Honor, Integrity and Sportsmanship, The cornerstone of the Westminster Dog Show with Christa Cook Doh Handler

By:Elizabeth Lefelstein

Have you ever wondered what it would be be like to be a professional dog handler in the famous, Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show? Here on the Social Dog Podcast, we have too.

Which is why, we are so excited to announce we’ve brought on a very special guest, Christa Cook for this week’s episode. For those who missed this year’s sporting events, she is the handler who took Colton the Schipperke to first place victory in this year’s highly competitive, Non-Sporting Group category. (A first for the breed!) 

Throughout the episode, Carter and Cook dig into dog handling topics such as Cook’s unique experience at this year’s show, her lifestyle as a dog handler, and offers advice to others that aspire toward a similar profession.

Can’t find your earphones? No problem. Read on for the full recap!

Background on the Westminster Dog Show

Many of the dedicated listeners of the Social Dog Podcast are familiar with this famous, annual sporting event that took place last month. Even then, we want to share few quick facts to help flex what an honor it is for Cook to have made it to this level in her career:

  • The show is the second oldest continuous sporting event in the U.S., behind the Kentucky Derby.
  • The show has taken place in New York City’s beautiful Madison Square Garden for 143 years.
  • The show brings in 2,800 dogs across the country to compete within the seven groups, as well as the overall “Best in Show” title.
    Cook’s Talks About Her experience at this years showCook and her four-legged teammate, Colton the Schipperke, won first place in the highly competitive “Non-Sporting Group” category one the first day of the two day show. But on the following day, shocked spectators when he was was ruled ineligible for the title, “Best in Show”. As it turns out, it was a matter of conflict of interest – as the top judge, Peter Green, is a longtime partner has co-owned dogs with one of Colton’s co-owners. “Any other judge, any other day, any other event, there wouldn’t be this disconnect.” Cook explains. “This [type of conflict] happens at dog shows frequently, because of the close connections between so many people.”

    The unique factor here, is that it’s never happened at such a prestigious event – which is where we at the Social Dog Podcast give her so much credit for her good sportsmanship and passion for the sport.

    (We later discovered via Instagram that Colton won multiple dog shows proceeding the Westminster Dog Show, which makes us feel better. You can follow him at   smalldark_andhandsome!)

Cook Talks about her life a professional dog handler

Cook had a humble beginning to her career, making $5 an hour as a dog walker in her hometown at age 17. And now, 17 years later at a peak her career, she handles a stable full of dogs. Last year alone, she handled dogs in 190 competitions, all over the country. Though the traveling can be difficult at times, Cook loves what she does.

Another surprising challenge of the job is the outfits. Cook explains that the dog show world is still old school – meaning a suit and tie for men and a skirt and jacket for women. “My non-doggie friends always [teasingly] ask me where I get my suits, and complain about my shoes”, she says with a laugh. “There’s very few designer options.”

“It takes the right kind of person to really love this,” Cook explains, “You don’t do this for the money or the prestige”. (Or the outfits, from the sound of things.)

Tips for those just getting started:

  • Go to dog shows to meet other handlers and learn everything you can!
  • Offer your time, that’s how all the handlers she knows have gotten their start!
  • The AKC site is a good resource, as well as Canine Chronicle events tab

Here’s a link to the podcast if you found your ear buds!



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