Here on The Back Story and over on my original site, Dog Show Poop, I spend a lot of time talking about the top dogs of the show world. It makes sense if you consider that both sites are really online dog show fan magazines, a kind of canine “People” or “US Weekly.” However, when I am on the road visiting shows outside my regular area, one of my favorite things to do is to seek out and talk with people at the breed rings, the people who are not campaigning a Top 100 dog.

I have a couple of motives. First, people chasing all-breed points have a different focus than those who are trying to finish a dog’s championship or grand championship. These people are walking encyclopedias of their breeds. I freely admit to knowing a lot about purebred dogs and only a little about specific breeds of dogs. That is, I know a few breeds in depth and a lot about dogs in general. Only by talking with people who have focused on one or two breeds for decades, do you get an appreciation about how much there is to learn in this game.

Second, I know enough about statistics and business to know that our hobby is dependent on fanciers who are willing to spend their time and money to go to a show and lose more than they win. It’s sort of like the Las Vegas casinos. At an all-breed show with 1,000 entries in 100 breeds, only about 15 percent of the entries will get a winners, breed, group or BIS award. As the self-appointed cheerleader for AKC conformation shows, I want to know how we can encourage these people to come back to the shows weekend after weekend.

I can tell you that there is not a lot of statistical data on the subject. All the evidence I have is anecdotal. I go to the shows because I love the dogs and I can talk about dogs with people who don’t think it’s silly that I love the dogs. Like any sporting event, people get caught up in the competition and get the same adrenaline rush from a win in the breed ring that they get from witnessing a winning play at the ballpark. People also get to root for the underdog, literally.

The most lasting effects of the time spent in our hobby are the friendships made that transcend social classes, racial divides, religious differences and political opinions. Along the way I discovered something truly wonderful. By spending time with these people, I get to recapture my first days at the shows, sharing in all the enthusiasm and excitement of others. The real task at hand is for the show-giving clubs to figure out how they can keep these folks in the fold. AKC has taken some steps that I think are helpful (like the National Owner-Handler Series), but in the end the clubs must step up and produce shows for this core constituency, rather than just a handful of club members. Our survival depends on it. And that’s today’s Back Story.