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The History of Dog Shows

Picture of a Irish Setter and a Girl

Many people look forward to watching such events as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and the National Dog Show on TV each year. Rarely is the public at large afforded the opportunity to see so many beautiful breeds assembled in one location for them to enjoy. Each weekend of the year, dog shows take place in cities and states across the country. Though many enjoy attending these events as spectators and exhibitors, it is natural to wonder just how dog shows started and what their original purpose was. What is the history of dog shows?

Where Dog Shows All Began

Experts believe that the very first dog show organized and held in the fashion to which we have become accustomed took place in 1859. This original event was named “The Sporting Dog Show” and was held at Town Hall, Newcastle-on-Tyne in England. This dog show was a last minute addition to the area’s popular poultry show which was held each year to great success. The Sporting Dog Show was limited to two varieties of dogs: Pointers and Setters, both important gun dogs of the day.

This very first dog show had an entry of 60 dogs in total. Instead of competing for ribbons and rosettes, the competitors at The Sporting Dog Show worked hard to achieve one of many highly valued prizes which included such items as custom made double-barreled shotguns. The shotguns were handmade by a popular gunsmith in the region known as Mr. W.R. Pape. Both Mr. Pape and his friend and fellow board member, Mr. J. Shorthose, have been attributed with proposing the addition of the dog event to the poultry show. Mr. Pape was a reputable breeder, exhibitor, and judge of Pointers and Setters; hence why this original event focused on these particular dog types.

The Sporting Dog Show was a rousing success, and other regions soon began to follow suit planning dog shows of their own. In subsequent months that year, exhibitions were organized for such breeds as Retrievers, Clumbers, and Cocker Spaniels.

Events that Followed

In another area of England, Toy Breed fanciers were hard at work organizing shows of their own. The Toy Dog Club, only the second dog club of its kind in the country, were the host club for an event known as the Fancy Dog Show which took place in 1852. The entrance fee to enjoy the show was sixpence, a large amount of money at the time. One of the main criticisms of the show was its venue, a place that most respectable Englishmen took care to avoid for its association with questionable activities.

The Fancy Dog Show was a bigger success than its host club could ever have imagined. This was the first show to put on public display unusual breeds many members of the public had only ever heard of including Blenheim Spaniels, Italian Greyhounds, Chinese Pugs, Skye Terriers, Bulldogs, and Black and Tan Terriers.

A popular magazine known as Bell’s Life was well-renowned for providing coverage of local sporting events such as coursing, racing, and prizefighting. In time, this magazine began to list upcoming dog shows, many of which took place in local pubs. By 1867, the sport had expanded to include over 50 different dog shows held in areas considered to be slums of London.

The average entry at these dog shows was approximately 50 dogs. Each of the dogs was carefully bathed and groomed to look its very best for examination by the judge.

But what was the purpose of these shows?

Dog shows were originally an opportunity to exhibit breeding stock. By putting these dog breeds on display, area breeders could come and see what other breeders were producing and to make connections for future breeding plans for their kennels.

Though many of these shows focused on one breed or a grouping of breeds that all fulfilled similar jobs; in time, shows were diversified with events for a singular breed referred to as a specialty and other shows all-breed events. To simplify the judging process, dog breeds were divided into seven groups. These groups were organized to classify together dogs that shared many things in common including their purpose and in some cases physical traits. The seven groups seen at dog shows in North America today are:

  • Sporting
  • Hounds
  • Working
  • Terriers
  • Toys
  • Non-Sporting
  • Herding

What About Today?

Today, conformation events are held through the United States, Canada, and all around the world on a near daily basis. Dogs compete with their owners to earn points towards a Championship, an award that designates them as a worthy example of their breed. Many dogs will then go on to aspire to earning the title of Grand Champion.

Around the world, there are many prestigious dog shows that are renowned worldwide such as Crufts, the World Dog Show, the European Dog Show, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and the Montgomery Kennel Club Show, an event reserved exclusively for terriers. Many of these shows require that dogs must qualify to enter them, meaning a certain criteria must be established to be eligible for entry.

Many wonder if winning dog shows means the dogs’ owners earn money. Not only do exhibitors not win money for attaining prizes at dog shows, attending these events costs them money…and lots of it. To enter a dog show, entry fees must be paid for the dog. These fees are required for each dog and for each show and can amount to several hundred dollars per show in a single weekend. In addition to this, many venues charge fees for everything from grooming space to bathing facilities and even overnight RV parking. Couple this with the expenses involved in travel, hotel accommodations, meals, and more, and it is not difficult to see that showing dogs is a labor of love, and a costly one at that.

Thinking showing your dog might be for you? The history of dog shows can help us to appreciate the events we attend and enjoy today.

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