Junior Showmanship - a Royal Melbourne Show Initiative

Australian ShepherdAustralian Shepherd

The first 'Australian Canine Turnout (Juvenile Handlers' Classes)' was masterminded for the Royal Melbourne Show 1948. After this Melbourne event, recognised Kennel Clubs throughout the world began taking Junior Showmanship events seriously. The concept of allocating points based on horse dressage events appealed to Kennel Club officials, setting the structure for running classes for juniors at formal pure breed dog events. As part of a pioneering experience that also shaped my personal life, I am proud to document this story.

The Royal Melbourne Show 1948

Royal Melbourne Show 1948Royal Melbourne Show 1948

In 1948, Melbourne epitomised the prosperity of the post World War Two economic boom. With unemployment at an all-time low, Melbourne made a bid to host the 1956 Olympic Games for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere! Consequently, 1948 had to have a special Royal Melbourne Show, which included the dog section which used a panel of three outstanding judges.

Australian TerrierAustralian Terrier

This panel included the famous Mr J.W. Marples F.Z.S (Fellow of the Zoological Society) of England. He was the eldest son of the great Mr Theo Marples, whose books are still in great demand today. In 1894, he also founded the English publication 'Our Dogs'. When one considers that people had to travel by ship for months to and from the UK, seldom did Australia enjoy the presence of such celebrities. So Mr J.W. Marples' visit to the Royal Show 1948 was much anticipated.

The First Australian 'Canine Turnout'

Part of this publicity was the first structured Juvenile Handlers' Competition held anywhere in the world. Named the Australian 'Canine Turnout', points were allotted based on the points for the already successful Garryowen (horse dressage) 'Turnout' as follows:

  • 30 points for the conformation, condition, and bloom of the dog
  • 30 points for the appropriate lead and skill of the handler in exhibiting the dog
  • 30 points for the appropriateness in design, cut and harmony of the handler's costume with the dog being exhibited.

There were 4 classes:

  • Boys under 12
  • Girls under 12
  • Boys under 17
  • Girls under 17.

Publicity for this 'special' event bore the name of its first sponsor. 'Manton's Canine Turnout', Manton's was one of several Bourke Street Stores selling up-market clothing at that time. As Mr Marples was regarded as a 'fashion expert', the title 'Turnout' was chosen because the rules included points for the colour, design and appropriateness of the handler's costumes for the breed of dog each child handled.

An Australian Background

Gundog Group, Melbourne c 1948Gundog Group, Melbourne c 1948

In post-war days, a bus collected many of us and transported us, together with our dogs, to and from the Shows. There were no gazebos, tents, or even grooming tables. We all stood or sat around on the grass beside the rings with our dogs. A few of us had a chair and/or maybe a brush and comb. Some of us even had a beach umbrella!

How we all looked forward to the Royal Melbourne Show where the dogs were displayed for two days on open benches! Some dogs travelled to the Royal by train unaccompanied. On arrival at the railway station, stewards collected the dogs, benched them, exercised them and exhibited them. Other exhibitors transported their own dogs to the Royal Show and exhibited them. As all dogs had to be displayed on the benches for two days, stewards exercised many of them, fed them and returned them to their owners the next day by train. Other exhibitors, like me who were not comfortable leaving their dogs overnight, slept 'rough' in the dog Pavilion.

In those days, facilities for dogs at the Royal Melbourne Show consisted of the Cockbill Pavilion for benching, sloping lawns outside the Government Pavilion for judging, and a  small cottage which was used as a Secretary's office.

Dog Exhibitor Certificate Royal Melbourne Show 1934Dog Exhibitor Certificate Royal Melbourne Show 1934

The highlight of these early Royal Melbourne Shows was the Grand Parade which included dogs together with the prize winners of most of the other competing farm animals. The horse events were the most glamorous, especially the Garryowen Turnout, a dressage competition for female riders. The rules for this event, laid down in 1934, awarded points for the conformation of the horse, the saddlery and costume, and the riding ability. In 1948, this set original structure for the first 'Australian Canine Turnout (Juvenile Handlers' Classes).

Junior Showmanship in USA and England

England has always had famous Dog Shows like Crufts. USA also had famous Dog Shows like the Westminster Kennel Club. But for Australia, our largest and most famous Dog Shows were tied to the Royal Agricultural Societies in each State.

Dog Show 1877Dog Show 1877

In USA in the 1920's, it was first proposed to introduce a new generation of fanciers to the sport. In Long Island, New York in 1932, the first Child Handling competition was held at the Westbury Kennel Club Show. Then a competition was held every year and judged by members of the Professional Handlers Association at the Westminster Kennel Club with the winners receiving silver cups and their names recorded. A perusal of these names is quite a revelation as many of these children became the 'who's who' in America's dog world. Although the competition was called 'Junior Showmanship and conducted within the Westminster Kennel Club from 1951, it was not until 1971 that the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognised the virtues of Junior Handler activities, structuring them and granting them official recognition at AKC events[2].

England commenced in 1977 when 'The Junior Handler of The Year' was held at Ascot Racecourse in conjunction with the Richmond Championship Show[3]. By then, the Royal Melbourne Show had been conducting Junior Handler's Classes under specific rules, for almost 30 years!

One of my Exhibit NumbersOne of my Exhibit Numbers


By 1952, over 100 children competed in these Child Handlers Classes[1]. By then, the first successful commercial Australian dog food 'Tucker Box' had commenced manufacture in Australia. The dog food sponsor then gave the competition a name change to the 'Tuckerbox Canine Turnout (Juvenile Handlers' Classes)'. Despite the name change, this competition ran under the original rules from 1948 until 1977. It was this pioneered structured Junior Showmanship competitions that became official events conducted by kennel clubs and other dog-controlling bodies throughout the world!

References and Further Reading

[1] Royal Melbourne Show catalogue 1952 Published by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria 'Tucker Box Canine Turnout' Class H4  - Girls of 12 years and under 17 years of age on 19/9/52

[2] AKC Website https://www.akc.org/sports/conformation/junior-showmanship/junior-history

[3] Felix Cosme - "Junior Handling" by Felix Cosme Pub 1990, 2009  Hereford UK ISBN 978-0-9563324-0-0 Chapter 1 Page 16

Published as "Junior Showmanship - a Melbourne Initiative" by Jane Harvey in Dog News Australia (Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Austral NSW) Issue 10, 2012 Page 68

Also published "Junior Showmanship - a Melbourne Initiative" by Jane Harvey in "Dogs Victoria Magazine" Victorian Canine Association Inc. Cranbourne Vic Vol. 79 Issue 1 January 2013 Pages 18 - 19