A Young Kiwi On His Way To Crufts

We're backing Jacob Ashwell at Crufts this March, representing New Zealand in Junior Dog Handling. We caught up with him for a chat about his journey, the sport, and the big event!

We're proudly supporting young Jacob Ashwell on his journey to Crufts this March, where he will represent New Zealand in the Junior Dog Handling competition. This is not something you hear about every day, so we interviewed Jacob to understand more about his story, the unique sport of dog handling, and, of course, the prestigious Crufts event.

Tell us about Dog Handler Competitions?

Well, the Junior Dog Handling competition is a whole different ball game compared to the regular dog shows. It's not about the dog's looks; it's about your handling skills. There are qualifying heats all over New Zealand, and to make it to the national finals, you've got to snag a win in one of those heats. The catch? In the second round, you handle a 'swap dog' you've never met before. You've got a quick two-minute huddle with the swap dog's human to learn the ropes, and then it's showtime. Handling different breeds means you've got to be on your toes, watching, listening, and adapting.

What attracted you to this sport?

Dog shows are practically in my DNA. My grandparents kicked off the tradition in '79 with Norwegian Elkhounds, and I've been strutting my stuff since I was five. I started off with the Young Kennel Club and worked my way up. It's not just a sport - it's a family affair and a chance to see the whole of New Zealand with a bunch of four-legged pals.

How long have you been involved in the dog show scene?

I entered my first rodeo at the tender age of five in 2011, showing off our family Dalmatian. From there, I moved up the ranks, handling everything from Bullmastiffs to Standard Poodles. It's been a wild ride, and I've loved every minute of it.

What's your favourite part about this sport?

Where do I start? Hanging out with family, travelling the length and breadth of New Zealand, and making mates along the way. Plus, being outdoors, busy, and surrounded by furry friends. And let's not forget the joy of helping others – like showing for owners who can't be in the ring but still want to be part of the action.

What are the key challenges you've faced?

Oh, it's not all glitter and rainbows. In the competitive world of dog shows, there's pressure, politics, and a dash of gossip. Dealing with it means staying true to yourself, embracing wins and losses, and sidestepping the drama. Solid life advice, really.

Do you have a favourite breed you enjoy working with?

I've had the pleasure of handling English Pointers, thanks to the legendary Chesterhope kennel. My first encounter was in 2017, and in 2021, I got my very own English Pointer, Cruz.

What are you looking forward to the most at Crufts in March?

Crufts is like the Oscars of dog shows, so being part of it is a big deal. But above all, it's about waving the Kiwi flag and representing the New Zealand dog showing scene.

Any advice for young handlers keen on diving into this sport?

Just dive in! If you love pedigree dogs and the great outdoors, give it a shot. Have a blast with your dogs, your family, and your mates. Like the shampoo ad says, "it won't happen overnight, but it will happen!" It's all about time, practice, and a bit of doggy magic.