Move over football fans! There’s another family tradition taking root on Thanksgiving Day that will bring the entire family together before carving the turkey. The National Dog Show Presented by Purina provides a heartwarming watch that will appeal to sports fans and animal lovers alike. Even if this scheduling shift brings some initial resistance, you can still cheer on your favorite teams, er, precious pups from across the country as they strut their stuff. You might even see some familiar, furry faces this year.
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Four dogs from the coastal Georgia area will compete. Three Bedlington Terriers from Rincon: Charlie’s Shining Star Sophia in the puppy category, and in the Best in Breed category, GCH First Class Flawless My Dear and GCHB Prismic Fashionista Ignites the Revolution RATI RATN CAA DCAT FDC ATT. Savannah’s own Coventry Farm’s Ain’t She Sweet, a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, will compete in the Open category.
This community connection or your affection for a particular pup can lead to the phenomena co-host and “dean of dog commentators” David Frei calls the “alma mater factor.” Much like an intense personal connection leads football fans to cheer on their alma mater, many viewers cheer on a specific competitor because their furry friend is the same breed.
Set to air on NBC directly after Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the show is perfectly positioned before the Thanksgiving feast and football into the evening. Frei recommends only one rule to make the most of it: “Dogs until two.”
Like comparing Airdales to Otterhounds
Rather than comparing apples to oranges—ok, more like comparing Airdales and Otterhounds―members of the terrier and hound groups, respectively—the American Kennel Club categorizes the 200-plus recognized breeds into seven groups based on the breed’s original characteristics and functions. To further level the playing field, the AKC also has a written standard for each breed’s ideal coat type, size and eye shape.
But this isn’t just a beauty pageant. Since each breed originally had specific functions, they also have personality standards that best suit these intended purposes. While judges and viewers may not get to see them at work during the show, these elite breeds continue to carry the features that made them good at their jobs.
Anyone who has trained a dog to sit or roll over will tell you this isn’t always easy. Puppies are sweet, but they’re also stubborn. Now imagine training that dog to stand a certain way, move a certain way or remain confident while a total stranger inspects them. It’s not the kind of thing your local PetSmart will teach you.
“I like to say that when you’re watching the dogs on television, you see the dog in the range of two minutes, but it’s really kind of a lifetime of preparation for the people that are showing these dogs, and sometimes it’s generational,” Frei said.
With a lifetime of careful preparation, many of these dogs float almost like royalty. Most of them, like Best in Show champions such as GCH Foxcliffe Claire Randall Fraser and GCHG Diamond Gold Majesu Pisko Bulls, even have regal-sounding names to match.
These names are a far cry from the beloved “Spot,” but they aren’t just a way to make a dog seem classier. The prefix abbreviations indicate how many AKC Grand Championship points a competitor has amassed over time. According to Frei, the remaining names come from themed litter naming conventions that present some dogs with musical monikers while others are named after sports stars or television shows.
However, these aren’t the names breeder-owner-handlers shout when they find their prized pooch digging a hole under the fence. Most dogs have a call name, a shortened version. In their day-to-day lives, these champions answer to more familiar names like Claire and Thor.
Call names make things easier on us humans, but they also cement the pooch’s place in our families, just like any dog.
“These dogs dress up a little bit and go to dog shows on weekends, but during the week, they’re sleeping on our couches and shedding on our black clothes and stealing food off the counter, and probably even maybe taking a drink out of the toilet like your dogs,” Frei said.
While not all dogs continue to work for their original purpose, this intense love opens new career paths for our beloved friends. For more than 30 years, Frei has worked with therapy dogs to help brighten others’ lives. Whether working with cancer patients or chatting with down-on-their-luck strangers on the street, Frei said his dogs have given him a new way to engage with others as they chat about their beloved pets. Whether it’s True Dat, his devoted Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, or Uno the beloved beagle, Frei knows firsthand that dog ownership means loving and being loved by a very special creature.
“My dogs have changed lives with a lot of people, but they’ve also changed my life,” Frei said. “And I thank them every single day for letting me be the guy on the other end of the leash.”
Show dog or not, the National Dog Show Presented by Purina is a reminder that unconditional love is often the most unifying force we, as humans, can experience. So, as we gather with loved ones this holiday season, Frei encourages viewers to celebrate and channel the unique brand of love we receive from “the dog sitting on the couch next to you, who is the real Best in Show dog, after all.”