When I began showing my first dog, I would take her to handling classes at my local all-breed club. Every Thursday night, about a dozen owners would gather to work on our presentation skills while giving our puppies time to socialize with people and other dogs. Class, held in a church auditorium, was organized much like a real dog show. Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience of learning what showing dogs was all about. Friendships developed, and many people made plans to travel to shows together to lend support and have fun.

The instructor – always an experienced breeder/owner-handler with plenty of knowledge to impart – would tell students when shows were being held locally and when entries were due. Snail mail was the only way to enter a show in those days, so this information was critical for novices like me.

An Introduction to Matches
It was through these handling classes that we were also introduced to fun matches. A match, we were told, was an informal affair where we could show up with our dogs on the day of the event and participate in a simulated conformation show. We’d be given a chance to get our feet wet, without having to compete with professionals for those mysterious points. The idea was very appealing to my classmates and me, and we would arrive on the designated day and have a good time with our dogs at a local park. Everyone enjoyed being out with their dogs, and some of us would even take home a ribbon or two.

Aah, those were the days.

Match shows are still introduced at handling classes around the country, but they’re not as common as they were in 1981. Whereas most clubs held matches at one time as a community service requirement of the American Kennel Club, these golden opportunities for learning about the sport are less common today.

The Match Must Go On
Tina Sanderford, president of the Forsythe Kennel Club of Winston-Salem, N.C., says it’s up to her club’s members how often to hold a match. “This depends on if we have someone willing to be the match chairperson,” Sanderford says. “The match chair will procure the judges, complete the AKC match trial application, and print out a flier that is e-mailed or snail-mailed.” A real hands-on club, Forsythe’s members pitch in to donate trophies. According to Sanderford, “The club always offers nice Best Puppy in Match, Best Junior in Match and Best Adult in Match trophies.”

A handler and her Chinese Crested in the ring. (Photo © Toxawww/Dreamstime.com)

Taking a puppy to a match show is still a great way for newcomers to be introduced to the sport. A match looks like any other dog show, but the relaxed atmosphere is perhaps more welcoming, and the host club’s members generally have more time to interact with fledgling exhibitors.

Make Me a Match
Several varieties of match shows exist, depending on which organization is offering the event. Not all are created equal.

According to the AKC’s Match Regulations at http://www.akc.org/pdfs/rulebooks/RESANC.pdf, effective August 1, 2009, the nine basic types of sanctioned matches are: All-Breed Match Shows; Group Match Shows; Specialty Match Shows; All-Breed Obedience Matches; Group All-Breed Obedience Matches; Specialty Obedience Matches; Agility Matches; Rally Matches; and Tracking Matches.

A sanctioned match is described as “an informal event at which neither Championship points nor credit toward an Agility, Rally, Obedience or Tracking title are awarded. They are events at which dog clubs, judges, stewards, and exhibitors and their dogs gain experience needed for licensed events.”

Two plans exist for each type of match, referred to as “A” and “B” matches. (Obedience and Rally clubs may also offer plan “C” matches.) “Clubs that have been sanctioned by the AKC, but are not yet approved to hold licensed shows, may, with the permission of the AKC Club Relations department, hold Sanctioned B and/or Sanctioned OB (obedience matches),” according to the regulations. “Once the Club Relations department has determined that a club has demonstrated the ability to hold successful B or OB matches, approval is given to hold sanctioned A or OA matches. These matches are required in order for a club to be approved for holding licensed shows.”

A match show is a great place for dogs to socialize. (Photo © Nataliya Evmenenko/Dreamstime.com)

Any club or group may also hold what are generally called “fun matches.” These very informal events may be open to the public, unless the club has become eligible to hold sanctioned matches. According to the AKC’s Match Regulations, “Once a club becomes eligible to hold AKC-sanctioned matches, it may not conduct fun matches unless entries are restricted to members of the club. Any event for which the club solicits or accepts entries from non-members must be approved by AKC as a sanctioned match.”

Why Host a Match?
Myrna Lieber, publisher of Match Show Bulletin says, “Matches are designed to present real situations in the conformation ring for both dogs and handlers. They’re puppy shows.”

Lieber, whose publication is available by subscription and has been promoting match shows, seminars and workshops for 43 years, explains a few of the requirements of a typical sanctioned match. “Puppies must be at least 3 months old to compete in the 3- to 6-month class. Although no points are awarded at a match, a puppy cannot be entered if it has won a ‘major’ at an AKC-licensed show,” she notes.

All-breed clubs may offer classes for every breed and variety, and for purebred dogs of any breed eligible for the Miscellaneous Class and all Foundation Stock Service breeds. Although AKC registration is not required for a puppy to be entered in a sanctioned match, the show-giving club may require it. “Group and Specialty clubs must restrict their breed competition to the breeds they were formed to serve,” according to the AKC’s regulations. Miscellaneous breeds may compete at the appropriate Group match shows, and AKC Canine Partners (registered mixed-breed dogs) may also compete in approved Companion events.

Advertising is key to getting the word out about upcoming match shows. Forsythe Kennel Club’s Sanderford says that her club advertises its events through a variety of sources. “We post on MB-F’s website as well as our own site. We post fliers in local pet stores, vet offices, etc.”

A Match to Perform
Performance competitors and their dogs can also participate in match shows with puppies that are at least 6 months old. Obedience, rally, agility and tracking matches are great training grounds for the novice dog and handler, just as they are for more seasoned competitors looking to put a bit of polish on their performances. “It’s great for practice,” says Lieber, “because there’s a lot of action going on, and there are plenty of distractions to work around.”

An English Cocker Spaniel sails over a jump. (Photo © Jolin/Dreamstime.com)

Today many kinds of activities may be generally categorized as “matches” for owners looking to have fun with their dogs. Flyball, canine freestyle, lure coursing and weight pulling are just some of the events that clubs and training schools offer their members and clients.

At DogMatchShows.com,  performance events, seminars and training camps are listed online. According to the website’s Charles Reina, “We saw a need for exhibitors who wanted to know where to go and how to enter.” For a small fee, Reina’s site allows the viewer to select a time that works with his or her schedule, then each entry is confirmed at the time of registration. “This site is a service to the dog obedience community,” Reina says, and is especially useful for those who tend to enter events at the last minute.

Show and Go
Another type of match is known as a “Show and Go.” These conformation and performance events are noncompetitive. No scores are given, and dogs may be rewarded or redirected while in the ring. Show and Gos may be offered by nonprofit clubs as well as by private training schools, and entries may be made on the day of the events.

“Some people never go beyond matches,” says Match Show Bulletin’s Lieber. “They do it for the exercise and to have fun. The dogs love it!”

Are Matches on Endangered List?
Unfortunately, the number of match shows has dwindled over the years. Busy personal schedules prevent many would-be exhibitors from spending their Saturday mornings with their dogs. At one time, match shows were a fundraising staple for clubs around the country. Today, CGC programs, health clinics and dog fairs are just some of the events that have replaced matches. “Match shows can be expensive to put on,” Lieber says. “Most clubs don’t own their own facilities, so they must rent or find a park, and get insurance. If the club has a big following, that’s OK. But there is the risk of losing money if there’s not much of an entry.”

The members of the Forsythe Kennel Club work hard to put on their match shows. President Sanderford says, “Club members donate trophies, post match fliers in local animal-related businesses, work concessions at the match offering coffee, pre-packaged foods and drinks, as well as sell raffle tickets for donated items. They help set up the rings, handle registration on day of match, steward, take down the rings, set up grooming tents outside – if using the dog training facility – and clean the building-grounds after the match.” Sanderford is proud to say, “Club members do it all!”

Regular conformation entry fees, however, are one good reason for the survival of the match show. It can cost $30 or more to enter a licensed conformation show where championship points are awarded, but a puppy can be entered at a match show for as little as $5. The Forsythe Kennel Club tries to make its matches as much fun as possible with raffles, nice trophies, a good site and healthy concession snacks. Sanderford says, “I do think everyone, including the dogs, has fun. We have a great group of club members who try hard to make all of our events the best possible!”

With family budgets continuing to be squeezed, there has never been a better time to reconsider the fun and the future of the match show.