National Dog Show, Thanksgiving Day Tradition


The Thanksgiving Day National Dog Show Presented by Purina has been a hit with TV viewers since the first contestant walked into the ring in Philadelphia in 2002. Viewership that first year hit nearly 19 million. Last year, hosts David Frei and John O’Hurley entertained an all-time high 22 million viewers — more than watched each of the first six games of this year’s World Series, and about equal the number who tuned in for game seven. “That’s something impressive,” O’Hurley says.

Frei , also the TV voice for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, says, “It’s magical, even if you don’t have a dog, it’s fun to watch.”

“It’s family TV, so from two to 92, everyone loves the dog show,” O’Hurley adds.

“For people who have dogs at home,” Frei continues, “it’s the alma mater factor; people cheer for the breed they know. They look at their Brittany and say, ‘Grace, if I only didn’t feed you so much and we managed to get one day get off the sofa, we could be out there, too.”

After the judges select their Best in Group choices, seven dogs vie for Best in Show honors. “Everyone watching at home has their own choice for who’s the Best in Show dog,” says Frei. “That’s the thing about watching dog shows that’s different from watching basketball or football, where the player either makes the lay up or scores a touchdown or not. Of course, I don’t even know who will win Best in Show. That’s what’s so great about dog shows; it’s all in the eyes of that one Best in Show judge.”

“Well, not exactly. I’m getting pretty good at predicting the Best in Show,” says actor/author O’Hurley (best known as J. Peterman on “Seinfeld” 1995-1998). I’ve learned a little from Mr. Frei over the years, and I get a little better at predicting the Best in Show winner each year. I know what to look for now, how a dog moves and all of that. Come to think of it, sometimes I’m right and my esteemed colleague is wrong.”

Frei laughs and suggests that he and O’Hurley have a good-natured wager on-air, with each broadcaster picking a winner. Proceeds from their wager benefit Frei’s non-profit Angel on a Leash organization that supports therapy dogs for health care and rehabilitation facilities and hospices. As former host of TV’s”Family Feud” (2006-2010), O’Hurley knows a few things about feuds.

This year, about 2,000 dogs will participate in the show, representing 192 breeds and varieties.

Two breeds will be seen on national TV for the first time. Both are newly registered by the American Kennel Club.

  • Wirehaired Viszla. This traditional Hungarian hunting dog is “impressively athletic and yet very sweet,” says Frei. In the 1930s, hunters and falconers in Hungary wanted to create a breed with the same traits and color of the Vizsla, but one that could more easily withstand extreme weather and rough field conditions, which explains the wiry coat.
  • Coton de Tulear is what Frei calls “a walking cotton swab.” The breed was originally kept by royalty in Madagascar (a large off Africa’s east coast) and is a relative of the Bichon Frise. These small, fluffy dogs stand 9-10 inches tall. Happy-go-lucky, they thrive on human companionship. First popular in France, they spread to the rest of Europe, then to the U.S. only a few decades ago.

The “National Dog Show Presented by Purina” broadcasts on NBC after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, noon to 2 p.m. (all time zones).

©Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC, Tribune Content Agency