SMITHFIELD - Fifteen-year-old Tyler Wells of Smithfield is "dog-gone' excited about what's ahead for him this month.
The son of Shawna Wells and JR Lerby is heading to Orlando, Fla., with his dog Trace, an AKC registered Siberian Husky, to compete for the top Junior Showmanship title at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship on Dec. 15-16.
The duo - Trace is AKC Grand Champion Diamondt's Comin' On Strong - will be competing not only for best Junior Handler honors but also in the conformation division for the coveted Best of Breed.
Wells is one of 166 junior handlers around the country between the ages of 9 and 18 who will contend for top honors and scholarship dollars at the exclusive, invitation-only event.
He is one of only six junior handlers qualifying from Ohio.
Four scholarships will be awarded to junior handlers during the national championship with the first-place winner receiving $2,000, and $1,500, $1,200 and $1,000 going to second-, third- and fourth-place finishers, respectively.
"I went with my parents to Westminster, and I will be traveling with professional handlers to go to Florida, so it will be very different. They are both exciting and special in their own way," Wells said of his thoughts as the competition nears.
There are 35 Siberian Huskies entered, according to Wells, who attends the Virtual Learning Academy through Buckeye Local High School and lists his interests as hunting and fishing, sledding his dogs and, of course, showing dogs.
Trace was bred by his parents at their kennel - Diamond T Siberians - in Smithfield.
"There are 14,000 entries in all of the different events, and this is the largest entry to date," said Wells, who en route to Florida will be competing along the way.
"I will be stopping in North Carolina to show on the way down to Florida. It will help me and Trace stay in practice for the show," Wells said.
The junior handler competition is judged on the handler's ability to present the dog with skill and confidence. Eligibility to enter is based on the juniors' accomplishments in school and previous dog shows.
Juniors entering are required to:
Be at least age 9 and under 18 years old at the time of the wins.
Have five wins in an Open Class with competition present.
Have a grade point average of at least 3.0, or equivalent, for the two semesters completed immediately prior to the closing of entries.
The AKC's junior handler events are aimed at recognizing and supporting the special relationship between young people and dogs, encouraging responsible dog ownership and promoting dog show participation for future generations, according to Wells' mother.
"The AKC/Eukanuba National Championship is a truly unique event among the world of dogs. It is the largest prize money dog show in the world, with cash and prizes awarded totaling more than $225,000," Wells' mother explained.
"Tyler also will be competing against the adults for the Best of Breed prize with Trace. This duo won an Award of Merit at the Westminster Kennel Club show in 2011 and are honored to be invited to compete in this year's AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. This year, Tyler showed Trace and completed his Grand Championship award, won several points on the family's other Siberian Huskies and completed his dog Aden's AKC championship. Tyler is a junior member of the Fort Steuben Kennel Association and the Siberian Husky Club of Greater Cleveland. His dogs work in harness for sledding and participate in educational events," she said.
Wells explained how he got interested in showing dogs.
"My mom and dad have shown dogs for as long as I can remember. They were breeding Siberian Huskies before I was born," Wells said.
"I have shown several dogs over the years, but Trace has been my main dog for junior showmanship competition. He was born here at my house, and I finished his AKC championship on him myself and have won several working group placements," Wells said.
"Just this year, I handled Trace to several wins to complete his AKC Grand Championship title that earned him an invitation to this year's Eukanuba National Championship. I also handled several of our dogs to wins, earning them championship points. I handled our dog Aden, (AKC Champion Diamondt's Sharp Dressed Man) to his championship this year at the Siberian Husky Club of Indiana's specialty show. Gigi (Diamondt's The Sound of Madness) is our puppy that I am currently showing, and I have put all the championship points on her all by myself. She only needs a couple of more wins to finish her championship. I also handle all breeds of dogs and have had some pretty nice group wins," he said.
With Trace, Wells has had several Best Junior wins, the two most recent ones at Columbus in November and an Award of Merit at Westminster in addition to several Best of Breed wins and several group wins.
Showing dogs is competitive and fun, according to Wells.
"We groom our dogs, do a lot of training, and exercise our dogs so that they are in good condition for the ring. For conformation, the judge looks for the dog that most closely meets the AKC standard for that breed. The AKC standard is a guideline for how the structure, coat, temperament and movement of the dog should be. In Junior Showmanship, the judge is looking for the person who is handling their dog the best on that day," he explained.
"As for how a show runs, there is a lot of work behind the scenes before show day. We are part of the Fort Steuben Kennel Association that puts on a show in Canfield, Ohio, in August and another show in Aliquippa, Pa., in October. Judges are hired several months in advance, and people enter their dogs about two weeks before the show happens. Then, the show secretary organizes everything and creates a judging program that tells you what time and how many dogs are showing and in what ring they will be showing in. The judge and a ring steward (judge's assistant) are in the ring and call your number. When you go in the ring, you position or stack your dog so the judge can examine its bone structure, teeth, coat, etc. You then move your dog around the ring so that the judge can determine how it moves. All dogs in AKC have a standard or written guideline for the judge to go by," Wells said.
When asked how he and Trace prepare for competitions, Wells said, "We practice a lot at Gold Star Kennel in Cadiz, and my parents teach conformation handling classes there. I brush and bath him a lot. We also have to feed them a good quality diet.
Wells likes competing.
"I like the teamwork with my dog. I also like the friends that we meet, and I like traveling to different areas. I am proud of our breeding program and the dogs that it has produced," said Wells, who has enjoyed meeting people from all over the world.
Competing can bring some unexpected pleasures as well.
"The first time I went to Westminster, I was on one of their news shows in the morning with my dog, and then a person for Martha Stewart's Home Living magazine saw Trace and did a photo shoot. He was one of the dogs in the magazine. That was a lot of fun," he said.
Asked what he would like to get across to readers about competing, Wells said, "It is a family sport where professionals and owner handlers can compete against each other. It is a fun and bonding experience with your dog. For the most part, everyone is supportive of each other."
Wells' post-high school plans include studying business in college but he wants to be a professional handler and run his own business some day.
The Orlando show will air on the ABC Television Network on Feb. 2.
Local residents can check their local listings then for air times.
(Kiaski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)