Backstage at the National Dog Show

Backstage at the National Dog Show: Promoting Purebred Dogs in Pennsylvania

Photos by Dan Sayers. From the December Issue of ShowSight. Click Here To Subscribe. (Above: The William L. Kendrick Memorial Challenge Trophy remains one of the most coveted winners’ cups in the sport of dogs.)

Showing dogs can be a waiting game. For the exhibitor whose dog is awarded Best of Breed or Variety at 9 am, waiting for Group judging to begin can seem agonizingly long. With any luck, the show will have a specialty or supported entry to watch in the meantime. Or maybe a friend will come around looking for an extra pair of hands—or shoulder to cry on. But if a show is particularly small or held in an open field in the hinterlands, there may be little need for an assistant and no real competition worth watching. Time can crawl about as slowly as a whelp full of mama’s milk. So, what’s an exhibitor to do with all the down time? Is there any real benefit to waiting for Groups? Does sticking around help to promote the sport of dogs in any meaningful way? Well, in the backstage benching area at the National Dog Show hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, sitting around was all an exhibitor needed to do to promote his or her favorite breed to the dog-loving public.

(rightThe National Dog Show hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia can leave a positive imprint—or paw print—on exhibitors and  spectators alike.)

One of the very few remaining benched shows held in America, this show and those like it are the best antidote to the weariness experienced by many of today’s show-and-go (show-and-wait?) fanciers. First held in 1879, “Philadelphia” has introduced innumerable local residents to purebred dogs. But today, owing to its Thanksgiving Day broadcast on NBC, the National Dog Show brings the purpose and the pleasure of owning a purebred dog straight into the homes of millions of viewers each year. And though the telecast may be responsible for making the initial introduction, it is the benching area at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks that facilitates the connection. After all, there’s nothing quite like meeting a Bergamasco Sheepdog or a Spinoni Italiano up close and personal.

At this year’s show, many visitors had the chance to meet the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje for the first time. The Sporting Group’s most recent competitor seemed a big draw back at the benches, thanks in large part to the breed’s friendly disposition and its silky white coat with red patches. Of course, the breed’s black-tipped earrings and richly feathered tail make it genuinely hard to resist. Equally difficult to ignore on the benches were the Lagotti Romagnoli and Spanish Water Dogs. With their curly and colorful coats, these two breeds seemed to elicit a caress from passersby almost as often as they encouraged onlookers to query, “Is this a Doodle?” That particular question can get old really quick, but devotees seemed to consider it an opportunity to educate the public on the merits of a purebred vs. a designer dog.

 Below: Visitors to the National Dog Show greeted the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje for the first time this year as a fully-recognized breed.

The benching area at the National Dog Show is not only an ideal venue for promoting breeds both foreign and familiar, it’s also the perfect place to get a message “out there.” Fanciers of the vulnerable Otterhound greeted fellow exhibitors and spectators alike with a banner that read, “Save the Otterhounds. We are endangered.” The urgency of the message was clear and it was strengthened by the living, breathing Otterhound that delighted making acquaintance with every kid that wandered by. Of course, it’s the opportunity to pet and play with a purebred dog that lures families away from the rings and back to the benches. In the informal atmosphere of a benching area, exhibitors can interact freely with spectators without feeling rushed. Questions posed about the needs of a particular breed can be answered in greater detail and with more consideration than is possible through email or even by phone. Breeders can get a “gut” feeling about someone’s suitability for their breed, and potential puppy buyers can decide if a breed’s size, coat and activity level will fit in with 
their lifestyle.

The National Dog Show may be an ideal venue for breeders of purebred dogs to meet potential puppy people and promote breed preservation. But it’s also a great show in which to compete. This year’s Saturday entry included 56 Golden and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, and 45 Siberian Huskies. (ShowSight’s Executive Editor Emeritus, Joe McGinnis, drew an entry of 42 in Junior Showmanship.) With more than 20 million viewers, the show’s two-hour telecast provides unprecedented exposure for the dog sport. Big entries also mean plenty of people to cozy up next to, including many lifelong devotees to the sport such as international judges on an overseas assignment, professional handlers with a precious few moments to spare, master breeders with strongly held opinions, television celebrities with a passion for dogs, and retired figure skaters to provide a little colorful commentary. Retired figure skaters? Sure, why not. The whole point of a benched show is to spend the better part of the day with people who love purebred dogs just as you do. This includes people from all walks of life, and getting to know them a bit better is as good a reason as any to wait around for Groups to start. 

Below: This banner displayed in the benching area sent a clear message to the dog-loving public: ‘Save the Otterhounds. We are endangered.’



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