Over the last few years, my family has started to develop our Thanksgiving Day traditions. Last year, we added to that by watching The National Dog Show presented by Purina.
While it’s great to root for your favorite breed (go Labradors!), there’s also a lot about the behind-the-scenes action and history of the show that isn’t aired. Here are 10 things we saw firsthand at the show that you may not have known.
1. The show started in the 1800s
The first reported National Dog Show was in 1879. The Kennel Club of Philadelphia hosted its first show in 1912. The show has continued since, except when it was suspended between 1928 and 1932, the time of the Great Depression. NBC started airing the show in 2002.
2. The show is filmed in advance
While it certainly looks live, the show is actually filmed Nov. 14. It airs on NBC from noon to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, following the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. So yes, those of us who go to watch the show live know who won before everyone else, but no, we can’t tell you before it airs.
3. You are seeing only a fraction of the show
While they broadcast just two hours of the event, the entire show is actually two full days of events, starting at 8 a.m., Saturday, with the last event at 5 p.m. the next day. The first day is all of The National Dog Show judging, while Sunday is The Kennel Club of Philadelphia (who hosts the event) judging.
4. There really is no “behind the scenes”
Anyone in the general public can buy a ticket to the dog show, and it is considered a “bench” show, which means dogs are “benched” during the day. The setup allows access to see everything from start to finish, including: watching the dogs being groomed, individual breed judging, performance and agility demonstrations, group judging and Best in Show. The group and Best in Show judging are televised.
5. New breeds are added nearly every year
Seven new American Kennel Club-recognized breeds made their debut at the 2015 dog show, adding to the 187 breeds competing for Best in Show. The breeds added last year were the Lagotto Romagnolo, Berger Picard, miniature American shepherd, Cirneco dell’Etna, Boerboel, Bergamasco and Spanish water dog. From 2003 to 2014, new breeds were added every year, except in 2005 and 2006. Before 2015, the most breeds added in one year was six.
6. You can’t predict the winner based on breed
Since 2002, only the wire fox terrier has won in back-to-back years, in 2011 and 2012. Previous winners (in order) were: the Labrador retriever, standard poodle, Doberman, fox terrier, bull terrier, toy poodle, Australian shepherd, pointer, Scottish terrier, Irish setter and American foxhound and the bloodhound. Last year’s Best in Show was the Skye terrier.
7. The groomers are meticulous
Sure, many of us know the intricate hairstyles of the poodle, but owners and groomers spend time grooming each dog — regardless of breed — with meticulous care. We saw Yorkies being flat-ironed, boxers having their muzzles shaved and floppy-eared pooches with their ears wrapped so they wouldn’t get drool on them.
8. It’s controlled chaos
While all the dogs look so put together on TV, expert analyst David Frei, who has hosted the show since 2002, admits that with 1,700 dogs, the scene can be chaotic. “They may bark at each other, and they may have their moments of turf, but basically everyone has been here before, and they know what’s going on.” Basically, there are no dogfights.
9. Dog handlers get creative
Showing the dog in the ring gets pretty intense, and handlers have figured out ingenious ways to get things done. I saw dog brushes tucked into waistbands, water sprayers used to mist dogs to keep their coats up and moist towels and fans to keep dogs from overheating. The most interesting? Many handlers actually kept the dog treats in their mouths.
10. They’re just dogs
This one seems like a no-brainer, but show dogs sometimes seem to be in a completely different realm than the pooches we have at home. “We deal with purebred dogs in the show, yet there are a lot of rescue dogs, and there’s a lot of homeless dogs,” said John O’Hurley, who hosts the show. O’Hurley’s newest book, The Perfect Dog, echoes Frei’s observation that no dog — even those in the show ring — is perfect. “The perfect dog is the one sitting right next to you.”
Awww… Now go pet your pooch, and give him a Thanksgiving treat. He’s earned it.
Originally published November 2015. Updated November 2016.