Lenny Brown and his wife Shelby Roberts are professional dog handlers with clients all over the globe. Here Brown talks about German Shepherds, Westminster, and life as a new parent.
How long have you and Shelby been handling dogs and how did you get started on your career path?
Both of us have been doing it our whole lives. Shelby’s parents were professional handlers so she was born into it. I fell into it. I was 12. My dad had dogs and used a handler to show dogs. His handler had children so I would go along with them sometimes. He showed German Shepherds.
How many clients do you have? Are they local or across the county?
Right now we have over 50 clients all around the world. I’m always on the go. It’s funny because Monday is my easy day. I start getting busy Wednesday, Thursday, and shows are on the weekend.
How did you end up in Jasper?
I moved to Atlanta in 2001 and I was apprenticing under another handler in Carrollton. Shelby lived in Raleigh and came to Carrollton. I wanted to build my own house and had a lot of friends in Ellijay and Canton and decided to move to Jasper because it’s beautiful. I wanted to be out just a shade, but Ellijay was too far.
Did you go through any special training to become dog handlers?
There is no formal schooling, but you need to apprentice.
Do you handle all breeds? What is your favorite breed?
Yes, we will handle all dogs, but my favorite is the German Shepherd. I’m currently showing the number one German Shepherd in country - Champion Woodsides Megabucks. They’re loyal and are great companions. They are good with kids and protect the house and have great instincts. Megabucks is great to show, and then when we come home turns into the family pet.
What makes a good show dog handler?
The grooming and physical conditioning is very important. The show is the easy part. I’m in charge of the dog and the proper conditioning and meals, and taking them to show. Some owners have other trainers and I just show the dog, and others are retired and do the physical conditioning and meet me at the show.
How do you manage such a busy travel schedule with a new baby?
We have a full-time nanny. If it’s over six hours away she doesn’t come. This weekend she’ll go with us and our daughter will come. Actually, Shelby and I see each other a lot…(laughing) we may see each other too much.
There are a lot of jokes about handlers’ wardrobe choices. How do you and Shelby dress for shows?
Suit and tie all the way, five days a week for me. I think the fashion comes with the women more. The reason we dress up is because it is a privilege to show the dogs and it’s a Sunday Best kind of thing. Shelby wears a women’s suit, but in the summer you can get away with nice summer outfits and still look professional. Sometimes owner-handlers wear whatever because they don’t have to impress.
As a handler you need to know about the anatomy of all breeds because that is a big part of how they are judged, right?
100 percent you need to know. When grooming a lot can be covered with hair, and I’ve learned that you can sculpt a lot into something better. You need to present the dog to the best of its ability physically.
What are the most difficult breeds to handle and why?
I would say the hardest is St. Bernard. They are very stubborn. Taking care of them you have to be on your toes because they can get very hot very quick.
What do you two do on your down time? Do you have any hobbies?
Now we spend as much time with Ava, with our daughter. We do kid stuff, like go to the park. As for hobbies, no, we don’t. It’s sad, but we don’t.
What has been the highlight of your respective careers?
I’ve won Shepherd Nationals five times with German Shepherds, and at Westminster I won Herding [group] with a Border Collie in 2005. That was the biggest, but my heart was with first shepherd national. Shelby won breed at Westminster with a parti-color Cocker Spaniel.
What are your professional goals?
To make each dog the best that I can and make all my clients happy. It’s never all about the win. If you’re good to the dogs they’re good to you, and it’s worked. Everything I’ve built in my life is all because of the dogs. They feed my family. They show their hearts out.