Meet the Handlers’ Assistants: Olivia Hodgkinson

Meet Olivia Hodgkinson, a dog handler's assistant, and learn about her background in life and dogs.

Our sport is rich in noble traditions. Among the strongest is that of hard-working assistants apprenticing for successful professional handlers in the fancy. Anyone with stars in their eyes about a life of glamour is quickly disabused of those notions when they learn that the dogs always come first for top handlers and that partying is never a job perk. Many handlers’ assistants aspire to stay in the sport and strike out on their own one day. Others are happy to remain exhibitors while pursuing other career paths. We reached out to handlers’ assistants to get better acquainted. — Allan Reznik

  1. Briefly tell us about your background, including your age, where you grew up, if you came from a doggy family and if you have siblings who also show dogs.
  2. If you didn’t come from a family that showed dogs, where did your interest begin?
  3. What handlers have you worked for in the past, and for whom are you working now?
  4. Is this a live-in position, or do you live elsewhere during the week?
  5. What are some of the best things about being a handler’s assistant?
  6. What has been the most memorable moment in your dog-showing career?
  7. What was the greatest disappointment?
  8. How could the sport be improved?
  9. What’s the biggest misconception about professional handlers?
  10. Is your goal to go out on your own and become a full-time professional handler one day?


Olivia Hodgkinson

Assistant for Amy Rutherford

  1. I am 24 and was born and raised in Washago, Ontario, Canada. My parents breed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels under the ‘Carver’ prefix. My older sister, Alex, and I would attend a few shows a month. I was hooked on dog shows the minute I saw the Standard Poodle Dawin High Falutin, ‘Lutin,’ handled by Allison Foley.
  2. I worked for Allison Foley for as long as I can remember. I started by just following her around. Once she realized I wasn’t going to stop, she gave me small tasks. I would clean crates and fill water buckets before I graduated to holding class Poodles while they were trimmed. I helped Colin Brownlee for about a year while I finished school and was preparing to move across the country to be a live-in assistant for Allison. I have been working for Amy Rutherford for almost 2 years now.
  3. I live at Amy’s and work at her kennel during the week.
  4. Some of the best things about working for different handlers have been: being able to work as part of a team and to really appreciate how important teamwork is and just how rewarding it can be. On top of that I have been part of a team that piloted several different dogs to record-breaking heights. To realize that goals like this are only attained when everyone involved rises to the task is something that will stay with me forever. Being able to travel everywhere in North America, from frozen ice rinks in northern Canada to Beverly Hills, is something not everyone has done. Finally, getting experience with many different breeds has provided wonderful life lessons.
  5. The most memorable moment in my career as an assistant was when Allison Foley won the Non- Sporting Group at a large show in Ontario, Canada, with Standard Poodle Vetset Kate Winsit, ‘Kate,’ and minutes before Best in Show, she handed me the armband. I went on to win BIS under Denys Jansen (Bogotá), which put Kate in the No. 1 Non-Sporting position. To have the person I admire most in dogs cheer ringside while I showed her main special meant the world to me.
  6. I don’t have a particular moment that I find disappointing, but I find it disappointing that people can get so wrapped up in a campaign year that they jeopardize lifelong friendships.
  7. I have only been in this sport a minute compared to many, but I do think that the sport could be improved by perhaps having fewer shows that were still held over several days so that breeders and exhibitors really had the chance to evaluate breeding stock themselves and go look at young puppies and older stud dogs that are at the shows. Instead we are continually at four-day clusters where we show in the breed, run to the Group and maybe remember to look up the parents of that promising puppy on our 10-hour overnight drive to the next four-day cluster…
  8. I have found that people think professional handlers are unapproachable. The handlers that I have been lucky enough to learn from have always been more than happy to help or talk with fellow exhibitors. Usually this means that exhibitors have to wait until after Best in Show or during the Groups, but the professional handlers are still willing to help!
  9. I do plan on becoming a professional handler. I see myself always showing Poodles but not limiting myself to just that.


– More Handlers’ Assistants –  


From the 2014 Annual issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine.

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Dogs · Lifestyle