Greatest Show on Earth, Dog Show – That Is


January, 2006

It’s the greatest show on earth, or the greatest dog show, anyway. The AKC/Eukanuba National Championship is January 14 and 15 at the Tampa Convention Center and the St. Pete Times Forum. The show – which includes not only confirmation (the beauty contest dog show you typically see on TV), but also obedience and an agility competition – airs live on both Discovery and Animal Planet, 8 p.m. EST (both nights).

Ron Reagan has been offering commentary on dog shows for over five years for Animal Planet. He says dog shows have matured on TV, and they’ve become increasingly more popular.

In fact, Reagan is more likely to have many more watch him describing wagging tails from the dog show, than the numbers who see him on one of his frequent turns on “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

Talking about dogs is as natural for Reagan and growling political discourse. He grew up with dogs. “All politicians should have dogs,” he says. “For one thing, it’s good for their public images, right? It’s also good for them, particularly those who hold a high office – the dogs normalize them. The dogs didn’t care if my father was the President or not.”

Reagan says his mother, Nancy, is doing well, overall. However, an energetic and strong Chinese Shar-Pei may not have been the best canine of choice for companionship after President Reagan’s death. Nancy’s friend, Merv Griffin (former TV host and businessman) was on the right track when he purchased a puppy. He just chose the wrong breed.

“We were worried that the she (Nancy) would get hurt; the dog was just too boisterous,” he says. “So, we found (the dog) another really good home. Medical research show dogs are beneficial to health. And we’ve always had dogs. We’re looking into getting her another dog because there’s no question that having a dog is beneficial – just a smaller, much smaller, less energetic dog.” Reagan says that he’ll do what thousands do while watching at home – think about choosing the right breed (In this case, for his mother), as he watches over 150 breeds and varieties parade in front of him at the dog show.

TV analyst Lee Arnold is the ‘dog expert’ among the TV commentators with over 20 years of breeding, as it happens, Chinese Shar-Pei’s. Perhaps this generally energetic and independent minded dog isn’t right for a frail senior citizen. But then Arnold is quick to point out, “Not every breed matches each person. If you’re interesting in getting a dog, watching a dog show is wonderful. You get this little snippet of knowledge about each breed. For example, we talk about how American Staffordshire terriers – which look like the put bulls – are, in fact, terrific family dogs. And you certainly get a good idea of what any breed is supposed to look like. These dogs are the best of the best.”

Arnold also notes the surging popularity of watching dog shows on TV. “We all like to be arm chair judges,” he says, “We’re watching at home and say ‘That’s the top dog in the Group.’

Even Jane Forsythe says she guilty of choosing the top dog from her living room. The difference between Forsythe and most viewers is that she happens to be a real dog show judge. Forsythe, who has judged dogs since 1981, will be judging Best in Show at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. Forsythe made her name as a boxer breeder, and worked as a handler (the person who shows dogs at dog shows) for 43 years. She and her husband, Bob, combined for the most successful handling team ever. Today, the couple – who reside in Pinehurst, NC – travel the world judging.

She laughs when asked to offer her prediction as to whom the Best in Show winner will be. “They hide me off in a hotel room,” she says. In fact, she is sequestered, until she’s escorted to the Best in Show ring to see who the seven finalists are for the first time. One thing is always certain, the final seven represent each of the seven groups: Herding, Hound, Non-Sporting, Sporting, Terrier, Toy and Working.

Forsythe says when you watch on TV, you certainly get some idea of what the dogs are all about. But, so far, even with realistic high definition TV is, you still can’t reach out and touch the dogs. “I’m feeling for muscle tone and alignment,” she explains. “This is very important.”

She complains that the cameras typically don’t capture the movement of the dogs in the ring, which matters in many breeds. For example, a border collie is expected to move very differently than a Labrador retriever.

Of course, the TV cameras don’t scan inside the dogs’ mouths, where judges do say ‘open wide;’ they’re checking for a crooked jaw or noting any missing teeth.

Arnold offers his favorites to watch for in the show: A pair of boxers, Ch. (Champion) Hi-Tech’s Basic Addition and Ch. Brookwood’s Mystic Warrior; a colored bull terrier, Ch. Rocky Top Sundance Kid; German shepherd dog, Ch. Kenlyn’s Tenacity V Kaleef and Pekingese Ch. Yakee If Only.