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Dog show pro judges, hands out advice to young handlers at Rock County 4-H Fair

By Elliot Hughes
August 1, 2015

JANESVILLE—Robert Burns can be a dog show judge, instructor, handler and trivia whiz all at once if you want him to be.

Burns presided over the youth dog show at the Rock County 4-H Fair on Saturday. He handed out ribbons and crowned champions, but he also was there to lend his 40 years of experience as a dog show professional to the young handlers.

“They're brand-new, they need work,” Burns said of the exhibitors. “That's where the instruction came in.”

Saturday's competition drew 14 participants ranging from third-graders to recent high school graduates. Around 80 people came to watch.

Abbey Miller, 13, of Evansville and her 4-year-old Australian cattle dog, Halley, received the top prize in the Best Open Showman category.

Among a group of lesser experienced handlers, Cacilia Hazeltine, 11, of Janesville, and her chocolate Labrador retriever, Ruby, took the crown.

Saturday's show focused on each exhibitor's handling of his or her dog, rather than on the dog's appearance or behavior.

Miller said Burns was tough as a judge, but “not the worst.” Hazeltine said she picked up a grooming tip from Burns.

“I didn't know that chocolate Labradors had to have an otter tail,” she said.

Burns, a retired corporate investigator who lives in Kohler, spent about 30 years handling dogs for their owners in showmanship competitions before beginning his 10-plus years of judging

Burns said he's judged various American Kennel Club shows in the past. The job has taken him to various fairs in Wisconsin and as far away as Europe.

He wasn't afraid to stop Saturday's show to deliver some advice (one-on-one or to the entire crowd), to offer history lessons on a particular breed or to  borrow a leash as part of a demonstration.

“Don't be afraid to use the whole floor,” Burns said to the crowd as he walked around the small arena's edges. “Don't cut corners or anything.

“Move out, get speed. Dogs always look better at gait. You're not going for a dog walk in the neighborhood.”