Largest Dog Show in the United States
Formerly sponsered by Eukanuba, the newly christened Royal Canin AKC National Championship was held this year on December 17-18 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL. This show is the largest in the United States, with more than 3,500 dogs competing at the championship and the pre-shows. Most of the dogs entered are competing in conformation, an event where each dog is judged accoridng to how closely they match the breed standard. The national breed club for each breed creates this standard, and judges must know it very closely to be able to discern the smallest of differences between dogs competing in a class. One of the unique aspects to the event at the National Championship is that the year end event for the National Owner-Handled Series is on the agenda. This competition is reserved for people who are handling a dog that they own, thus hopefully preventing any bias toward professional handlers.
Agility is another event that goes on at this show. Agility is a timed obstacle course, in which the dog is not permitted to knock over bars, refuse to take an obstacle, or go over the time limit without incurring penalty points, or faults. The agility event at the AKC National Championship is unique because it features a huge variety of breeds. Only the top 5 dogs in each breed are invited to compete at the AKC Agility Invitational, so you may see some breeds there that you seldom see at a local trial. The winners of the finals this year were very diverse: Portugese Pondengo Pequeno (8″), Pembroke Welsh Corgi (12″), Shetland Sheepdog (16″), Brittany spaniel (20″), and a Belgian Sheepdog (24″).
Obedience is one of the longest running parts of this event, although the competition format has changed in recent years. During competition obedience, a dog and handler must demonstrate high levels of precision and accuracy throughout a series of obedience excercises. Some of these include scent discrimination (finding an item with the handler’s scent) and a signal excercise (the handler must use only hand signals to communicate to the dog). Dogs can qualify for Novice, Open, and Utility by obtaining 3 qualifying scores at their level during the year. In order to qualify for Masters, the best of the best, a dog must also demonstrate that they can play in the big leagues by having scores above 193 out of a possible 200.
Dock Diving is a relatively new addition to the National Championship line-up. The dock diving event is organized by the North America Diving Dogs, an organization that has partnered with the AKC to make dock diving titles recognized on AKC pedigrees. The iconic event in dock diving are the distance jumps, where the dogs run off the dock after their toy, and the longest jump wins the division. Another event in NADD is vertical, where the dogs jump straigt up off the dock to snag a bumper that is suspended as high at 7 feet off the dock. The final event is air retrieve, where the bumper is instead suspended out over the water in the pool, and the dogs have to leap off and snag the bumper before they hit the water. No matter which event is going on, dock diving is always a crowd favorite.
Meet the Breeds is a very popular event for the general public as well as more hard core dog people. Breed clubs will set up booths for their indivudual breeds, decorate them to demonstrate the dog’s heritage, and they will have representatives of their breed there for people to meet and interact with. If you are considering a new puppy, this is a fantastic way to meet a variety of breeds and talk to their breeders and owners.
Shopping is a huge allure for many of the national championship show patrons. There are vendors at the show for just about every dog item imaginable. Some of my favorite vendors are MAX 200, a company that makes fantastic agility and obedience equipment, and Primo Pads, a company that makes the kind of dog beds that I use in all of the crates for both my personal dogs and the training dogs. Other vendors include photographers, dog themed clothing, dog treats, grooming supplies, and custom crates.
Health in purebred dogs is something that has been the subject of much debate, derision, and criticism. The AKC and breeders everywhere are becoming increasingly comitted to the health of purebred dogs, and a big part of this is making sure that dogs are screened for genetic issues before they are bred, to avoid passing problems to the next generation. Seminars were given at the show on topics such as nutrition and neonatology, and the Canine Health Foundation was in attendance providing education to breeders as well as pet owners.
Me and My Crew
I was very excited to attend one of the pre-shows on Friday, and then to come back again on Saturday for one of the national championship days. It’s one of the few shows a year that people will travel from all corners of the country to attend, so I was able to spend time with some friends that I only see on rare occasion, if ever. Modoc and Wild both got to attend, and the environment at this show is nearly impossible to replicate in terms of the sheer number of distractions and proofing opportunities.
Even getting to the convention center was exciting, with Modoc getting a golf cart ride and Wild getting his first bus ride. Both dogs would certainly have preferred to be competing in agility rather than watching on the sidelines, and hopefully we will qualify to go sometime down the road. Due to the sheer size of the event, it’s unlikely that the National Championship will change venue anytime soon. Orlando is a nice place to be in December, and this will likely become an annual event for us in conjunction with a trip North for the Crown Classic in Cleveland.