AKC/Eukanuba National Championship 2012 Coverage

The 2012 AKC/Eukanuba National Championship was a celebration of dogs — and a great show!

This really is a true “Celebration of Dogs” and a great show! It doesn’t matter if you’re a diehard dog show fancier or just casually interested in dogs and have never gone to a dog show before. The AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, now in its 12th year, has developed into the kind of event that has something for everyone. There is, in fact, so much going on that there’s no way one single person can experience all of it, and those of us who try to do so end up with an overload of impressions at the end of the weekend, aching feet and a burning head.

I’ll admit not being a fan at first. When AKC announced plans to hold its own annual show back in 2001, it seemed a little like a grudge match against Westminster, with a large chunk of prize money thrown in for good measure. This was actually what a lot of people thought in those days, but things have changed. Over the years the show has matured, grown and developed new features, some of which are among the best ideas we’ve seen in the sport of dogs in years. This is now clearly a world-class event, and it’s a measure of the show’s success that even though a lot of prize money is still involved — more than $220,000 in all — this isn’t even the most important aspect of the show anymore.

Since its inception the show has moved back and forth between Florida and the West Coast a couple of times, each hosting the show for a five-year period. I can see advantages to both. AKC often acts as if anything beyond the Eastern seaboard is terra incognita, and I’m sure I was not the only Californian to feel disappointed when the show moved back to Florida again last year, just as we had gotten used to looking forward to this wonderful extravaganza in Long Beach at the end of the year. On the other hand, the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando is one of the largest, most spectacular indoor showgrounds I’ve ever been inside, and Florida is admittedly a lot closer for long-distance visitors from Europe and South America than California is — and the international aspects of this show must be taken seriously.


Open to All Comers

In the past, AKC/Eukanuba was usually an invitational show. There were several different ways one could qualify for entry, but it was still considered a major coup if your dog was invited to participate. This year AKC made the decision to open the show to all comers, which in some people’s opinion diminished its prestige. Others, and I agree with them, feel it’s more important to present a really big national show, a shop window for the whole sport, and that’s what this has turned out to be.

The total entry of 4,181 dogs (making 4,347 entries, according to the catalog) makes this by far the biggest dog show held in the US in 2012, perhaps the biggest since the AKC Centennial show back in 1984, when 8,075 dogs were entered. It’s still not a particularly high figure compared to the major events in Europe, some of which have many more dogs. (Nobody has ever managed to explain convincingly why shows over there are so much bigger than ours. Is it just due to the population density, or are the Europeans really more dog-show crazy than we are?) However, a total of almost exactly 25,000 entries at the eight AKC all-breed shows held during the last five days of the show season is a very impressive total. There has been a lot of talk about dog shows as a “dying sport” recently, but that’s probably a little premature.

According to reliable sources, there were about 20,000 attendees at the various events, all taking place in the same big hall, with no need to go outside. The arena that housed the evening performances can take 4,000 spectators and was nearly sold out; as a result, it all looked more like a “real dog show” this year, as opposed to mostly a media event. The most interesting numbers, however, came from the streaming Group judging, which had an unprecedented audience of more than 1,400,000 views at ustream.tv/celebratedogs. [Videos of breed and Bred-by-Exhibitor judging are also available at DogChannel.com/EukanubaDogShow. — Eds.] Add the online videos to the TV airing of the show on ABC on Saturday, February 2, just over a week before Westminster, and it all adds up to fantastic PR for purebred dogs. It’s obvious that fanciers both near and far were curious about what went on at the show.

Four of the Groups were judged on Saturday, three on Sunday. The first day, in particular, was hectic for those of us who wanted to watch as much breed judging as possible. According to my estimate, 2,421 dogs were entered that day (717 Sporting dogs, 544 Hounds, 634 Toys and 526 Non-Sporting dogs). That’s a lot for anyone who’s trying to watch more than just an occasional breed; no wonder some judging had to start at 7:30 a.m. (which is, please remember, 4:30 a.m. for those of us who came from the West Coast). The second day had a lot fewer dogs, only 1,726 dogs total (621 Working dogs, 502 Terriers and 480 Herding). If that doesn’t quite add up, it’s because there were also 123 entries in the Miscellaneous Class: 16 Rat Terriers, 11 Cotons de Tulear, 27 Miniature American Shepherds, eight Pumis, eight Peruvian Inca Orchids, five Azawakhs, three Belgian Laekenois, two Bergamascos, two Boerboels, three Chinooks, nine Cirneci dell’Etna, four Dogos Argentinos, 16 Portuguese Podengo Pequenos, four Wirehaired Vizslas, four Sloughis and a single Spanish Water Dog. Best in Miscellaneous Class under judge Hiroshi Kamisato (“the laughing samurai”) of Japan was a Dogo Argentino from Illinois, Ona De Las Pampas.

Thirteen of the regularly classified breeds had more than 50 dogs entered (11 of them judged on the first day): Golden Retrievers 93, French Bulldogs and Labrador Retrievers 75 each, Australian Shepherds 69, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels 63, Chinese Cresteds 56, Boston Terriers and Papillons 55 each, Pomeranians and Border Collies 54 each, Vizslas and Whippets 53 each, and Havanese 51.

Most breed entries included a quite disproportionate percentage of champions and surprisingly few class dogs. I’m not sure why; it was almost as if exhibitors didn’t realize they could show class dogs here this year, or perhaps they were reluctant to bring a non-champion to such a big event. Quite a few foreign dogs were exhibited at the three regular all-breed shows leading up to the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship but were not entered at the big event. (I don’t have total figures for this, but in my own breed at least three dogs from South America and Europe were not in the AKC/Eukanuba catalog even though they had been shown on the previous days.)


Obedience, Agility, “Meet the Breeds” and more…

To summarize:

  • The AKC National Obedience Invitational was won by the Golden Retriever NOC, OTCh. Spirit’s Zim Zam Zoom, UDX7, OM4, from Canada, who repeated the win from last year.
  • The AKC National Juniors Obedience and the Agility Invitational competitions attracted big entries with dozens of winners in the different categories but no single outright winner.
  • The enormously popular AKC Meet the Breeds event was sponsored by parent clubs for about 150 different breeds. Booths were more or less imaginatively decorated and manned by both two- and four-legged representatives able and willing to let newbie fanciers learn about their breed. The Bull Terrier Club of America won the competition for Best Booth in Show.
  • The Junior Showmanship finale was judged by William P. Shelton, who picked as the winner out of 166 entries Emma Grayson Echols with her Yorkshire Terrier GCh. Silkiss’D Lets Rock — another repeat from last year.
  • The Breeder of the Year 2012 nominees were honored in the big ring during Sunday night. The winner was James W. Smith of the Absolutely Smooth Fox Terriers.
  • I wanted to include something in this article about the finale of the Eukanuba Breeder’s Stakes. It sounds like a wonderful idea — apparently teams of homebred dogs from different kennels compete for regional wins to qualify for the finale in Orlando. However, I didn’t see them at the show and can’t find more than one very brief mention of the Breeders Stake in the catalog. Why? Isn’t this a competition worthy of highlighting? Or is it being phased out?
  • One of the highlights of the evening presentation was the Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE), created by the AKC Humane Fund to “honor dogs that enrich, inspire, and make lasting contributions to the lives of individuals or communities.” The five honorees excelled in different areas. Joy, the “Exemplary Companion” Akita, was able to detect cancer in both of her owners before doctors did and thereby helped save their lives. The “Law Enforcement” German Shepherd Dog, Kirby, is a world-class drugbuster who has sniffed out more than $70 million worth of drugs and drug-tainted cash. The “Search and Rescue” Belgian Tervuren, Keahi, has found lost children and wandering seniors, led investigators to 78 dead bodies, some as old as three years and some under 170 feet of water, and frequently appeared as a “witness” in court. (I was privileged to make Keahi’s acquaintance at the airport before leaving after the show and was tremendously impressed.) The “Service” dog, Pilot, a Kuvasz, works with “mobility assistance,” helping his disabled owner carrying, pulling and dragging anything from grocery bags to heavy carts and sleds. Finally, the “Therapy” dog, Benny the Rottweiler, has logged more than 250 hours of service in hospitals and schools, acting as a goodwill ambassador for his breed — a feat that’s even more impressive since he’s battled osteosarcoma and wears a brace on his weakened leg.

Just one question, but an important one: Why are these amazing dogs presented to the public and the fancy with only their pet names? They are all purebred dogs, some are past champions and/or come from well-known show lines. Since it’s AKC’s goal to promote breeders of purebred dogs, it would certainly make sense if each dog’s full, registered name was known, the same way as any show dog. This goes for the winners in many of the performance activities also. A more general awareness that these amazing show dogs have breeders, sires and dams, and perhaps even show records, wouldn’t hurt our sport at all.


The World Challenge

The opening ceremony for the World Challenge was another highlight, a unique opportunity to see top dogs from a large number of foreign countries all in one ring at the same time. When they all filed in, accompanied by a bearer of their nation’s flag, it looked a little like a canine Olympics — some spectators were actually moved to tears when looking out over the sea of waving flags. Let’s face it, if the sport of purebred dogs has any meaning beyond the immediate gratification it provides for many of us, it’s that it brings people from near and far together, and seldom is this better illustrated than at the World Challenge.

It should be mentioned here that each country determines which dog should be allowed to represent it, which unsurprisingly causes some controversies beyond the organizers’ control. The BIS winners at a few major shows also receive an invitation, which means that some countries had more than one representative.

The World Challenge preliminary judging was completed in the daytime prior to Sunday’s finale, with the 43 contestants divided into four sections. By the time the contestants filed back in the ring on Sunday night, the four section judges had only to indicate three finalists each. Christian Stefanescu, president of the Romanian Kennel Club, judged Section 1 and selected the Siberian Husky from Japan, Ch. Misanga JP Lavender; the Pembroke Welsh Corgi from Russia, Ch. Andvol Pinkerton; and the Dalmatian from Australia, Ch. Paceaway at Rosemount. Section 2 was judged by Australia’s Guy Spagnolo, international all-rounder and Labrador Retriever breeder extraordinaire, who chose the Basset Hound from Mexico, GCh. Morningwood Luciano; the Akita from South Korea, Ch. Redwitch Don’t Think Twice; and the Standard Poodle from Denmark, Ch. Abica’s Miles Ahead. One of America’s most popular all-rounder judges, Keke Kahn, judged Section 3 and chose as her finalists the Doberman Pinscher from Brazil, Ch. A’Monde’s Marla The Prima Donna; the Yorkshire Terrier from Thailand, Ch. Hocus Pocus Wild Fantasy; and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel from Germany, Ch. Miletree Constellation. Finally, Ramon Podesta of Chile, also an international all-rounder and a world-class Afghan Hound breeder, judged Section 4 and selected the Saluki from Sweden, Ch. Shiraz California Dreamin’; the Standard Poodle from the US, GCh. Jaset’s Satisfaction; and the Bullmastiff from Bulgaria, Ch. Gamekeepers Play My Game. The last mentioned was reportedly disqualified for aggression during regular breed judging and could not compete further.

The remaining finalists were judged on Sunday night by Portugal’s genial all-rounder judge, Luis Pinto Teixeira. His third place (“first runner-up” as it’s confusingly called) went to the Pembroke Welsh Corgi from Russia, no newcomer to this event. Runner-up was the Saluki from Sweden, also a veteran in this competition and runner-up once before, in 2009. He lives in Sweden but was born and bred in the US. World Challenge winner was the Standard Poodle GCh. Jaset’s Satisfaction, who made a return trip to Orlando after having won BIS at last year’s AKC/Eukanuba National Championship show and remained one of the country’s top winners in all-breed competition throughout last year.


Better Bred-By-Exhibitor Winners!

One of the great improvements at this year’s show was the no-fuss selection of the Best Bred-by-Exhibitor dog in each breed. If there was any of the confusion we’ve seen in the breed rings in the past, I didn’t see it. Perhaps exhibitors and judges have learned how this award should be made — as a separate competition, after Best of Breed, with only those eligible remaining in the ring. Whatever the reason, it was a pleasure to see those who bred the dogs they show being rewarded in an appropriate manner.

The seven Best Bred-by Exhibitor Group winners included some famous names; a few of them, in fact, won both BOB and BBE, making them eligible to compete in both Groups. None took a “double” Group 1st, but some placed in both. The Afghan Hound GCh. Thaon’s Mowgli (8 years old and last year’s BBE in Show) was fourth in the regular Hound Group and won his BBE Group again; the Kuvasz GCh. Szumeria’s Wildwood Silver Sixpence was second in the regular Working Group and third in the BBE Group; the Border Terrier GCh. Meadowlake Simply Sinful was also second in the regular Group and won the BBE Terrier Group; and the Papillon GCh. Involo The King of Pop was fourth in the regular Toy Group and won the BBE Group. What a satisfaction it must be for a breeder/owner-handler to succeed both in the Bred-by competition and in the regular Group judging against all comers!

One of the talking points of the show was that the initial winner of the best Bred-by-Exhibitor in the Toy group was found to be ineligible, so subsequently the second place Papillon was moved up to represent the Toys in the finale. I understand the Papillon’s breeder/owner-handler had already left the show but was able to return just in time to get into the finale, where both handler and dog showed with great aplomb!

The finale for Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Show was judged by Patricia Craige Trotter — without much question the greatest breeder/owner-handler this country has ever produced. (A few days earlier, at the AKC Delegates meeting held before the show, Pat was honored with AKC’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her Vin Melca Norwegian Elkhounds.) Pat didn’t take long to select her winner, the flashy Doberman Pinscher bitch GCh. Protocol’s Veni Vidi Vici. ‘Fifi’ had been narrowly defeated in the regular breed judging earlier in the day but maintained her position as one of 2012’s top dogs of all breeds, as always superbly presented by breeder and co-owner Jocelyn Mullins. (I watched Fifi close up during breed judging and can’t remember when I saw a better-trained show dog, all the while retaining a lot of spirit and exuberance. Impressive!)


The Grand Finale

So on to the grand finale — Best in Show. All the top dogs in the country were entered, but not all competed. Several were jet-hopping around the country during the final show weekend of the season in a last ditch effort to maintain, or improve, their positions in the year-end rankings, which are obviously of tremendous importance to those involved. Most of them succeeded in adding to their already ample collections of red, white and blue BIS ribbons, but in the end I don’t think there was much change in the rankings.

For the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, however, this is a problem. Naturally AKC wants the top dogs to be at their show, and when they go elsewhere, it’s easy for spectators to wonder what they are missing. The fact is that we didn’t get to see either of 2012’s top two dogs at this show, or several of the other top-ranked winners — either because they went elsewhere or because they were defeated in breed competition. This was in spite of the fact that all the top dogs had been competing at the three Orlando shows leading up to the most important event of the week (or the year, perhaps).

I’m not sure what AKC can do about this, if anything. Someone suggested that AKC should simply forbid other clubs from holding shows anywhere in the country this weekend, but somehow I don’t think that would go down well with the AKC member clubs.

In spite of the above, the septet that gathered in the ring on Sunday night under the expert eye of judge Edd E. Bivin, now one of the few to have judged BIS at both Westminster and AKC/Eukanuba, was a beauteous sight to behold. There was the top dog of 2011, brought out of semi-retirement for a few shows this year — the black Cocker Spaniel GCh. Casablanca’s Thrilling Seduction. There was the Wire Fox Terrier GCh. Afterall Painting The Sky, top Terrier and perhaps this year’s biggest new winner of any breed. There was the Affenpinscher GCh. Banana Joe V. Tani Kazari, top Toy and among the top winners of all breeds for the past two years. The Bouvier des Flandres GCh. Rocheuses Me and My Shadow of Cornus has been ranked No. 2 in the Herding Group for most of the year and won a heap of BIS (the year’s top winner in this Group, the German Shepherd Dog, placed fourth). The Alaskan Malamute GCh. Catanya’s Latin Lover is an established BIS winner and one of the top contenders in the hot Working Group on the West Coast. The finalists were rounded off with what an American spectator may think of as two “outsiders” from overseas — the Saluki Int. Ch. Shiraz California Dreamin’, bred in the US but living in Sweden, and the black Standard Poodle UK Ch. Del Zarzoso Salvame From Afterglow, recently imported from Great Britain but with a Spanish breeder. Both are well known to international dog show insiders, however; the Saluki has been No. 1 All Breeds twice in his home country and has done well at both regular shows in the US and, as previously mentioned, in the World Challenge. The Standard Poodle was top “Utility” (Non-Sporting) dog in Great Britain last year as well as No. 3 of all breeds and will be interesting to watch at future shows in the US.

As everyone knows by now, it was ‘Sky’ the Wire Fox Terrier that took the top spot. It’s only three years ago that her handler, Gabriel Rangel, won this show with another Terrier, the famous Scottie Ch. Roundtown Mercedes at Maryscot. (She is now, if I understand correctly, busy rearing a litter of puppies at home with the Rangels.) I’m not sure what the future holds for Sky; when I first noticed her she had just finished and was owned by Poodle friends of ours — but surely, no pun intended, the sky must be the limit.

The Saluki, in what I’m told was his last show anywhere and now 6 years old, was Reserve BIS. I happened to be present when Mr. Bivin awarded ‘Harley’ a big win in Sweden a couple of years ago, and his enthusiasm then made his decision here no surprise to me. It’s encouraging to see that a great dog can do well under a highly respected judge in top US competition regardless of where it comes from.

If you care about dog shows but haven’t yet been to the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, do yourself a favor and make the trip next year. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


From the January  2013 issue of Dogs In Review magazine. Purchase the January 2013 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs In Review magazine.

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