December 15 and 16, 2012, will mark the 12th year of the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship dog show, this year to be held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

In December 2001 the American Kennel Club teamed up for the first time with pet food company Eukanuba to host the inaugural invitational dog show. Entries were limited to the Top 20 ranked dogs in each breed, to chronicle “for posterity,” as noted by AKC, “the dogs, breeders, owners and handlers who have reached the highest level of achievement in the sport.” That first show was also held in Orlando, then at the TD Waterhouse Centre, and from the beginning it was clear that this would be no ordinary dog show. AKC has pulled out all the stops to make this a one-of-a-kind event for the sport of showing dogs.

Over the past dozen years, AKC/Eukanuba has changed and grown. Perhaps the most unique aspect of this show from the outset has been that it is the only dog show that offers significant cash prizes. From the first event the final winners have taken home more than $50,000 each in cash prizes, with total prizes typically totaling more than $200,000 per year.

The first Best in Show winner at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship was Bichon Frise Ch. Special Times Just Right, pictured with judge Dorothy Nickles, handler Scott Sommer and owner Cecilia Ruggles. Photo courtesy of the American Kennel Club.

From the beginning, a major part of the event has been the AKC Meet the Breeds, in which nearly every parent club goes to great lengths to decorate a booth to reflect the heritage of its breed. Once the show gets started, members spend hours meeting and greeting the public with their dogs, and thousands of spectators are the beneficiaries of their time and experience. Honoring dogs that make a difference in people’s lives has also been on the agenda since that first year, when AKC recognized search and rescue dogs that served following the September 11 attacks just a few months earlier.

There were about 1,500 dogs entered at that first show. Best in Show, judged by Miss Dorothy Nickles, went to the Bichon Frise Ch. Special Times Just Right. ‘J.R.’ and Miss Dorothy were a perfect pair, both colorful characters who had been ideal ambassadors for the sport. Handler Scott Sommer had shown J.R. to Top Dog of all breeds in 2000 and Best in Show at Westminster 2001 just a few months earlier, and then brought him out of retirement for the show in Orlando.

Sadly, both of J.R.’s breeder/owners passed away just shortly before his AKC/Eukanuba win. Eleanor McDonald had a stroke and died in early October. Flavio Werneck tragically died in an auto accident, with his wife Danielle, in his native Brazil in late November. Owner Ceil Ruggles and Scott were left to celebrate a win of which Eleanor and Flavio would no doubt have been proud.

The first major change for the AKC/Eukanuba show came in its second year. For the 2002 show, the invitation list was expanded to the top 25 dogs in each breed, as well as all dogs that won an all-breed Best in Show between January 1 and October 7 2002. During the show AKC honored five canine recipients of the AKC Awards for Canine Excellence(ACE) in Exemplary Companion Dog, Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue, Service Dog and Therapy categories. The stories of how each of the dogs had served their humans, and in some cases their country, were inspiring.

For the first time AKC also began recognizing one breeder in each of the seven Variety Groups as Breeder of the Year contenders. The first-ever winner was Wendell Sammet of Ale Kai Standard Poodles. As the weekend drew to a close, Mrs. Connie Barton judged Best in Show, and from an entry of 1,483 selected the 2001 Top Dog of all breeds, Kerry Blue Terrier Eng. Am. Ch. Torum’s Scarf Michael, as her winner. ‘Mick’ was owned by Marilu Hansen and handled by Bill McFadden, and he too would win Westminster, in 2003.

The Best in Show winner in 2002 was Kerry Blue Terrier Eng. Am. Ch. Torum’s Scarf Michael. The trophy that handler Bill McFadden is admiring is called the Iams Celebration of Champions trophy, and features a sculpture of each of the AKC/Eukanuba Best in Show winners. Photo courtesy of the American Kennel Club.

Going West

The following year the invitational, as it was sometimes known, moved to the Long Beach Convention Center in Southern California, and for the first time was in conjunction with the AKC National Agility Championship and the AKC National Obedience Invitational. This was also the first time that foreign entries were accepted for the show, held on December 3. Meet the Breeds continued to be a huge success, and for the third year Junior Showmanship was also very popular.

AKC honored its fourth annual ACE award winners, and the Breeder of the Year award went to Mary Rodgers of Marienburg Doberman Pinschers. The winning streak for Top Dogs continued, albeit slightly prematurely this time, when the 2003 Number 1 dog of all breeds, Eng. Am. Ch. Cracknor Cause Celebre, was Best in Show under Mr. Frank Sabella. ‘Coco’ was handled, as usual, by Beth Sweigart. Like Mick, Coco was bred in England, and she was owned by her breeder, Elisabeth Matell, with Pam Beale, Stephanie Ingram and Beth. Also like her predecessors, Coco hit the cash jackpot with her win.

Another addition was made to the show in 2003, this one very popular. Best Bred-by-Exhibitor was judged for each Group, and the Best in Show winner under Miss Maxine Beam was Norwich Terrier Ch. Huntwood’s First Knight, handled by his breeder Susie Kipp.

There was not a show in 2004 because the powers that be decided to move it from a December date to January, and on January 15 and 16, 2005, the show returned to Florida, this time to Tampa. The entry was up to 2,400 dogs, including 108 canines representing 16 foreign countries. For the first time the show was aired live on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel.

At this show AKC announced that Cathy Nelson of Pennywise Dandie Dinmont Terriers was the recipient of the Breeder of the Year honor for 2004. Best in Show was judged by Mrs. Michele Billings, who selected the Bloodhound, Ch. Heathers Knock On Wood, as her winner. ‘Knotty’ was handled by Ken Griffith for owner Lyn Sherman and breeders Heather and Peter Whitcomb of Canada. TV viewers were allowed to vote for the “Viewers’ Choice,” and in a clean sweep Knotty took home that honor as well. Best Bred-by in Show, judged by Mrs. Jane Forsyth, went to the Rottweiler Ch. Carter’s Noble Shaka Zulu and Keith Carter.

December to January and Back Again

January 2006 marked the fifth annual show and AKC press releases said the entry was more than 2,600. That year’s show was simulcast live on January 14 and 15, and also ran on Animal Planet on Monday night, February 13. Show chairman Ron Menaker told the press how proud the AKC was to have all 153 AKC breeds and all 50 states represented in the entry, along with dogs from 20 foreign countries.

The 2005 Breeders of the Year, Dave and Peggy Helming of Pouch Cove Newfoundlands, were honored at this show. Best in Show, judged by Jane Forsyth, went to the breeder/owner-handled Alaskan Malamute Ch. Nanuke’s Snoklassic No Boundaries. Sandy D’Andrea also showed ‘Costello’ to the Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Show spot under Mr. Bob Forsyth, pushing the take-home earnings over $80,000.

Sandy D’Andrea’s Alaskan Malamute Ch. Nanuke’s Snoklassic No Boundaries is the only dog ever to win both Best in Show and Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Show at AKC/Eukanuba. Photo by Lisa Croft Elliott.

Now the decision was made to move the show back to a December date, and to hold a show just 11 months hence rather than wait almost two years for December 2007 to come around. The second show that year was held again in Long Beach, where the show remained for the next five years. Breeders of the Year Doug and Michaelanne Johnson of the Bugaboo Old English Sheepdogs were honored.

Bred-by-Exhibitor Best in Show was judged by Michele Billings and went to Golden Retriever Ch. Shalimar’s Sports Illustrated, handled by Laurie Jordon-Fenner. It was the year of the Sporting dog, as judge Bob Forsyth selected for Best in Show the English Springer Spaniel Ch. Felicity’s Diamond Jim. ‘James,’ owned by Teresa and Allen Patton, Ruth Dehmel and Diana Hadsall and handled by Kellie FitzGerald, finished the year Number 2 among all breeds, and in February 2007 was Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club.

Inviting the World In

The biggest development for the 2007 show was the introduction of the Eukanuba World Challenge, held with cooperation from the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI). In addition to the U.S., 39 countries were invited to select one dog to compete, based on a ranking system or selection process of their choosing. AKC designated the previous year’s AKC/Eukanuba winner as its representative.

While there may have been some doubt among die-hard dog show people about how successful this competition would be, when each of the dogs, along with their handlers and another representative, came into the ring for the opening ceremony on the first evening bearing their country’s flag, the spectacle was awe-inspiring. Entrants competed first in one of three regional categories – Europe and Africa; Asia and Oceania; and the Americas – and then FCI Vice President Karl Resinger selected the World Challenge winner from the three finalists.

The winner of the inaugural event, representing Switzerland, was ASCOB Cocker Spaniel Ch. Very Vigie Vamos a la Playa, bred and owned by Laurent Pichard, co-owned by Joelie Doucet and handled by Hughes Schuh.

The winner of the first Eukanuba World Challenge was ASCOB Cocker Spaniel Ch. Very Vigie Vamos a la Playa, with handler Hughes Schuh, representing Switzerland.

The Agility and Obedience Invitationals, as well as the ACE awards and the announcement of the Breeder of the Year, continued to be part of AKC/Eukanuba. In 2007 Breeder of the Year went to Max-Well Norfolk Terrier’s Barbara Miller.

Frank Sabella judged Best Bred-by in Show and the winner was again a Golden, this time Ch. Easthill Broxden The Fig is Up, handled by Amy Rodrigues who owned him with co-breeder Sandra Kim Hoffen, and Alex and Joe Ovalle. Maxine Beam found for Best in Show the 2007 Top Terrier and Number 4 of all breeds, Sealyham Terrier Ch. Efbe’s Hidalgo at Goodspice. Breeder/owner-handler Margery Good co-owned ‘Charmin’ with Sandra Middlebrooks and Richard Good. He went on to win the World Show in Sweden in 2008.

Along the way, in addition to the Top 25 in each breed and BIS winners, each breed’s National Specialty winner began to be invited to AKC/Eukanuba. At the 2008 show another special attraction that spectators would greatly enjoy was introduced when Eukanuba’s Super Retriever Series Dock Jumping competition joined the show. The World Challenge winner that year was Saluki Ch. Dakira Sawahin from Germany, bred, owned and handled by Dagmar Hintzenberg-Freisleben. FCI President Hans Muller judged the final.

Joan Savage, Stagedoor English Setters, was named AKC Breeder of the Year, and the Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Show award went to English Setter Ch. Chebaco Blames It On Trabeiz, bred by his owner and handler Eileen Hackett with Carlos Puig, Peg Ziebart and Kate Hanlon, and co-owned by Don and Pat Collier. Dr. Harry Smith selected ‘Ross’ for the Best BBE honor.

Dr. Robert Smith judged Best in Show this year, and his selection was the Pointer bitch that finished the year as top Sporting dog and Number 2 among all breeds, Ch. Cookieland Seasyde Hollyberry. ‘Holly’ was handled by Michael Scott, owned by Sean and Tammy McCarthy and Helyne Medieros, and bred by Cheryl Laduc and Amy and Anthony Cantor. She is the top-winning Pointer in the history of the breed.

Pointer Ch. Cookieland Seasyde Hollyberry was Best in Show at AKC/Eukanuba in 2008. Photo courtesy of the American Kennel Club.

Coming Into Its Own

By now the show had settled in to its Long Beach location and had really come into its own as a special event for dog show enthusiasts each year. In 2009 America’s own Frank Sabella judged the final of the World Challenge and selected an unmistakable crowd favorite when he pointed to Bracco Italiano Ch. Axel del Monte Alago, representing Italy and handled by his owner Bitte Ahrens. ‘Axel’ was co-owned by Salvatore Tripoli.

The Breeder of the Year award went to Claudia Orlandi of Topsfield Basset Hounds. Best Bred-by in Show was judged by Mrs. Helen Lee James and once again a Golden triumphed, this time Ch. Rush Hill’s River Road Payoff, bred by Suzanne and Michael Rapier and Tonya Struble, owned by Mark and Tonya Struble and Kelsey Dunn, and handled by Tonya.

Mr. Bob Moore judged Best in Show, which he awarded to Amelia Musser’s Scottie bitch Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot, handled by Gabriel Rangel. ‘Sadie’ was Top Dog of all breeds that year and two months later was Best in Show at the Garden.

AKC/Eukanuba’s 10th anniversary show in 2010 would be its last on the West Coast, at least for a while. This show would be broadcast in January on ABC, its first time ever on network television. Show chairman Menaker proclaimed it a perfect opportunity for viewers to learn about AKC’s now 167 dog breeds. Nearly 2,500 dogs were entered in conformation, 590 in obedience and agility combined, 134 in Junior Showmanship and 43 in the World Challenge, for a total of more than 3,200 entries.

Portugal’s Carla Molinari judged the final of the Eukanuba World Challenge. Her winner was the Doberman Pinscher representing Argentina, multi-Ch. Alex de Akido San. ‘Alex’ was bred and owned by Andrea Laruccia, co-owned by Natalia Colombo and Tony and Sheila DiNardo, and handled by Miguel Alejandro Vera, who was obviously ecstatic with the win.

Debbie Butt of Sporting Fields Whippets was selected from the field of seven as AKC’s Breeder of the Year. Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Show under judge Mrs. Polly Smith was Min Pin GCh. Kimro’s Soldier Boy, handled by breeder/owner Kim Pastella Calvacca and co-bred by Tony Calvacca, Robin Greenslade and Howard Schwell. Mrs. Jean Fournier chose Australian Shepherd Ch. Propwash Reckon, bred and owned by Leslie Frank, and owned and handled by Judy Harrington, for Best in Show.

Back East

In 2011 the big event moved back to Orlando, to the convention center where it will be held again this year and according to Mr. Menaker “for the next several years.” Otherwise things remained pretty much the same as in previous years, except that the entry in the Miscellaneous classes sort of exploded. There were 84 dogs entered in 13 Miscellaneous breeds, including 17 Portuguese Podengo Pequenos, 14 Russell Terriers and eight Rat Terriers, making this the place to be to see and learn about the newer breeds. Best in Miscellaneous went to Russell Terrier Edison’s Knick Knack, bred and owned by Bonnie Edison and handled by Beverly Wright-Osment.

In 2011, for the first time ever, the American representative was the winner of the World Challenge. ‘Reckon’ the Australian Shepherd was chosen in the final by Argentina’s Enrique Filippini from the 41 dogs from around the world.

Pluis Davern, who breeds Sussex Spaniels under the Sundowner prefix, was the 2011 Breeder of the Year. Best Bred-by in Show, judged by Canada’s Jim Reynolds, was the Afghan Hound GCh. Thaon’s Mowgli, handled by Jay Hafford, co-bred and co-owned by James Blanchard, and also owned by Ann Sterner. Best in Show winner GCh. Jaset’s Satisfaction was chosen by Polly Smith in the final. The Standard Poodle is handled by Ann Rairigh for owners Beth Harris, Michele Molnar and Jamie Danburg, and was bred by Sandra Tompkins and Chris Bailey.

Afghan Hound GCh. Thaon’s Mowgli was Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Show at AKC/Eukanuba 2011.

CAPTION: Afghan Hound GCh. Thaon’s Mowgli was Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Show at AKC/Eukanuba 2011.

The 2012 National Championship will reflect the biggest changes so far in the AKC/Eukanuba show. Class dogs will compete this year in each breed, and although the Top 25 from each breed and other “special qualifiers” were invited to attend, anyone was welcome to enter.

I calculated 4,201 entries in conformation, a pretty remarkable number in today’s dog show world. The biggest entries are 93 Goldens, 75 Frenchies and 75 Labs. Other breeds with more than 50 entered: Bostons, Cavaliers, Chinese Cresteds, Havanese, Papillons, Poms, Vizslas, Whippets, Australian Shepherds and Border Collies. The biggest Working entry is 42 Boxers and the biggest Terrier entry is 40 Miniature Schnauzers.

Perhaps what is even more remarkable is that the shows competing with AKC’s event drew substantial entry numbers as well. The Saturday show in Cleveland drew 2,369, and Sunday, 2,172. Rumor has it that Allentown, Pa., drew in the neighborhood of 1,700 dogs each day, terrific numbers with three sets of shows on the eastern side of the country competing for entries.

The list of 56 judges for this year’s AKC/Eukanuba includes respected names from across the AKC spectrum as well as 13 foreign judges from the U.K., Ireland, Japan, Russia, Portugal, Finland and Canada. The Agility Invitational and the National Obedience Invitational will once again be part of the extravaganza, as will Meet the Breeds and the World Challenge.

The 2012 AKC Breeder of the Year representatives are Dana Masey, Win Weim Weimaraners; Alicia Hanna, Kimani Rhodesian Ridgebacks; Lynn Brady and Connie Townsend, Szumeria Kuvasz; Jim Smith, Absolutely Smooth Fox Terriers; Tammy and John Simon, Ta-Jon Maltese; Krista Nuovo, Delamer Schipperkes; and Frank Baylis and Chris Oldt, Bayshore Border Collies.

Mr. Edd Bivin will do the honors in the Best in Show ring this year, with Pat Trotter judging the final for Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Show. Señor Luis Pinto Teixeria of Portugal will judge the World Challenge final. The show will be broadcast on ABC on February 2, 2013.

Best In Show Daily will have full coverage of this year’s AKC/Eukanuba, as well as the results from the three all-breed shows that precede it, beginning tomorrow. Watch for all the news from Orlando!