A Merry Little Dog Show

Pictured above: The Holiday Season is all about visiting with good friends, sharing good times, and enjoying a little “chow” together. Photo by Dan Sayers

‘Tis the Season for Faithful Friends (Two- and Four-Legged)

Dog shows in December are different. The fairgrounds, exposition halls and convention centers that welcome purebred dogs this time of year seem to be transformed by the magic of the Holiday Season. The festive atmosphere that abounds at year’s-end seems to encourage everyone to have a merry little—or not so little—dog show.

End-of-year shows can feel like both a race to the finish line and a reason to linger a little while longer with faithful friends, both two- and four-legged. This month, exhibitors get a chance to earn those final points and also “sit awhile” at shows all across the country. In the Northeast, exhibitors gather in West Springfield, Massachusetts, where the Eastern Dog Club shares its weekend with the Worcester County and Champlain Valley Kennel Clubs. Fanciers in the Middle Atlantic head to West Friendship, Maryland, for the Chesapeake KC of Maryland and the Northeastern Maryland Kennel Club shows, and then to Oaks, Pennsylvania, the following weekend for shows hosted by the South Jersey, Huntingdon Valley and Valley Forge Kennel Clubs. Perry, Georgia, welcomes Southeast exhibitors at the Savannah, Kennesaw and Oconee River Kennel Club shows, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Kennel Club opens its doors in Gulfport, Mississippi. Texans attend the Conroe Kennel Club shows in the club’s namesake city, and the Trinity Valley and Greater Collin Kennel Club shows in Dallas a week later. Exhibitors in the Southwest come together in Yuma, Arizona, for the Yuma and Imperial Valley Kennel Club shows. And in Southern California, fanciers meet in Costa Mesa for the Shoreline Dog Fanciers Association of Orange County shows, whereas Northern Californians head to Stockton for the Golden Valley and San Joaquin Kennel Club shows. The Greater Clark County Kennel Club in Ridgefield, Washington, is the gathering place for exhibitors in the Pacific Northwest. While in the Midwest, shows are hosted in East Lansing, Michigan, by the Ingham County Kennel Club, and in Belleville and Rosemont, Illinois, by the Edwardsville Illinois and Skokie Valley Kennel
Clubs respectively.

The last show weekend of the year attracts exhibitors nationwide to three different regions of the country. In Central Minnesota, exhibitors gather at the St. Cloud River’s Edge Convention Center for the Granite City Kennel Club of St. Cloud’s back-to-back shows. Billed as “The Star of Bethlehem Cluster,” the Lehigh Valley and Delaware Water Gap Kennel Club shows draw exhibitors from near and far to the Agri-Plex in Allentown, Pennsylvania. But for exhibitors looking for an escape from Old Man Winter, nothing beats the excitement of the year’s final marathon that takes place in Florida. The “Orlando Cluster” welcomes fanciers to the Orange County Convention Center where the Space Coast KC of Palm Bay, and the Brevard KC and Central Florida KC host events along with several limited-breed shows and specialties. “Orlando” closes out the year with the selection of Best in Show at the AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin. This year’s Best in Show winner will join an exclusive list of purebreds that have become recognizable to many outside the sport of dogs, including the Kerry Blue “Mick,” the Norfolk “Coco,” the Pointer “Holly,” the Sealyham “Charmin,” the Standard Poodle “London,” the Wire Fox “Sky,” the German Shepherd “Rumor,” the Puli “Preston,” and last year’s winning Whippet “Whiskey.”

Since its inaugural event in 2001, the AKC National Championship has become one of the most highly anticipated shows in the world. America’s largest conformation show is part of a week-long series of competitions that includes the AKC Agility Invitational, the AKC Obedience Classic, the National Owner-Handled Series Finals, the Best Bred-By Exhibitor competition, the AKC Royal Canin National All-Breed Puppy Stakes, as well as Junior competitions in each sport. The popular AKC Meet the Breeds and NADD/AKC Dock Diving National Championship also takes place, as does the award ceremonies for Breeder of the Year and the AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence that honors “five hard-working canines who significantly improved the lives of their owners and communities.” More than 5,000 canine competitors and their human companions share the holidays with the AKC in the bountiful Florida sunshine. For the rest of the dog fancy, many of the scheduled events may be viewed via live streaming on AKC.TV.

No matter where dog people gather this December to celebrate the sport of purebred dogs, the spirit of the season is sure to be acknowledged both in and out of the rings. Some stewards (and a few judges) will greet exhibitors in their “ugliest” seasonal sweaters, and many of the exhibitors will also be dressed in the colors of the season. In fact, more than a few gentlemen handlers will be seen sporting those garish Christmas suits with flamboyant prints that feature candy canes, reindeer and snowmen. Equally eye-catching are the vendors’ booths, many of which seem transformed by colorful lights and holiday-themed wares. Show photographers get into the act too, creating winter wonderlands for the shows’ luckiest exhibitors. Not to be outdone, some of the handlers even manage to transform their set-ups. A few even set a (grooming) table with a bounty of cakes, pies and candies made from grandma’s old recipes. (Only the day’s Best in Show winner attracts more attention from friend and foe alike.) However, to truly get everyone into the right holiday mood, the sounds of the season must be part of the experience. After all, what would Christmastime be without the unforgettable voices of Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Mariah Carey playing as the soundtrack? Perhaps the best song lyrics that capture the magic of being at a dog show during the holidays are those from a song written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine and immortalized in 1944 by the legendary
Judy Garland:

“Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore. Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more. Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow. Hang a shining star upon the highest bough, and Have Yourself A Merry Little
[Dog Show] now.”
  • Dan Sayers covers the sport of dogs with a particular interest in purebred dog history and breed preservation. His articles feature notable icons of the past as well as individuals who work tirelessly to promote purebred dogs today. A self-taught artist, Dan’s work is represented in collections worldwide and his illustrations appear in the award-winning Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology by Ed and Pat Gilbert. Since 1981, Dan has been an exhibitor of several Sporting and Hound breeds. He’s bred Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix and judged Sweepstakes at the parent club’s National Specialty twice. Dan is a member of the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America and the Morris and Essex Kennel Club.

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