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Who Will Go to the AKC Open Show?

Visit dog shows in other parts of the world and one of the conclusions you may quickly draw is that exhibitors at American dog shows take their hobby very seriously. The atmosphere is usually more intense at an American show than at shows in Europe and elsewhere.

Even at the venerated Crufts dog show, British exhibitors appear much more relaxed than those competing at even a 1,000-dog show in an average Midwestern American city. This is in keeping with what is often described as the American mindset – we want it bigger, better and faster, and we’re fully committed where any competition is at hand.

The American Kennel Club recently approved several new initiatives designed to increase participation at dog shows and to give newer exhibitors a venue in which they might have greater success, and thus be more inclined to stay interested in the sport. One of these, the 4-to-6 Month Beginner Puppy class, was covered on BISD a couple of weeks ago in “Bringing Out the Baby.” The second of these is the open show, a concept that may at first seem illogical, and perhaps not that enticing, to America’s competitive exhibitors.

The AKC calls the open show, approved to begin in July 2012, “an upgrade from the Sanctioned Match,” and says it is “more receptive to exhibitors, FSS and Miscellaneous breeds.” Based on information from AKC sources, the intention of this type of show is to give new and less experienced exhibitors a venue in which they can be successful with their dogs. In theory, it will increase the chance that they’ll want to continue to go to dog shows. It is also designed to give the average owner-handler a greater chance to “win big.”

Will American exhibitors support a dog show where no championship points are available – and no professional handlers are allowed?

As with the 4-to-6 month class, professional handlers (“any person who belongs or has belonged to a professional handlers’ organization, distributed rate cards, or otherwise advertised or represented themselves as handling dogs for pay”) are not allowed to exhibit at open shows, not even to show their own dogs. In another twist, no AKC champions are allowed.

In addition, no AKC championship points will be awarded at open shows. However, as in the 4-to-6 class at regular dog shows, Certificate of Merit points will be awarded to winners under the same system by which they are currently available to Miscellaneous and Foundation Stock Service breeds, as explained in “Bringing Out the Baby.”

The Miscellaneous and FSS breeds in particular may benefit from this type of show, because at open shows the classes for each subset of breeds is considered a “Group.” Therefore, the Best in Show lineup will include the winners of the traditional seven Groups – Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding – plus the Miscellaneous class winner and the FSS winner.

How It Works

Any dog club approved to hold a regular show is also eligible to hold an open show. All-breed clubs must offer classes for all AKC-recognized, Miscellaneous and FSS breeds, and must offer the 4-to-6 Month class in addition to all regular classes.

To hold an open show, a club must apply to AKC at least 90 days prior to the date of the event and must include the judging panel with the application. However, entries can close any time prior to or on the day of the show. Regulations require that a premium list flier be published 30 days prior to the show.

Clubs may hold two open shows per year in addition to their regular shows.

Incidentally, to distinguish the open show from the dog show where AKC championship points can be obtained, the shows that exhibitors have attended for years will now be called “championship” shows.

Open shows, like the 4-to-6 Beginner Puppy class, must be judged by an AKC-approved or provisional judge – anyone with an AKC judge’s number – but the judge doesn’t have to be approved for the breeds he or she will judge at the open show. The speed at which the judging will proceed at open shows is reduced from 30 dogs per hour – the standard at current shows – to 20 dogs per hour, to allow extra time for puppies and inexperienced exhibitors.

Several additional changes will be seen at open shows. In the new 4-to-6 Months class, a puppy is never disqualified or excused except for attacking another dog or a person. A male puppy in this class without two fully descended testicles will remain in competition, but the situation must be noted in the judge’s book.

In every other class at the open show, a male puppy without two fully descended testicles is not to be disqualified, but is to be excused and the judge’s book marked appropriately. Any dog with a disqualifying condition based on the AKC breed standard will also be excused for the day, instead of disqualified as it would be at a championship show. The only disqualification at an open show is for a dog that attacks another dog or a person.

Will the Open Show Catch On?

Will exhibitors in the U.S., where in every kind of sport imaginable participants are ultra-competitive, spend their money and time to compete at an open show? Perhaps a certain number of people love dog shows but are tired of competing with professional handlers, but one wonders whether the inability to earn championship points will keep those exhibitors away. The new concept has the potential to attract exhibitors who currently attend UKC shows, as open shows will, in theory, be more relaxed and perhaps more family-friendly, a popular aspect of UKC shows.

Open shows could create a venue where, once and for all, owner-handlers can compete with their dogs on a more level playing field. AKC has reported that more than 80 percent of dogs at their shows today are exhibited by their owners. The open show will provide a venue at which quality dogs shown by their owners and breeders – although not those that have already earned their championships – can win Groups and Bests in Show without having to contend with the inevitable politics inherent when popular professional handlers and highly advertised dogs are in competition.

Great Britain has long offered both open and championship shows, with twice as many well-attended open shows than championship shows each year. An open show, as the name implies, is open for any Kennel Club-registered dog to attend, but no challenge certificates (by which champions are made up in the U.K.) are available. CCs are only available at championship shows.

In 2010 clubs in Britain held 1,460 all-breed and single-breed open shows, as opposed to just 38 General and Group championship shows (those equivalent to U.S. all-breed and Group shows). There were 564 championship shows for individual breeds, equivalent to our specialty shows. That’s 1,460 open shows vs. just 602 shows where a championship could be earned.

The same number of quality dogs are shown in the U.K. as in the U.S., yet British dog shows seem less intense and more relaxed than American shows.

Britons clearly enjoy showing their dogs simply for the joy of the competition, as reflected by the number of shows held that do not offer the CCs necessary for a championship. Open shows in the U.K. are popular with both new and veteran exhibitors. But as previously mentioned, attitudes are different in the U.K. Dog shows feel much more relaxed, and exhibitors seem to take a more casual approach to dog shows. It’s almost as if they get more sheer enjoyment from dog shows than their American counterparts.

We must also consider another major difference in the British system versus the AKC system: in Britain, champions are shown in the classes, thus one must defeat champions to earn challenge certificates, the equivalent of our points. Therefore it is much more difficult to earn a championship there. A seasoned show dog that in the U.S. might be ready for the specials class, may not earn its championship in the U.K. until much later. However, that dog in the U.K. would be a contender at an open show, whereas, in the U.S., he would likely be a champion, and thus not eligible for the open show.

In any case, one hopes that American clubs and exhibitors will give the open show a chance. Many a long-time exhibitor can be heard to lament the fact that the puppy match is a thing of the past, and the cry from owner-handlers for a more level playing field has been heard for decades. Perhaps a place exists here for the open show. Perhaps the AKC open show will revive a passion among dog people for spending the day with others of their ilk, enjoying the dogs, without the pressure of having to compete against the sport’s professional handlers.

Written by

Christi McDonald is a second-generation dog person, raised with a kennel full of Cairn Terriers. After more than a decade as a professional handler’s apprentice and handling professionally on her own, primarily Poodles and Cairns, she landed a fortuitous position in advertising sales with the monthly all-breed magazine ShowSight. This led to an 11-year run at Dogs in Review, where she wore several hats, including advertising sales rep, ad sales manager and, finally, editor for five years. Christi is proud to be part of the editorial team for the cutting-edge Best In Show Daily. She lives in Apex, N.C., with two homebred black Toy Poodles, the last of her Foxfire line, and a Norwich Terrier.
  • alphamom April 18, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    until AKC gives the a/o/h a level playing field, allowing us to earn points on our dogs without hiring a handler, it will continue to see a decline in entries – IABC has a lovely, relaxed venue and welcomes the owner handler with a true possibility of winning – it is only a matter of time before an IABC, CKC, or UKC championship is the norm – why would i want to pay an entry fee to AKC when i have no chance of championship points?

    • Christi McDonald
      Christi April 19, 2012 at 6:26 AM

      I understand your frustration if you’re fairly new to the sport of showing dogs. But if you’ve been around a long time, you know that compared to AKC shows, the competition at shows held under the auspices of any of the organizations you mention in no way compares to that at AKC shows. With all due respect, if you have quality dogs and you’re a seasoned exhibitor, why would you want to pay an entry fee at an IABC show when very few people have ever heard of them and, more importantly, your dogs don’t have to compete against the best?

      And incidentally, AKC DID give owner-handlers the opportunity to get to the Winners class without competing against professional handlers (a first step on the way to giving owner-handlers what they want) but because of an objection based solely on semantics, many owner-handlers don’t enter the class!

      I’ve never believed that the ideal AKC dog show for the owner-handler meant that they never had to compete with professional handlers. I’m by no stretch of the imagination among even the top 50 percent of handlers in terms of ability, but I have thoroughly enjoyed finishing my own dogs for more than 40 years. My mother did the same before me, and untold numbers of owner-handlers not only finish lots of champions, they win Groups and Best in Shows as well. I think offering a “level playing field” for people new to the sport is a great idea. On the other hand, I think most experienced owner-handlers who have worked hard to perfect their craft are proud to compete against the best. It’s a cop out to say that professional handlers always win… it just isn’t true.

      If you want to compete against the best dogs but not against professionals, why not make earning AKC Certificates of Merit the goal? Any AKC title carries more weight than a championship from something called the IABC or the “Continental Kennel Club.”

      • inuaknls
        Sheila April 20, 2012 at 6:44 AM


        With respect, I disagree with your sweeping statement regarding UKC and IABCA. It is obvious that you are a big fan of AKC, cool, that is your prerogative. However, just because not all of us embrace everything AKC does, does not mean that we are “AKC bashing”, not by a long shot.

        I am a “seasoned” exhibitor of 32 years and I do not feel that this Open show holds anything for me. I can go to a match and get the same thing for $5; I don’t think that the Open show will be that inexpensive.

        When I go to a show, I am looking to finish my dog. Now, if AKC would have points, for this show, I would be behind it 100% and would drive to every Open show I could find. But with money as tight as it is, for a lot of people, a no-point-show is not where I am going to spend my show funds.

        As for your sweeping statement regarding quality of the dogs in IABCA and UKC, I, strongly, disagree. Perhaps in your area, the quality is less, but in mine it is not.

        In IABCA, I had a male go Breed all three days. The dogs he beat were mostly finished AKC champions and one was a BISS winner. In my book, that is quality.

        In both IABCA and UKC I am competing against the EXACT same dogs that I am in AKC, and a lot of them are finished in AKC and looking for more titles.

        Also more and more AKC judges are judging in UKC. I was surprised at how many that I have shown under there.

        I enjoy reading your articles (to include this one) and find them very informative. Most of the time, I agree with you, but not always. It does NOT mean that I am bashing your or AKC.

        Looking forward to your next article,

        Sheila 

    • Janet Warner April 19, 2012 at 7:08 AM

      I am sorry, but the IABC shows are a joke. I understand that for rare breeds this is the only venue…but the quality of the non-rare breeds is generally lacking.
      That written critique, is generally “vanilla” and everyone gets pretty much the same thing.
      I have seen dogs that will NEVER get an AKC point, win at the IABC show and get their Championship in a weekend.
      So yes, nice for them, they have an international championship, but frankly, not a big deal.
      Great place to take young dogs not ready for the big time…but pretty pricey, too.

  • Robin Gates April 18, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    I am looking forward to OH only shows and hope these shows are a step in that direction. It would be great to be seen in the group ring without the clouding of the professional handlers. Although my dogs have done well with me handling them, I would like to go even further without spending thousands on advertising.

    • Christi McDonald
      Christi April 19, 2012 at 6:31 AM

      I believe that it is now up to owner-handlers in the sport to see that this is a “step in the right direction.” If you all embrace this concept, it will work. If owner-handlers continue to complain that AKC isn’t “doing anything” for them, it won’t work. Robin, you’re 100 percent on target when you say that this gives owner-handlers the opportunity to compete at the upper levels, in Groups and Best in Show, without having to get around the handlers who campaign (and thus advertise) dogs for a living.

      Owner-handlers, give this a try before you bash it! AKC can only do so much — then it’s up to all of you to do your part to make this work.

  • rocketsigntist April 18, 2012 at 6:33 PM

    Sorry but IABCA is INSANELY expensive and not all that great. So many mistakes, very inconsistent judging, the critiques quite often aren’t very productive, etc. Yes i have IABCA titles on my dogs, but its getting harder and harder to justify the expense!

    i ALWAYS send new people to UKC shows. And every time i read more stuff about the AKC… it really appears they are trying to be more like the UKC!

  • bestuvall April 18, 2012 at 8:58 PM

    “We must also consider another major difference in the British system versus the AKC system: in Britain, champions are shown in the classes, thus one must defeat champions to earn challenge certificates, the equivalent of our points. ”

    not really… you can get three CC’s without ever defeating a champion if no champions are entered in the open classes..
    and alphamom.. I have finished many dogs by going over specials as an owner handler or by gaining points from the classes..the group ring is difficult.. as is BIS.. but an “open show”? Will fees be much less with no chances of points..money is tight why would you enter an “open show” and use your show money when you could give yourself the chance to get points with the same dollars?
    Open shows might work.. I hope they do.. but there needs to be an incentive for “newbies”.. how about free handling and grooming classes..

    • Christi McDonald
      Christi April 19, 2012 at 6:50 AM

      You are absolutely right — in the UK, challenge certificates can be earned without defeating a champion in the Open class, if no champions are entered.

  • Susan Van de Water April 19, 2012 at 6:40 AM

    Why the heck would I drive 6 – 12 hours each way, at today’s gas prices, to attend an open show that gives me no chance at points towards a championship title? Yes, a UKC title currently has less prestige than an AKC title, but that is changing as the judges’ willingness to give poor-quality dogs the points when showed by a professional handler makes a mockery of what the AKC is supposed to be about.

  • Sylvie McGee April 19, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    It’s too bad that they will not allow AKC champions to compete. I’d happily compete in order to get a shot at group and BIS levels with my finished champions. I’m confident of my ability to finish my own dogs, and have done a number of times, but in the group ring, I feel it’s generally not in the cards against the handlers. I’m hoping that the new O/H class at the championship (i.e. “regular”) shows will be a solution to that, and am looking forward to that spreading now that it’s open to all show-giving clubs.

  • inuaknls
    Sheila April 19, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    This holds no interest to me. If I am paying an entry fee, I want the points. Money is tight and I don’t have extra to spend on a glorified match.

    How about AKC making the point scale more realistic??? People here actually drive to other area’s- with lower point scales- to finish their dogs. We can’t even make majors here and AKC raised nearly all the numbers needed for majors, in 2012.

    I have been showing, in AKC, since 1979 and I agree with Alphamom 100%. I enjoy the International and UKC shows MUCH more and find my self entering AKC less and less. AKC has become money oriented and has lost the FUN that their shows used to be 32 years ago.

    Sheila :)

  • Vanja April 20, 2012 at 6:45 AM

    For me in particular if no points I am not interested. I can train my dog in local confirmation club for next to nothing. This appears to be yet another venue to make a money without any benefits to owners, breeders handlers. Now if open show with rules of no handlers would include points that would be much more interesting and would definitely participate with at least 6 dogs.

  • Fran April 20, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    Hi Christi,
    I’ve been saying that open shows are needed here in the States since the first time I went to one in the U.K. I think there were a few thousand dogs entered. Now that it’s here, I’m very apprehensive. People are saying that it’s just a glorified match show. As far as I’m concerned, “What’s wrong with that!” Match shows used to be a very important part of the dog show scene. I do know that there are still a few and they are very successful; a learning experience for puppies, their owners and the judges, lots of fun, and the clubs make some money for their treasury.
    If these open shows will bring people together with their future AKC Champions, wouldn’t that be okay? And on their way they can earn whatever title is decided upon by the club or AKC.
    I do have one question… What kind of entry fee are they planning? Will this be just another way to build the AKC purse, or is it truly for the exhibitors, new and old?

  • Smiling Corgi April 25, 2012 at 12:10 AM

    Why does the AKC treat Amateur, Owner, Handlers as if we’re stupid? A “level playing field” with no points is an oxymoron.

    • Christi McDonald
      Christi April 26, 2012 at 9:09 AM

      Smiling Corgi, to be fair, AKC didn’t say that the Open Show is a way to “level the playing field.” That is something that came up in comments on this site. And I don’t believe for a moment that anyone at AKC intends to treat exhibitors as if they’re stupid.

      As I’ve said before, let’s endeavor to work WITH AKC to get what we want, and need, from our sport. If the new Open Show concept doesn’t work as-is, let’s propose to AKC that we modify it so that it WILL work for owner-handlers. I really believe that by working with AKC, we can come up with sensible solutions to our issues that will benefit everyone. Contact an AKC board member or a delegate in your area if you have input to offer. That’s what they’re there for.

      • silhouette April 27, 2012 at 9:09 AM

        I have to admit I wouldn’t be inclined to go to one of these shows unless it was within 1-2 hrs of my home and was on a weekend with no point shows within 3-4 hrs drive. Otherwise I’d rather spend that money having a chance to earn a championship. I also have to wonder how popular these would be for the show giving clubs, I know some struggle to find and pay for show sites as it is with entries dropping. These shows would be an added expense and probably less money coming in, unless like matches they were always small enough to run in a small building or small park without alot of the overhead real shows have. In which case – why not just hold a match. Or, unless the open show was held in the evening after the point show at the same location (saving the club money) like some matches are. I just can’t see driving out of my way for a show with no points though.

        As Christi has pointed out if you do a competent job showing good dogs you usually get yours eventually. Yes I have lost to professionals unjustly at times, but I have also lost to some awful owner/handled dogs. You know what they say about opinions!! I have managed to finish quite a few dogs and even specialed an owner/handled dog into the top 10 in my breed last year. But yes group is a different ballgame and one I hope to eventually conquer (err, to some extent lol) just as I did in the classes.

  • Beth April 29, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    To those who decry the lack of “points” to be won, whatever happened to the desire to simply SHOW your dog? Do you really and truly need the opinion of someone who has zero interest in, or knowledge about, your breed? Many of the current crop of AKC judges, apart from breeder-judges, do not care about the fact your dog has 5 crosses to Ben Ghazi the Silver Shadow in 6 generations, or that you are the breeder-owner of the only Syntifny On The Move son alive today, but fellow students of your breed do (or should!).
    Titles (and points) are wonderful, but really, does it mean anything? Does it change the dog you have at the end of your leash? Not in the least.
    Open shows (and matches) will be an opportunity for education and maybe a way to ease Polly Petowner into the show world without the frantic need for points and titles.
    I just wish that I, as a retired professional handler, could take my new puppy, if and when it arrives, to an open show and just enjoy my day!

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