Meet the Handlers’ Assistants: Sierra Ward

Meet Sierra Ward, 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?


Sierra Ward

  1. I am 22 years old, grew up in central Oklahoma and came from a family where we had pet rescue dogs. My family has never been interested in “dog beauty pageants,” as they call them, but they have always been supportive of me and will still come to shows to watch and cheer for me and my dogs.
  2. When I was 10, we moved to a new house. My neighbor Steve Miller had Giant Schnauzers that were show dogs. I thought the dogs were so neat and that it was an awesome sport, and I wanted to go to shows and learn more about it. I was in love with it after I went to a show and knew it was something I wanted to be a part of, so he found me my first show dog, a Pointer, and I have been showing ever since.
  3. I have worked for several handlers, starting with Doug and Mandy Carlson, Brian Livingston and Scott Sommer. I am currently kind of a floater. I just help whoever needs help and asks me, but I have currently been helping Kari Smith and Adam Peterson and Madeline Aroney.
  4. I have spent a few weeks staying with handlers if we’re going into a long or busy circuit, but I usually live elsewhere during the week.
  5. I love how everyone has something new and different to teach me, whether it’s about a certain breed standard or grooming. I have learned so much from every handler I have worked for, and it has helped me a lot with my own dogs. Every handler I have worked for does things differently, and I have enjoyed taking what I have learned from them and making it something that works for me as well.
  6. I have a lot of great memories from showing dogs, but I would have to say my favorite was getting my first Group placement and Group win on my Pointer Sara. In my opinion there is nothing better than a breeder-judge who recognizes the teamwork and love a dog and handler share. I always thought that she was the best, and I will always have the ribbon that tells me someone else agreed.
  7. My greatest disappointment was that I never qualified for Westminster. Because I did not come from a dog show family, it was hard for me to get away to go to many shows. I only got to go to the ones that were close by in Oklahoma that Steve and I traveled to, and I was never able to miss school for shows.
  8. I think the sportsmanship could be improved a lot. I will always remember being told that you pay for the judge’s opinion, and that’s exactly what you get. If you don’t like which dog they point at, congratulate the winner anyway, then walk to your setup and don’t show to them again. I feel like a lot of people think their dog is perfect, but no dog is, and I would really like to see people begin to accept this. I was guilty of the same thing with my first Pointer. I thought she was the most beautiful dog in the world. Now on my new puppy I criticize everything, and I know it makes my breeder, Lee Ann Stagg, crazy. She cannot wait to say, “I told you so.” I definitely think people in the sport should try to be more open to critiques of their dogs because it might help them to choose a breeding where they do get that beautiful dog that everyone works toward.
  9. That it’s always fun. There is so much work (and almost no sleep) that goes into being a professional handler. They are always either getting dogs in coat to show or trying to keep them in coat and condition. You get to travel a lot, but you don’t really get to enjoy all the places you go because you are always concerned about caring for your dogs, and by the time the dogs have been bathed, fed and walked, you’re ready to go to sleep.
  10. I know I want to continue showing as a hobby and take on some client dogs, have a boarding kennel and breed dogs at some point, but I don’t know if I want to do it full-time. I’m afraid if I make it a job, I won’t enjoy it anymore. Right now I have the freedom to go when I choose, and I absolutely love it. I want to stick with that for now and leave it open and see what happens.


– 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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