Behind the Scenes at a Dog Show

Too few participants know what it takes to put on a dog show.

I have found a whole new world by being backstage in the world of dog shows. This is where the shows that we attend are produced, choreographed, directed, advertised, paid for and sold. The talk is a different language than what we hear on the dog show stage and in the audience.

How many owner-handlers, professional handlers, assistants and backers really know what it takes to put on a show or what the costs are? It’s a year-long job, and show chairmen and their volunteer crew (if they’re lucky enough to have one) put hours, weeks and months into this task. Of course there are those shows that don’t measure up, but those that do require a great deal of dedication and attention to detail. The workings of those shows that I’ve been witness to are the only ones I can speak of, and they have been among the best!


The Show Location

The first task of planning a dog show is finding grounds on which to hold it. Whether indoors or outdoors, it has become close to impossible to find a place where you can fit even a 500-entry dog show. Consideration needs to be given to sites with large enough parking areas for exhibitors’ cars, vans and motor homes, plus room for spectators’ vehicles.

If the club is lucky enough to find an outdoor location, they need not worry (too much) about the size of rings. They do need to worry about bad weather. Lately more shows have been shut down due to poor weather conditions than in the past. Finding indoor facilities has become nearly impossible. Shows that have had a site for many years may be lucky enough to keep those sites, but many are not that lucky, and it becomes a grueling job with many “no’s” and “sorry’s.” Most places are too small. How often do exhibitors get to a show and resent the small rings, lack of grooming areas and human traffic jams getting from one part of the show grounds to another?

Many venues, indoors and out, do not allow dogs. Many outdoor sites do not allow dogs due to state or county law. In all cases, the prices of these sites have escalated beyond the reach of many clubs.

Clubs also need to consider the “gate.” Spectators help pay for the show. They are the reason why vendors rent booths and take out catalog ads, which helps cover costs. If there’s no room for spectators, or if the site is in an area that isn’t convenient to the public, a lot of money is lost. What should the show-giving club do? Give up and close the door?


The Judges’ Expenses

Then there is the finding and hiring of judges. Exhibitors are always hoping to find shows where there are judges who can be considered specialists for their breeds. With costs rising for everything else, this too has become almost an impossibility. It seems that most shows would rather hire judges who can adjudicate on many breeds (at least three Groups) and share those few judges with the shows they back up to. You can go to a three-day weekend of shows and possibly find only five or six judges passing judgment on all the entries. Judges are expensive to hire, but way less so than hiring many breed specialists and paying for their expenses. Again, what is the show-giving club to do?

What about the judges’ lunch? Some clubs provide a fine lunch for them: hot dishes, salads, coffee and dessert. Then there are shows where the judges find cold cuts (not from a good deli), white bread, mayonnaise, mustard and canned soft drinks. Pretty poor, especially if it’s raining and cold.

But all is not bad for judges! A judge’s expense sheet can run the gamut. Sadly, there are those whose final bills are not at all what the club’s treasurer expected. Usually expenses are travel and food for the day or days they are working. But there are those with some pretty high extras. I’ve even heard of a “packing fee.” I guess some people don’t know how to pack their own suitcases. Oh, and then there are dog-sitting fees and someone to cook for their mates who were left at home. I’ve also been told of judges who want to be paid their fee when a show is canceled due to bad weather. They are surely entitled to their expenses, but should they also collect their fee? It’s amazing what expenses mean to different people. Do the arithmetic. A lot of money goes out to those judges who are passing judgment on your dogs.


Miscellaneous Costs

Once grounds are secured and judges are hired, there is so much more. Toilets. Yes, outdoor shows require them. There are different kinds, some pretty dreadful and some very fine. How much money should they cost? A club also cannot put on an outdoor show without tenting, and this is one of the biggest expenses, costing thousands of dollars.

Should a chairperson hire a loudspeaker system? If there were an emergency, I would certainly want to hear about it. I thought this was an inexpensive necessity. Surprise! The cost here on the East Coast can be on average about $900.

And then there’s the American Kennel Club. How many of you exhibitors are aware that the AKC charges not only the recording fee of 50 cents per dog, but also a $3-per-dog service fee? Consider that the average dog show today has about 700 entries. That means that each club pays the AKC about $350 for the recording fee, plus $2,100 for services. I have asked club people about this, and it seems that no one really knows what service is provided for this very large amount of money. So if there is an average of, say, 27 all-breed conformation shows a weekend, that is a whole lot of money going to the AKC each week.


Why Clubs Do It

Dog clubs are not about making money and having a huge treasury, but they are also not about losing money. Just think of the good services this lost money could provide. The clubs could make donations to their communities to benefit the dog population. They could donate to the Canine Health Foundation, Take The Lead and other worthwhile organizations.

Lately there has been a lot of grumbling behind the scenes, and I think you, the people who attend the shows, should know about this. Giving money to AKC is certainly one of the problems clubs must deal with, especially in the face of having to pay these fees for unknown services even when the show is canceled. This means that even though there is no show and whatever services the AKC offers are not necessary, the club, aside from losing the money they might have made on the gate, vendors, etc., now must still send a very large check to the American Kennel Club. How can clubs stay active with these huge amounts going out of their treasuries and so much less going into their treasuries?

Next time you’re at a show, give some thought to the above problems facing the show-giving clubs. For those that obviously are trying hard to make their shows a pleasant event for all concerned, say “thank you.” For those clubs whose members seem to feel the whole thing is just too much work and say, “Let’s just get it done and make some money for our treasury,” write them and ask, “Why?” Don’t forget to copy the American Kennel Club.


From the December 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.

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