When it comes to showcasing breeding stock, nothing compares with the series of events known collectively as a National Specialty. Wherever breeders gather to have their dogs evaluated by recognized experts (who are often breeders themselves), the purpose of the “purposefully-bred” purebred is rightfully acknowledged. These AKC parent club events provide owner handlers with educational opportunities in their chosen breed, and they allow connections to be made. Attendance year after year reinforces relationships, and a few lucky exhibitors even get to realize lifelong dreams. For anyone with a commitment to breed preservation, there’s no better place to be than in—or around—the rings at “The National.”
It’s a Tradition
Some parent clubs have hosted National Specialties in the 19th, 20th, & 21st Centuries. Others began holding annual gatherings only more recently, though their significance is no less important. All Nationals connect current members and exhibitors with those dedicated fanciers who have promoted individual breeds—and championed the sport of dogs—in America throughout its history. Despite superficial changes made to the appearance of some breeds or their manner of presentation, continuity exists still, owing to generations of breeders who’ve adhered to an ideal described by the language of the breed standards. And despite revisions that have been made to many, the standards continue to guide the efforts of dedicated breeders, exhibitors, and National Specialty judges alike.
Some parent clubs have hosted National Specialties in the 19th, 20th, & 21st Centuries
It’s a Family Affair
Each generation of breeders and exhibitors contributes to the welfare of a breed and the health of the parent club. As the sport evolves and trends come and go, club members steer a breed as a single, unified organization. By coming together annually (and periodically throughout the year), breed fanciers gather much like families that come together to celebrate birthdays, graduations, and other personal milestones. For longtime participants in club activities, National Specialties can seem like royal weddings where elders are revered and the hope of future generations is acknowledged—front and center. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Sweepstakes competitions and non-regular classes. Puppies and Veterans are given their due at the National as are the stud dogs and brood bitches that represent different branches of every breed’s family tree.
As the sport evolves and trends come and go, club members steer a breed as a single, unified organization. By coming together annually (and periodically throughout the year), breed fanciers gather much like families that come together to celebrate birthdays, graduations, and other personal milestones.
It’s a Competition
The National is, of course, a competition that brings together the best of the best from across the country. For one day—or one week—all eyes are fixed on a single parent club-sponsored show. International support often encourages overseas entries and, depending on a breed’s popularity as a show dog, entries can approach 500 or more. Achieving these figures in any breed is largely unpredictable and dependent on a variety of factors (including the price of gas). However, even low-entry breeds offer at any National where competition can be fierce, especially when the Conformation judge is widely regarded as a breed expert and an expert adjudicator. In recent years, the competitive events offered at any National have broadened in scope to include a wide variety of Performance and Companion events, not all of them competitive. The Canine Good Citizen, Trick Dog, and AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy programs even encourage rank amateurs to participate.
It’s a Celebration
Year after year, exhibitors attend the National Specialty because it is the single best place to observe the current state of a breed in America. It’s also a great place to have fun. At a National, breeders, owner handlers, professional handlers, prospective judges, and anyone who simply has an interest in a breed can come together to celebrate the unique qualities which define that breed and set it apart from hundreds of others. Much of the celebration is focused on the competition, but these activities don’t tell the whole story. At a National, club business is conducted and a variety of seminars are usually offered. New fanciers are enthusiastically welcomed and are encouraged to purchase raffle tickets in support of breed-specific health research and legislative efforts. Various contests and soirees are hosted too, making each National a uniquely memorable way to honor a breed while protecting it for future generations.
Year after year, exhibitors attend the National Specialty because it is the single best place to observe the current state of a breed in America. It’s also a great place to have fun.
It’s a Responsibility
Every National Specialty is an opportunity for club members, show chairs, superintendents, judges, stewards, professional handlers, owner handlers, and visitors to seriously consider a breed’s health and welfare. Due to an ever-growing list of factors that negatively impact the viability of each and every breed as a companion animal, “preservation” has become a serious responsibility for every breeder and exhibitor. The future of many AKC-recognized breeds is precarious at best, with many supported by an alarmingly small number of dedicated and knowledgeable breeders. Without breeders, there are no breeds. In the coming years, National Specialties will need to focus on more than just entries, majors, points, ratings, awards, and winning. The spotlight must be centered on conservation, preservation, and responding to the needs of a general public that is largely unaware of the many remarkable alternatives to “Rescues, Pitbulls, and Doodles.”
If you’re heading to your breed’s National, please remember the many reasons why this one show is so very important. Best of luck and have fun!
Photo credit by the American Kennel Club.