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Like many of you in the sport, I haven’t been to a dog show since early March. The cancellation of shows nationwide began a little later that month, as we sheltered in place to deal with the pandemic. Of course, our lives in dogs continued during that forced hiatus; we whelped litters, groomed, kept up with our paperwork, dealt with inquiries, and conducted virtual kennel club meetings. Throughout these six months, we’ve speculated on how and when dog shows could begin again, safely and in compliance with state and county bylaws.

A handful of matches and circuits have been held so far this summer, and from posts on social media, videos streamed and AKC.TV coverage of Groups at a Pennsylvania cluster, it appears that we are overall adjusting to the new normal. So how ARE shows changing, aside from the obvious social distancing and the wearing of masks?

The entry

With all the litters born during our shutdown, there will probably be an abundance of puppies shown. Hopefully, they will have been trained to take masked exhibitors and judges in their stride. With so many class dogs that had been expected to finish in the past six months but had no place to go, we should be seeing some lovely animals in the ring. By the same token, some people chose not to keep adult class dogs in full coat while waiting out the moratorium on shows, but breed them instead. It will be interesting to see if entries are down in Poodles, Old English Sheepdogs, Shih Tzu, and other coated breeds as a result.

The first weekend of shows in July offered two clusters, and professional handlers from around the country converged on Pennsylvania and the Carolinas. One Best in Show lineup I saw online boasted two Westminster Group winners vying for the top award. Before the pandemic, many in the sport would lament quite vocally that we had too many shows and quality suffered in that embarrassment of riches. Now that shows are slowly opening here and there, with exhibitors rushing to enter before closing time, we may be seeing higher quality across the board, with nationally ranked dogs competing head to head  in the same ring, something that typically might have happened only at the Garden and in Orlando. That can’t be a bad thing for our breeds.

Greater attention to the rules

With dog shows being carefully monitored by county and state officials to ensure that all bylaws are complied with, there is a lot at stake for individual clubs. Whereas in the past, exhibitors who “sneak” crates ringside or otherwise break rules might have been tolerated, today show committees and superintendents will not put up with bad actors who refuse to wear a mask or socially distance, violating COVID-19 conditions as set forth in the premium list. Judges, many of whom are in high-risk groups and concerned about their personal health, will not hesitate to call the show chair to deal with an unruly exhibitor in their ring who does not take the mask requirement seriously. With greater attention to cleanliness and masks worn in the ring, we are less likely to see handlers stick bait in their mouths, and clench show leads and pin brushes between their teeth.

It will be interesting to see if exhibitors embrace a “back to basics” approach to grooming, as many shows no longer permit the use of powerful stand dryers in buildings. Will they do their heavy-duty grooming at home or in their RVs and simply touch up their dogs at the show? I’ve read comments on social media from exhibitors who felt the no-dryer regulation made their weekend at a recent show less stressful and tiring. It’s how we old-timers prepared our dogs for the ring decades ago.

New protocol for judges

Shortly after the pandemic began, the AKC embarked on an ambitious educational program of offering free webinars, given online by parent club-approved mentors. Until mid-July, they were offered daily, and more than 75 breeds were featured in these excellent, 90-minute presentations. As of August, one webinar will be offered weekly. From several hundred to a thousand or more judges took each webinar; not just new judges applying for these breeds but many approved, multi-Group judges who signed up to take a refresher and augment their knowledge. Most judges review the breed standards before an assignment but the webinars proved to be a superb and very popular educational aid during our downtime.

Many judges are still leery of flying the not-so-friendly skies so many are planning to drive to their assignments in the new normal. I am doing a road trip to Florida late this year, a journey that would never have been on my radar before 2020.

A new attitude

With a plethora of dog shows offered every weekend, it was easy to take them for granted. Enter, groom, compete, pack up, repeat. Suddenly, we were forced to go six months without. Now, we are watching shows stay posted on the AKC website, keeping our fingers crossed, as we groom our young hopefuls. Let’s vow to sustain this renewed enthusiasm and appreciation for the sport we love. Be safe and enjoy the late summer and fall shows.

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