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14 Behind-the-Scene Secrets from the National Dog Show

There's a lot more going on behind-the-scenes than extensive grooming. Here's what our reporter witnessed with her own two eyes when the cameras weren't rolling.

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national dog show purina Courtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

Behind the scenes

If you have ever witnessed a case of the zoomies in a dog, that's the kind of excitement I had when I learned I would be attending The National Dog Show Presented by Purina. Yep, the very same dog show me and over 20 million people tune in to watch after the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC since 2002. I thought I had a fairly good idea of what I would be walking into. Truth be told, I was awe-struck and surprised at what I discovered—just as you might be by these 30 fun facts you never knew about dogs.

national dog show purina Courtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

So many dogs!

The NDS is held at The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pennsylvania. It's huge—200,000 square feet. Yet, it barely seems enough to contain the 15,000 dog lovers, 13 breed-specific show rings, the Best in Show ring (where the broadcast is taped), 55 vendors, about 1,000 handlers and, of course, the dogs—more than 2,000 in total! That includes numerous dogs from each of the 205 AKC recognized breeds, including the newest breed, the Azawakh (pronounced oz-a-wok), a sighthound from Africa. This is how a dog breed becomes officially recognized by the AKC.

national dog show purina Courtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

What is a benched show?

As a dog lover, I was drooling over the chance to meet and greet the unique breeds I probably would never see in my own neighborhood. Anyone can buy a ticket and meet the dogs face to muzzle—you don't have to be a member of the press. A benched show means the dogs must be present on their assigned bench from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. That sounds pretty strict, but the dogs don't have to sit still on a bench all day, meeting their adoring public, but they aren't allowed to leave the building during that time. Dogs can mingle with the public by standing on their benches, especially handy for smaller breeds, while other dogs were on a leash standing, sitting or lying down in their assigned area, or napping in their kennel. Find out the most popular dog breed in every state.

national dog show purinaCourtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

Porta-potty for dogs

The AKC is pretty strict about the rules for a benched show, and enforce the rules by periodically checking to make sure the dogs are where they are supposed to be. So, if dogs aren't allowed to leave the building, where do they do their business? There are a few designated places—orange fenced-in areas lined with sawdust-like shavings—for dogs to go potty. Handlers still have to clean up after their dog—if the dog goes. An Otterhound owner/handler I talked to said his (and other dogs) often hold their pee and poo for hours before they finally go because they don't feel comfortable doing their business with so much commotion going on. These are 14 things you may be doing with your own pup that it secretly hates.

national dog show purina Courtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

Dogs are remarkably chill

With the mass amount of people, including curious and brazen little kids, I was amazed at how chill the dogs were. All the breeds were so calm amidst the onslaught of thousands of hands petting them. I even got a friendly lick from Wyatt, a handsome Bernese Mountain dog. That's not to say the dogs were always mute. There was an adorable Basset Hound who welcomed me with his genial baying. I felt the impulse to bay back in solidarity, but decided against it, when I noticed another dog lover standing next to me. Handlers say dogs are calm because from an early age they are trained to become desensitized to noise, distractions, and strangers petting them. A dog's tail also gives you clues if it's calm or aggravated.

national dog show purina Courtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

Hands-on learning

For prospective dog parents, a benched show just might help you narrow down the choice of breeds you want to add as a new family member—or you'll fall in love with a breed that wasn't even on your shortlist. The point is, the NDS is far more than a prestigious dog show. It's a rare opportunity to get the goods on any given breed because the owners are often the handler—and the breeder, too. They are eager to share everything they love about their dog—including their health, dietary, and exercise needs, personality quirks, and anything else you could ever want to know about the breed, including the eye-rolling, yet endearing weird things all dog breeds do.

national dog show purina Courtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

Things you don't see on TV

If you've watched any televised dog show, you know how the show unfolds—each dog is introduced, the dog and handler run around the ring, and the judge gives the pup a once-over. What you don't see is the clock ticking away while the other dogs sit patiently ringside, hoping to get called out by the judge for another run around the ring. It gets pretty toasty with all the hot arena lights, so while the dogs wait, a person from the dog's entourage is ringside with a spray bottle to quench the pup's thirst or to cool its feet. Some dogs stand or sit on cooling towels, and bulldogs and pugs who are more sensitive to heat are cooled down with ice packs. Be sure you know the warning signs of heatstroke in your own dog.

national dog show purina Courtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

Grooming galore

Breeds like the Weimaraner, Boxer, and Doberman Pinscher only require weekly brushing, but breeds like the Afghan Hound, Komondor, and Bichon Frise have higher maintenance coats that necessitate more grooming. Add the show factor, and all breeds step it up a notch, especially the higher maintenance ones. (I'm pretty sure these dogs travel with more hair products than I do.) Brushes, bows, wraps, hairdryers, grooming sheers, hair spray, etc. take up a lot of the precious square feet each dog is assigned, but rules state that all grooming must be done at the bench. Even show dogs get itchy. Here's what makes any dog's skin itchy.

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Handlers wear more than one hat

When we watch the NDS on TV, we see handlers trotting and presenting their dogs to the judges, so they can assess how well the dog's physical traits conform to breed standards. As spectators, this looks fairly easy. Yet handlers are responsible for so much more than parading a dog in front of the judges. Handlers retain a skill set that involves training, conditioning, grooming, traveling, and more. Some are professional (paid) handlers and spend more time with the dogs than the owner. Two of the most prestigious certifications come via the AKC Registered Handlers Program and the Professional Handlers Program. You don't have to be a certified handler to teach your dog these easy tricks.

national dog show purina Courtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

The entourage

Many dogs enter the competition with just their owner who also happens to be the handler, while other dogs arrive with an entourage—which may include the owner, handler, groomer, and designated question answerer for when the adoring public stops by. By the way, professional handlers often show more than one dog. I saw a benched area with four dogs who all had the same professional handler. Professional handlers may show different breeds at the same show or specialize in one breed. When the handler was showing a dog, a member of the entourage stayed back to sit with the dogs or helped prepped them for the show ring. Start off on the right paw with these training secrets from professional dog trainers.

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