The AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin will take place Saturday to Sunday, December 15 to 16, 2018, in Orlando, Florida. Tune in to AKC.TV, or download the AKC.TV app on Roku, Apple TV, or AmazonFireTV to catch the live stream starting on Saturday, December 15 at 12 p.m. ET. Watch the TV premiere on New Year’s Day on Animal Planet at 6 p.m. ET. Encore performance airs at 12 a.m. ET.
Never mind the sugarplums. This time of year, purebred-dog lovers have an altogether different vision dancing in their heads.
By the weekend of December 15 and 16, many will have hit the pause button on their mistletoe-hanging and present-wrangling to head to Orlando, Florida to compete in conformation at the annual AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin.
Where to Watch
Any event that can compete with such holiday reverie has to have an irresistible gravitational pull, and the American Kennel Club’s flagship show at the cavernous Orange County Convention Center has magnetism to spare.
In addition to the centerpiece dog show, the million-square-foot event space also hosts obedience, rally, agility, dock diving, and AKC Meet the Breeds — an up-close-and-personal meet-and-greet with more than 160 of the AKC’s recognized breeds. Not to mention, the hundreds of vendors selling everything from bling-encrusted collars to original canine artwork.
And if you can’t get to sunny Florida (or otherwise find yourself in a gingerbread-induced state of house arrest) simply charge up your laptop or mobile device: The show will be live-streamed on AKC.TV and televised on January 1 on Animal Planet.
Dog Conformation Basics
Whether you’re attending in person or on screen, let’s go over the basics. Most dog shows take place in a single day, following a pyramid-style competition format.
At the first, broadest level, dogs of each breed compete against each other, with one earning the coveted Best of Breed ribbon. (The judging program will tell you what breeds are judged when. You can find the AKC National Championship’s schedule here.)
Later in the day, those breed winners compete in their respective groups. The AKC recognizes seven groups, in which dogs are categorized based on a similar function or history.
Sporting dogs, for example, were bred to hunt birds on land or water; Toy dogs evolved to provide companionship in a pint-size package. (If you are doing research on a future family member, focusing on a particular group can help you zero in on the temperament, activity level, and sometimes size that’s right for you.) Each group judge then places four winners, though only first place continues on to Best in Show.
Why Does it Take Two Days?
Because of its sheer size — a record 5,000-plus entries this year — the AKC National Championship spans two days. On Saturday, all the Sporting, Hound, Toy, and Non-Sporting breeds and groups will be judged, as well as the AKC Junior Showmanship Finals, a competition for youngsters aged nine to 18 that evaluates their handling skills, sportsmanship, and breed-specific presentation.
Then on Sunday, it’s time for the breeds from the remaining three groups — Working, Terrier, and Herding — as well as the Miscellaneous Group. This group contains breeds that are on the cusp of formal AKC recognition, and do not advance further in competition. And of course, Best in Show, in which the seven group winners vie for top honors.
In a sort of canine-competition version of a delicacy-laden holiday table, there are still-more events you can sample in Orlando: The finals of the AKC National Owner-Handled Series recognize those nonprofessionals who actually own the dog they are showing. And in the Bred-By Exhibitor competition, dogs whose winning handlers are not only their owners but their breeders, too, highlight the importance of the often unsung breeder as the backbone of the sport.
If you need a warm-up to the big weekend, various specialty and group shows as well as Foundation Stock Service®/Miscellaneous Open shows (featuring rare, as-yet-unrecognized breeds) are scheduled at the convention center starting on Tuesday. And on Friday, there’s the return of the AKC/Royal Canin National All-Breed Puppy and Junior Stakes, in which the young’uns get to strut their stuff.
Consider your stocking stuffed!