For the past two years, Great Falls has welcomed dogs of various breeds and ages for the All Breed Dog Show. While the dogs are obviously the stars of the show, there's another role that's worthy of the spotlight: the dog handler.
The dogs may be best in show, but where would they be without their handler - the right-hand man or woman responsible for keeping the dog's scores and spirits high?
Dog owners often pay handlers like Dinah Baggenstos to manage all the dog show details.
“Our job is to try to present the dogs to the best of our ability, to make them enjoy what they're doing out there, and to try to finish championships on the dogs,” Baggenstos said.
Baggenstos handles everything the dog may need to have a successful show.
“What you see in the ring is the finished product. What you don't see is the getting up at 5 o’ clock, getting everybody fed, getting them out, getting exercise time with them and that one on one time. It just makes such a difference," she explained.
But what matters most is that the dogs are happy.
“We try to work with the dogs so that they enjoy what they're doing. if the dogs are happy they're going to perform very well for you. If they're not happy then they'll drop their tail and then the attitude is not there,“ Baggenstos said.
That's the one criteria required of all good handlers: “You have to genuinely love what you do with the dogs.”
To show a dog, you must show it love. "The dogs are great judges of character. If they feel that you don't like them, they're not gonna perform for you," she noted.
The one-on-one time handlers spend with the dogs forges a bond like no other.
Baggenstos said, "They became again just one of our dogs. and did I cry a little when they went home? Uh, yeah I did. Because you get so attached to them. You put so much into them because you demand so much as a show dog that you have a very, very close relationship with them.
It takes a special kind of person to handle dogs with such care. “I just am a doggie person I guess.”
The Big Sky Fall Cluster All Breed Dog Show continues on Tuesday at Montana ExpoPark from 8 am to 6 pm. Admission is free for all attendees.