I don’t often write show reports, but the American Kennel Club shows in California on July 19-22, hosted by the Kennel Club of Salinas and Sierra-Tuolumne Kennel Club Inc., are worth highlighting for two reasons: the atmosphere and their proximity to four all-breed United Kennel Club shows.

The AKC shows were pleasant, in spite of the hot weather. Entries were just under 1,000 dogs at the Saturday and Sunday shows, 778 on Friday and 675 on Monday, pretty good in view of the inland location in Stockton and the fact that there were bigger shows in Oregon and Texas the same weekend, but certainly not record figures.

One of the features that was unusual was the clubs’ recommendation that exhibitors wear casual clothing, defined as “business casual” in the premium list and catalog. This was interpreted by most of the male handlers and judges (women can wear light summer dresses, regardless of dress code) as open-necked dress shirts or short-sleeved golf shirts, with no ties and, of course, no jackets. The few who showed in full professional handler regalia looked, if anything, out of place in the very casual atmosphere that prevailed. This is something that ought to be copied by more clubs at summer shows, and more informal, lighter clothing should be encouraged by AKC if we want people to regard showing and judging as a pleasure, not a potential health hazard.

The most interesting aspect of the Saturday and Sunday shows, however, was something else. Has it ever happened before that United Kennel Club shows are held adjacent to AKC events, on the same fairgrounds and on the same days? That, to my knowledge, was unprecedented, and provided the most important reason that we hightailed it up the supremely ugly Interstate 5 for six hours to Stockton, through parts of California that don’t really fit the general perception of how glamorous the state is supposed to be.

The UKC email flyer announcing four all-breed conformation shows that shared the weekend in Stockton with two AKC shows. All images courtesy of Bo Bengtson.

Never mind. It was worth the drive. I had received a flyer via email that announced there would be “4 UKC All Breed Conformation Shows … sharing weekend/show grounds with two AKC Club All Breed Conformation Shows.” There was a list of the UKC judges who would officiate, there would be supported entries from American Pit Bull Terriers South Bay Dog Fanciers, the West Coast Boxer Club and the Society in America for Cane Corso Italiano. There were special handling classes for children, teens and young adults with special needs, CGC testing, etc. Pre-entry cost $20 and closed six days before the show, but you could also enter on the day of show for $25, with lower fees for Junior Showmanship and Grand Champions.

What I was interested in finding was how this compared with the AKC shows next door. I was also wondering what the organizers of the AKC shows thought, and if the UKC people were riding piggy-back on the AKC shows, perhaps having hired the space on the fairgrounds behind AKC’s back. Communications between AKC and UKC used to be pretty civil in the distant past; if I remember correctly they even cooperated in some efforts, but in recent years there has been a chill in the air. AKC doesn’t prohibit (or perhaps isn’t able to prohibit) their own judges and exhibitors from participating in UKC events, but there’s a distinct feeling that AKC would rather see UKC go away. Perhaps I’m mistaken in that, but I was curious to see how the clubs would manage to coexist side-by-side over two days on the weekend.

A “business casual” professional handler Bill McFadden in the ring with AKC Group-winning Puli GCh. Mt Hood’s Leapin’ Linni of Tordor.

United Kennel Club Founded 1898

A little history needs to be interjected. The United Kennel Club, headquartered in Kalamazoo, Mich., was founded in 1898 (14 years after AKC) and long advertised itself as the second-largest purebred dog registry in the world. They used to register about 250,000 dogs per year, but UKC doesn’t appear to have benefited from AKC’s drastic drop in registrations. Both clubs seem to be hurting, and quite possibly some of the bigger foreign clubs are now ahead of UKC in total registrations. On its website, UKC claims to be the largest all-breed performance-dog registry in the world, but carefully refrains from listing total figures (as does AKC). UKC hosts 16,000 annually licensed events, mostly in the Midwest and more than half of them for performance – hunting, training and instinct. One of UKC’s claims to fame is the focus on the “Total Dog,” meaning a dog that performs as well as it looks. The claim that this is a departure from “registries that place emphasis on a dog’s looks” sounds very much like a dig at AKC. In general, though, UKC proclaims that it would prefer cooperation to competition.

UKC’s Westminster, or perhaps more appropriately its version of the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, is the UKC Premier, held in Michigan in June. This year it attracted about 1,600 exhibits in the conformation event, but over 8,000 entries over four days of activities ranging from rally obedience and agility to lure coursing, dock jumping, weight pulls, terrier racing, barn hunt and even “nosework demonstration.” The Total Dog winner, qualifying in both conformation and performance events, was the Whippet UKC Ch. Wildwood’s All Four On The Floor.

The president of UKC for many years was the late Fred Miller, whose wife, Connie Gerstner Miller, is now an AKC Sporting Group and BIS judge, and breeder of the well-known Malagold Golden Retrievers. The current UKC president, Wayne Cavanaugh, will be remembered by longtime fanciers as a past Pointer breeder at AKC shows and was, in fact, a vice president of AKC prior to defecting to the rival organization.

The best-known UKC rule among AKC exhibitors seems to be that UKC allows no professional handlers to show other dogs than their own. That, not surprisingly, has been a major draw among exhibitors who for one reason or another don’t feel they can compete with the pros. It is also much easier to become a judge for UKC events than for AKC shows. A dog can be registered in the UKC if its parents are registered in either UKC or by “another approved entity,” which includes AKC. (AKC, however, does not accept UKC registrations.) Mixed breeds and non-pedigree dogs can get Limited Privilege registrations, and compete in obedience and agility. The top five breeds in UKC registrations are reportedly the Treeing Walker Coonhound, the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Bluetick Coonhound, the English Coonhound, and the Black and Tan Coonhound. Most of these are now AKC-recognized breeds. The American Pit Bull Terrier, which is not recognized by AKC, descends, I’m told, at least partly from AKC-registered American Staffordshire Terriers that are accepted by UKC for breeding to APBTs.

One of the attractions of UKC dog shows is, in fact, the large variety of breeds you may come across. UKC currently recognizes more than 350 breeds, compared to 175 at AKC, according to the UKC website. Some of the UKC breeds I had never heard of before – how about the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier? – but some are known from FCI events in Europe, Asia or Latin America, and some may also be on their way to full AKC recognition. Here’s a partial list of some lesser-known breeds recognized by the UKC: White Shepherd, Volpino, Multi-Colored Poodle, Russian Toy, Porcelaine, Patterdale Terrier, Mudi, Catahoula Leopard Dog, Kooikerhondje, Jindo, Kangal Dog, Hungarian Greyhound (also called the Magyar Agar), Hamiltonstövare, Dutch Shepherd, Dogo Argentino, Chinook, Central Asian Shepherd, Bergamasco, Berger Picard, Akbash and Alaskan Klee Kai.

Professional handler Bruce Schultz “casually” won the Hound Group with Bloodhound GCh. Quiet Creek Kiss And Tell.

Just A Few Steps Away…

Before going over to check out the UKC event, I talked to the show chairman of one of the AKC clubs. It was a pleasant surprise to find that she was totally positive toward the UKC event. Apparently the two organizations had agreed on the common show dates in advance, and it obviously helped AKC that the UKC could help pay the rent for the fairgrounds. So far, so good; no rivalry, but sensible cooperation instead.

So what were the UKC shows in Stockton like? To begin with, I was surprised that not more exhibitors and handlers at the AKC show took the trouble to check them out. It was literally only a few steps that separated the AKC and the UKC events on Saturday and Sunday, and although quite a few of the AKC fanciers had heard about the UKC shows and seemed to be curious about them, in the end I don’t think more than just a few bothered to walk across to the building where UKC judging was in process.

Frankly, I think most of them – even those who complain the most about various aspects of AKC – would have been pretty satisfied with “our own” shows if they had bothered to check out “the competition.” Yes, it was certainly interesting to see some of the rare breeds being judged: we saw at least 10 Silken Windhounds, which were very attractive and looked just like you would expect from a descendant of a Borzoi-Whippet cross. There was at least one Russian Ovtcharka, which I suppose must be the Central Asian Shepherd listed above, and there were quite a few American Pit Bull Terriers, all of which seemed very friendly. I did not find a catalog, if indeed one existed. (There was supposed to be one, but how informative could it be with entries accepted the same day?) For that reason I don’t know exactly how many dogs were entered at the UKC show, but my guess would be fewer than 200 dogs. There were a morning show and an afternoon show on both Saturday and Sunday.

Perhaps this was not a typical UKC event. They are much more popular in the Midwest than in the West, and no doubt much larger as well. Certainly the atmosphere was very relaxed, more so than at even this rather laid-back, summery AKC event, but that also had the effect of making the UKC competition pretty boring to watch. One of the participants, who also attends AKC shows, in fact said that UKC judging is “just about as exciting as watching paint dry…” – and that, frankly, sums it up pretty well.

A Valid Alternative to AKC?

If I had expected UKC to provide a valid alternative to AKC, I didn’t find it. Sure, this could be a fun and undemanding way to start out for a novice exhibitor or a new puppy, the way match shows used to be a training ground for the “real thing,” but an ambitious exhibitor who wants to fine-tune his or her skills and who relishes competition will no doubt move on to AKC competition.

Professional handlers often get a bad rap. Those of us who are owner-handlers are very quick to cry wolf whenever we’re defeated by a professional handler. Sure, under some judges it seems the pros can’t lose regardless of what they are showing, but the fact is that the skill, strong work ethics and amazing energy of professional handlers give the rest of us something to aspire to. They are what makes the AKC shows the best in the world when it comes to handling and presentation.

It was interesting to see how “the other half” (well, a lot less than half, actually) lives, but I was quite happy to return into the American Kennel Club’s fold at the end of the day.