The AKC/Royal Canin ‘Field of Dreams’ – Or, If You Build It… They Will Come!

Featured photo: Stephaniellen Photography (C) AKC
Toy group at the 22nd AKC National Championship


The 2022 event marked the 22nd year of/for the AKC National Championship. Not many events with only 21 years under their belt can claim that they have achieved “Rock Star” status alongside other events with close to—and over—a 100-year head start. The Dog Sport proudly and deservedly boasts events with tradition and panache at the most highly respected level. I have personally attended most all of these elite events, many of which have morphed into various iterations of their original charter. This usually has meant smart moves to keep current with the ever-changing times.

Over time, dog shows have faced obstacles from urban sprawl, and that development forced large properties to be sold off or developed for other uses. Aging demographics, where the “old guard” was not backed up by enough new enthusiasts, and a host of other influences are chipping away at those clubs and have had an impact for various reasons. Thankfully, it has been very beneficial to see Dog Clubs and the AKC develop a synergy with the major dog food corporations which have a vested interest in the advancement of the purebred dog and their community.

After a few special events (like The AKC Centennial Show c. 1984) offered in celebration of an AKC milestone, the concept of a “National Championship” was developed. Ron Menaker presented his proposal to the AKC Delegates and found their support to move forward with the plan for an annual event. After a few “growing pains,” the AKC National Championship found its “home” in Orlando, Florida, with three long-established kennel clubs (Brevard, Space Coast, and Central Florida Kennel Clubs) as opening events, combined with a day of Specialties and Group Shows that precede the ANC.

The City of Orlando welcomes our fancy every December, and these events fill over a million square feet of the world-class Orange County Convention Center. We max-out almost every hotel within a three-mile radius, and many visitors take extra time to see other attractions in the area. Everyone wins! We have our “Doggie Convention” and the city benefits from our presence on an otherwise quiet week.

Conformation events may be the main attractions, but the week hosts so many other dog-centric events: Obedience, Agility, Rally, FastCAT, Diving Dogs, Judges Educational Seminars, more than 100 Vendors, and a host of social events.

The All-Breed Clubs oversee all of their club responsibilities. There are details that require time-sensitive rearranging over the week and each club has a super team of members that gets it all done. I think the key to the success of being able to offer these events is having now established a consistent format with only minor changes needed each year. (COVID issues notwithstanding.) The exhibitors know the layout, and they have figured out which hall is best to enter and from which parking lot. They even know where their favorite vendor is located, etc., year after year.

Overseeing all of this is my task. As the “Nuts and Bolts Guy,” I track everyone’s wants and needs. The AKC Staff runs like a well-oiled machine at this point. Literally every department has input, and each head of those areas fine-tunes their space and, somehow, it always falls in place. Royal Canin duplicates the same tasking on their side as well.

The exhibitors support the events because they know they will always have rings of a size that can accommodate “A Big-Moving Breed.” I have always lamented that some great events couldn’t support every large breed/entry with rings large enough for them too shine. Many have suggested that the show could be larger if we didn’t have such spacious rings… but those words fall on these deaf ears. This past year broke all records with a combined entry of over 9,000 entries in the main competitions. The Conformation entry for the ANC topped 5,300 entries.

There was a commitment made to offer the fancy an event that highlighted their efforts in as many ways as possible, and for the ANC that means special recognition to the Bred-by-Exhibitor competitors, the NOHS exhibitors, and with the creation of the AKC Royal Canin Puppy and Junior Stakes—the recent up-and-coming young stock. We built it… they came… and I don’t think anyone is going to be very happy if we change the good thing that we have going in any major way.

This year, “The Ronald H. Menaker Arena” was revealed to honor Ron’s vision and commitment to the event and purebred dogs. He would be so proud of all the dogs that passed under the set piece as they entered the main ring.

We look forward to seeing everyone next year on December 16 and 17, 2023.

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