Countless events have been cancelled or postponed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but, thankfully, the National Dog Show won’t be one of them. On Thanksgiving Day, dog lovers can tune into NBC to watch more than 200 champion dogs compete — just like they’ve done since 2002.
Lots of things will look different at this year’s competition. The judges and handlers will be masked, three new breeds will make their debut, and spectators will be absent for the first time in the show’s history. Long-time fans will be happy to learn that the familiar faces and voices of the National Dog Show will remain the same.
Though they’ll be fulfilling their hosting duties from their own homes, John O’Hurley and David Frei plan to provide the same wit and wisdom that Dog Show enthusiasts have come to know and love. PetPlace spoke to O’Hurley and Frei about their nearly two-decade partnership, their lifelong affection for canines, and what viewers can expect from this year’s semi-remote National Dog Show.
Have You Always Been A Dog Person?
John O’Hurley: Absolutely. As I wrote in my first book, I am better with a dog in my lap. I love dogs of every shape and size and there’s always been a dog in my life.
How Would You Characterize Your Relationship?
David Frei: We’ve got a great relationship after all these years of hosting together. I’d say that I’m the John Madden of our relationship and he’s Frank Gifford.
So, You’re Never Competitive?
JOH: Oh, I wouldn’t say that. We each have our own opinions about who should win and we get boisterous about it. Don’t think we don’t have a little betting going on.
DF: I always say that when I walk into a room with a dog, all eyes are on the dog. It’s the same with John. When I walk into a room with John, all eyes are on him. I mentioned that to his wife one time and she said, “How do you think I feel?” It’s fun to do the show with John. We have a great time with each other and with the dogs.
How Do You Educate Yourselves on All the Breeds?
JOH: It’s a never-ending process. I have to work from the point of innocence. I don’t know a lot about these breeds, so I have to go back and do my homework on them. There’s so many different aspects to the rich history of dog breeding. Remember, all of these dogs (the AKC recognizes 208) had an actual function. Dogs weren’t pets prior to the Industrial Revolution when we suddenly had more mechanical convenience in our lives. We relied on dogs for hunting, farming, all sorts of things. Even for ratting — remember the halcyon days of ratting? The whole purpose of the show is to celebrate that rich history.
DF: We also like to tell the stories of the individual dogs. Some of those stories come out of their breed and the temperament they’ve naturally got, but there may be a cute story too. Maybe they’ve saved their family from a fire, or they walk to school everyday, or their owner is a Soprano in the Cleveland Opera. We like to share those things too because we want people to understand that these are real dogs. They’re not just dogs that dress up every once in a while and go to a dog show. These are family dogs who do all the things your dog does. They may even drink out of the toilet every now and then.
Have Your Preparations Changed for This Year’s Show?
JOH: The obvious thing that’s changing for us is that David and I will be hosting the show from the comfort of our own homes. We will be under our own roofs for the first time in 19 years, enjoying turkey. On the show, you’ll also see fewer dogs than usual. Normally we have about 2,000 entries. We’ll have about five or six hundred this time, but they’re all champions. So, we’ve upped the acceptance standard and we hope that that will increase interest in the show. We’ll also be taking the normal protocols for social distancing and both judges and handlers will be wearing masks. Aside from that, you can expect the same wonderful show that we’ve brought you for 19 years.
What Are You Most Looking Forward to When Things Are Back to Normal in 2021?
JOH: This year, I’ll definitely miss the environment. We typically have 10 to 15 thousand people there and 2,000 wonderful dogs representing 200-plus breeds. When you get that many dogs in a room, everybody is smiling. Dogs just change the energy in our lives. You multiply that by 2,000 and you’ve got the greatest day of the year.
DF: We’re all a family in the dog show world. I miss seeing both the people and the dogs. We’re getting closer every day, finding ways to work according to these new rules. I think John and I both miss the NBC family, the production crew, the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, and everybody who helps make the show when we’re in-person. I look forward to experiencing that again next year. In the meantime, we’re going to bring you a great show this year. When it comes to the dogs, you won’t notice much of a difference.