What You Need to Know Before Tuning into the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving

From someone who went to the live event … me!

Confession: I’m a major dog nerd. When my parents declared one dog was enough as a child, I promptly checked out a breed encyclopedia from the library so often that they eventually bought me my own copy. I would study the book and the facts about the various puppers for a test I was sure I’d someday need to take.

Flash forward to the present and, while I never needed to take that test, now my job is literally to write about dogs all day! Obviously, neither my actual adult self nor my five-year-old self would be able to pass up the chance to attend the National Dog Show in person before it airs on NBC after the parade and before football on Thanksgiving Day. 


If you’re a dog show novice, here’s a four-sentence crash course:

  • There are seven groups in total — Toy, Non-Sporting, Herding, Terrier, Sporting, Hound, and Working — and those groups include more than 190 total dog breeds.
  • Before they get to the part you are seeing on TV, there’s a preliminary round of competition for each of the 190+ breeds where several dogs of the same breed compete against each other to win the Best of Breed.
  • After that, each dog that was crowned a Best of Breed dog competes against the other Best of Breed dogs in its respective group,  which I like to think of as the seven group semifinals.
  • Lastly, one dog from each of the seven groups is named the First in Group and then those seven dogs compete in the final round for the No. 1 spot a.k.a., the Best in Show.

With that out of the way, here are three reasons why this show so special and why you should definitely be one of nearly 30 million people who will tune in on Thursday, or even attend the Oaks, Pa., show in person next year.

It’s a benched show.


Of all the major dog shows in the U.S., the National Dog Show is the only one that is benched which means that the dogs have to remain on their benches (aka, their areas) for the entire show. I realize that not everyone reads dog encyclopedias or sits through seven hours of dog shows for “fun” like I would, so watching this two-hour telecast is more reasonable. If you attend in person, think of it like a massive high school science fair where all the projects are on dogs — many owners have elaborate displays offering information on the breeds and were happy to talk about rescue organizations, too. None of the dogs seen are from pet stores or puppy mills, and the people showing are happy to let you interact and take photos with the competitors, too.

You get even better views of the dogs on your TV.

Even snagging a pretty prime second row seat for this show, it wasn’t easy to see the dogs and I found myself often looking at the TV screens throughout the VIP area to actually get a good glimpse of the pups' expressions. When you’re watching at home — or when I was watching on the screen — those great views were because of the steadicam, a special camera that captures footage at the dog’s level so it seems as if the dogs are looking directly into the camera instead of looking up. (Fun fact I also learned: The camera guy at this show is an experienced deep sea diver and part of the group that discovered the Titanic!)

Literally hours — often years — of preparation go into the dogs’ few minutes of fame on the screen.

To have a shot of nabbing a Best of Breed title at the National Dog Show, most dogs have already won other shows to even get to this point. The event’s breed judging started at 8am and the group judging started at 1pm. Many pups, especially those with long or thick coats, received hours of grooming and pampering to get ready to head into the rings. In fact, when watching on TV, look for handlers who appear to have a large silver barrette attached in their ponytails perpendicular — that’s actually a comb that handlers often stash there to give dogs a last-second sprucing.

Are you excited yet? You should be! Tune in to the show at 12 p.m. in all time zones on Thursday, Nov. 23 on NBC.

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