Visit dog shows in other parts of the world and one of the conclusions you may quickly draw is that exhibitors at American dog shows take their hobby very seriously. The atmosphere is usually more intense at an American show than at shows in Europe and elsewhere.

Even at the venerated Crufts dog show, British exhibitors appear much more relaxed than those competing at even a 1,000-dog show in an average Midwestern American city. This is in keeping with what is often described as the American mindset – we want it bigger, better and faster, and we’re fully committed where any competition is at hand.

The American Kennel Club recently approved several new initiatives designed to increase participation at dog shows and to give newer exhibitors a venue in which they might have greater success, and thus be more inclined to stay interested in the sport. One of these, the 4-to-6 Month Beginner Puppy class, was covered on BISD a couple of weeks ago in “Bringing Out the Baby.” The second of these is the open show, a concept that may at first seem illogical, and perhaps not that enticing, to America’s competitive exhibitors.

The AKC calls the open show, approved to begin in July 2012, “an upgrade from the Sanctioned Match,” and says it is “more receptive to exhibitors, FSS and Miscellaneous breeds.” Based on information from AKC sources, the intention of this type of show is to give new and less experienced exhibitors a venue in which they can be successful with their dogs. In theory, it will increase the chance that they’ll want to continue to go to dog shows. It is also designed to give the average owner-handler a greater chance to “win big.”

Will American exhibitors support a dog show where no championship points are available – and no professional handlers are allowed?

As with the 4-to-6 month class, professional handlers (“any person who belongs or has belonged to a professional handlers’ organization, distributed rate cards, or otherwise advertised or represented themselves as handling dogs for pay”) are not allowed to exhibit at open shows, not even to show their own dogs. In another twist, no AKC champions are allowed.

In addition, no AKC championship points will be awarded at open shows. However, as in the 4-to-6 class at regular dog shows, Certificate of Merit points will be awarded to winners under the same system by which they are currently available to Miscellaneous and Foundation Stock Service breeds, as explained in “Bringing Out the Baby.”

The Miscellaneous and FSS breeds in particular may benefit from this type of show, because at open shows the classes for each subset of breeds is considered a “Group.” Therefore, the Best in Show lineup will include the winners of the traditional seven Groups – Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding – plus the Miscellaneous class winner and the FSS winner.

How It Works

Any dog club approved to hold a regular show is also eligible to hold an open show. All-breed clubs must offer classes for all AKC-recognized, Miscellaneous and FSS breeds, and must offer the 4-to-6 Month class in addition to all regular classes.

To hold an open show, a club must apply to AKC at least 90 days prior to the date of the event and must include the judging panel with the application. However, entries can close any time prior to or on the day of the show. Regulations require that a premium list flier be published 30 days prior to the show.

Clubs may hold two open shows per year in addition to their regular shows.

Incidentally, to distinguish the open show from the dog show where AKC championship points can be obtained, the shows that exhibitors have attended for years will now be called “championship” shows.

Open shows, like the 4-to-6 Beginner Puppy class, must be judged by an AKC-approved or provisional judge – anyone with an AKC judge’s number – but the judge doesn’t have to be approved for the breeds he or she will judge at the open show. The speed at which the judging will proceed at open shows is reduced from 30 dogs per hour – the standard at current shows – to 20 dogs per hour, to allow extra time for puppies and inexperienced exhibitors.

Several additional changes will be seen at open shows. In the new 4-to-6 Months class, a puppy is never disqualified or excused except for attacking another dog or a person. A male puppy in this class without two fully descended testicles will remain in competition, but the situation must be noted in the judge’s book.

In every other class at the open show, a male puppy without two fully descended testicles is not to be disqualified, but is to be excused and the judge’s book marked appropriately. Any dog with a disqualifying condition based on the AKC breed standard will also be excused for the day, instead of disqualified as it would be at a championship show. The only disqualification at an open show is for a dog that attacks another dog or a person.

Will the Open Show Catch On?

Will exhibitors in the U.S., where in every kind of sport imaginable participants are ultra-competitive, spend their money and time to compete at an open show? Perhaps a certain number of people love dog shows but are tired of competing with professional handlers, but one wonders whether the inability to earn championship points will keep those exhibitors away. The new concept has the potential to attract exhibitors who currently attend UKC shows, as open shows will, in theory, be more relaxed and perhaps more family-friendly, a popular aspect of UKC shows.

Open shows could create a venue where, once and for all, owner-handlers can compete with their dogs on a more level playing field. AKC has reported that more than 80 percent of dogs at their shows today are exhibited by their owners. The open show will provide a venue at which quality dogs shown by their owners and breeders – although not those that have already earned their championships – can win Groups and Bests in Show without having to contend with the inevitable politics inherent when popular professional handlers and highly advertised dogs are in competition.

Great Britain has long offered both open and championship shows, with twice as many well-attended open shows than championship shows each year. An open show, as the name implies, is open for any Kennel Club-registered dog to attend, but no challenge certificates (by which champions are made up in the U.K.) are available. CCs are only available at championship shows.

In 2010 clubs in Britain held 1,460 all-breed and single-breed open shows, as opposed to just 38 General and Group championship shows (those equivalent to U.S. all-breed and Group shows). There were 564 championship shows for individual breeds, equivalent to our specialty shows. That’s 1,460 open shows vs. just 602 shows where a championship could be earned.

The same number of quality dogs are shown in the U.K. as in the U.S., yet British dog shows seem less intense and more relaxed than American shows.

Britons clearly enjoy showing their dogs simply for the joy of the competition, as reflected by the number of shows held that do not offer the CCs necessary for a championship. Open shows in the U.K. are popular with both new and veteran exhibitors. But as previously mentioned, attitudes are different in the U.K. Dog shows feel much more relaxed, and exhibitors seem to take a more casual approach to dog shows. It’s almost as if they get more sheer enjoyment from dog shows than their American counterparts.

We must also consider another major difference in the British system versus the AKC system: in Britain, champions are shown in the classes, thus one must defeat champions to earn challenge certificates, the equivalent of our points. Therefore it is much more difficult to earn a championship there. A seasoned show dog that in the U.S. might be ready for the specials class, may not earn its championship in the U.K. until much later. However, that dog in the U.K. would be a contender at an open show, whereas, in the U.S., he would likely be a champion, and thus not eligible for the open show.

In any case, one hopes that American clubs and exhibitors will give the open show a chance. Many a long-time exhibitor can be heard to lament the fact that the puppy match is a thing of the past, and the cry from owner-handlers for a more level playing field has been heard for decades. Perhaps a place exists here for the open show. Perhaps the AKC open show will revive a passion among dog people for spending the day with others of their ilk, enjoying the dogs, without the pressure of having to compete against the sport’s professional handlers.