For the past two decades she has been showing miniature Italian greyhounds at dog shows across the country. The smallest of the family of gazehounds (dogs that hunt by sight), they compete in the "Toy" group due to their slender bodies. True genetic greyhounds, their bloodlines extend back more than 4,000 years. These canines can achieve a top speed of up to 25 miles per hour.
Owner/handler Reed brings her three-year old Hunter into the show ring this weekend at the National Dog Show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pa. Duncan, now 14, earned a third in the toy group at the show in Philadelphia in 2001.
“It’s a very hard show to get a ‘Best of Breed,’” observed Reed, a Colwyn resident. “I’ve won and lost there. But it’s also about interacting with other handlers and spending time with the spectators who will meet and greet Hunter, and telling them all about the breed.”
Saturday, Nov. 17, marks the 10th anniversary of the National Dog Show, Presented by Purina. More than 2,000 of America’s top show dogs and 170 different breeds (including the world's largest, smallest and most exotic) will take to the show rings in a pair of all-breed, benched dog shows at one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious dog shows. The competition (1-6 p.m.) will then be produced into a two-hour special to be aired on NBC Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, (noon – 2 p. m.) after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
On Sunday, Nov. 18, the Kennel Club presents another competition with 150-plus breeds competing for Best in Show, and a wide variety of demonstration events such as agility trials, dog diving, entertainment and educational programs.
The National Dog Show has become as much a fixture on Thanksgiving as pumpkin pie and NFL games. When the event was first televised in 2002, executives had to rub their eyes to be sure they were seeing the rating numbers straight. It’s the world’s most widely watched dog show (over twice the combined audiences of the next two most widely watched dog shows) and the Thanksgiving Day special is expected to reach an audience approaching a total of 20 million viewers.
Jon Miller, President of Programming for NBC Sports, created the concept after watching the acclaimed satirical movie “Best in Show.”
“Everyone thinks that the National Dog Show has been around as long as the Macy’s Parade,” Miller recounted. “It’s a testament to the emotionally-charged, integral role that dogs play in our lives.”
Staged in Oaks, Pa., near Valley Forge, the canine contenders on Saturday will be judged individually in a dozen rings according to the recognized standards for the breed. Around 2 p.m. breed winners advance to group judging in the main show ring-- Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding. The group winners vie for the coveted title—“Best in Show.”
Philadelphia is one of only five benched dog shows left in America, meaning the dogs are on display throughout the weekend and large crowds come out to meet the canines and interact with the owners and breeders. NBC takes viewers backstage capturing that lively atmosphere which celebrates the species, introduces the newest breeds and makes every canine the star of the day.
John O’Hurley will again host the NBC television special. A winner in “Dancing with The Stars” and a veteran actor, O’Hurley is joined again by David Frei, “the dean” of canine expert commentators. Tennis broadcaster Mary Carillo serves as sideline reporter.
Frei is an AKC-licensed judge and host of USA Network’s prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. He has enjoyed much competitive success with his Afghan hounds and Brittany spaniels.
“Just as in any athletic endeavor there is an air of confidence about these dogs, a certain swagger,” Frei explained. “Some dogs just have a presence in the ring. Kind of like the dog saying ‘I own this ground I’m standing over.’ But like all top-level competitions they have to back that up with performance.”
So why is one canine chosen over others in what seems a whisker-close competition?
“Judging outside the ring, we can all do that,” Frei replied. “It’s relating form to function. The job of an Afghan hound is to run down rabbits, so the judge needs to see those traits. All the right parts need to be in all the right places. It’s all about putting your hands on the dog and feeling what’s under that fur which helps to bring both the art and engineering together to find that star.”
The Kennel Club of Philadelphia (KCP) held its first show in 1879 and even pre-dates the American Kennel Club (AKC) which was organized in 1884. Sanctioned by the AKC, this year the National Dog Show benefits the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia.
This year the National Dog Show introduces two new breeds for AKC registration-- the Russell Terrier, a strong, hardy, intelligent earth-working terrier and the Treeing Walker Coonhound that is perfectly suited for the task for which it was bred - tracking and treeing wild raccoons.
Attending a benched show is a rare pleasure. Spectators can go backstage to watch a myriad of breeds get pampered, coddled and primped for the show ring. Some dogs simply sleep in their crates between showings. Most surprisingly, there is very little barking considering how many dogs are in one exhibit hall. But best of all, visitors looking to acquire a certain breed can quiz devoted dog handlers about a breed’s energy level, intelligence, or potential health problems.
The dogs may be the stars, but it’s their handlers that make it happen. It’s tough work, with long hours and loads of travel. Handlers work with their dogs every day to keep them sharp physically and mentally. They are grooming gurus, constantly perfecting their gleaming coats.
Most weekends they're out there traveling with their companions in cages and crates. Handlers drive hundreds of miles and then spend several hours sitting backstage before the animal goes on for its 60 seconds or so of fame.
For a top-notch handler the job is a 24/7 routine that requires detailed organization and savvy strategy as far as entering which dog in what show before which judge.
In addition to miniature Italian greyhounds, Alicia Reed also trains a Chinese Crested named Junior, one of a small hairless breed that is 11 to 13 inches tall at the shoulder. The dogs begin their training as early as eight weeks. “You want your dog comfortable on the lead (leash),” Reed noted. “It’s the same with stacking. You work on positioning the dog on a table, so he’s not afraid being up off the ground. You put their feet in the right position and praise them for it. By six months or so, they’re doing it very well. When you’re at these shows the judge puts his hands all over the dog, and checks his teeth. Your dogs must be at ease with all that.”
Haverford resident Debra Evalds has been showing Vizslas for 20 years. Lightly built with an attractive golden rust coat, Vizslas are agile and energetic, a versatile dog of power, drive and endurance in the field. This year she brings seven-year old Scarlett to the National Dog Show.
“She has been runner-up four times at this show, so maybe her turn is this year,” said Evalds, a special education teacher who runs the New Hope Vizsla Rescue.
“The Oaks facility is so user friendly. I think it’s the best dog show facility in the country. Folks get a wonderful meet and greet. When a family is thinking about a breed they need to meet that dog in person, especially if they have kids. Vizslas are a super high-energy dog. See how the dog fits in the home as a companion. As breeders we have that obligation. It’s our number one job.”