On Wednesday, December 12, entries close for the back-to-back Golden Gate KC shows that will take place Saturday and Sunday, January 26 and 27, 2013. This is an early closing date, six-and-a-half weeks from the show date instead of the two-and-a-half. The 111th and 112th Golden Gate shows, along with two obedience trials, will take place at the Cow Palace in Daly City, Calif., a suburb on the south side of San Francisco.

These shows are well-run and well-publicized, in part because Golden Gate Kennel Club is made up of very experienced dog people. In fact, its show chairman is the popular professional handler Mike Stone, who has been successful in the sport for decades and knows a thing or two about what makes a good dog show. Many other members are just as experienced, and it shows in a well-run event. Club members consider their show to be, in large part, a service for the local community, and indeed the event is billed as “the Bay area family show.”

The first thing that marks the “Blue Ribbon Shows of the West” as unique – and spectator friendly – is they are benched. Benched shows are, of course, terrific for people who come to the show to learn more about dogs, because visitors can more easily find breeds they’re looking for, as well as the owners and breeders from whom they can learn more about those breeds.

A Dalmatian greets visitors to the benching area at the 2010 Golden Gate dog show. All photos used with kind permission of Rod Begbie, a San Francisco resident who blogs about fun things to do in the area.

The second thing that makes these shows unique is that entries are limited to dogs that have won at least one blue ribbon at a show prior to the closing date. Exhibitors can enter the Puppy class, however, without having already won that blue ribbon, and of course dogs entered for Junior Showmanship only or in obedience are exempt. The club also makes an exception for dogs from a foreign registry.

Golden Gate offers as much for its exhibitors as it does for spectators. Let’s start with all of the cash prizes on offer. Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Show on Saturday will go home with a $100 prize, as will Best Puppy in Show on Sunday. The Best in Show winner each day will be rewarded with a $500 cash prize. The club takes advantage of the benching by offering two $100 prizes for bench decoration, one for the best individual or breeder and one for the best decoration by a breed club.

A pair of Alaskan Malamutes have a nap on the bench….

…and an Irish Wolfhound lounges alongside his winnings.

On Saturday, for a fee of just $5, exhibitors can enter what will no doubt be the most fun of the weekend for fanciers and spectators, the all-breed fashion show. Here again, cash prizes are offered and will be awarded in four categories: Originality, High Style, Humorous and Breed Heritage. The fashion show is limited to 50 lucky contestants, so if you’re going to Golden Gate and planning your dog’s walk down the runway, you’d better get your entry in!

Entries for these shows last year were over 1,200 each day, with majors in 15 breeds on Saturday and 14 on Sunday. Spectators will enjoy flyball demonstrations both days in the afternoon. The fact that exhibitors stay at the shows all day each day, and that clubs are encouraged to participate in the show as well, means that there are a great many other fun things for spectators to see and do and learn about dogs.

For a very, very small fee visitors to the show can hug a Pug.

So if you’re looking for a great dog show experience on the West Coast the fourth weekend in January, you probably can’t do better than Golden Gate. Aside from all the offerings at the shows, of course the San Francisco Bay area is a terrific place to visit. The temperature will likely hover around 60 degrees during the day, a little cooler in the evening. San Francisco, of course, has some of the country’s most fabulous sights, shopping and eateries, and a 15-minute drive will take you to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Mission District or downtown, if you’re interested.

I’d be happy to report what you’ve got going on at your club’s upcoming shows, so if it closes more than five weeks from now, please email me and let me know all about it at Christi@bestinshowdaily.com.