What’s one way dog shows can attract new participants?


What’s one way dog shows can attract new participants?

From the October 2018 Issue of ShowSight Magazine. Click to subscribe.

Thank you to everyone who offered opinions on this month’s topic. 
The following is a selection of the responses. Want to voice your opinion to the fancy? Follow ShowSight’s Facebook page for the monthly question prompt!

When a person only needs a major give them entry credit for next dog show so not to have to pay continually for a major possibility when majors are so hard to find much less win! Also not penalize those who show up because those who needed a major didn’t show up because it wasn’t a major! Have judges give extra consideration to the dog who wasn’t professionally handled as to what the could of been if handled professionally which is done a lot but novices think they should of won just because they see no real difference between their dog and the one that won! Also if a novice is having problems possibly give some advice! —Anonymous

I think the one thing that made me proud of the dog world is the responds everyone chipped in and helped with the Texas hurricane Harvey. People jumped I and donated supplies, food, crates, anything they could think of. You see so much hate in this world and for people to stop what they were doing and helped people with their dogs, the people and the clubs. My husband and I went to Rockport, Texas one month after the hurricane and the horrible conditions the animals and people were living in was unspeakable. You make new friends and let people know that the dog show world people are wonderful people. —Pam Berg Osborne

I believe that there is no longer pride in owning a purebred dog. If the public can be swayed away from the “designer” mutts then owning an AKC breed could entice the new owner to experiment with his new acquisition.

That’s what happened in my case but I stumbled into show people along the way—46 years ago! —Anonymous

New members starting kennels and showing need local mentors, to be made welcome, treated much better and even helped. —Anonymous


Have a variety of judges to show to, instead of constantly repeating judges. —Anonymous

A couple of months before the local kennel club show, offer free handling classes one night a week, maybe through the local Recreation Dept or 4-H clubs. It gets to the people that have a purebred and have wondered about participating but either didn’t know how to go about it. It also puts those people in touch with one another; each one encouraging 
the other. —Arlene Grimes

It has become to expensive for a family activity. Judging needs to be better, I see judges putting up dogs that should be sold as pets. Too many handlers. The handler should have to be trained or licensed. Anyone can call themselves a handler if they show dogs for another person. People at the shows should be more helpful to new exhibitors. Too many people take up to much room at shows, giving a new person no where to groom their dogs. I think AKC has tried everything they can think of to attract new people. Clubs need to be aware of new people and help them to find a space to groom. It is good they have a new exhibitor briefing, make sure people are aware of this. —Anonymous

I think if clubs have at least one day of special events, like the 4-6 puppy event or the OH event. These help as well as more of the obedience classes now being offered at shows. They allow all dogs to join in and to me that is a win/win for everyone. Anything that encourages people to do more with their dogs is a positive step for all involved. They aren’t just throwing food at it, they are taking time to train and interact with their dog. It is hard as the younger folks have all been bombarded with the ‘rescue mantra’, so they aren’t even aware there are events their mixed breeds can participate in. A campaign to inform with billboards, newsprint ads, social media ads may be a way to get more people to recognize there are fun things to do with their dogs and anyone can join in. —Carol D’Aloisio

Stop driving away older exhibitors, as they’re your best reference to others on the rewards of participating in the sport of dogs. —Anonymous

Judges education on dog anatomy, structure and function. —Anonymous

Stop putting up dogs due to the merits of the handler. Mediocrity is being rewarded far too much in favor of powerful handlers. —Anonymous

Make it easier to find majors or once majors are only needed give back money for shows that were entered but not turned into majors sure makes entering shows futile when a major is only needed and when a major isn’t needed why penalize a entrant when someone pulls their dog because it didn’t turned into a major thus hurting those who want single points the cost of everything has gone up with entering of dogs. Also have more prizes for wins! What happened to the big shows? There would be many more if things could be done to make sure that a dog doesn’t have to travel many miles in search of a major and when things go wrong someone pulls their dog and the major was lost but the thousands of dollars spent on a worthless show not ever recovered! Someone doesn’t show up for Best of Winners so no cross over for the dog needing a major. I have been showing since the 1976 and seen the drop off of entries because we need more owners to handle their own dog they give up because of the cost of professional handlers is too much and their chances of winning too low along with all the other costs in showing a Special dog. —Anonymous

Would love to see more events for Bred-By. —Anonymous

Puppies 4-6 Fee $5.00. N I C E Ribbons Club pays for photos of Group Winners. I would Judge for free! 
—James A Zarifis

I think the AKC has priced themselves into a corner on entries. Usually $32 per entry. If you have two or three dogs, you are looking at an easy $100 per day in entries alone. Start adding in gas, hotels, eating out and parking fees and you can see why people think twice before making that entry. Lowering the price of entry fees, would be a huge help! 

Unfortunately I believe this sport is getting expensive. We are doing a lot to introduce new people via mixed breed activities. But money still gets in the way. —Anonymous

Go to schools and take some popular dogs people show now days, bring all those ribbons and trophies, it impresses kids. Tell them even if they have a mixed breed, they can show in performance and take some performance dogs and showcase how smart they are. More TV coverage of dog shows with some stories about some of the participants and show them in the ring. Local TV here only show a few dogs going around the ring or a few being shown, but real stories like they do at Westminster would be really more humanizing. People tend to think show dog people are stuck up—most aren’t. Advertise to come to the show if your interested in showing dogs and tell them all the ways they can be shown, it’s not all about conformation. But if that sparks and interest they could be told it’s usually better to find a show dog breeder at the show (after they’ve shown). Most are more than happy to educate the public. —Anonymous

Have friendlier people on the dog show club members. Lower the price for the entries and parking. —Anonymous

At some levels (such as specialties or supported entries) provide critiques. This can be done on a sliding scale (example: head and expression using a dot to represent where on a continuum the entrant is in the opinion of the judge, with the center representing the quality of the average champion in that breed when it applies to breed type and minimal acceptable structure when it comes to running gear. I know the old saying “even a mongrel can be sound” but In my opinion, if it isn’t reasonably functionally sound it doesn’t belong in a conformation show. The sliding scale prevents someone from complaining that the dog was awarded a seven out of ten in one outing under a judge and an eight on another occasion. Judges big argument against critiques is that it would eat up too much time and be too generic. The method I propose could be limited to six-nine categories (ideally selected by the parent club, which could serve to make judges pay attention to characteristics in a breed most in need of improvement).

Most people start out in breeding with a first dog that usually gets bred. Showing and receiving these critiques would provide a blueprint for improving on that foundation dog. And if nine out of ten judges score the dog below average in, say, shoulder assembly and the tenth judge scores it well above average, the dog owner will not only learn something about his dog, he will learn something about that tenth judge! AKC dog shows are way too far in the direction of beauty contests. Move back in the direction of livestock judging and I think people would be more likely to be attracted to participate. AKC has rules that are openly flaunted and AKC representatives openly tell judges they can ignore them. That’s a slap in the face to breeders to do follow the rules. UKC manages to put on shows with no chalk, no wigs, no “product” in the coats. It is very tempting for principled individuals to abandon AKC. I find I get more enjoyment out of attending a state fair and watching judging of sheep, goats, cattle, etc. and listening to the judges’ oral critiques than I do watching dog show judging. —Anonymous

This is hard. It need to be more balanced, the new people get quickly discouraged when a professional in all ways winning in their ring. CKC need to offer something to encourage owner handled dogs, discount of separate class. 
—Donna LaChance

The clustering of shows outside of a club’s immediate area, I believe, has really hurt the ability to attract new people. If you have a slight interest in purebred dogs and there’s a show within a 30 minute drive, you are more likely to attend than if the shows is two hours away. That horse has been out of the barn too long to put back, I’m afraid, so things are left to the kennel clubs to host more activities that will inspire local people to check them out and get a feel for dog shows.

Standalone fun matches and fun days need to make a comeback; there needs to be an active outreach to pet owners to give them a reason to come and participate. 
—Vicki DeGruy

Offering supported entries and encouraging designated and concurrent specialties with all breed shows will encourage entries and accomplish what our mission is in education in purebred dogs. This is something that I did while Show Chair at Longshore/Southport Kennel Club years ago and currently do at Trap Falls Kennel Club with three designated and two concurrent specialties and 16 supported entry clubs. 
—Jill Bregy

AKC is shooting themselves in the foot with Corporate money. I was blindsided by the association with MARS Veterinary and Royal Canin. As an active participant and State coordinator for Protect the Pets and also a liason for Embark vet in my breed I see collusion. Because I spoke to several hundred breeder/exhibitors the last year they know what is going on and how to care for their animals.

We can wink and say, okay I don’t feed Pedigree and let them do their marketing. However when MARS bought Optimal Selection it becomes a factor as they don’t want any competitors at their sponsored functions.

Politics have their place but free choice, taken away is going too far. The paradigm shift in how Americans see pets is radically changing. Play with the big boys or stick to the basics. Alternatives to dog shows could be sponsored as well. Not everyone has the time or the money to devote to dog showing but still can produce decent, health tested dogs. Get behind that kind of evaluation as an alternative.

AKC at this point is not linking to Embark. We have to do our own database to track health. AKC sees everything from profit perspective and in my opinion, is not really supporting the health and future of our lovely breeds. Why I went with Embark after years of tracking was because number one the dog owner owns their DNA sample and gives permission for researchers to use it. Number two They platform allows breed clubs to prioritize and work to eradicate even complex disease at no cost or financial risk to the clubs. So they are a research partner not one of many entities begging for DNA samples. C’mon, this is a no brainer! —Anonymous

Have the breed clubs promote participation. —Anonymous

Go back to judging dogs and not just putting up faces. It has disengaged so many people that they are on to other dog sports, or out all together. —Anonymous

Judges have to stop putting up inferior dogs, just because they like the professional handler at the end of the lead. Seriously! Breeders and their buyers are the true backbone of the sport. Dog shows can not survive based on Pro handler entries. It cost a ton of money to enter and get to shows and to witness, some of these judging nightmares, makes a person think more than twice about continuing on. —Anonymous

Have a mentor booth set up at the shows. There are a number of vendors selling dog stuff and some of the bigger shows like Royal Canin have “meet the breed booths” but no one has ever set up a “so you want to show dogs” booth. There you could have experienced breeders and handlers volunteer to operate it and answer the questions. The booth would not have to be manned by only club members. I am sure people would be willing to volunteer a couple of hours to sit down and talk to people about the sport and such. The biggest hurdle I see for new people, and I say this because I have experience still after 25 years of showing, is the shows do not seem to be about the dogs anymore. And once a new person takes the leap to show dogs, they are instantly, at their first show met with this realization. Shows need to refocus and prioritize the dogs and the people who show them—all the people not just the handlers. Too many times in my 25 years of showing, the wants of the spectators have taken priority over the dogs safety. Examples are outdoor shows and not allowing dogs in crates under the tents but hundreds of spectators are allowed to sit under to watch—what? Parking and camping, those who are the well-known faces and club members seem to get priority for the prime spaces, if they paid extra for that then fine, but that is not generally the case because that would have to be made open to anyone to pay and it is not. Too many times at shows people with multiple dogs who have to have crates just for their ring time are told “Nope, no crates” but again even in indoor shows, hundreds of chairs are lined up. Special exceptions for people swapping handlers at the last minute or running up basically late for the ring and allowed in because of who they are when others are told, “Too bad, you’re late.” Special exceptions for people based on who you are and who you know for grooming spaces. All premiums say the same thing, no saving space, stack crates, first come first serve and not before x time. I know of one show that I attend that used to actually follows some of these rules and that rule was no set up before x time. They do enforce the stacking somewhat but again it depends on who you are. Last year, this show allowed one individual to choose her space and go in early due to a “handicap”. These are the things that I see and what the new people see and hear about. These are not encouraging things for people to want to invest their time and money in. Let’s face it, showing dogs is not a money making hobby, we do it for the love of doing it. Not the handlers, not the club members and not the spectators but the dogs and the comfort and safety of them. Until we has a whole start addressing all of these things that are clearly seen by spectators and potential newbies, this sport will not pull in the newbies. If I was thinking about getting involved today, I would not just based on the observations I have seen in the last ten years. I stay because I have so many years invested and I do love it and I try to let the other stuff wash off my back and sometimes I choose to not attend a show based on how the show treats everyone. —Anonymous

Have an info session at a show to explain to new people how to get involved with the sport and publicize it in the local community. —Anonymous

Make it about dogs and stop being so damn picky and snooty with new folks. We all know the reason as to why. No one is truly interested in fixing the age old problems in the dog world. —Anonymous

Entry fees add up. There’s nothing you can do about travel/housing expenses, so that would leave what it cost to be able to exhibit our dogs. Adding nonsense classes does nothing for me but maybe something that for each dog/class entered you get a reduction. And it wouldn’t matter how many dogs, the first entered in the first class is full price, second dog/class is a little less, the third dog, less. On and on. Showing a willingness to help the exhibitor is a major PR effort that all will appreciate. We’d be apt to bring that puppy or help build points by entering an extra dog. It goes on and on. Best of luck in the effort. Just come through for us. —Anonymous

Include dog sports. —Anonymous

This is a tough question. Most of the time when we are at shows we are focused on our dogs and their needs as well as our friends.

We need to be aware that new people are just looking to belong. I know it’s hard for us old timers to take the time to mentor a new person but you would be surprised at how many people just don’t know how to read a catalog or count points. A few minutes to say hello and be pleasant is not to much to ask for our clubs. This weekend at our tenth Anniversary of shows, Arapahoe Kennel Club is offering donuts in the morning as well as cake and iced tea during groups. We always do the cake but are adding the donuts as a thank you to those who have supported us for the last ten years. We also offer Pee Wee’s with custom made grooming aprons emblazoned with “Pee Wee Handler” in gold glitter as well as a toy for the dog and a rosette for the participant. These are small things, well actually they are big things that take someone a fair amount of time to make the aprons but the kids love them! We need to do all we can so that the kids have a good experience as they are the future of our sport. —Anonymous

We also offer larger rosettes for for the Best Veteran, Best Puppy and Best Bred By Exhibitor when we offer those classes and a perpetual trophy.

I honestly think that the most important thing is to be kind when possible. —Cindy Knox

Education! A very large portion of the dog owners are not aware of dog shows or how they operate, or their purpose. Dedicated, responsible dog breeders have a big responsibility already with care, breeding, genetic and medical knowledge, pedigree research, showing, etc. and to expect them to do “education” about dog shows is an additional time restrictive activity. AKC could encourage “mentoring” about purebred dog shows. Perhaps a “meet the breeders workshop” where several breeders could have open discussion about “How I got involved”. And then guests could answer general questions. An informational casual meeting.

Many local kennel clubs offer a ‘get acquainted’ tour at dog shows but that’s in addition to all of the functions of being the host kennel club. It’s usually during ring times and poorly promoted, and therefore poorly attended.

How about a TV ad on dog related shows? “Do you want to know more about the world of purebred dog shows?” Visit our web site, etc. etc. Even ads on Facebook and other social media? Perhaps, even on teen channels—after all, kids love their pets, right? Let’s educate. Plant the idea! —Anita Kitchens

Have handling help for new people.It can be very difficult to find handling classes in everyone area.Real help. From people that know how to show dogs. —Anonymous

Embrace the community. Invite a community representative to be part of ribbon presentation. Do your homework is a respected author in the community? Or a retired military? Perhaps a theatre group could support the effort with a quick performance?. Take a few moments and show what our performance dogs can do before BIS? —DiAnn Flory

If current participants were kind and welcoming. If breeders were more willing to sell show prospects and mentor people who want to show. Most don’t return calls or emails. I think adding the Pee Wee classes is a start. —Anonymous

Spectators seem to really like opportunities to “Meet the Breeds” at shows. Social media could be used more to promote participation in these events. Also, educate the public regarding how to find out when their favorite breeds will be showing, and what to do/not do at the shows. For example, ask first before trying to pet a dog. Ask if they might be able to talk to someone about their dogs after they show versus when they are about to walk into the ring. Understand that some handlers are juggling multiple breeds in various rings and might not have time to chat with everyone. —Mary Kay Morel

Give original group placements to professional breeder handlers as well! —Anonymous

Lose pro handlers or have judges educated on dogs they judge not handlers. —Anonymous

Shows can attract new participants and keep the old ones, by cutting out the professional handler politics. Judges need to judge the dogs, not the other end of the lead. 

Time the classes and groups do judges have time for win pictures. It’s part of the experience the exhibitors and owners want. —Anonymous

Hire honest judges! —Anonymous

Anyone who has an interest will seek out how to do it. But I think there are some people who have an interest in getting a dog, but don’t know anything about the show world, or have a negative impression of showing and breeding (thanks to animal rights activists). Educating people on the plusses of purchasing from breeders, and then letting breeders encourage them and mentor them to become involved in the sport of dogs would be best. Unless one is born into it, a mentor is crucial. Getting young people involved is important.Everyone wants to adopt a pet because it’s the right thing (according to the media), but few really know about the good that breeders and parent clubs do with developing DNA tests that help not just dogs (and often more than one breed) but also peoples health with their research. Good breeders also take back dogs so they don’t end up in a shelter should something happen in the future with the dogs they breed. I’m sure you can think of other things to add to the list. 
—Chereen Nawrocki

Be kind and helpful rather than belittling them. 

We should make handlers and breeder owners separate. 

Pee Wee Events offered, barbecue party after best in show, ask the judges after best in show, grooming clinics during multi show weekends.

Basically things that new people to the dog show world can do or things to make them feel included, but that veteran dog show folks will also find appealing! Have the local clubs list local handling classes! —Jennie Dunaway


Make judges less political. —Anonymous

Establish a 1:1 mentor program for new participants with experienced breeders and handlers in their local area. Make it easy to match mentors with new participants. 

Make judges judge to the standard. A dog with five faults might finish a championship, but it should never go BIS once much less multiple times. I do not care how cute the handler is. Judges should be judging for the futures of the breeds’ they are licensed to judge, not the dog dujour. —Anonymous

Lower the cost of entry fees, fees in general, grooming spaces, etc. —Anonymous

There has been a huge upswing in complaints about judging quality lately. It is not just sore losers. The complaints cover the spectrum of exhibitors and handlers from newbies to veterans. AKC has constantly increased the cost and complexity if acquiring a license and it has not improved the quality and competence of the overall judging staff. There are still wonderful, knowledgeable, honest judges in the ring. Despite the requirements of mentoring and seminar attendace it isn’t being evidenced in many of the rings. All a judge needs to prove is knowledge of a breed’s standard and ring procedure. If that criteria is met the cure for lack of quality in judging can be controlled by AKC enforcing their rules. I don’t see that happening any time soon. If exhibitors, who are paying a great deal of money and time even for showing a class dog, were able to see knowledge and fairness in the ring they would be more inclined to enter more often. —Anonymous

Limit the number of shows judges can judge per year in the USA and lower the entry fees. —Anonymous

Lower entry fees. —Anonymous

Less politics more judging of the dogs not handlers. 

Advertise free clinics for the show, especially for the dogs having a national show. PetSmart knows it is good for business. Why not follow their lead? Invite local vets to participate. Foy Trent and the other organizers need to contact local radio stations, for free publicity. —John Winkelmeier

Today, there is so much stimuli for younger dog fanciers that they are looking for payback with what they spend money to do. More bang for the buck!

One of the strangest looks we receive from our non-dog show friends is when they ask what we got for winning, then when we tell them that we came away with a ribbon—their response, “That’s it?” And that’s part of what younger fanciers see after spending money on entry fees, food, travel, lodging, etc—nothing but bragging rights!

One way maybe to offer more “prizes for winners”—upgraded rosettes for class first and breed awards; plus, show committees should go after these dog food/dog treat companies to sponsor prizes for breed/class winners. Back in the “old days”, breed clubs would distribute medallions for the major class/breed winners, you don’t see many today.

I attended a month of dog shows in Australia (Australians are avid dog fanciers) with one of our puppy buyers and you should have seen the “booty” he went home with after every show: electrical appliances, wine, dog food, promotion items from dog food companies, etc! It gives you a little piece of mind for the time and expense.

But even with this, it may not help, exhibiting in shows has lost the excitement it once had when we started 25+ years ago. It use to be that you never saw professional 
handlers in the classes, now you’re lucky if you only see one! We’ve always strived to handle our own dogs until they achieved their Championship, but now it’s a “face” game with judges. Here again, in Australia there are no paid handlers! Go figure! But we’re still out there a couple weekends a month but now that we’re retired, our travel includes a bit of vacation activities instead of totalling being about the shows! 
—Penny Anderson

Have fewer shows and you will have more majors! 

Quit hiring handler judges. —Anonymous

Possibly set up a special grooming area for new people. When I was a newbie, I didn’t know where to set up or what I needed. Maybe clubs could have mentor volunteers in this area to help with any grooming questions, is the lead on correctly , etc, compared to possibly being next to someone who won’t give them the time of day. —Anonymous

Probably need to start having more things that “pet owners” can participate in and young families with children. Maybe the junior pee wee’s showing, the trick dog contest, the CGC testing. Maybe some booths with how to events, like more on training your dog, more on proper care etc. 

I can think of way more than one! Bring dog shows back to local areas—clusters do not attract viewers or seem friendly to first time show goers.

Advertise the shows ahead of time inviting the public to attend and explaining what they can see at a show.

Offer educational talks at local libraries, pet supply or feed stores etc. featuring a day at a dog show or what shows are about. Schools would be another good way to reach animal lovers who might be interested in participating if they 
knew more.

At the shows have a prominent information area for newbies. At all the shows have ‘breed ambassadors’ who are willing to talk to newbies about their breed.

I spent about ten minutes talking to a newbie at a show a couple of weekends ago. I explained how to use the catalog they bought to find rings, breeds and breeder/owner information, how to talk to people to find out more about dogs without being upset if people didn’t have time to talk right then and about fun kids could have showing. I was actually there to give information on our local group involved in fighting bad legislation but was happy to help out the newbies when I saw them. They were so pleased to get the help that I talked to the show committee about having that as a resource at their next show. —Anonymous

Create a truly amateur handler class for beginners, with groups. —Anonymous 

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