Joan Buehler judging the Hound Group at the 2023 show.
Fri, 12/01/2023 - 11:31pm

The Fancy Speaks

The National Dog Show has become the premier show of the year

A few years ago, friends from Texas visited us, their first time in the Northeast. During their stay, we visited the Ocean City, New Jersey, boardwalk one summer evening. After a while, my friend pulled me aside and said that what really struck him was that families were together, and that everyone was smiling.

That memory came back to me when I attended the National Dog Show hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center earlier this month. This is a true benched show. The expo center was mobbed by spectators, watching the rings and meeting the dogs in the grooming area. And you know what? Families were together, and everyone was smiling.

The kennel club makes the event family friendly, with ticket prices that enable most to attend, and one ticket for the whole day. Thousands of people took advantage, enjoying the breed competitions and the meet-and-greet benching, and they filled the stands for the groups.

Combine that with the most popular dog-show TV program, shown on Thanksgiving Day with great ratings, the very strong competition among all the breeds and top judges, and I realized that the National Dog Show has become the premier dog show of the year.

The crowd made the event special. At the rings, they cheered the competitors and even congratulated the dogs leaving the rings without ribbons. In the benching area, waves of families met the dogs, talked with the handlers and owners, petted (adored) the dogs and took photos. Lots of learning went on; when the first question was asked about which breed a dog was, it was almost always followed up with questions about the breed – how were they with kids, do they shed, are they easy to train? All the breeds are here; fans may walk in with a breed preference, but they leave with an appreciation of many more breeds.

The handlers might feel that the spectators added to their already heavy workload, but what I saw was that the crowd amped everyone up a bit. The handlers were at their best and the dogs responded so well to the crowds around the rings. It made everything special.

But it takes more than an engaged crowd to make a truly great dog show.

Dogs are the center of any dog show, and the quality of the dogs defines the level of competition. Entries represented more than 40 U.S. states and three countries, with 199 breeds represented. The top dogs from all over the U.S. and other countries made this a top-tier event.

The National is held over just one day, ending around 7 p.m. This is a fair way to evaluate all the breeds equally and still be over before the final dogs are exhausted. All the BIS dogs experienced the same length of day, keeping them on equal competitive footing. The competition was strong across all classes and the judging panel was impressive.

NBC built a studio inside the expo center, and the group competitions were able to be held in the same building as the other 13 rings. The atmosphere was electric inside, with a large crowd cheering every dog. Since the TV program is edited, the judging wasn’t rushed. NBC’s production values are the best, and the final two-hour TV show is compelling, and it’s easy to watch the high quality of dogs in each group. (For breeds that don’t make it to the final edit, there is an online resource for fans to see their favorite breed competing.)

The National Dog Show is broadcast on Thanksgiving Day, right after the parade. NBC is the largest and most-watched TV network in the U.S., and Thanksgiving Day is when the most families are together, gathered around the TV. What a great way to show off the fancy. The National Dog Show program is heavily promoted by NBC, with high ratings, and reruns are shown over the course of the year on NBC and its many associated channels.

Friends who are not part of the sport but want to follow along with our dogs can easily watch the show. Just about everybody who has a TV has access to NBC.

The show itself is so well run, from the site-control people to the vendors, benching areas, and outside truck and RV areas for the handlers and dogs. This last point is important: In my view the handlers need their trucks and RVs on site – they are professionals who take remarkably good care of the dogs that they are entrusted with; allowing them to be on site for the four days of the event with the tools of their trade is essential.

This show has dozens of vendors, and the best collection of vendors at any dog show — at least of the hundreds of shows that I have attended. Even the vendors were smiling when we talked with them. Something about the environment improved everything.

People can attend and meet the dogs. Many others can see the TV program, which shows off the best of the breeds and the quality of the handling, and experience the excellence that quality breeding delivers. The environment is electric, and the competition is consistently strong.

Over time, things change. While living through seminal changes, one doesn't always recognize it at the time. We may be living through the moment in time that the National Dog Show has earned this distinction, and become the top dog show in America. I hope that the Kennel Club of Philadelphia appreciates how great of an event they have built.

It seems to me that the Kennel Club of Philadelphia has been more about the show and spectators than about promoting the club. That may be why the rosettes and ribbons are so humble. The one wish that I have is that they present larger and more dramatic rosettes and ribbons. When friends visit my house and see the wall of ribbons, they need to pop, consistent with the prestige that earning one at the National Dog Show deserves.

The show has the top dogs in the country, an outstanding judging panel, an excellently run event for the benefit of the dogs, and thousands of people who love the benching and can easily bring their families to experience the event, topped off with the number-one TV network broadcasting the best that dogs can exhibit on the number-one family holiday of the year. This is why the National Dog Show has become the premier event of the year.



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