Missouri public defender Matt Palmer, with his Golden Retriever, on his way to winning Best of Breed at Westminster Kennel Club with his first show dog.
The 2019 Secret to Success award goes to owner-handler Matt Palmer winning Best of Breed at Westminster Kennel Club with his first show dog. Host Laura Reeves gets up close and personal with everyone’s newest hero.
A Missouri State Public Defender, Palmer discovered Golden Retrievers at the Kennel Club of Philadelphia dog show he visited on a whim. He took AKC’s advice on how to find a reputable breeder, winding up with “great mentors, breeders who took a chance on selling a nice puppy to someone they didn’t know.”
“It’s remarkable the number of people who have “scaffolded me” in this sport,” Palmer said. “People have been amazing. Everyone I’ve come across has helped me in one way or another.”
Palmer said his secret to success came when he was working his dog at a handling class. An instructor noticed the dog tensing up when he was hand-stacked. After working through the problem, Palmer said he realized he “was worried about my jacket riding up and basically mooning everyone.” He bought a pair of suspenders on Amazon and his confidence skyrocketed. The team’s success took off from that point.
“I now own 10 pairs of suspenders and have a couple pair of extras in my tack box,” Palmer said.
“I wanted the purple and gold”
Palmer said his high school sports experiences left him “competitive to a fault,” and gave him the drive to achieve more. While he competed in the National Owner Handled Series his first year or so, glad to have extra time in the ring to practice, “I wanted purple and gold, not the maroon ribbon,” he opined.
Missouri to Manhattan
Deciding to attend Westminster Kennel Club was sort of a lark for Palmer. “I thought it would be cool to go see it. I had absolutely no expectation of significant success,” he said.
As his case load was starting to build up at work, Palmer had planned not to go. After visiting with professional handler friends at the dog show, he finally decided to go ahead and make the trip with them.
Professionals, not adversaries
“I think there is a divide between owner-handler and professional handler when there doesn’t need to be one,” Palmer noted. “I tell people I’m happy to help, hold dogs, etc if they could give me a few minutes of feedback.
“Any chance to learn from professionals is invaluable. I try to absorb things that are second nature, reflexive to them.
“My (professional handler) friend came early to meet me at the Piers so he could be ringside for the breed. He could have been in bed, but instead he grabs a bucket and a towel and stands ringside and cheers me on.”
The most terrifying moment of the Garden experience, Palmer said, is his dog wouldn’t potty. “He grew up in Kansas and Missouri, he’d never seen all that concrete. He wouldn’t poop! I was mortified he was going to touch that green carpet and decide it was a perfect place to poop,” Palmer said wryly.
“Dog shows have been a great social outlet,” Palmer said. “We’ll keep going. It’s so cool, everywhere you go, you see somebody you met somewhere else…
“Sometimes we win, most the time we don’t. But when we do, it’s pretty fun.”
For more inspiring stories of owner-handlers check out some of these past episodes: