The person who takes a dog into the ring for judging is called the handler. Often the owner or breeder of the dog is also the handler, however, that is not always the case. Many owners/handlers are beautiful to watch, and many are quite competent to exhibit their own dogs. Others just aren't skilled, poised or driven to compete with their dogs. Some dogs react with interest to someone other than their owners, or dogs who "won't show" may look better with another handler.
Handling your own dog is one of the most enjoyable pastimes, however, professional handlers provide options for people unable or unwilling to perform the tasks themselves. Presenting a dog to show its best qualities is an art. Keeping calm in a stressful situation demands that the dog's handler avoid the temptation to panic. Rather than risk the dog's chances of doing well in a show, many owners hire professionals to handle their dogs.
Professional handlers may be specialized in a dog breed or breeds, or they may be qualified, from years of experience, to handle all breeds. Depending on the breed, various ring protocols apply. Toys are moved very differently from hounds, walking or running according to the necessary pace to show off the best features of each breed. Sporting breeds are presented with emphasis drawn to various qualities, such as neck length and head shape. Terriers are encouraged to demonstrate tenacity, and "sparring" is part of many terrier judging efforts (the judge calls two terriers together out of the line up to encourage a face-to-face aggressive, lively stance).
Professional handlers also may be responsible for dog grooming, and they must know what is standard for the breeds they show. Handlers may also participate in their dog's training, management of advertising and conditioning. The expertise of a professional handler may enable a dog to achieve its potential.
Professional handlers board many of their clients' dogs at their homes. That way, the handler can work with the dog throughout the week. Clients who live out of the handler's geographic area may require that the dog be kept at the handler's facilities, but local dog owners may prefer to keep their dogs in their own homes and deliver them to the shows. Either arrangement is acceptable to most handlers, but arrangements for dog conditioning must be agreed upon by both parties.
Professional handlers often exhibit every weekend. Their commitment to dog shows enables them to commit to an intense schedule that many dog owners cannot match. The professional handler can complement an owner's and breeder's work in producing fine specimens deserving of attention in the show ring.
Fees for professional handlers vary, but you should expect to pay $50 to $100 per dog, per class for each show. Bonuses may apply if the dog wins at various levels. Of course other services (such as grooming) and travel expenses are appropriate and should be budgeted.