A lot of people are proud to participate in American Kennel Club events. Every weekend they team up with their dogs to take part in a variety of conformation, companion, and performance events and if they’re lucky, they post-victory photos on social media. Professionals and amateurs alike reach for their smartphones and keyboards at the end of a busy show day, but only the genuine amateur exhibitor is eligible to brag about a win in the National Owner-Handled Series (NOHS).
For Amateurs Only
In 2012, the American Kennel Club unveiled a program designed to celebrate the non-professional exhibitor. As reported in an AKC press release at the time, “AKC created the AKC National Owner-Handled Series as a pilot program in January to celebrate the dedication and enthusiasm of our owner-handler exhibitors, and we’re very pleased with the support the program has gotten since it was opened to every All-Breed club this spring.” The NOHS was established to “recognize and showcase” dogs exhibited by owner-handlers and to provide a forum in which owner-handlers may compete with their peers. Eligibility requirements insist that exhibitors remain bonafide amateurs. As noted on AKC’s website, “Any type of remuneration associated with the service of handling a dog in the conformation ring meets the definition of a professional handler in regards to eligibility for the AKC National Owner-Handled Series.”
The NOHS is distinct from the Amateur-Owner-Handler Class from which the winner goes on to compete in the Winners Class for championship points. Per the AKC website Q&A, “The AKC National Owner-Handled Series is a special attraction that selects an Owner-Handled dog from all eligible dogs in the Best of Breed ring including the Winners Dog or Bitch.” The website emphasizes that the Series does not award championship points. As an amateurs-only competition, the NOHS encourages exhibitors to compete who might otherwise feel intimidated in a ring filled with pro handlers. “The determination of the awards in the AKC National Owner-Handled Series is based soley on the quality of the entry,” according to the Q&A. “The owner/handler’s handling ability is not a consideration.” Owners of record, according to AKC’s records on the day of the event, are eligible to compete. Professional handlers, their current assistants and members of their household are ineligible to compete.
In the seven years since its inauguration, the NOHS has been embraced by many conformation exhibitors. Together with the Grand Championship titles, Bred-By Exhibitor medallions and the Sanctioned Four-to-Six Month (Beginner Puppy) Competition, the NOHS has provided a much-needed boost in participation. As encouraged by AKC’s NOHS Best Practices, “The best chance of increasing entries and providing exhibitors with the most additional opportunities to compete is by offering the NOHS on all days of conformation competition.” Entry is simple and no additional fee is required to participate. Exhibitors need only indicate their eligibility in the “check box” provided on a show’s entry form. An exhibitor doesn’t need to be the dog’s breeder, but he or she does need to be an owner of record. Breed judging for the NOHS takes place at the conclusion of Best of Breed. Eligible dogs that are defeated in the BOB ring, however, remain in contention to compete in the Series.
According to the AKC, more than 80 percent of American show dogs are exhibited by their owner-handlers. It is for this majority that the NOHS is offered. The remaining 20 percent—the professional handlers—must remain content to compete in the “regular” Group and Best in Show rings. This 80/20 rule, known as the Pareto Principle or the Law of the Vital Few, is as true for the sport of dogs as it is useful in business. Named for the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1895, the principle was originally used to describe how 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. In modern business practices, the axiom is translated as “80 percent of sales come from 20 percent of clients.” In the dog sport, the rule would be applied to represent the typical conformation show where 80 percent of dogs are owner-handled and 20 percent are presented by professionals. (Conversely, it may be argued that 80 percent of the top awards go to the professionals and 20 percent to amateur owner-handlers.) In all likelihood, this supposition is quite true and it’s precisely why the NOHS was established.
Signore Pareto may not have been a purebred dog fancier, but his principle is certainly relevant to dog shows. Just as the economist noticed how people in Italian society seemed to be split between the “trivial many,” (the bottom 80 percent in terms of money and influence), and the the top 20 percent or “vital few,” so too participation in the dog game may be divided. For example, at a show with an entry of 1000 dogs, approximately 800 will be exhibited by their owner-handlers and 200 presented by professionals. At this ratio, it might be expected that 80 percent of the Group placements would be awarded to amateurs and 20 percent to the pros. However, it could be said that the inverse is most likely true. Of the 28 Group placements on offer at a typical all-breed show, 22 or 23 can be expected to be awarded to professional handlers whereas only five or six will go to owner-handlers. As Pareto discovered more than a century ago, 80 percent of the “wealth” still remains in the hands of 20 percent of the population.
The AKC has encouraged show-giving clubs to offer the NOHS to the 80 percenters as a place where their “dedication and enthusiasm” is more likely to be rewarded. Though some may view the NOHS as a second-tier system akin to the Minor Leagues, the Series has been embraced by many non-professionals. Despite oppostion by some rank-and-file exhibitors, as many as half of all dogs entered at shows where the NOHS is offered are made eligible to compete by their amateur owners at the time of entry. Perhaps these entries are made on impulse, or maybe it’s simply a case of “nothing ventured nothing gained.” After all, what is the harm in making an entry that offers the
possibility for a dog to compete in the Group, especially if it’s been defeated in the BOB ring? Since no additional fee is required to enter, even exhibitors on a budget can hope for a chance to take their dog into the “big ring” and walk out with a rosette and bragging rights.
For clubs that choose to offer the NOHS at their conformation shows, the reward may be measured in increased entries. Take, for example, the Greater Kingsport Kennel Club, Inc. This all-breed club hosted two shows at the Appalachian Fairgrounds in Gray, Tennessee, on May 18 & 19, 2019. (A pair of Obedience Trials and two Rally Trials were held the day before.) Although the total entry of 694 on Saturday and 703 on Sunday in 131 breeds or varieties was exactly the same as last year’s figure, the 574 and 565 dogs competing represents an increase of roughly 1.5 percent from the previous year. In 2018, 541 dogs competed on Saturday and 581 on Sunday. The 2018 combined entry of 1,397 was 22 percent higher than the 2017 two-day total of 1,143, with 873 dogs competing over the weekend. This represents an increase of nearly 29 percent. When the club first offered the NOHS in 2016, the two-day entry of 1,177 with 940 dogs competing represented an increase of 17 and 26 percent respectively from the 2015 totals. During the four years that the club has offered the NOHS, two-day entries have increased by approximately 39 percent and the number of dogs competing has grown by 53 percent over the same period.
Of course, several factors contribute to a show’s total entries, including competition from other clubs. In mid-May, when the Greater Kingsport KC hosted its conformation shows, all-breed events were simultaneously held in Maine, New York, Ohio and in nearby Virginia. The two-day totals of dogs competing in these states were 1,085, 757, 845 and 1,246 respectively. The weekend’s largest show took place in Vallejo, California with 1,603 dogs competing over Saturday and Sunday. The site of the Coyote Hills Kennel Club shows is well-known to exhibitors, demonstrating the importance of a show’s location and amenities. However, Greater Kingsport offers reserved parking for $35.00 per night and air-conditioned grooming space for $15.00 per day or $25.00 for the weekend. Additionally, entry for spectators is free. The show’s site is easily accessible from Interstate 81 which begins at the Canadian border in New York State and terminates in nearby Dandridge, Tennessee, at the intersection of Interstate 40. I-40 is a major East-West highway that connects Barstow, California, with Wilmington, North Carolina. Perhaps this might explain why fanciers from 29 states, including California and Hawaii, decided to enter their dogs at a show in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A couple of Canadian dogs were entered too, as was a single exhibit from China. Of course, the judging panel can have a dramatic effect on entries as well. This year’s panel included Polly Smith, Robert Slay, Dr. Gareth Morgan-Jones and Bradley Jenkins. Lloyd Grazer, Jr. drew an entry of 28 Australian Cattle Dogs on Saturday as did John D. Arvin in Whippets.
An examination of the NOHS entries at Greater Kingsport makes for interesting study. Since the Cattle Dog parent club supported the entry, it’s not surprising that the NOHS entry in this breed was the weekend’s largest. Nearly two-thirds (18 of 26) of the Cattle Dog entry was eligible to compete in the NOHS, though not every dog was eligible on both days. Likewise, two-thirds (12 of 18) of the Pug entry was eligible, as was almost half (12 of 27) of the entry in Whippets. Other breeds in which the NOHS entry was in double digits were the Schipperke (10 of 13) and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi (10 of 22). Percentage-wise, NOHS eligibility was also high among Borzois (6 of 9), Wirehaired Dachshunds (5 of 8), Siberians (3 of 4), Tibetan Mastiffs (4 of 5), Standard Manchesters (6 of 10), Toy Manchesters (6 of 7), Yorkies (4 of 5) and Mini Poodles (7 of 11). At least half of the entry was also eligible in Labradors, Irish Water Spaniels, 15” Beagles, Irish Wolfhounds, Portuguese Podengos, Black Russian Terriers, Standard Schnauzers, Am Staffs, Smooth Fox Terriers, Scotties, Cavaliers, Pekingese, Dalmatians, Lowchen, Standard Poodles, Shibas, Tibetan Spaniels and Terriers, Bergers Picard and Cardigans. Perhaps most interestingly, the entire entry (excluding single-digit entries) in Boykins (2), 13” Beagles (3), Rat Terriers (5), Russell Terriers (2), Sealys (3) and King Charles & Ruby Charlies (3) were eligible. It’s also worth noting that approximately half of all owner-handled dogs entered at this year’s shows were eligible to compete in the NOHS.
Ranking the High Achievers
Though some owner-handlers may enter their dogs in the NOHS on a whim, others compete in the arena with rankings in mind. For these high achievers, the NOHS Groups are no less competitive than the “regular” Groups. In fact, the Series can be every bit as rewarding, especially for the experienced owner-handler. The determined non-professional looking to achieve a high profile for his or her dog is rewarded with a ratings system that is devoid—at least in theory—of influences from paid advertising and party schmoozing. Rankings are compiled based on the AKC Owner-Handled Series Point Schedule for Best of Breed, Group and Best in Show placements. “At an individual show a dog earns the cumulative number of AKC National Owner-Handled Series points associated with each placement,” notes the AKC website. Each Owner-Handled Best of Breed earns five points (10 at a National Specialty). Owner-Handled Group placements are awarded 30, 20, 15 and 10 points for First through Fourth, Owner-Handled Reserve Best in Show earns 75 points and Owner-Handled Best in Show takes home another 100 points. The top dog at a show offering the NOHS walks away with 135 points, which is a good enough reason to check that eligibility box on the entry form!
At mid-year, the AKC NOHS rankings reflect the commitment that many owner-handlers have for the sport. Currently, the top dog has accumulated 3,385 points which has likely been achieved through a heavy show schedule on the part of a skilled handler with a very good dog. The contender in second place has earned 2,875 points to date, followed closely by the third-ranked dog with 2,515 points. The remaining Top Ten competitors are separated by just a few hundred points, a difference that can be measured by one or two NOHS BIS awards. The pressure must be palpable for these contenders who are in the race with a variety of breeds. Among the current list, the Top Ten is represented by a pair of Hounds, one Terrier, three Toys, one Non-Sporting breed and three Herding dogs. The Top Twenty is represented by three Sporting breeds, two Hounds, two Terriers, five Toys, five Non-Sporting and three different Herding breeds. Curiously, the current top-ranked Working breed is positioned at No. 32.
Each year, the nation’s top-ranked owner-handled dogs from the NOHS are invited to compete at an end-of-year competition held in conjunction with the AKC National Championship in December. “Dogs that finished ranked in the Top Ten (plus ties) for their breed during the qualifying period will be invited to compete in the competition,” the AKC website makes clear. The qualifying period for 2019 is October 11, 2018 through October 09, 2019. “Dogs exhibited by professional handlers on the day of the event are not eligible for this competition,” the AKC website emphasizes. Similarly, dogs exhibited by current assistants or household members on the day are not eligible to enter the NOHS. However, current assistants that meet the age and amateur status requirements and are eligible to compete in Junior Showmanship may participate in the NOHS final.
Since its inception, the AKC National Owner-Handled Series has been embraced by a large portion of owner-handlers from around the country. The non-titling program has helped to increase show entries and it’s demonstrated how the “trivial many” are more than happy to maintain their amateur status. In fact, most are only too happy to celebrate their pride