John O’Hurley has been the human face of the National Dog Show Presented by Purina© since its debut on NBC Thanksgiving Day, 2002. Fourteen years later, his presence in America’s living rooms has become a holiday tradition. Best known for his role as J. Peterman on “Seinfeld” and his turn as Ultimate Champion of the inaugural “Dancing with the Stars,” O’Hurley is also the author of three books about dogs. His most recent, The Perfect Dog, has been adapted for children’s theater and is now being produced across the country. His special touch makes the National Dog Show experience one that over 20 million total viewers look forward to each year. Here’s an inside look at John’s viewpoint on dog shows and the enriching role of dogs in our lives.
Q: John, you come to Philadelphia every year for the Kennel Club of Philadelphia shows and The National Dog Show Presented by Purina. How do you like your annual trip to the City of Brotherly Love.
JOH: Very simply, it is my favorite day of the year. Walking around the benching area with 1,500 dogs bringing enormous energy into the room is an experience unlike any other. I bring my family every year and it has become a major highlight for us and it has become a major event now in Philadelphia, one of America’s great cities.
Q: As you know, the movie “Best in Show” poked fun at the dog show world and that is a world that you are now very much a part of. What kind of input have you received from people over the years about the movie, which inspired the creation of “The National Dog Show?”
JOH: People always ask – are the owners really as crazy as they were parodied in the movie? I always answer that real shows are often family events. Real owners learn how to get out of the way of their dogs and let them take the spotlight. The movie was a wonderful sendup of the rich history of the Dog Show world. I am a poor replacement for the talent of Fred Willard, but I strive to live in his shadow. Most people who have seen the movie are grateful that we present a show that is as much fun to watch as it is educational.
Q: People are always asking you what your favorite breeds are. Can you choose just a couple?
JOH: For the purposes of the show, I love the Irish Setter, and every year I make no apologies for my prejudice. Their color, gait and grooming make wonderful television.
Q: What is your favorite memory of the show, on or off camera?
JOH: My first year, when the judge was picking through the hair on the face of the English Sheep Dog, and (expert analyst) David (Frei) was remarking that the judge was looking for the eyes to gauge the dog’s attentiveness. I remarked, “If she picks through all that hair and finds only one eye, she’s got the wrong end of the dog.”
Q: Why do you think viewers are so attracted to the National Dog Show two-hour special on NBC?
JOH: It is a family show, about the family dog, on Thanksgiving, the greatest family day of the year. It is a brilliant piece of television programming. There is something for everyone of all ages.
Q: Who are the most memorable people that you’ve met during these past thirteen years?
JOH: All of my great memories are about the dogs. A dog worthy of Best In Show looks different and carries itself differently, but whether they win or lose, they’re happy with themselves. They love being dogs, and they love being the dogs that they are, which is a wonderful lesson for all of us.
Q: What would you be doing on Thanksgiving Day if there were no “National Dog Show?”
JOH: I would be watching reruns of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ on Thanksgiving Day from my home. I’d be referring to dogs by their color and size, and have a working knowledge of maybe two breeds. But 14 years of ‘The National Dog Show’ has given my wife and I a wealth of knowledge about God’s great creatures and the extraordinary experience of spending Thanksgiving week in New York City. We are so grateful for all.
Q: In the fourteen years since you began hosting “The National Dog Show,” you’ve written three books about dogs. Was the show your inspiration?
JOH: Absolutely, but I was also inspired by my own dogs, Sadie (a Cavalier King Charles spaniel) and Lucy (a Havenese) as well as my son, Will, who will be nine this year. As a matter of fact, my latest book, “The Perfect Dog,” was an outgrowth of a poem I wrote when Will asked whether a perfect dog existed.
Q: I read once that you are a true convert to the Havanese breed? Still a huge fan?
JOH: You know, we have the two, they’re kind of like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, but as every year goes by, we fall more in love with the Havanese. They’re such great dogs. My brother’s family lost one of their dogs last year and they went to the same breeder we went to in Colorado and picked out a gorgeous puppy. They feel the same way we do. They’re just a great little breed – not as yippy as the Maltese, very family friendly and very smart. Best of all, they don’t shed and they’re pretty much hypoallergenic. They’re great dogs.
Q: So, John, after all these years hosting “The National Dog Show,” does the “perfect dog” exist?
JOH: It certainly does. It’s the one next to you on the couch.