Photo Courtesy of Starrla Armwood

New Jersey Native Owner/Handler Starrla Armwood Embarks on Unprecedented Path

Sunday morning, New Jersey native Starrla Armwood helped guide her nationally-ranked dog to becoming a grand champion. Before this event, she spent most of her career traveling as an owner-handler around the country to compete in local and national shows. Although Armwood remains to be the youngest handler (22) within the Chinese Sharpei division, she’s also one the youngest handlers within the dog show industry.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the show world consists of Caucasian males and women. Armwood is helping expand the exposure of the sport while also accomplishing monstrous feats.

“It’s with great pride to see my daughter, Starrla Armwood, dreams come to fruition,” Armwood’s mother, Erica Spinner-Armwood explained. “To persevere through the challenges in the sport, training acceptance, and being taken seriously as a young African-American woman in the breed.”

Starrla Armwood

Photo Courtesy of Starrla Armwood

Armwood initially began training in 2020, however she managed to be rewarded by the American Kennel Club as a National Bronze Owner-Handler in 2023. Not to mention, she received an invite to Westminster while also managing to guide “Slider CH P-Lou’s I Feel The Need For Speed” to becoming a grand champion. In a two-year span, Armwood has taken the show world by storm and only looks to continue to break down barriers while on an unprecedented run. 

“Today, we are very grateful for Slider becoming a grand champion,” Armwood’s father, John, explained as he reflects on her journey. “Not to mention, being grateful for the opportunity for Star to show Slider in the Westminster dog show which was a huge accomplishment and we look forward to the heights of the dog world.”

Starrla Armwood

Photo Courtesy of Starrla Armwood

Where Did it All Begin for Starrla Armwood?

In 2019, during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Armwood began finding things that sparked her interest. She always had a love and passion for animals, however after extensive research, she discovered dog handling. Her father, John Armwood Jr., helped guide her and would later lead her to former handlers. Shortly after, Armwood began utilizing these techniques and eventually began training her dogs on her lonesome. 

Initially, Armwood began with a Chinese Sharpei as a pet (Apollo), but as her interest began to grow, she ventured out and accumulated more dogs. Currently, she owns four Sharpies, Apollo, Slider, Gaia and Astrea. At the moment, only one of the dogs is considered a champion, however she plans to champion each of them in the near future.

“In the beginning, the journey was tough showing dogs because Star didn’t have any of her own,” Mr.Armwood stated. “ Eventually, we sought out to get a show quality dog, and many doors were closed due to her Star’s inexperience. Fortunately, we were able to find a great breeder in Patricia Luce.”

“Luce’s been excited about Star’s growth, and she wasn’t disappointed today with Slider becoming a grand champion,” he continues.

Starrla Armwood

Photo Courtesy of Starrla Armwood

Armwood’s Grateful for Her Support System

Although Armwood’s father helped orchestrate and put her ideas in motion, the unsung hero oftentimes is Armwood’s mother, Erica Spinner-Armwood. Currently, Armwood maintains and cares for the four dogs, however she doesn’t do so alone. Often, Armwood’s mother helps assist in walking and feeding these dogs on a daily basis, while also traveling on behalf of her daughter to shows at times. 

Armwood admitted it’s taken a village and would be impossible to accomplish what she’s accomplished on her own and hsa hit the ground running, she’s yet to look back. Despite the lack of experience, Armwood has gained respect amongst her peers within the industry and continues to grow as a handler and competitor. 

“Throughout his journey, seeing Slider blossom to his championship, owner handled bronze, and then into grand championship has been surreal,” Armwood reflected on her journey. “We’ve taken each step together and that’s made it even more special.” 

“Literally, the best dog anyone could ask for and my greatest pride in the ring.”

Throughout Armwood’s tenure, it appears she continues to find immense success in her home state. Ironically, the only event her entire family usually attends in full to see her handle in the show is in New Jersey.  Although she’s found success outside of the state of, much of her winning has taken place in the Garden State. Armwood confessed being able to accomplish what she’s accomplished and having her entire family come out and support her is just an uncanny experience. 

“On the road or at home, each and every win, big or small has been celebrated,” Armwood continued. “If you don’t celebrate your wins, who will?”

“Being that a ton of accomplishments have been won right here in New Jersey, makes the win all the more sweet. There’s nothing like winning in the place it all started.”

Armwood’s Reflection on Her Career

Although Armwood’s tenure hasn’t been very long, that doesn’t mean her journey hasn’t been meaningful. Armwood has found success very early on in her career, which has forced her to remain locked in and often forget about where she began. Most competitors struggle to find time to enjoy their accomplishments, due to the short-term memory that allows them to continue working towards their goals.

Armwood was able to find time and remain in the moment, therefore allowing her to reflect and be grateful for her accomplishments. She explained one of the most meaningful moments was being recognized by her peers despite her age after winning and performing on one of the biggest stages. She remembered there was a time when she couldn’t even purchase a dog because of her lack of experience.

“The most full circle moment of my journey is when both my dog and I have been recognized by breed experts, long-time breeders, respected judges, and long-time handlers,” Armwood said. “When a veteran in the game takes their time to not only acknowledge all the things you’re doing right but also give you pointers to improve;  it sets a fire under your butt to keep going and striving for better.”

Starrla Armwood

Photo Courtesy of Starrla Armwood

One of the most unique aspects of Armwood’s story is that she’s finding success while remaining among the minority. Armwood’s age alone has been reason enough to be ostracized and adding the fact that she’s a young African-American woman amplifies the magnitude. Many minorities never have the opportunity to be exposed to the show world, however she intends to work directly with schools from urban neighborhoods to teach and educate them about the possibilities out there. 

Understanding she is the minority, Armwood often tends to put a lot of pressure on herself to perform at a high level. She feels the need to represent to help diversify the sport, but also to help lead by example and lead the newer generation of talent she can help cultivate. 

“In truth, being a part of a minority group can be nerve-racking,” Armwood stated. “ There’s a limited representation and most of the time you feel out of place, however I’ve never let either of those things stop me from doing what I love. I’ve been forced to learn how to march to the beat of my own drum and hold my head high.”

“The reality is no sport can continue to grow without new and young talent, that said I feel pressure when it comes to inspiring the ‘newbies’ to learn and compete,” she continues. “Also, there’s a sense of pressure to make the breeders, owners, and handlers that came before you proud as well. They’ve paved the way, it’s up to the current regime to continue to push the sport forward.”

Future Aspirations 

Already accomplishing so much in her young career, her hunger has yet to yield and she strives for far more. One of her main goals is winning a breed specialty or winning Best in Show owner. A lifetime goal she wishes to achieve is to become a breeder of merit and produce a lineage of dogs that continue to build upon the legacy she’s creating. 

“The accomplishments I look most forward to achieving are winning a breed specialty with my current dogs or a dog I’ve bred or winning a Best In Show owner handled and becoming a breeder of merit,” Armwood declared.