Dog Show Fever

RVs rolling in and setting up isn’t a rare sight at the Prescott Valley Event Center. On one of the first cool weekends in September, though, each RV came paired with kennels, collapsible fencing, food and water dishes, grooming tables, and lots of excited dogs!

I attended the Prescott Kennel Club’s dog show this year, accompanied by my brother, Ryan.

Neither of us had ever been to an event like this. I wasn’t even on assignment.

A month or so back, I was scrolling through my newsfeed, soaking up the adorable pictures of people’s beloved dogs and a stray thought jumped in. Are there any dog shows coming up near me, and can anyone just go and watch?

Turned out there was, and they can!

I packed up my hobby camera (and pointers from my half-finished online photography course), picked out the breeds I wanted to see, and in we marched with our preconceptions of what a place filled with hundreds of dogs would be like.

Many of our expectations were shattered, but for the good.

This is TJ, a young mastiff waiting his turn to compete. Some dogs are more comfortable with the atmosphere than others. He was a little nervous.

 

First, I believed it would be unbearably loud. Not so.

At any one time on the show floor, of the hundreds of dogs there only one or two would be barking. They never barked more than three times before someone got them under control or ushered them out to the preparation areas to work off their energy.

The noise level was so well-controlled, the judges in each of the eight indoor rings could call for the next dogs/handlers in a regular, even quiet, volume and be heard very well.

Some breeds had dozens of entrants, while others had as few as one. Boxers made up one of the larger groups.

 

My brother had the second big assumption of the day. He believed the owners were the ones who took their dogs into the ring for judging. Not at all.

Professional dog handlers, dressed in their power suits and formal business wear, rotated between several clients in different rings. My inner child added their job to the list of answers to “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Owners sat outside the ring waiting with their dogs for their turn, watching the competitions progress, and networking with other owners on bloodlines, commiserating on breeding woes, and discussing future show opportunities or past wins.

I’d never seen many of these breeds outside of books and shows. Most, like the Irish Wolfhounds, were as magnificent as I imagined.

 

I went into this experience as an eager spectator. I was embracing my role as an enthusiast with a camera, there to stand on the sidelines with my love of dogs of all kinds and years of watching every dog-centered TV show, joining every Facebook group, and reading every breed guide I could get my hands on.

My brother came out of plain curiosity, taking advantage of a chance to get out of town on an open weekend.

I assumed we’d be among other spectators.

As with our other assumptions, this wasn’t the case. We were the rarest breed there.

The event wasn’t massive. It was large, of course, but nothing like some places I’ve been. There were maybe 800 human attendants that day. Out of all the people I saw, maybe five (not including me and my brother) were not personally invested in the show.

There were owners (some brought their kids/family), handlers, event staff, judges, and vendors. Everyone had a job, a focus, a team.

In the galleries off the main stadium floor, we got a better sense of the extent of the work behind the moments in the ring. This was hours before the terrier groups were scheduled to show.

 

Nope, I was literally there to pet all the puppies I could! Well, that and practice taking pictures.

There was no charge to come see these remarkable animals. $5 for parking got us a whole day of seeing professionals show off animals who, at the end of the show, would be back to stealing their family’s socks, doing their “going on walkies” dance of excitement, getting let outside to go potty, and all the other endearing things family pets do.

While purebred dogs are not every dog-lover’s cup of tea, I still can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning. It was all the joy of discovering your new neighbor has an adorable puppy, but amplified by the hundreds of animals present in that stadium.

Since coming home, I’ve told at least a dozen people about my experience there. Several have pointed out watching The National Dog Show at Thanksgiving has become a tradition for them and their families, but they’d never attended a show of any level.

I hope this changes and more people go to their local shows. It’s too good a time for dog lovers to miss!

This is Jaws, a young male Great Dane, who instantly struck this excellent pose for me at a command from his loving owner.

If you’re interested in attending a show, do a quick Internet search for kennel clubs in your state. If you live in a larger city, I can almost guarantee there will be a club for your area, along with at least an annual show.

Join dog-focused groups on social media and connect with people who participate in shows. The structure and procedure of shows can be difficult to follow – my brother and I had no idea what was going on 90% of the time – so an insider point of view can help you get the most out of the experience.

If you do find a show to attend, show common courtesy.

Ask before petting. Individual dogs all have different temperaments. Some may react poorly or be made uncomfortable. Also, many breeds require extensive grooming, which can be messed up by a good ear scratch and result in a poor score from the judges.

Ask before snapping pictures, especially outside the ring. It’s a matter of good manners. You will also get better shots, especially as the dogs are quite used to attention and know how to pose.

Distractions are not welcome, as judging includes behavior inside the ring. Turn phones on silent. Turn off the flash on your camera. Never, ever reach into the ring. Keep your voice to a normal or low volume, and especially avoid high pitches.

As always, read the rules of the specific event/venue. In the case of this show, professional cameras were not permitted – classified as cameras with lenses longer than 8 inches.

 

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