National Dog Show 2021: History, New Breeds, How to Watch and More

Hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, this year's event marks the 20th anniversary of NBC's telecast

NBC Universal, Inc.

Thanksgiving traditions usually involve the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, followed by plenty of food and hours of football. But in recent years, another cherished piece of entertainment has emerged: The National Dog Show.

Hosted by actor John O’Hurley, the annual parade of pedigreed pooches has become one of the most popular events of Thanksgiving day.

"It is extraordinary how this TV special has become an annual television-watching tradition for American families," O'Hurley said in a news release. "Dogs more than ever have become a part of people's lives and the show reminds us of how great they are and how easy it is for them to make us smile."

Presented by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, this year's event marks the 20th anniversary of NBC's telecast. Its history, however, dates back to well before it was ever introduced to the masses on television.

Here's what you need to know about the competition and when to watch:

History of the National Dog Show

Pictured: (l-r) Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, Bergamasco Shepherd, John O'Hurley, Papillon, David Frei, Great Dane, Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen
Simon Bruty/NBCU
Pictured: (l-r) Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, Bergamasco Shepherd, John O'Hurley, Papillon, David Frei, Great Dane, Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen

Purebred dogs were first exhibited in the Philadelphia area in 1876 at the Centennial International Exposition, the first official "World's Fair" to be held in the U.S. Two years later, the Kennel Club of Philadelphia was founded and began hosting dog shows in 1879, with its only break from 1928 to 1932 during the Great Depression.

As O'Hurley tells it, Jon Miller, then-president of programming for NBC Sports, was enamored by the Christopher Guest dog show parody classic “Best in Show,” and thought a real dog show to fill the gap between the parade and football would work.

Miller reached out to the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, secured Purina as a presenting sponsor, then went to his bosses at NBC. The network's other Thanksgiving institution, the annual airing of "Its a Wonderful Life," had been struggling with poor ratings. Miller convinced them to take that time slot and he got the green light initially only for that year.

The rebranded "National Dog Show" first aired in November 2002, with O'Hurley as co-host and David Frei, who is a licensed judge for the American Kennel Club, serving as the analyst.

“He called me and I was in L.A. I picked up the phone and I said, ‘Hello.’ And he said, ‘Woof, Woof.’ And that’s how it all started,” O'Hurley, a self-proclaimed dog lover, told The Associated Press in a 2018 interview.

More than 18 million people tuned in to watch that first year year, making the National Dog Show one of NBC's highest-rated events and an overnight success.

“Watching dogs simply makes us feel good,” Frei said in news release celebrating the event's 20th anniversary. “Yes, we hope to provide interesting information, but mostly – it is what it is – a dog show; it’s the dogs’ show."

The show is one of only three major dog shows in the U.S., ranked along with the AKC National Championship and the Westminster Dog Show.

When is The National Dog Show?

The competition is taped in front of a live audience at the Expo Center in Greater Philadelphia the weekend of Nov. 20.

The two-hour holiday special will then air on NBC on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, from noon to 2 p.m. in all time zones.

How to watch the National Dog Show on TV and online?

The holiday special will simulcast at noon on this NBC station and on Peacock on Thanksgiving Day.

Watch live on your browser by clicking here, or tapping the "Live TV" button on your mobile app, and logging in with your TV provider.

On Nov. 27, NBC will present a primetime encore of this year's "National Dog Show Presented by Purina" at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

The "National Dog Show" can also be streamed here on and on the NBC Sports app at 12 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving. The NBC Sports app is available on mobile and connected devices, including Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.

How many breeds compete in the National Dog Show?

Pictured: (l-r) Judy McMaster Descutner, Barbet, Carol Shields, Belgian Laekenois, Joshua Faulkner, Dogo Argentino -- (Photo by: Bill McCay/NBC)

While the KCP predates the American Kennel Club as a canine organization, it is the AKC that is recognized as the sanctioning body for dog breeds allowed to compete.

In all, 209 AKC-sanctioned breeds will be recognized after the group added the Biewer Terrier (toy group), "an elegant and athletic toy terrier whose only purpose in life is to love and be loved," to this year's competition. Since the first "National Dog Show" broadcast in 2002, 50 new breeds have been introduced to the event.

More than 2,000 dogs are entered into the competition in a regular year. However, last year's event was limited to 600 dogs, a 70% decrease, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

What are judges looking for?

2018 National Dog Show
Joseph Kaczmarek
Dogs compete in the Non-Sporting group during The Kennel Club of Philadelphia's National Dog Show, on Nov. 17, 2018. in Oaks Pa.

Dogs are scored based on how closely they compare to the breed’s official standard.

The main consideration is the dog’s conformation or overall appearance, temperament, structure and movement. The judges are looking for characteristics that allow the dog to perform the function for which he or she was originally bred.

The actual purpose of such scrutiny is to appraise breeding stock. Dogs who closely conform to the breed standard indicates their ability to produce quality puppies. Because of this, only purebred, nonspayed or non-neutered dogs are allowed to compete.

How is Best in Show decided?

Each of the 209 breeds and varieties are assigned to one of seven groups: Terrier, toy (Pomeranians, Chihuahuas), sporting (golden retrievers, pointers), working (boxers, Great Danes), hound, herding (English sheepdogs, Border collies), and non-sporting (everything else, including Dalmatians and French bulldogs)

Participants who win First in Group among the dogs in each of the seven categories will go snout-to-snout to compete for the coveted title of Best in Show.

What is a benched show?

2018 National Dog Show
Joseph Kaczmarek
People meet the competitors backstage during The Kennel Club of Philadelphia National Dog Show, on Nov. 17, 2018. in Oaks Pa.

There are two kinds of dog shows: benched and unbenched.

Benched dog shows mean canine competitors must be accessible to the public during the entire show, unless they are competing, exercising, or being groomed. Participating dogs are required to stay at their assigned benches so that breeders, handlers and spectators can meet the dogs and talk to their owners. With so much activity buzzing around, this is an impressive feat of discipline and character.

For unbenched shows, participating dogs only need to be present during judging of their breed or competition.

Who won the National Dog Show in 2020?

Best In Show Winner, Scottish Deerhound named "Claire" and her handler Angela Lloyd
Bill McCay/NBC
(l-r) 2020 National Dog Show Best In Show winner, Scottish Deerhound named "Claire" and her handler Angela Lloyd.

A graceful Scottish Deerhound named Claire won Best in Show at the 2020 National Dog Show.

First, she won the Hound Group in a field of 28 breeds. The 3-year-old third generation champion hound then competed against the other six group winners and was deemed top dog among all the breeds.

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