As you know if you’ve watched the final of any dog show the past two weeks, as of July 3, 2012, Reserve Best in Show is now being awarded at AKC shows. The new prize is awarded by the same judge who selects the Best in Show winner, and is mandatory at AKC all-breed shows.

The Reserve winner is selected from the six Group winners remaining in the ring after the Best in Show dog is chosen. The second place winner in the Group from which the Best in Show dog came does not compete for Reserve Best in Show.

The first AKC show held after Reserve Best in Show was implemented was the Naugatuck Valley Kennel Club, in West Springfield, Mass., on July 4, 2012. For the first AKC Reserve BIS award, judge Wendy Willhauck selected the Bulldog, GCh. Tango’s A Perfect Present for the Dulins, owned by Martin and Janet Dulin, and handled by breeder/co-owner Millie Watkins. BIS went to Affenpinscher GCh. Banana Joe V Tani Kazari, handled by Ernesto Lara for owners Tina Truesdale and Mieke Cooymans.

It seems that the most often asked question regarding the new award is whether the recipient will get points in the various ranking systems for dogs defeated. A source at AKC reports that those who made the final decisions about the award wanted to avoid the possibility, however remote, that a dog could become Number 1 of all breeds without ever having won a Best in Show award. Thus, as it stands today, no dogs-defeated points are given for Reserve Best in Show.

However, if one follows that line of thinking, it is possible that a dog could become Number 1 in its Group without ever having won a Group First, if it won those placements at enough shows with large entries. Odds are, though, that any dog that wins that many Group placements throughout the year – or a comparable number of Reserve Best in Shows – would at some point take the top prize.

So far, more professionally handled dogs have received Reserve BIS than owner-handled ones, but proportionately the owner-handlers are winning their fair share. Watkins, who breeder/owner-handled Bulldog ‘Blitz’ to the first RBIS win, likes the new award. “Well, I felt like I almost won Best in Show! The recognition is nice, especially when there are well-known, top-winning dogs in the ring,” she says. “It takes so much to get that Group First that it’s nice to know we almost won.”

Bulldog ‘Blitz’ exhibits his zest for life at a recent show. He was the first-ever AKC Reserve Best in Show winner. Photo courtesy Millie Watkins.

But exhibitors have mixed feelings about the award, and nearly everyone we talked to feels that the RBIS winner should receive at least some ranking points for dogs defeated. Most agree they would count all dogs competing except from breeds in the Best in Show dog’s Group, since the RBIS dog did not defeat those.

Julie Jones was the owner-handler on Basenji GCh. Jasiri-Sukari Win Tin Tin when judge Judi Daniels awarded him Reserve BIS in Ventura, Calif., on July 7, 2012. Julie and her sister Kathy, well-known on the West Coast as “the Basenji sisters,” were both very excited when they first heard about the Reserve BIS award. “We felt that some judges who would not consider an owner-handled dog for Best in Show might give one Reserve Best in Show,” says Julie.

Their excitement was dampened when they learned that no points would be given for dogs defeated. “If AKC gives dogs defeated points for a Group Second, Third and Fourth, why not for Reserve Best in Show?” Julie asked. “There’s even talk of giving a major to the Reserve Winners at National Specialties, but nothing for winning Reserve Best in Show? We’re not sure why that decision was made, but we’ve yet to talk to a person who agrees with it.”

If the Reserve Best in Show award was intended to engender enthusiasm with exhibitors, it appears that AKC failed to set the stage for it, in more ways than one. “Please don’t misunderstand us. We are very appreciative to Mrs. Daniels for awarding our dog Reserve Best in Show. Four of the top 20 dogs of all breeds were in that lineup, and we were absolutely thrilled that our dog was the one chosen,” Julie says. “We just wish the win garnered the respect it deserves.”

Several exhibitors we spoke to felt that an apparent lack of planning signals that the award means little to AKC. Julie mentioned just one example. “If you look in the Weekly Wins page on AKC’s website, you’ll see that there’s no place to list the dogs who won Reserve BIS, although a few of the reps did note ‘RBIS’ next to the names of the winners,” she says. “AKC has known for months that there would be a Reserve BIS as of July 3, yet they didn’t even bother to make a place for it on their own website. It’s hard to get overly excited about it when the win doesn’t seem to be taken seriously by anyone – including the AKC.”

Jackie Beaudoin, who handled her Puli, GCh. Cordmaker Rumpus Bumpus, to Reserve BIS in West Virginia two weekends ago under Desi Murphy, couldn’t agree more. “The best way I can describe my opinion is to say that if AKC wants us to value it, there needs to be some value in it,” says Jackie. “I don’t want to know that I was that close to going Best in Show and not have any points to show for it. For those of us who are out there really competing for Best in Show, it’s almost like a consolation prize. It’s sort of like handing the winner a candy bar, and handing the runner-up an empty wrapper. What am I going to do with an empty wrapper?”

The advent of the award raises several other concerns, for owner-handlers in particular. “I’m concerned that this will make it easier to point to the top handlers for Best in Show, and then throw the consolation prize to the owner-handler,” says Jackie. “Owner-handled dogs may become less competitive at the Best in Show level because judges can throw them this ‘bone.’”

One popular judge, who asked that his name not be used, said he too has mixed feelings about RBIS. On one hand, it’s an opportunity for some people to make a little more money: handlers, who can charge a bonus for the Reserve win, as well as the photographers and the people who provide the rosettes. But other than that, he said, “What’s the point? Do you really think the remote possibility of getting a Reserve Best in Show ribbon is going to make the average exhibitor want to come back to dog shows?”

And as Jackie points out, at a time when many exhibitors need to save money, those who win Reserve BIS may end up spending more. “I felt I had an obligation to the club and to the photographer to have my photo taken, so that cost me an extra $40.”

It Seems the Show Is Over

Another comment we got from several exhibitors regards the fact that AKC has directed judges that the Best in Show winner is to be announced first, followed by Reserve Best in Show.

Unfortunately, as Julie noted, “As soon as the judge finishes the sentence, ‘And Best in Show goes to…’ chairs scrape, the other six competitors are leaving the ring, and the Reserve Best in Show is just an afterthought.”

Indeed, one judge who recognizes that after the big winner is announced, everything else is forgotten, has devised a way to see that the Reserve BIS award gets the attention it deserves, although it goes against what he was told to do. “I will mark my book first with both dogs,” says Sonny Ambrosio,” then go back out in front of the dogs, award Reserve Best in Show, wait a moment, and award Best in Show.” This is how he plans to handle his Best in Show ring for the time being.

Reserve Best in Show awards have long been offered in other countries, including at FCI shows and in the U.K. and Canada. In the ranking systems in foreign countries, the Reserve BIS winner does get points for dogs defeated. Also in other countries, the judge for the final often announces the runner-up before selecting the Best in Show winner.

Whether AKC will consider revamping the Reserve Best in Show award is yet to be determined.