The 20th annual United Kennel Club Premier, featuring numerous performance trials as well as several conformation shows, drew about 1,600 dogs to the Kalamazoo County Expo Center and Fairground in Kalamazoo, Mich., from June 13-16, 2013.

Mary Ann Mattingly poses for the official UKC Premier photo with her Total Dog Best in Show winner, Whippet Ch. Wildwood’s All Four On The
Floor. Photo by Thomas Photography/Courtesy of United Kennel Club.

Besting the other 247 dogs in this year’s Total Dog competition was Whippet Ch. Wildwood’s All Four On The Floor, owned by Mary Ann Mattingly of Anderson, Ind., and qualifying in lure coursing. Total Dog Reserve Best in Show was Portuguese Water Dog Ch. Dr. Romeo MacDuff, owned by Louise Glenda Newton. “Both dogs were very nice representations of their breed, both having great structure and movement around the ring,” says Tony Vacha, UKC’s executive director of conformation events. To compete for the Total Dog Best in Show, a dog must win or place in conformation and also qualify in a performance event.

Ch. Dr. Romeo MacDuff earned the Total Dog Reserved Best in Show award for 2013. He is owned by Louise Glenda Newton. Photo by Thomas Photography/Courtesy of United Kennel Club.

Sixty-six of the 248 qualified during the Premier with 22 of those dogs in the Gun Dog Group, Vacha says. “It’s not just the Total Dog Best in Show that is important,” he explains. “It is the entire concept that is important. Total Dog is the best health test you can do for your dog. If your dog can go out and compete in our performance events and do well, and also compete in the conformation ring and also do well there, that is testing the dog’s ability to work as they were intended and also passing that structure and anatomy test in the conformation ring.

Moving all the specialties to Wednesday this year did make the week longer, Vacha says, “but I think it was for the best for the dogs, the exhibitors and our staff. Most of the specialties did very well and some better than they were expecting, I believe. I know that the Alaskan Klee Kai specialty only had five pre-entered entries, but took over 30 day-of-show entries, making it one of their largest entries for their specialty. Reports from the exhibitors we were hearing was they liked the change, making it easier to focus on their specialty and for Thursday they just had to focus on Top 10 and All Star  competitions.”

The Top 10 recognizes the best dogs of each breed, while All Stars awards the top dogs in obedience, rally obedience, agility and Terrier racing.

In the All-Breed Rings
After Wednesday’s specialties, Mother Nature blew a thunderstorm through the fairgrounds, taking down almost all of the tents and even breaking tent poles, Vacha says. It took the tent company about two hours to right the damage the following morning – after navigating a flooded highway along the way. “We were able to start the Top 10 Finals on time. The all-breed shows on Friday, Saturday and Sunday went on without a hitch and ended at a decent time compared to last year.

Taking the top prizes in Friday’s conformation show were Best in Show Ch. Sujons Lil Elliot, MW, a Dachshund owned by Tammy Rose, John R. Phillips Jr. and Ehrling L. Rose of Webberville, Mich.; Reserve Best in Show GCh. Beledins Arrows Blk Raspberry Ice, a Labrador Retriever owned by Michelle Kiko and Haley Kiko of Louisville, Ohio; Altered Best in Show URO1 UAGI GCh. Ci Cymru Cystal Troch, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi owned by Kathy Graves and Carl Graves of Little Rock, Ark.; and Altered Reserve Best in Show CA URO3 UCD GCh. Arctic Fox Sorority Girl, a Samoyed owned by Shannon Hedges and/ Deborah Hedges from Lawton, Mich.

On Saturday, it was Standard Schnauzer Ch. Sketchbook Smarty Jones, owned by Grace Freeman and Liz Hansen of Columbia, Mo., taking Best in Show; Schipperke Ch. Tumbleweed’s Burn The Ships, owned by Michele A. Kasten of O’Fallon, Ill., as Reserve Best in Show; Bedlington Terrier UAGI Ch. Stony Lake Gypsi Steals The Show, owned by Aria Angoli and Kristine Mullen of Metamora, Mich., as Altered Best in Show; and Friday’s Altered Best in Show as Reserve Altered BIS – GCh. Ci Cymru Cystal Troch.

Sunday’s big rosettes went to Dogue de Bordeaux GCh. Roguedogues Legend of the Gardian, owned by Lynn Chacho and Kasie Jo Lopes of Lempster, N.H., for Best in Show and Saluki URO1 UAGI GCh. Sandstorm It’s All About The Bling, owned by Cheryl Paterson of London, Ontario, Canada, for Reserve Best in Show. The Pembroke again took Altered Best in Show with American Pit Bull Terrier GCh. ‘PR’ Topline’s Raspberry Beret, owned by Debra Arnett of Scotts, Mich., as Altered Reserve Best in Show.

Vacha says conformation entries were down this year, “but I am seeing that across the board in all venues this year, so I was not too surprised to see a slight decline.”

The 20th anniversary of the event proved to be UKC Vice President of Events Todd Kellam’s first working Premier experience. He recently stepped up to his new position after 25 years with UKC’s hunting program and field events.

“I was totally impressed with Premier,” he says. “There is so much going on at one time, and yet there is some semblance of order. It’s pretty amazing. You really have to see it to believe it.”

Wednesday’s storm failed to put a damper on Kellam’s enthusiasm. “You could not have asked for better weather for a dog show of this type. Clear, sunny days with mild temps and no humidity made it ideal for the dogs, handlers and spectators. We have dozens of pools that we typically place around the grounds for dogs to cool off, and they simply were not necessary this year. It was a beautiful weekend for a dog event.”

Five Terriers race toward a lure during the Premier. Photo courtesy United Kennel Club.

Time for Performance
Kellam found himself drawn to the Terrier racing events. “I really got caught up in the whole Terrier racing thing. I just walked out there to watch a couple of runs, and before I knew it I was in the catch area grabbing up Terriers at the end of the course. It was really fun. The people involved in that sport are great, and those little dogs have so much determination and heart. I ended up reporting at 7 a.m. the next few days to help catch dogs. Anyone who has Terriers should be looking at that event. It’s a lot of fun. I would like to thank Ryan and Karyn Pingel, and John and Cathy Nelson for their expertise in overseeing this event and for their excellent coaching.

Terrier racing takes two forms – flat and steeple. Photo courtesy United Kennel Club.

Dogs compete in two types of races: flat and steeple. In flat, it’s just a race to the finish, while steeple includes several jumps. The dogs can be entered in a variety of classes and size divisions. To see results of a particular class or division on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, click here.

Three days of agility competition saw hundreds of dogs taking jumps, climbing A-frames and dashing through tunnels. Photo courtesy United Kennel Club.

Agility is a popular Premier sport. It was added to the second annual event in 1994, preceded only by obedience, which accompanied the conformation shows the previous year. High in Trial on Friday and Sunday was Shetland Sheepdog UACHX Roseview Changin My Stars, owned by Kimberly A. Charles and Bruce Winter of Milwaukee, Wis. On Saturday, that award went to Border Collie UGRACH13 Lilly of Leroy, owned by Donald E. Leonard of Odell, Ill.

“All of the performance events went off without a hitch,” says Sydney Suwannarat, UKC’s executive director of performance events. “UKC has some really fantastic clubs and experienced people involved with running all of the events. It is because of them that everything went so well.” Suwannarat says entries in Premier performance events were “relatively stable” this year. “They were down slightly from last year, but up from two years ago.”

The beauty of the Premier, she says, is that “any event people can do with their dogs also helps to create a bond between people and their dogs which in turn helps dogs be better socialized, have less behavioral problems and reduces the chance that the dog might end up in a shelter.

All sizes of dogs can compete in UKC weight pull events. While larger, working dogs are most common, even small dogs can train and test. Photo courtesy United Kennel Club.

One highlight of the four days was watching “a little Chihuahua pull 120 pounds in weight pull,” Suwannarat says. “The dog was so happy pulling that it nearly brought tears to my eyes.”

The weight pull tests are divided into classes based on the dogs’ weight, so that little Chihuahua would pull in the 20-pounds-and-under class. Other classes include 30-pound for dogs weighing 21 to 30 pounds, 40-pound for dogs weighing 31 to 40 pounds, on up in 10-pound increments to Unlimited for those dogs weighing 101 pounds or more.

To see the results by day and class, click here.

Three classes of obedience trials were held Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Photo courtesy United Kennel Club.

In three days of obedience trials, with Novice, Open and Utility classes, two dogs dominated. High in Trial was swept all three days by Golden Retriever UUDX USJ URO1 UAGII UOCH Topbrass Lady Derringer, owned by Pamela Guzman of Merrillville, Ind. The High in Combined award, which entails earning the highest score from the Open B and Utility A or B classes, also went to the same dog three day in a row – Papillon UCDX The Pines Gabriella of Coquina, owned by Hillary Hunter of La Canada, Calif.

In rally obedience, handlers must direct their dogs’ actions based on signs posted along the course. Photo courtesy United Kennel Club.

Rally obedience, which indicates required behaviors on signs along the course, had trials on Friday, Saturday and Sunday too. On Friday, High in Trial was Pug URX2 UROG UCD UAGII Danielle’s Ornery Angel, owned by Danielle Stuber of Tremont, Ill. Saturday’s High in Trial was Stuber’s Australian Shepherd, URO2 UCD UAGI Alstars Never Say Never. Sunday’s trial found a new High in Trial in Border Collie URO2 UCD UAGII Bandit, owned by Ryan Klamm of Hutchinson, Kan.

Even non-sighthounds can test out their speed and agility during Coursing Aptitude Tests. Photo courtesy of United Kennel Club.

Lure coursers faced off on Saturday and Sunday. In this test of speed and agility, dogs must follow a lure as it’s propelled around a field by a motorized cable. Dozens of dogs passed the Coursing Aptitude Test on Saturday. Any breed can take this test, including those not of the sighthound persuasion. The Whippet that won Total Dog Best in Show coursed both days.

When the sighthounds take to the course, speed and agility pick up. The sport, after all, was designed to use the skills they would have used as hunters. Photo courtesy of United Kennel Club.

Another popular event at the Premier is dock jumping, put on by Ultimate Air Dogs. Results were not available at deadline, so will be added to this report later.

An American Pit Bull Terrier grabs for its toy during dock jumping trials. Photo courtesy United Kennel Club.

The 2013 Newbies
Two new events for the 2013 Premier gave dogs – and their owners – an opportunity to try something different: barn hunt and nosework.

“It was amazing to see the impressive turnout,” Suwannarat says. “I think it surprised all of us.”

A dog squeezes under a bale to sniff out its quarry. Photo courtesy United Kennel Club.

In barn hunt, dogs of all breeds test their noses in an enclosed maze of bales, following the scent of a rat in a cage, hidden within. The sport is designed to allow dogs that don’t qualify as earthdogs a chance to exercise their instinct to find small prey animals. Because the maze is enclosed, even dogs without reliable recalls can participate.

A dog checks out some drawers and bins for a certain odor. Photo courtesy United Kennel Club.

Also on the scent discrimination front, dogs tried out the sport of nosework. Demonstrations gave owners an overview of what it’s all about. Then on Sunday, dogs could do pre-trials on two odors that dogs must learn to identify.

Looking Toward 2014
Although the UKC staff had yet to hold its post-Premier meetings at the time this article was being researched, the executives had things to consider for next year.

Kellam says he heard some concern about the poor showing of the top coonhounds. “Unlike all the other breeds who have their Top Ten Finals at Premier, the coonhound Top 10 breed finals are held in January at our Winter Classic Coonhound Event in Batesville, Miss. We get a great turnout with seven or eight of the Top 10 dogs represented. The winners of those breed classes earn the right to advance to the Top 10 finals at Premier. I don’t think we had any of the seven coonhound breeds represented at the finals. So there were some suggestions as to how to correct that, and we will give it some thought.”

Vacha commented that because the staff is “always looking to make Premier better and better each year,” he’s “sure” there will be some changes.

Suwannarat says that while there is “always room for improvement, things went so smoothly this year, there may not be too many changes” for 2014.
UKC Vice President of Corporate Operations Tanya Raab echoes Surawannat’s comment that improvement’s always possible, even for what is already a “great event. I look forward to the wonderful things to come with UKC and our Premier dog event. I know that the staff is continually striving toward putting on a show that’s better than the last; we definitely accomplished that goal this year.

“I love being a part of United Kennel Club’s Premier,” she adds. “You have the opportunity to meet new friends and connect with old. However, if I had to pick one favorite highlight, it would be being able to share this event with my grandma. She’s 94 years young and comes every year to sit by the dock-jumping pool to watch the dogs do their stuff. Seeing the smile on her face just does it for me because I see the same smiles of appreciation on our exhibitors’ and spectators’ faces.”

All of the executives praised the many people who make Premier happen. “I would like to thank all the stewards, volunteer and the staff that came out and helped us put on another great Premier,” Vacha says. “I’m just really proud of the UKC staff,” Kellam says. “They put in a lot of hours leading up to Premier. It’s a lot of work, but it comes together so efficiently. When the event finally gets here, you have staff arriving at 6 a.m. and staying until 10 p.m. in many cases. They are putting dogs and the customers first and doing it with a smile. They are approachable and helpful, and they enjoy what they are doing. And it does show.” Suwannarat adds: “This show could not be run without the many, many people involved with their UKC clubs. All of the performance events are stewarded and run by UKC clubs, their members and volunteers. They do an outstanding job. Many exhibitors base their experience of Premier solely on their interactions with these clubs, and UKC truly appreciates all of their hard work, never-ending patience and outstanding efficiency.”

As they say, a good time was had by all.