The United Kennel Club has received 8,000 entries for the 20th annual UKC Premier  set for June 13 through 16, 2013, in Kalamazoo, Mich. Those entries will be spread over conformation events and obedience, rally obedience and agility trials. In addition, dogs will be competing in weight-pull, lure-coursing, dock-jumping and lure-coursing events, plus Terrier racing.

If you head to Michigan for the event, you won’t, however, find 8,000 dogs there.  That’s because the UKC’s mission is to promote the “Total Dog,” one that can be in a show ring one day and in a field trial the next. In the case of the Premier, dogs sometimes compete in more than two events in a single day, according to Vice President of Corporate Operations Tanya Raab.

About 1,600 dogs will enter the conformation rings at the 20th annual UKC Premier in Kalamazoo, Mich. Photo by Matt Allocca Photography.

“They’ll participate one day in conformation, obedience and dock jumping,” she says. “They’re always doing something. They hang out there. They don’t just come do their thing and leave. They’re supporting their fellow participants,” she says. “The Premier is like the best health test that’s out there. A dog that’s not healthy and well-built couldn’t do that. They have to be structurally sound to do all those things.”

About 1,600 dogs are expected to descend on the Kalamazoo County Expo Center and Fairground  for what the UKC staff likes to call “Woodstock for Dogs.” Every sport that UKC operates or lends its license to is offered at the Premier – except hunting. However, for the event’s 10th anniversary, hunting trials were included. Don’t worry about the hunters, though. If you head to the UKC website,  the home page, itself, is full of links to upcoming hunting opportunities and results from recent ones.

Terriers can test their speed at the Terrier races on all three days of the Premier. Photo courtesy of United Kennel Club.

Prior to the creation of the Premier, UKC hosted a performance-based event called “Top Dog,” but Fred Miller, the organization’s owner at that time, always wanted to have a comprehensive annual event that would include all of the non-hunting events and all-breed conformation, according to Vicki Reyes, UKC’s publications editor. Even though he told Bloodlines that he’d “dragged his feet” because he didn’t think the organization was ready for such an undertaking, he allowed himself to be convinced to give it a try.

“We finally just did it,” Reyes says, in Detroit at the Michigan State Fairgrounds. “Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard to pull it together. It was just like putting together a dog show on a larger scale.” She recalls that the staff expected a good entry for conformation that first year, and indeed had 1,266 dogs in the show rings, but was surprised at the number of entries for obedience. In the second year, agility was added, and new events are still added today.

Agility is just one of the sports, along with a conformation placement, with which a dog can qualify for a Total Dog title. Photo by Matt Allocca Photography.

This year’s new event will allow dogs of any breed to try out barn hunt, a new sport that sends dogs scurrying through a maze of straw bales to find a critter in a cage at the end. It’s a bit like earthdog, except it’s open to any breed or mixed breed, and it takes place in an enclosed space so dogs without perfect recall skills can participate. And no one has to dig any tunnels.

Reyes remembers that first Premier 20 years ago well. “It was fun. It’s still fun. I’m amazed at how much it’s grown and how much it includes. It just never stops growing,” she says, adding that the UKC is “very lucky” to have a facility right in Kalamazoo that can accommodate the variety of performance events, as well as all the dogs, people, equipment and even RVs. The expo and fairgrounds have been refurbished over the last two years. A field that was pretty much unusable is now the perfect site for lure coursing. Today, Reyes says, one of her favorite things about the event is the chance to meet the people she talks to on the telephone. She also gets to reconnect with the people who have been to every single Premier.

Dock jumping at the Premier is run by Ultimate Air Dogs. Photo by Matt Allocca Photography.

Raab thinks it’s the atmosphere that motivates people to return year after year. “UKC, in general, is family-oriented, very down-to-earth. It’s like a big family reunion.” It helps, too, she says that the staff is all present, and “we’re very accessible to them, which I think is a huge bonus for us.”

Lure coursing is fun for lots of dogs, and even non-sighthounds can participate on most days. Photo by Matt Allocca Photography.

You can find the premium list here;  below are some highlights:

    • • Conformation all four days;
    • Lure coursing all four days, hosted and licensed by the United Greyhound Club;
    • Dock jumping all four days, hosted by Ultimate Air Dogs;
    • Weight pulls all four days;
    • Agility trials Friday through Sunday;
    • Obedience trials Friday through Sunday;
    • Rally obedience trials Friday through Sunday;
    • Terrier races Friday through Sunday;
    • Barn Hunt fun hunts Friday and Saturday; and
    • Nosework demonstrations Friday and Saturday.

      At the first Premier 20 years ago, only conformation and obedience were offered. Today, both obedience and rally obedience trials are held. Photo courtesy of United Kennel Club.

If you’ve never been to a UKC dog show, you may be surprised to see male dogs in conformation rings without all of the usual equipment. For the last couple of years, Raab explains, UKC has allowed altered dogs to show. Not so obvious may be the fact that no dog can be shown by a professional handler, and Raab says, “A good majority of them are breeder/owner-handlers.”

Bouvier des Flandres GCh. Robbins Majestic Serenade, owned by Rebecca Allen-Robbins and Timothy Robbins, was named Total Dog Best in Show in 2012. Photo courtesy of United Kennel Club.

Something else might be unfamiliar: the Total Dog awards. Dogs that earn a qualifying score in a Premier performance event on Friday, then earn a placement from Best Male or Female of Variety to Group 1 through 4 in conformation on Saturday are eligible for the Total Dog award. Dogs that earned hunting titles prior to April 1 are also eligible. Qualifying dogs take part in the Total Dog qualifier parade and Total Dog Group judging, with one dog taking home the title Total Dog Best in Show.

“There’s something for everyone” is an often-overused phrase, however, in the case of the UKC Premier, it seems appropriate. Even if you haven’t entered, you’re likely to find something to your liking.