Building Dog Show Entries With More Opportunities

The AKC has offered some new competitions to the exhibitor, and some of these have been well received and helped increase entries.

According to MB-F., Inc. President Bobby Christiansen, in his article, “Just the Facts,” the number of all-breed shows in 1996 numbered 1,266, while the number of all-breed shows in 2014 had grown to 1,625, an increase of more than 28 percent. The average entry at an all-breed show in 1996 was 1,389 dogs, and in 2014 it had dropped to 860, a decline of more than 38 percent. This is the recipe that has lead to smaller and smaller shows and many clubs struggling to survive. The reason is simple: too many dog shows sharing fewer entries.

I firmly believe that these declining numbers will see the gradual decline of the number of all-breed clubs that can survive. Smaller entries means there are fewer “majors” available, and that in itself is enough to spur the exhibitor to go elsewhere. The days of the back-to-back weekend shows are numbered. Just like the days of the single all-breed show on a weekend, I can’t think of one of those today. Only those clubs with inexpensive venues can possibly continue year after year with small entries. Many of today’s small all-breed shows are what all-breed matches were some 30 years ago. I can remember chairing an all-breed match in the early 1980s with an entry of 1,100 dogs.


4-6 Month Beginner Puppy Competition

The AKC has offered some new competitions to the exhibitor, and some of these have been well received and helped increase entries. One I especially like is the 4-6 Month Beginner Puppy Competition, which is essentially an outreach project that might possibly bring new exhibitors to the sport. The “Breeder of Merit” registers every puppy in the litter. The AKC invites the new purebred puppy owner who lives in the club’s jurisdiction to enter his new puppy at the local dog show. The invitation is emailed and reads in part:

“The 4 to 6 Month Beginner Puppy Competition is intended to introduce new exhibitors and their puppies to the show world in a stress-free and relaxed environment. It also provides an opportunity for puppies to socialize with people and other dogs at an optimal time of their development. Puppies may earn points towards a Certificate of Merit at these competitions.”

Judges of this competition must have an AKC Judges Number, which means they must be approved for at least one breed in order to judge this puppy competition.

Our club has embraced this competition. It has the potential to bring in new exhibitors to our sport, and it affords new judges more learning opportunities. Because sanctioned matches have pretty much disappeared, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for aspiring judges to gain hands-on experience. The judge(s) chosen to judge this event should have good people skills and a lot of patience, as we want this to be a positive experience for the new exhibitor and for the puppy. This is our chance to snag a new supporter of the sport we hold dear.

A club member should be in charge of the event, and ideally another club member should be floating around ringside, assisting the new exhibitor, making it all a fun learning experience. Is the collar and leash appropriate? Is the exhibitor wearing inappropriate footwear and thus unable to control the puppy? Help should be offered in a friendly and tactful way.


National Owner-Handled Competition (NOHS)

I will admit I was not a supporter of the National Owner-Handled Competition when it was first introduced. In fact, I was a critic. Credit goes to Facebook for my change in attitude. I have recently participated in a very lengthy and informative discussion about the competition with participating exhibitors. I have a changed attitude toward it now.

I believe there is little doubt that offering NOHS will bring some entries that wouldn’t otherwise have come. There are owner-handlers chasing these points and making a concerted effort to exhibit where NOHS is offered. If a noticeable increase in entries isn’t observed the first year it’s offered, I’m guessing that it will by the third year. My experience is that it takes three years for exhibitors to tune in to changes and/or additions, no matter what they might be.

I have learned that the NOHS exhibitors would like their judges to be approved for the Group they’re judging and would prefer that this judge not be the same one judging the regular Group that day. Obviously this request is not one easily filled, but if the panel does offer this kind of flexibility, it’d be nice to try and honor it. Again, I feel that these groups offer new judges another opportunity for a hands-on experience with breeds they are hoping to judge in the future.

The American Kennel Club gives this explanation for this new class of competition: “To recognize and showcase the quality dogs being exhibited by owner-handlers and to provide a venue for the owner-handlers to compete against their peers. The determination of the awards in the AKC National Owner-Handled Series is based solely on the quality of the entry. The owner-handler’s handling ability is not of consideration.”

If you are interested, the AKC website goes on to give more owner-handled competition information, including how to enter and how to find shows that offer the competition.

I have one request to make of the American Kennel Club. The judge is totally in charge of their ring in all matters except when it comes to the NOHS competition. Ring stewards are often volunteers on the day, offering their services to the club, and many of these generous souls steward but one weekend a year. No matter how clearly the instructions are given or written, there is invariably some confusion as to who is eligible, and often the owner-handler in the ring is unclear whether he or she actually checked this box. Please remember many owner-handlers are new to the sport and not familiar with all the nuances. Somehow this aspect of the owner-handled series must be changed so the judge once again has total control, including who is eligible for the NOHS competition.


Best Puppy Competition

Many clubs and clusters offer a “Best Puppy” competition on one of their days. The judge decides which puppy is best, marks it in their book, and later seven Puppy Groups and a final Best Puppy in Show are judged. Some clubs also offer a lower entry fee for puppy classes. This is an excellent opportunity for new judges to get their hands on breeds they are hoping to judge in the future. It also gives the exhibitor another opportunity to show their pup that day.

Growing up in Canada, I can remember showing my puppy in an all-breed sweepstakes, and I believe these are still offered today at some Canadian Kennel Club shows. For clubs with small entries, this is another way to offer more opportunities to the exhibitor.


Best Bred-By-Exhibitor Competition

Just like the Best Puppy competition, clubs can offer a Best Bred-by-Exhibitor competition. Some clubs offer a reduced entry fee for this class as well. The judge at the breed level decides which BBE exhibit is best, and those dogs go on to compete in their Group, and the Group winners compete for Best BBE in Show. At the risk of repeating myself, this is yet another opportunity for a new judge to gain valuable experience as well as offering more opportunities for exhibitors.

Clubs today need to offer more incentives for exhibitors to come to their all-breed shows. New AKC competitions can help do just that. Taking advantage of AKC’s 4-6 Month Puppy, NOHS, Puppy and Bred-by competitions can allow clubs to increase their entries and stay afloat. Remember to not expect huge entries right away, as it takes a couple of years for people to catch on.

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