Indoors vs. Outdoors

Does the Venue Make a Difference?

For most exhibitors, the judging panel plays a great deal in determining which upcoming shows to enter. But what are some of the other issues that play in that decision-making? When deciding on entering a show, do the venue and location factor into your choice?

Venues play a significant role for fans of sports, theatre, concerts, and a variety of things of human interest. One can look back thousands of years to the great coliseum in Rome where gladiators and other events were put on to entertain the citizens of the times. Just recently, the lower levels of the historic structure were made available, allowing visitors to see some of the conditions as well the amazing technology that went into the magnificent structure.

Athletes of the most popular sports have certain stadiums and arenas where they love to perform; sports fans have their favorites too for watching a game. For dog lovers, Madison Square Garden in New York is not only home to the world-famous Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, but it has also been the location for a multitude of other major events such as NBA and NCAA basketball, numerous championships in boxing and other sports, concerts, the circus, and I have no idea on the total number of different events held at the historic arena. The lower inside hallways have numerous photos hanging, depicting many of the great historic events held there through the years.

I imagine that for most Boston fans, historic Fenway Park and the Old Boston Garden hold a special place in their memories for games they may have had the opportunity to attend in their youth or on their journey through life. For a Chicago Cubs fan, it is Wrigley Field. A Cincinnati Reds fan may miss Old Crosley Field. A New Yorker loves Yankee Stadium. The Rose and Cotton Bowl stadiums are rich with history, as is the great Horseshoe Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, home of the Ohio State Buckeyes. For some, it may be those newer structures; Camden Yards in Baltimore, AT&T stadium (Jerry’s World) in Dallas, Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and of course, the Old (8th Wonder of the World) and the New Houston Astrodome.

For moviegoers, and fans of the opera and Broadway plays, all have special places where they enjoy going to experience the joy that is enhanced by watching or participating at their favorite venue.

So how do we as dog show exhibitors, judges, and enthusiasts feel about the various venues we share in our country?

Throughout our history as a sport, numerous changes have always been a part of the equation. When I started in the sport, all shows were one-day events that—with very few exceptions—meant you would pack up and move to the show being held the next day at a different location and venue. Amazingly, almost all shows in those days had entries of 1,000 to 1,500 dogs, and rarely did shows go past 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. (Makes you wonder why it now seems that 6:00 to 8:00 in the evening is the norm, despite lower entries.)

In those days, the majority of shows that were held from spring until late fall took place outdoors at fairgrounds under tents or in various livestock buildings. One of my favorite weekends was the old Ravenna and Chagrin (Western Reserve KC) weekend in Ohio, with huge entries, spacious rings, and the wonderful Sunday show at the Polo Field. In the winter, Western Reserve played host to the Christmas Classic shows, held for years at the downtown convention center, and later, at the Huge IX Center near the airport. These shows were some of the largest in the country with 3,000 or more dogs regularly. More recently, the Palm Springs January shows at the Empire Polo Club, the week of shows at the spacious Orlando Convention Center, and the large shows in Louisville and Houston stand out as shows where the venue can accommodate not only large entries, but also offer large rings and a huge spectator following.

Over the years, as both an exhibitor and a judge, I have experienced a wide variety of venues, both indoors and outdoors. I do believe that a venue can often have a direct or indirect result on the success of various exhibits at the shows. First, the size and layout of the venue dictate the available space for rings, available grooming areas, the width of aisles, parking, vendors, and numerous other things. In my humble opinion, the size of the rings in which we exhibit is too often dictated by the size of the venue.

For those exhibitors of Sporting, Hound, Working, Herding, and a few other, larger breeds, small rings truly hurt the overall performance of many of the dogs. The AKC mandates a minimum of 40′ x 40′ for ring size, and while this is adequate for Toys, Terriers, and most Non-Sporting breeds, it is not sufficient for most other breeds. Add in large classes and it can also be a safety hazard.

In small rings, a well-put-together dog barely takes a few steps before he is cutting corners and running into the dog in front of him. For the handler, this usually means keeping a tight grip on their charge to be able to control him in the limited space. Go watch German Shepherds sometime, in a 40′ x 40′ ring, and tell me how a judge can truly and objectively evaluate the breed.

Small rings hurt the good-moving dogs. Conversely, they can often help those that are straighter in the shoulder and rear angulation as these dogs can look balanced and under control while the dogs needing a larger ring never really get a chance to “move out” at an effortless speed on a loose lead.

As an exhibitor, I love outdoor shows because there are usually large rings, and I love to see dogs in natural sunlight. (Of course, good weather always helps.)

Without considering the judging panel, what are some of the pros and cons of the various types of available venues?

When showing indoors, there is safety from adverse weather conditions; no worry about rain, snow, and storms. And if they have a great heating and cooling system, the building will be comfortable. Most sites also have plenty of electricity, which helps those with certain grooming needs.

Some of the cons: In many buildings, everything is crammed, the rings are usually smaller, the grooming areas jam-packed (or there is an extra charge for reserved grooming space); often the aisles outside the rings are crowded with chairs and spectators, creating an area ripe with opportunities for a dog fight by those not carefully watching their dog; you need to unload and move your vehicle; some are on dirt floor horse arenas in which you breathe in dust and dirt all weekend long; some lack good lighting and proper ventilation; and in the case of cold weather, some lack proper heating for the building. As previously mentioned, some of these buildings are fantastic and provide large rings, good lighting, and all the things that make a show great… but these sites are in the minority.

Outdoor shows also have a range of plusses and minuses. First, almost all have much larger rings, and a more festive and relaxed environment. Most have plenty of parking for RVs and other vehicles, which allows exhibitors to groom at their parking spot with their pop-ups and ex-pens, and a place to tailgate, relax, socialize, and even cookout. Outdoors, the natural lighting is great and many dogs shine under the sun. The outdoor show, however, also has its own set of drawbacks. A lack of proper tenting or cover can be a safety issue, especially in the case of extreme weather—be it heat, rain, wind, and everything in between. Some locales have great level ground, and short well-kept and maintained grass. Others can be a field of weeds and holes or hills that can make a ring unsafe. Tent poles can get in the way, as can an occasional tree sitting in the middle of a ring. If the weather turns bad, rings can become a muddy mess. And if the grass is not cut properly, short-legged breeds may have difficulty looking their best.

There is no doubt that we have many excellent indoor as well as outdoor venues in our country. We also have numerous locations that meet the average needs, and unfortunately, some that are less than ideal.

In today’s world, many clubs are limited as to the facilities that are available to them. However, for many years before the advent of large clusters, these clubs found workable venues in their hometowns to put on good shows (at least twice a year) and share the world of purebred dogs with friends and others in their community. Those small town venues were a nice change of pace, as opposed to today’s shows with certain locations being used on numerous weekends throughout the year, depriving the clubs in small towns the opportunity to keep the show home.

I think any club (as well as the AKC) that hosts a show needs to look closer at our venues to ensure that the size of the rings can handle large breeds and large entries. Can you imagine what would happen if a stadium wasn’t large enough for a regulation area for a football, baseball, basketball, or hockey game? Do you think the leagues, players, and fans, would support or play there?

We need to take a closer look at our venues, and the AKC needs to review the size of ring requirements. Even though a 40′ x 40′ ring meets the minimum standard, are we being fair in our evaluations of the breeds and exhibitors of larger breeds? The safety of everyone in a crowded ring should also be
a consideration.

I admire the hard-working volunteers of every show-giving club. Putting on a show is not an easy undertaking. All clubs have a variety of obstacles to overcome, from working members to financial costs, available facilities, workable dates, and competition from other shows. These people work hard to plan, schedule, and lay out their shows. Keeping all of this in mind, the clubs and the AKC must consider the needs of the exhibitors. They must provide venues that are safe and large enough to satisfy their exhibitors. Smaller venues still need to provide for proper ring sizes even if it means lowering the limit on the size of the entry.

When planning your show, your question should not be how many rings can we fit in this building? Rather, you should ask the question: “Using a combination of various-sized rings, how many good rings can we provide for our exhibitors?” Another possibility might be that your building is not ideal, so is there another site that might work better? (Even though we don’t live in a perfect world, we can adjust to meet the needs of the fancy.)

Making our show sites user-friendly and safe for our exhibitors will keep them coming back for many years. What do
you think?

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  • Walter Sommerfelt of Lenoir City, TN has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs since acquiring his first Old English Sheepdog in 1972. He is a former professional handler as well as a breeder, and exhibitor of breeds in all seven groups, most notably Vizslas, OES, Pointers, Bearded Collies and Weimaraners. Judging since 1985 he is approved for All Sporting, Working, and Herding breeds and groups, Junior Showmanship and Best in Show and has had the honor of judging on four different continents. Mr. Sommerfelt has judged many of the most prestigious shows in the United States including the herding group at the 2014 Westminster Dog Show in New York City where he has judged on three separate occasions. Mr. Sommerfelt was the founder and chairman for the St. Jude Showcase of Dogs from 1993 until 2009, a unique event showcasing the world of purebred dogs. This special event was the largest collection of various dog events in one location, featuring an AKC all Breed Dog Show, AKC Obedience and Rally Trials, AKC Agility trials, (prior to AKC adding agility NADAC trials ) One of the largest Fly ball tournaments in the U.S.A., Herding and go to ground demonstrations, A main stage featuring performances by Canines from Television and the Movies, Freestyle, Demos by drug and various therapy dogs, A full room of booths for meet the breeds, over 50 AKC judges seminars annually, Lure coursing, A fun Zone for Children, and other dog related fun activities for the general public and their dogs. Over the years the event not only raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the world-renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, but also raised awareness of the many activities for people with their dogs as well establishing a voice for dog people in the Memphis area with regard to legislation. Many aspects of today’s AKC Royal Canin show can be traced back to the St. Jude event. Along with Carol his wife of 36 years they have bred well over 90 AKC Champions including Group, Best in Show and Specialty Winners, dual Champions and multiple performance titled dogs. During the past 40 years Mr. Sommerfelt has been active in a number of dog clubs and is currently the President of the Tennessee Valley Kennel Club. He is recipient of the AKC outstanding Sportsmanship Award and is also a career agent and financial planning specialist with Nationwide Insurance. The Sommerfelts’ have two grown children, both former Junior Handlers and they are still active breeders and exhibitors of the Vizsla breed.

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