‘The National Dog Show': Here's What You Need to Know

The event is hosted by The Philadelphia Kennel Club.

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Since 2002, “The National Dog Show” has co-mingled with turkey and football as one of the most cherished pieces of entertainment on Thanksgiving. It’s the perfect filling in the sandwich between the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the afternoon’s NFL games.

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THE NATIONAL DOG SHOW -- 2020 -- Pictured: Bedlington Terriers -- (Photo by: Bill McCay/NBC)

But this year, the show will look a little different. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no live audience for the competition. The judges and handlers will all be wearing masks, as well as the staff and crew. No media or sponsors were allowed at the show this year.

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THE NATIONAL DOG SHOW PRESENTED BY PURINA 2019 -- Pictured: (l-r) David Frei, Havanese, John O'Hurley -- (Photo by: Bill McCay/NBC)

Hosts John O’Hurley and David Frei say their roles will be different as well.

“We’re going to have fewer dogs,” O’Hurley says. “However, every one of those dogs entered in this year’s competition, will have to be a champion of its breed. So though we have fewer, we have raised the bar of excellence.”

“The National Dog Show” is sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, and only purebred dogs registered with the AKC can compete. The AKC  recognizes 208 breeds and varieties of dogs, split into 7 seven different groups.

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THE NATIONAL DOG SHOW -- 2020 -- Pictured: Bearded Collie -- (Photo by: Bill McCay/NBC)

In the first round of the National Dog Show, dogs of the same breed will compete against each other based on how the dog fits the breed standards. The winner, named “Best in Breed,” will represent their breed at the next level: the group. 

The American Kennel Club categorizes every breed into seven groups (sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, non-sporting and herding). At the group level, dogs are not judged against each other, but rather against how well they fit their breed standards. Each group winner, named “First in Breed,” will go on to compete in the final round for the coveted Best in Show.

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THE NATIONAL DOG SHOW -- 2020 -- Pictured: Shih Tzu -- (Photo by: Bill McCay/NBC)

This year, three breeds make their National Dog Show debut:

  • The Barbet, which competes in the Sporting Group, originated as a water dog in France. The breed has a curly coat that can be black, gray, brown, or fawn in color, sometimes with white markings. The Barbet is a calm dog but was bred to help retrieve birds. The breed’s name comes from the French word “barbe,” which means beard.
  • The rare Belgian Laekenois (“Lak-in-wah”) joins the Herding Group. This strong, sturdy and protective breed has a rough, tousled coat that can be shades of red, fawn or grey. The Belgian Laekenois was originally bred and raised to guard livestock and linens drying outside before serving as messenger dogs during WWI and WWII.
  • The Dogo Argentino, which falls under the Working Group, was originally a pack-hunting dog in Argentina. The breed was known to take down wild boar and puma, among other large game. Dogo Argentinos have short, white coats, but a dark patch near the eye is permitted as long as it doesn’t cover too much of the head.
Dog running with person in mask
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THE NATIONAL DOG SHOW -- 2020 -- Pictured: Bloodhound -- (Photo by: Bill McCay/NBC)

Frei says the NDS is a hit each year with families because of the feelings dogs give to people.

“Dogs change the energy in the room, they change the energy in your life. And they do great things for people, whether you know it or not,” Frei says.

The National Dog Show will be broadcast nationally from noon-2 p.m. in all time zones following the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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