Professional dog handler wins awards at Columbia Kennel Club Dog Show

Sunday, March 13, 2011 | 6:44 p.m. CDT; updated 3:43 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Cindy McDonald is licked by a friend's dog backstage during the Columbia Kennel Club Dog Show at the Boone County Fairgrounds. "This is a small community," McDonald said. "When a friend needs some help, you help them."

COLUMBIA – Barry Elliott bred his first litter of puppies with the help of his mother when he was 5 years old.

 Elliott has been working with dogs since he was a child living in Kansas City. He has always loved dogs and has always been interested in working with them.

“It gets into your blood,” he said.

After spending 20 years in the landscaping business, Elliott decided to become a professional handler when he was 35.  He said he started showing his own dogs, and soon people liked his handling style. This made it possible for him to show other people’s dogs as well. 

Now, the 48-year-old professional dog handler specializes in dogs of different shapes, sizes and breeds. He showed off his multibreed expertise at the Columbia Kennel Club Dog Show.

Folks from all over the U.S. handled 1047 dogs Saturday and Sunday at the more than 50-year-old Columbia Kennel Club Dog Show at the Boone County Fairgrounds. There wasn’t a large cash prize, but handlers valued the prestige gained through winning, said Susan Sczepanski, show chairman of the dog show.

At the show, Elliott received best of breed awards for three of the five dogs he entered. His newfoundland, Odie, Portuguese water dog, Thunder, and border collie, Fury, won the award both days of the show.

Two of the dogs, Odie and Fury, are in the top 20 of their breeds in the nation.

Elliott, who has been coming to the dog show for about 10 years, has been a professional handler for 13 years, showing his own dogs and his client’s dogs.

“I have clients from most of the eastern half of the United States,” he said.

Sczepanski said she runs into Elliott whenever there’s a show in the Midwest. She said he is usually very successful in the dog shows.

“He always seems to be in the ribbons,” she said, referring to the prizes given out to winners.

Elliott’s assistant, Amy Beard, has been involved with dog shows since she was three. She said her mother inspired her interest in dog handling, but Elliott’s grooming and handling techniques influence her as well.

“You don’t see many handlers that take as much pride and passion in their dogs as he does,” she said.

The first dog Elliott showed was an akita named Bre. Her body structure wasn't good enough to compete in a conformation show, where the judges look at physical appearance. However, Elliott entered her in obedience competitions, and she became the number one obedience akita in the nation in 1994.

"She was a wonderful working dog and a fabulous friend," Elliott said.

Elliott has been working with akitas for 20 years, and his favorite show dog was an akita named Sumo. Structurally, he was everything Elliott wanted in an akita, and he showed him for three years.

"He was full of attitude and full of himself," he said.

Elliott said he enjoys the people he gets to work with at dog shows because they come from many different walks of life. He has developed friendships with people he meets while competing.

“The dog show world is like a big family,” he said.

Being a professional handler still requires a lot of work, Elliott said. He travels to many different shows within a 400-mile radius from his home in Springfield, Ill. Sometimes he have to travel through the night without getting to see the towns he visits, he said. 

Sczepanski said this is typical due to the nature of dog shows. There are very few times a year where a dog show isn’t being held somewhere in the United States, she said.

“There are only 2 weekends of the year that there aren’t dog shows,” she said.

Elliott said being a professional handler isn’t really a job to him. He can make a good living playing with dogs.

“It’s a fabulous job,” he said. “Whether you win or lose, the dogs love you.”

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