When dog shows first began, both in Europe and in the United States, almost all were benched shows. For the uninitiated, a benched dog show is one where all dogs entered are required to be in the show building and in a designated area – usually on a slightly raised platform, thus the term “bench” – during show hours, except when in the ring.

All dogs of a given breed are traditionally benched together, with the dogs’ catalog numbers posted so that spectators are able to identify each dog. The advantages to the public of a benched show are obvious – exhibitors and breeders are a captive audience for the day and are thus available to share information about their breed in particular and purebred dogs and dog shows in general.

Today there remain only a handful of benched shows left in the U.S., including Westminster, KC of Philadelphia, Detroit KC, Golden Gate KC and the International KC of Chicago.

An old Chicago Kennel Club catalog cover has vintage appeal.

IKC has a long and illustrious history as one of the most prestigious dog show events in America, and it retains much of the grace and sophistication that it has offered the sport since the early 20th century.

Longtime club member and current president Lou Auslander admits that one of the primary reasons IKC has kept the benched show format is so the handlers and owners can educate the public. The four-day cluster that takes place February 23 through 26 this year in Chicago also includes Park Shore KC and Blackhawk KC, although only the two IKC shows are benched.

In 2007 the organization started what is now called “Chicago Style” benching. This means that the dogs are crated at ground level instead of on platforms, which saves space, makes for a more open and attractive atmosphere, and makes the humans and dogs more accessible. All dogs are required to be on the bench by 9 a.m. each day – in their designated spots so that anyone can find them with a catalog number – and they are released two hours after judging of their breed, instead of being kept until evening hours as is traditionally required at a benched show.

Dogs of each breed are benched together to make it easier for spectators to find the breeds they are interested in during the day.

Dogs that win the breed, or any one of the other special competitions such as the unique Amateur-Owner-Handler Group and Best in Show competition offered on Saturday, must remain benched until 3 p.m. on Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The extra half-hour on the final day helps facilitate an easier move out.

The Chicago cluster offers many great incentives for exhibitors, handlers and spectators. In addition to the Amateur-Owner-Handler competition on Saturday, Owner-Handler Group and Best in Show competition is offered on Sunday, and “Bred-by-Exhibitor Spectacular” and “Puppy Spectacular” competitions are offered during the cluster. No additional entry fees are required to enter these events. (For guidelines regarding these competitions, see the premium list at www.onofrio.com/plist/park1pl.pdf.)

Specialty shows are held for 12 breeds with two dozen supported entries over the two days. Major points are available in dozens of breeds. Junior Showmanship is free to enter on the weekend.

Although packed with competitive events, the show also features several educational opportunities. On Friday, shortly after Best in Show judging is completed, Purina and the AKC Registered Handlers Program sponsor a program presented by an AKC field rep entitled “Rules, Regulations and Policies of the American Kennel Club and How They Relate to You.” The program is free of charge. Though designed to fulfill the Registered Handler Program’s ongoing education requirement, information provided will no doubt be of value to anyone who shows dogs.

Also on Friday this year after BIS, Dr. Joann Randall will present a seminar entitled “Breeding Management” with topics to include choices for artificial insemination and stud dog and brood bitch management. Again, for more information, see the premium list or judging program at www.onofrio.com.

One of the favorite weekend events is the “Junior Dog Judging Contest” held on Sunday morning. Young people ages 9 to 19 judge three to four breeds, with several dogs per class, and are awarded points by an AKC judge based on how well they assess and then place the classes. According to the IKC, this competition “was introduced more than 60 years ago and is unique to this show.” This truly is a rare opportunity for our youth to test their skills at judging breeding stock and to become comfortable doing so.

The four-day cluster also offers competition and demonstrations in obedience, rally, agility, Frisbee, canine freestyle dance, earthdog and a plethora of other canine activities.

And if all of that isn’t enough to entice you to Chicago in February, just the locale and setup attract exhibitors to this terrific cluster. Loading and unloading are as convenient as is possible at a venue just minutes from downtown Chicago. Lots of hotels are within a reasonable distance from the show venue at McCormick Place, and Chicago, of course, boasts fabulous restaurants of all kinds.

If you’ve never attended the shows in Chicago, make plans to attend this week to enjoy the show, or next year to show your dog!