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Dog Club Survival


What’s with dog shows? Clubs are failing; costs, corruption, expenses soaring, no breeder-exhibitor-owner-handlers, no spectator gate but here’s a doable plan.


Col. Sam Harper,  Dogsport Reconnaissance

May 21, 2015  | TheDogPress Club News

Col. Sam Harper, Dogsport Reconnaissance


My daughter had some dog show friends over who needed a fresh audience on which to vent their frustrations so I agreed to lend an ear. The biggest concern was that the best judges are retiring and being replaced by people who spend more time worrying about assignments and who to award than spend learning about dogs. They also said that a lot of dog clubs, unwilling to give up the glitz and glamour they can no longer afford, are run by people who have forgotten the purpose of dog shows. They named several that have either folded or are trying to hang on by pricing themselves out of business.


One of the guys said AKC has tried to help by offering UKC-type activities to draw both spectators and owners back to the dog shows. He said Agility is profitable for clubs. I’ve never seen terrier races, lure coursing, or barn hunts, but I understand Schutzhund from having trainer friends in our division. He agreed but said that they are all great spectator events, then, rubbing his beard he mused “but only when spectators know they exist, can find the rings and a place to sit down!”


What he said about seating had everyone agreeing it is a major drawback to spectator gate. My daughter said there are darn few events where people are charged admission that doesn’t include a place to sit. I suggested offering those light weight but sturdy plastic chairs as rentals at the gate. One lady, 90 pounds of athleticism, said theme parks offer mechanized transport for rent. We all agreed that seating and mobility aids induce spectators to stay and enjoy the dog show and that’s profitable for the host club and the vendors.


When my daughter said “and another thing” I smothered a laugh but everyone agreed that in order for dog clubs to get paying customers people have to find the dog show sight! She loves to brag about her dad so she said “A little reconnaissance on the part of a club official should be done every year.” One guy remembered Arlene Czech’s Show Sight column saying exactly that. We looked it up. “When a club puts a map with specific directions they should have some person who doesn’t know the way test it out before it goes to print.” Everyone heartily agreed and he told us “even judges say they had a hard time finding the grounds” and reminded us that kennel clubs used to put up signs pointing to the dog show.


At this point everyone got into it. A California lady said that grounds costs was more than the Long Beach Club could afford when entries evaporated. I asked why clubs don’t buy their own land and was told that the Charlotte North Carolina kennel club did just that. They built a simple block building for inside rings, used outside tenting and over the years, added sewer, water and electric hookups for motor homes. A guy who used to live there said a club member who was a realtor found the acreage. We speculated on why some dog clubs sit on a huge treasury that does nothing for the community or the sport.


The conversation moved to the success of clubs that provide extraneous entertainment, judging seminars, good food and friendly atmosphere. A retired handler said the old Knoxville shows were a perfect example, that they had a big barbecue and square dance. He grimaced as he recalled “getting around the grounds and up those stairs into the building was a hike.” The California lady laughed and said obviously he had never been to the Polo grounds. By now the conversation and ideas were really flowing. My daughter took notes “for dad’s column in TheDogPress.”


What about Junior handling and novice classes? Wouldn’t there be more family participation (and relatives increasing the gate income) if preshow publicity promoted the dog show as a family event with special classes for young people? The field guy frowned and said “What publicity?” They laughed but the consensus was that most clubs live in a world of their own. One lady said (that world) was “about as real as Disney World” and we all agreed that every club should have a public affairs officer whose job would be to get local coverage promoting “a wholesome family sport, right in our area…”


The RV dealer said local businesses used to sponsor the show. Everyone agreed that the dog show crowd pumps a lot of money into the local economy and business people were missing a competitive advantage that would also help support the clubs.


One lady who hadn’t said much raised her hand. I had to smile, she was a bit portly but she was refreshingly eloquent. She told us cat shows have simultaneous judging rings. She said some of TICA (The International Cat Association) shows run 12 rings and each ring is like a whole show including the Finals which we call Groups and Best In Show. My daughter piped up and said “BJ Andrews wrote about that!” We learned that AKC is moving in that direction after being badgered by TheDogPress for years. A lively conversation resulted until the pro handler nixed the whole idea saying they couldn’t possibly get their dogs in that many rings. He shook his head, saying it would “cost me more money in the long run.”


After they left, my daughter said “that” was the problem. I lifted an eyebrow. She explained that today’s dog shows are for the pro handlers, not for owners or spectators or any of the things that “used to be.” I smiled and teased her for being too young to be using that phrase but she wasn’t amused. Actually, she was a little cross. “Daddy, I speak for a lot of people who hate what dog shows have become. We just love our dogs and we want to show them off, not make a living off of them!”


What could I say? I just gave her a hug. Here’s the list she put together. Looks like most everything here is doable for dog clubs because we all know it works for other sporting events.


Editor’s note: Read Harper’s dog club survival list below, then click button, which opens to a separate page, that you can print out for your next club meeting.


PARTICIPANTS should be treated like football stars or golf pros because they draw the gate. Dogs and exhibitors are what spectators come to see, not a pretty trophy table. Instead of being shoved in a corner, dogs and handlers should be given premium space and nice surroundings so spectators can meet the stars and see the dogs up close.


SCHEDULES that makes sense to spectators. If the show covers a lot of ground, include a little map showing where food, restrooms, and shopping are located. Invite vendors and sponsors to insert their advertisement to pay for the schedule. Before you cite costs…


SPONSORS have a unique opportunity to reach potential customers. Grocers, restaurants and big-rig fuel and repair places are easy ad sales for schedules to be handed out FREE to everyone at the show. I’ve been told some clubs are so accustomed to the income from catalog sales, they won’t consider giving out a free, understandable schedule that helps the public get around the show site. Wise up folks. I learned that Barbara Andrews rounded up motor home dealers to demo their rigs for SC shows 20 years ago and the next year dealers were lined up to present their RVs there and at the Perry GA cluster. Innovation pays.


The free schedule should list and pinpoint the following:


ACTIVITIES which can include Dog Breed or Training seminars, interesting exhibitions on what dogs do (herding, dancing, tricks, tracking and or stopping bad guys) and a petting place that included educational opportunities for the kids – and parents.


SEATING & RENTAL GOLF CARTS plus free transport for elderly or handicapped at outdoor shows. Everyone should be made welcome and comfortable. Non-show people are potential customers but no one has time to talk to them and rather than stand around waiting for the kids to get enough of it, families leave. The elderly, who most want to find the right dog for companionship, are physically challenged in getting around big shows and need seating.


SIGNS & PRESHOW PUBLICITY. Everyone knows the circus is in town and where to find it but dog shows are such a well kept secret that even the participants can’t find them! Publicity means shoppers; critical for vendors and even though my kid gave me “that look” again, dog shows should be where people can buy dogs.


CLUB “BRAND” FOOD. Some very successful clubs offer a dinner for everyone and/or capitalize on locally available foods. Someone cited the “Crab Cluster” as an example.


BUY THE DOG SHOW GROUNDS if at all possible. I understand (because I had to ask) that not all clubs get along and there is a kind of competiveness between kennel clubs. Too bad, if two or three clubs pooled their resources, they could own a profitable piece of ground.


TWO-SHOW DAYS. Makes sense to me. The dogs, people, vendors, and facilities are already there so everything that happens in one day can be done twice. Somebody said it’s about club “identity” and AKC approval, and handler schedules but those obstacles can’t possibly be more important than the survival of local dog shows.


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