I had the pleasure of attending the Michigan Winter Classic this weekend in Novi, MI. It’s been awhile since I’ve attended an AKC show but a little shocked at the direction the AKC is headed in. It’s no big secret that they’ve been struggling the past few years as revenue has dropped significantly from less registrations and a drop in those who are showing and even attending. I don’t want to focus on those reasons here; perhaps it’s a topic for another post.
As an example, The Detroit Kennel Club will not have their annual dog show at Cobo Hall in Detroit, MI this year for the first time. This benched show, in it’s heyday was an amazing collection of dogs, vendors, dog sports, educational presentations and a place to go and spend the day shopping, looking at dogs and watching everything from competitive sports such as agility, obedience, flyball and confirmation to demonstrations from K9 police dogs, search and rescue, to herding. It was the dog show you attended every March in the area. It was a long day for those of us showing (and I experienced it quite a few times) but ultimately was a fantastic event. Unfortunately, entry prices started going up which led to a drop in entries; if you don’t have enough dogs for a major why bother? Ticket sales inside the event also skyrocketed which led to less attendance. More and more sponsoring and major vendors started pulling out. I can remember when I was much younger, going to Cobo Hall and starting at one end and working your way to the other end just looking at the vendors and collecting free samples. You’d get to the end and have multiple bags of things to take home for your dog. Now, there are no brands and vendors who give out free samples. Want a small ‘show special’ bag? That’ll be five bucks for what we used to give out as a free sample. It also took you 1/2 the day to get through all the vendors. Recently, vendor quality went down and you started seeing less and less more niche vendors and a lot less vendors; I mean a lot less. The reason for this was most likely due in part to the extremely high fees that they were charging for a vendor table. Space ranged anywhere from 1k to 1.5k for a small area. I know as I looked into potentially getting a table when I was baking treats for Thurston’s. Then, the final stake through the heart came when agility was no longer showcased at the event. The crowd loves watching agility and without it a non-repairable hole was created for the DKC at Cobo Hall.
Last year Cobo Hall was bleak. Vast areas of empty space served as a reminder of what the show used to be. It’s a vast combination of things that led to this point. The DKC decided to not run the show this year. Sad really; it was the one event you saved your money for and marked on your calendar each year. DKC’s site (http://www.detroitkennelclub.com/) says that they are currently looking for another venue to potentially hold a show but they need to find sponsor’s. Purina, which was one of their biggest sponsor’s 3 years ago and when they pulled out things went downhill. I hope they do find a space and if they do I hope they have learned from their past mistakes.
That brings me back to the Midwest Winter Classic. It had a decent amount of vendors for the size show it was. It had agility, confirmation, obedience, and rally. There were demonstrations such as herding, meet the dog, spend time with a handler and junior showmanship clinics. The floor was bustling with dogs and people, both spectator and show attendee alike and that’s where my issue with what they did comes in. Typically, at AKC shows only those showing or demonstrating are allowed to bring their dogs. As a person who shows their dogs they tend to know the ‘rules’ of how you and your dog behave at these types of events. This even however saw a change; spectators could also bring in their dogs. Let me let that sink in a moment… anyone, so long as they paid the $10 entry fee could bring their dog in. AKC and the show sponsors encouraged this by providing open clinics, and an area called “My Dog Can Do That” where you could come in and try out some agility with the help of professional trainers.
According to their website:
Can I bring my dog to the show without an AKC registration?
Yes, if you would like to participate in the “My Dog Can Do That!” event. You may register at the AKC booth at the show. Participating dogs must be at least 6 months old and have proof of rabies vaccination. Please bring your dog on a buckle collar and 4 to 6 foot leash. No retractable leashes, prong collars, chain choke collars or head halters allowed.
However, no one was stopping them at the door. You had to register at the table which meant you could easily come in, not register and simply walk around with your dog. I saw a ton of dogs with prongs, chokers, retractable leashes and a few head halters. You would think a show chairman would have seen this and questioned it.
I get why they are doing it. If you can bring your dog you might be more likely to come. More people coming means more people paying and that’s good for the pocket books. Also, bringing more people in also means that they are getting exposure to what the AKC is and what they could potentially do by being a part of it. All good things for them. However, for those showing this provides a bit of an issue. While some people have manners and common sense on how their dogs should behave in public with other people and dogs, many do not. As I mentioned, I saw people come in with long retractable leads (can we banish those sometime soon?). They often were not keeping a close eye on what their dogs were doing and they had a tendency to just go where they pleased. Even those who had their dogs on a shorter leash still let them just go up to strange dogs to sniff. Not all dogs wants to say ‘hi’ nor are all dogs going to take kindly to yours jumping in their face.
If AKC wants to allow spectators to bring in their dogs to these events there are better ways to do it. For starters, they should require proof of vaccinations at the door, it’s small thing but it should just be done. A great idea for additional revenue and keeping behavior under control is to only allow dogs with a CGC certificate to come in (I know…I know… we can discuss CGCs another time). This not only encourages people to make sure they have dogs that behave but it opens up revenue for AKC and testing facilities. Even better would be for AKC to or whichever kennel club is hosting the show to charge an additional fee for each pet being brought in. Included with this fee is a small class that they MUST attend directly by the entrance. In this class an instructor would go over behavioral rules, how to handle their dogs around other people and dogs, and just discuss common courtesy about the event and having your own dog there. They would then check vaccine records and equipment. Perhaps a quick ‘aggression’ check could be done as well to ensure the dogs belong out in public. It doesn’t have to be a long session either; just enough to make sure everyone starts on the same page. It would also give the Kennel Club and AKC a change to again talk about the merits of joining the club.
I doubt this will happen as at the end of the day AKC is a business and like any other business it needs to make money to stay alive. I think however, there are better ways to go about it and still stay true to their mission.
On Thursday I’ll be posting some images from the show. Make sure to check back then!