Why You Shouldn't Worry About Dogs Competing in Thanksgiving Day Show

Dogs enjoy competing in dog shows such as the National Dog Show (NDS) and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, according to one breeder. These long-running and popular events see pure-breed dogs compete in various categories, including best in show, best in breed, agility, flyball and obedience.

Nearly 2,000 dogs across 200 breeds compete in the NDS, the country's most-watched dog show. It has become a Thanksgiving staple, with 20 million spectators tuning in right after the Macy's holiday parade.

"You can't show a dog that is unhappy or miserable and doesn't like to go to a dog show. Dogs naturally enjoy it," dog breeder and multiple championship winner Bill Lambert told Newsweek.

The longtime dog show judge also works at Britain's the Kennel Club (TKC), which hosts the world-famous Crufts dog show. He is in charge of dog health, welfare and breeder services there.

To win the coveted best in show championship award, a dog will be scrutinized according to "the judge's mental image of the perfect dog as described in the breed's official standard," according to the NDS.

Woman grooms Yorkshire terrier
Mary Beth Mitchell touches up the ribbon on her Yorkshire terrier during the National Dog Show on November 19. Nearly 2,000 dogs across 200 breeds will compete in the NDS, the country's most-watched dog show, on Thanksgiving. Getty Images/Mark Makela

Judges analyze the dog's overall appearance, temperament and structure, as sanctioned by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

For the category first in group, 209 AKC registered breeds are assigned to one of seven groups and judged on how they represent the characteristics and functions the breeds were originally bred for. Those seven breeds are Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding.

Some animal rights groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), have called the shows "cruel" for encouraging the breeding of purebred dogs, which are at higher risk of suffering from a variety of congenital ailments.

PETA also says that the dogs must go through cruel grooming procedures to look perfect and that the shows contribute to the homeless-animal crisis and an overpopulation of companion animals, as the demand for purebred puppies jumps after a best in show win.

"At a time when overrun animal shelters...the Westminster Kennel Club is still encouraging breeders to churn out litter after litter of purebred puppies," said PETA Senior Vice President of Cruelty Investigations Daphna Nachminovitch in 2019. "PETA urges everyone who cares about animals to skip the dog show, support their local animal shelter and never buy an animal from a pet store or breeder."


But for Lambert who has bred bull terriers for 40 years, this is not the case at all. TKC works with similar organizations globally to maintain databases on registered dog breeds, particularly to track their health.

"By having that information, it makes us best informed to try and develop solutions to help improve their health," Lambert said. He also explained why the dogs love participating.

"It's not difficult to understand why, because they're with their owners and they're doing an activity together," Lambert said.

The dog expert said "dogs love to be" with their owners, but if they didn't enjoy the experience it would be clear in their disposition. In that case, there would be "no point in showing a dog that doesn't like the shows because they would not do well in the competition.

Lambert also said "there is no doubt dogs love to perform" and described how they "switch on" once they enter the competition stage.

"I've had dogs that are quite happy, but the moment I take them into the ring they become much more lively," Lambert said. Also, the treats they are given during competition are probably a great incentive for them.

"They come to life the moment they cross that [stage] barrier," he said.

He also pointed out that between competitions the dogs are normal pets that are treated like any other canine companion.

"You see dogs that are highly groomed [for the shows]... they look an absolute picture," Lambert said. "But the day after the show, they'll be running up and down on the beach getting filthy, dirty and jumping in the sea. They have a normal life."

The holiday special will be simulcast at noon Thursday ET on NBC and its website. It can also be streamed on Peacock, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.