wrong. I would say that there is room for both views in this world, only Jackie, I suspect you would say this is condescending. The more you protest, however, the more you validate my opinion. I think we’ve both said what we mean to say.


bestuvall September 17, 2016 at 10:26 pm

Ruh Roh Susi you have run into a “all about me” person shall we all trot out our people we have brought into the breeds breeds we love? or give in to the “wahh wwahh” Jackie?
I know where my “peeps ” would stand


Jackie September 16, 2016 at 2:48 pm

Uh, I didn’t “trot out” anybody.

Make all the assumptions you like, though. That’s clearly working out.


Rita Rice September 17, 2016 at 5:39 am

Wow….just wow. As far as I’m concerned, THAT rant was a GREAT reason for children to avoid our sport. YOU and that attitude, are a major reason why they’re leaving. I’m pretty insulted for the children, and I don’t have a child!

Perhaps instead of ranting against them, you should spend more time understanding the children of this generation, who are under more stress than ever, and bombarded with negative images and attitudes from the moment of their birth.

Children have more opportunities than ever, both IRL (in real life) and in the virtual world. The only point you make with which I agree is that, if we want them, we need to make junior showmanship an intrinsic part of our sport, and not shove it off to the side as an “add-on.


Susi September 17, 2016 at 10:30 am

So you’re fine with creating safe zones for college kids to keep them from being offended by what life can throw at them? To borrow a phrase, “Wow. Just wow.”


bestuvall September 17, 2016 at 10:28 pm

whaaa whaa “more stress than ever from the moment of their birth’ really? really? lol that is to quote them “super funny”


Sheridan Dulaney September 18, 2016 at 2:59 pm

I’m thinking that some of these snowflakes could have used some quality time with the late, great Pat Summitt. They would have moved over to the “Bring it” zone pretty quickly, I imagine. Running home, feeling sorry for yourself, and/or hiding was not an option. One of her great tenets was akin to “correct yourself so that I don’t have to”. Seems like personal responsibility has left the building with some of these people. Having said that, the two or three juniors that I have had dealings with have been outstanding.


Susi September 18, 2016 at 3:12 pm

What I’ve found interesting, Sheridan, is that I never wrote that ALL of the younger generation are snowflakes, and yet some opposing views have come from individuals who evidently thought I was describing THEM, and took umbrage. The expression, “If the shoe fits,” comes to mind….


Jay September 21, 2016 at 12:54 pm

Millenials have grown up in a world “where self esteem trumps actual accomplishment.” And yet you are writing about competition in dog conformation, where dogs are not required to have any accomplishments, and don’t even need to be house-broken….. And self-esteem accrues to the owners whose dogs are judged “prettiest” on that day.
Oh sweet irony.


Susi September 21, 2016 at 1:08 pm

Jay, a whole lot of people out there may take umbrage at your observation that in conformation, dogs aren’t required to have any accomplishments. In fact, a great many show dogs not only have titles at both ends of their names, but are their owners’ service dogs, and also serve as therapy dogs, reading dogs, etc. when they’re not in a show ring. Pretty broad statement there, Jay. I can only conclude, too, that you don’t know much about dog shows or you would know that a conformation show isn’t about the “prettiest” dog of the day. Soundness, structure, type, and movement have a little something to do about evaluating a dog. That said, I’m finding responses to this opinion piece increasingly fascinating and almost wish I could pull birth certificates on every one who leaves a comment. I’m detecting a trend.


Jay September 25, 2016 at 6:12 pm

Susi, I never said that there weren’t absolutely wonderful dogs out there with performance championships — sometimes multiple performance championships, dogs with great structure or temperament — who also have a conformation championship. I said AKC conformation classes don’t require any of this and don’t disqualify dogs who foul the ring. Yes or No? those dogs are “entitled” to a trophy by virtue of their genetic conformity to a 36-24-36 ideal, much as you say millenials are entitled to a trophy by virtue of their demographic.
And presumably if forced you would agree that some millenials do work hard and achieve and earn their keep.


Roslyn Miller September 27, 2016 at 2:17 pm

I just want to say I like the article, It’s a perspective but I agree with it and I’m a millennial at 23 years old, only been in the sport for 5 years but it’s not targeting anyone, it is just clearly saying, as I am understanding that we need to encourage our Junior’s in more than one way and be more proactive in our encouragement. It’s nice to talk about how you would like more junior’s in your club but what are you doing to make it happen? Are you actively involved in your community, is their a college nearby you could work a scholarship program with? I do think people get to easily offended by things, does it seem more prevalent in the younger generation? Yes, and I don’t think anyone is suggesting the whole solution is “suck it up, buttercup” but that at the end of the day, your responsible for how you feel, if you want to be deeply offended by something a person wrote on line, your still making that decision, and if you choose to find something that makes you smile with joy, your still responsible as well. The point is, we can do more to encourage our juniors with action and making sure we are presenting the best showmanship and manners out there, leading to a good example. Thank you for a well written article, Susi


Susi October 4, 2016 at 10:30 am

Apologies for a late response, Roslyn – interestingly, I was visiting members of a very different generation, people in their mid 90s! I’m heartened by your note because you immediately grasped that I wasn’t speaking of all millennials (one source defines millennials as those born between 1982 and 2004), and found it interesting that some who read the article seemingly missed that part. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and for “getting it.”


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