After having to scale down the number of canine participants and limit its audience to cardboard cutouts last year, “The National Dog Show” is back in full force — even going so far as to introduce a new breed this, as well as an extended secondary show. And the timing couldn’t better as the holiday event marks its 20th year.
“This has become 20 years of unbelievably successful family holiday tradition,” says Jon Miller, creator of the National Dog Show and president of programming at NBC Sports Group. “We have become part and parcel with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Families will get together and watch the show as a family with their dogs, or if they are interested in getting a dog, this is a great place to watch and learn about all these different breeds. One great thing about this show is that it shows all different breeds, and you’ll learn about every single one.”
Educating the audience about dogs could not come at a more important time, as the ASPCA reported 23 million homes acquired a pet (many of them canines) during the COVID-19 pandemic and now that the world is reopening, these animals will have to adjust to being separated from their human counterparts for longer periods of time. This is something “The National Dog Show” has leaned into in its commentary from hosts David Frei and John O’Hurley, as well as Mary Carillo, who reports from backstage with the handlers.
“We’ve got so many people who know the business and know the breeds,” Miller says of the team.
The show, which counts Purina as a sponsor, is also leaning into the importance of discussing canine health and how important dogs have been for families during the pandemic, something they scratched the surface of last year.
It was a feat that “The National Dog Show” could still go on in 2020 when families were kept from traveling to see each other. In order to produce the show safely then, fewer breeders and trainers flew in, limiting the canine competitors to approximately 600, which is more than two-thirds fewer than the usual 2,000 entrants. The show ensured all handlers and crew members wore masks, but it skipped the live audience altogether. One calendar year later, with the pandemic still ongoing, “The National Dog Show” soared back to full capacity for its canines, including one additional breed: The Biewer Terrier, part of the toy group, is being introduced this year, bringing the total number of recognized breeds in the show to 209.
“We let the Kennel Club of Philadelphia dictate those kinds of things and they do it in conjunction with the American Kennel Club,” Miller says of adding a new breed, which has happened 50 times in the 20-year history of the show. “Our job here really is to showcase and bring the dog show home; our goal is to entertain and educate.”
The 2021 show welcomed back a live audience, but only at 75% capacity. (A few cutouts returned as seat-fillers, Miller notes.) Miller says there were almost eight months of meetings taking place between environmental health and safety people to work out logistics as guidelines shifted throughout the year. In the end, the rule was that everyone who stepped into the space and therefore on set had to be vaccinated, from the crew members to the audience to the handlers. This means that “The National Dog Show Jr.” could only feature kids ages 12 and older as the junior handlers, due to the age restrictions on the vaccine at the time of prepping the show.
“We want to do even more, but just because we’re so cognizant of COVID rules and stuff like that, we didn’t we didn’t push the envelope too much,” Miller says of the changes and additions around “The National Dog Show.”
This year, “The National Dog Show” won’t just be celebrating four-legged friends, though: The two-hour broadcast will also feature a tribute to Paul Carson, who was one of the founders of the event. He died in June, which made this a “tough event” for the rest of the team, including his wife Kathy, Miller says. “We’ll take a moment in the broadcast on Thanksgiving Day to recognize and honor him.”
Additionally, the Ronald McDonald House, which supports families with sick children, is back as a beneficiary of the event.
“As ‘The National Dog Show’ evolves, we want the Ronald McDonald House to evolve with it,” says Susan Campbell, CEO, Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House. “During COVID, we had to be mindful of keeping our patients safe, which caused us to suspend a lot of our volunteer programs. Just this fall, we began reintroducing our therapy dog program. After just a few nights of having the therapy dogs back interacting with our families, we are seeing the smiles on their faces. Being able to sit one-on-one with the therapy dogs is invaluable. The therapy dog program is so important and being able to align with ‘The National Dog Show reinforces that.”
“The National Dog Show” will air Nov. 25 at 12 p.m. in all time zones on NBC and simulcast on Peacock. “The National Dog Show Jr.” will stream Nov. 25 on Peacock.