Zachary Newton often can be found traveling in a specially outfitted, 45-foot motor home with his wife, an assistant and as many as 26 dogs.
A professional handler based out of Indiana, Newton travels across the country for breeder shows, where he works with other peoples’ dogs as well as his own.
He’s worked with thousands of dogs over the course of his career, and sayid he always is on the lookout for the next dog to show.
“That’s what’s fun for me is — finding that perfect dog,” he said.
Newton was one of dozens of handlers who attended the Danville Kennel Club Breeder Show on Sunday at the Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex, where more than 400 dogs comprised of 100-plus different breeds competed.
Some would fit comfortably in one hand. Others were as big as an average adult. When it comes to fur, some had spots and streaks while others had pure, single-colored hair. Some had long fur that seemed to cover their entire faces or bodies, and others had short hair or no hair at all. Some sported bows and braids and others had designated areas shaved off.
Waiting for their turn in the ring, some sat on tables and let humans arrange their hair properly, while others ran through the ring with their handler. And some just sat in the arms of their handler.
These contests are set up like a bracket. First, dogs compete against their own breed. Then the best dogs from each breed move into a group with similar breeds. There are seven different groups: toy, sporting, hound, non-sporting, working, herding and terrier.
Judges then choose the best dog from each group, which compete against each other for the designation of best in the show. To oversee the best in the show, a judge must have certifications from the American Kennel Association to judge all the breeds, since each dog is held to the standards of their breed.
Judges physically examine each canine before watching them run around the ring with their owner or handler. Both the dog’s conformation to the standards of its breed and showmanship abilities are critical.
“Judges are comparing what’s on the ground compared to the written standard,” said Deb Straw, of Appomattox, who has been in the dog-showing business for 40 years.
There also are different classifications for age groups and owner handled versus professionally handled.
To participate in these contests, the dog must be purebred and registered with the American Kennel Association. People traveled from surrounding states to attend the two-day event.
“There are very few people at this show who actually live in the Danville area,” said Carrole Dickens, president of the Danville Kennel Club.
Dickens said the more experienced and better dogs attend the longer shows where they generally can achieve more recognition. Many people travel from show to show in their RVs and motor homes.
“There’s shows every weekend,” said Raymond Clinton, who attends shows with Straw to help get the dogs ready for the ring.
Clinton said handlers get paid, but most owners don’t get any money for showing their dogs.
“[Showing] helps them promote their breed that they show,” he said.
Some owners choose to show their own dogs, and for those who don’t, there are a variety of options. Some choose to hire a handler just for the show, while others may have their dog train or even live with a handler on a regular basis.
“Some of the most popular breeds you almost can’t win without a professional handler,” Dickens said.
Originally from Danville, Leigh Updike Braun came back home for the weekend dog show with her Maltese. Now living in Charleston, South Carolina, Braun only has been showing since May, but she already has traveled to competitions as far away as Phoenix and next will head to Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Braun said she feels a maternal instinct and always just wants her dog to enjoy itself.
“It’s fun to have her at the end of my lead,” she said.
Braun had no intention of showing her dog when she originally bought it from a breeder. However, once she started she realized she really enjoys showing her dog.
“I’m taking it one show at a time,” she said when asked about potentially getting a second dog to show.
Actually showing the dogs is the easy part, said Braun and Newton. Newton described training regimens, diets and grooming as some of the daily activities required to keep the dog in showing shape.
“It’s a full-time job just to have them ready to go in the ring for five minutes,” he said.
Newton can step in and handle dogs of any type. Whether it be a Maltese or a Mastiff, Newton knows the ring etiquette and expectations judges will have.
At this weekend’s show, Newton only showed his Maltese, Joey, who recently received the rank of No. 1 Maltese in the country. Detailed grooming is extremely important, especially for breeds like Maltese, Newton said.
“If you lose a chunk [of hair] here, you lose your job,” he said, while showing Joey’s coat that has taken three years to fully grow in.