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National Championship Winner Preston the Puli

The 2017 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin will be held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday, December 16, and Sunday, December 17. Entering its 17th year, the National Championship has seen many historic firsts, memorable moments, and new attractions guaranteed to keep interest high among spectators and exhibitors alike. Here are a few snapshots from the event’s first 16 years.

2001: The First


The first AKC National Championship, then known as the American Dog Classic, was held December 12, 2001, at the TD Waterhouse Centre in Orlando, Florida. The Best in Show judge at this gala event was the self-described “little girl from Texas,” Dorothy Nickles, an irrepressible 90-year-old legend of the show ring.

Nickles, resplendent in gleaming red sequins, faced a BIS lineup of seven of the era’s top show dogs. As she carefully considered the field, she knew she was about to make a historic choice: the first dog to win the National Champion title.

The AKC Gazette reported, “Ms. Nickles examined each entry, and when she went over the Bichon Frise, Ch. Special Times Just Right (J.R.), the auditorium went completely silent. The little white dog was showing his heart out. His ever-steady handler, the immaculate Scott Sommer, took him around, presenting him fluidly and with grace. Soon Nickles walked away, only to return minutes later. ‚ÄòWho couldn’t love that face?’ she asked, as she handed the rosette to Sommer.”

The lovable J.R. lived until 2012. In his retirement years, he had a second career as a hospital therapy dog with a special knack for children. Nickles was still judging until her death at age 99. “I’ve seen great dogs, and not-so-great dogs,” she once said, “but I never forget that inside every one of them is a beautiful soul.”

2005: The Lady and the Linebacker


By now, the big event was known as the National Championship. It had grown from a conformation dog show into a multifaceted canine extravaganza, featuring championship obedience and agility trials. It was decided in 2003 to offer Bred-by-Exhibitor classes in the conformation rings. AKC Chairman Ron Menaker explained, “It was important to add the Best Bred-by-Exhibitor groups and Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Show to showcase the dedicated breeders who are the heart and soul of our sport.”

The Best Bred-by-Exhibitor in Show judge in 2005 was a revered lady of the ring, Jane Forsyth. Her popular choice was Rottweiler, Ch. Carter’s Noble Shaka Zulu, handled to perfection by his six-foot-three, impeccably tailored breeder, Keith Carter.

Carter played linebacker for coach Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles at Florida State University in the late 1980s, won four bowl games, and carried on a fierce rivalry with the University of Miami. “This is bigger than the ‘Noles-‘Canes,” he said of showing dogs at big events. “This is very different than football, but it really gets your competitive juices going.”

2009: Ahhh, that Wet Dog Smell!


By the late 2000s, the AKC National Championship had seen further growth. Surrounding the world-class dog show and trials were now an entertaining array of added attractions. Aside from the popular AKC Meet the Breeds expo, spectators could enjoy dog-sport demonstrations. Flyball, disc dog, freestyle, herding, and carting are a few of the events that have been demonstrated at Orlando over the years.

A consistent crowd pleaser has been canine dock diving. Due to popular demand, the 2017 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin will feature four days of North American Diving Dogs competition.

2015: Putting the “Show” in Dog Show


At its essence a dog show is an exhibition of breeding stock, a forum where breeders gather to consider potential breeding combinations and have their handiwork evaluated by an expert judge. Of course, this could just as easily describe the judging of prize hogs at the county fair. What sets the dog show apart is the glamor, color, and showmanship that makes exhibiting dogs an exciting spectator sport.

German Shorthaired Pointer breeder-owner-handler Valerie Nunes-Atkinson indulged in some of the old razzle-dazzle when she took a victory lap around the ring while her Best Bred-by-Exhibitor winner, GCh. Vjk-Myst Garbonita’s California Journey, carried the rosette in his mouth. Needless to say, the crowd loved it. Nunes-Atkinson will judge Junior Showmanship at this year’s event.

2016: Defending Champ


At the 2016 AKC National Championship, the first with Royal Canin as presenting sponsor, Best in Show went to the charismatic Puli GCh.B Cordmaker Mister Blue Sky (Preston), handled and co-owned by Linda Pitts. Preston topped an entry of nearly 5,000 dogs to win a $50,000 cash prize and the National Champion title.

No dog has ever repeated as National Champion. Will Preston be the first? Or on Sunday evening, December 17, will Best in Show judge Roger Hartinger crown a new National Champion? Either way, you can bet that the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin will provide the thrills, pageantry, and good times that have made the event a canine classic.

For tickets, click here.

For detailed info about the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin, including an updated judges panel, see the Premium List.