RINCON — Two years ago, Guyton’s Juliana Palmer stumbled into a sport that requires elegance and gracefulness. Her success in it is no accident.
Palmer, 14, spends countless hours preparing animals for American Kennel Club (AKC) dog shows. Her Kerry Blue Terriers and French Bulldogs have already earned multiple designations as “Best in Show.”
Juliana knew virtually nothing about dog handling when she was initially persuaded to give it a try while attending a show in Savannah. She proved to be a natural after attending a seminar, claiming Reserve Best in Show honors on the same day that she was introduced to the sport.
“I was more excited than nervous,” she remembered. “I had always known that I wanted to do something with dogs and to find out that there was a sport that I could be involved in with them was so exciting.”
A eager-to-please French Bulldog named Remix was crucial to her early success. They combined to win Best in Breed in their initial sanctioned show together.
“He’s such a laid-back dog,” Juliana said. “He’s kind of up for anything.”
The dog Juliana currently shows is a Kerry Blue Terrier named Mystique. She typically enters junior handler (ages 9-18) and breed competitions.
“I’ve done really well with her,” Juliana said.
The dynamic duo has earned five class wins and is qualified for the AKC National Championship in Orlando, Fla., in December. She is three Best Junior victories away from qualifying for the next Westminster Dog Show in February 2020.
“If she wins nationals for junior handler in her first year, the AKC will send her to Crufts in England,” said Draper Palmer, Juliana’s proud father. “They pay for the whole thing so we hope she wins because that would be a very cool deal.”
Juliana competes at least once a month, often against some of the top handlers in the country. Her circuit mostly includes stops in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina.
In a couple of weeks, the nation’s No. 2-ranked Kerry Blue Terrier handler will enter a Texas show and one in Ohio is on her itinerary.
Because of travel costs, Juliana’s parents don’t get to attend all her competitions.
“We are really going to have to do some fundraising,” her father said.
Juliana is always accompanied by her mentor, Tuesday Hanna. Hanna, a professional handler of all breeds and owner of Low Country Kennels, instructs her protege on how to groom her entries, especially Kerry Blue Terriers, which sport thick, curly blue hair.
“You can pull a Frenchie out of a crate, throw it on the floor, put a lead on it and go out in the ring,” Mr. Palmer said. “(With a Kerry Blue Terrier), she has to wash it almost a week before she show to start getting the coat ready. Then you have bathe it the morning of the show to get its coat packed in and you have to groom it.
“There is a lot of scissors work and it puts a lot more emphasis on the work she is doing as a junior. There is no grooming involved with a Frenchie.”
The incessant grooming requires the use of a blow dryer on the dog’s beard and legs.
“Mystique does not like her face blow dried at all,” Juliana said. “She argues when I do her beard and nails.”
The attention to detail doesn’t stop when Juliana enters the ring. Her job as a handler is to ensure that her dog is presented to the judge in the most flattering manner possible. She makes sure her animal's ears and tail are perked up as she leads it.
Juliana also presents herself in a way designed to please the judge. She wears a variety of business outfits and keeps her hair tied in a neat bun.
Before immersing herself in dog handling, Juliana, set to start high school at South Effingham in August, enjoyed horseback riding. She had to give that up but still finds time for soccer, band and FFA.
Juliana has evolved into an ambassador for dog handling. Like Hanna, she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others. She hopes to help build interest for dog shows in the area.
“You make friends with the people you show with,” she said.
Juliana intends to continue as a dog handler for the foreseeable future. She and Mystique won Best in Show in their two most recent events.
Juliana has never shown a dog of her favorite breed, the Malinois.
“I love their attitude. They are so smart,” she said.
Juliana, however, has an affinity for terriers, too, and is content to continue showing them and French Bulldogs. Her family owns South Peach Frenchies.
“We treat all our dogs like pets,” she said.
Juliana also dabbles in Fast CAT (Coursing Ability Test) with a French Bulldog named Starla. Fast CAT is a timed 100-yard chase of a lure called a “bunny.”
Starla is the best Fast CAT Frenchie in the country, having completed the chase in under 10 seconds at a speed of 22.62 mph.
“It doesn’t take much training for that,” Juliana’s father said. “They either have a prey drive or they don’t. Starla has a very strong prey drive.”
Juliana’s career goal is to become a specialist in the field of veterinary science.
“I want to go to (the University of) North Carolina,” she said. “I know they are really, really good with animal reproduction.”
For more information about dog handling or how to help Juliana attend AKA events, email southpeachfrenchies@gmail.
I had always known that I wanted to do something with dogs and to find out that there was a sport that I could be involved in with them was so exciting.Juliana Palmer, AKC junior dog handler