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The National Dog Show Hosts Share Their Most Interesting Moments Through the Years

Dogs live in the moment and spontaneously react by doing all sorts of cute, endearing, and sometimes wacky things. Yet dogs aren't always the most interesting things at the National Dog Show. The host's most interesting moments involve humans too.

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National Dog showCourtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

An insider’s look at the storied show

John Hurley, David Frei, and Mary Carillo are the hosts of The National Dog Show Presented by Purina. Sportscaster Mary Carillo is celebrating her ninth year as a sideline reporter digging up stories behind the scenes. Hurley, best known for his role as J.Peterman on Seinfeld, has been in the broadcast booth since the first show in 2002 alongside David Frei, an AKC-licensed judge who has officiated dog shows across the globe. Together they bring a cherished 18-year family viewing tradition to more than 20 million viewers on Thanksgiving day. Here are some of their most interesting memories of the National Dog Show. Tune in this year at noon on Thanksgiving Day on NBC. Find out the most (and least) expensive dog breeds in the world.

National Dog showCourtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

Dogs being dogs

David Frei is all about dogs. He’s highly regarded in the canine world with his competitive success as a breeder/handler/owner and as an AKC-licensed judge. It’s a safe bet that Frei has seen a myriad of dog behavior. Still, it’s impossible to pinpoint one incident that stands out more than another. “It’s more of a collective, big picture of dogs,” Frei says. “Whether they are climbing over the walls, or chasing a frisbee or interacting with the next dog in line in the show ring. It’s just dogs being dogs. That’s what makes it funny and interesting.” Here’s why your dog does some of the weird things it does.

National Dog showCourtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

Dogs change the energy of the room

By far, the most interesting and perhaps most endearing thing Frei sees is how people react to dogs. “When a dog walks into the room, the energy changes,” Frei says. “People start smiling and pointing and say, ‘look at that dog!'” It’s not just their cute faces, expressive eyes, and doggy smiles that change the energy. It’s what happens to our hearts when we interact with dogs. When we pet a dog, get a slobbery lick, or a muzzle snuggle, for a moment, we forget the stress of the day, the illness we’re battling, or the relationship woes with our partner. We smile. The dog smiles and it’s this phenomenon that inspired Frei to create a therapy dog program, Angel on a Leash—and a book of the same name with heartwarming stories of therapy dogs and the lives they touch. Find out what happens to service dogs when they retire.

National Dog showCourtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

The NDS’s humble beginnings

For millions of Americans, the NDS is a Thanksgiving tradition we look forward to every year. Yet, the stands would have been empty that first year in 2002, if it weren’t for paid volunteers to warm the seats. It’s not for lack of interest. The show was developed quickly, and the world just didn’t know yet, how captivated we would be watching and rooting for our favorite pups. “The first year we had the show, we actually had to pay volunteers to sit in the stands,” NDS host John Hurley tells Reader’s Digest. “Now it is standing room only, and we get a crowd of about 15,000 people because there is something for everybody here.” Find out the most popular dog breed in every state.

Great Dane blue 12 Years old Deutsche Doggeanetapics/Shutterstock

A stinky editorial comment

More memorable than interesting is the “editorial comment” Hurley received some years back from a Great Dane during the Best in Show segment. “He passed right in front of here, squatted down, and looked me straight in the eye, and gave me what I always referred to as ‘an editorial comment on my performance,'” Hurley says with a chuckle. “They had to stop the show and have the hazmat team with equipment of the same size that they would use to clean up after an elephant.” You might need bigger poop bags with the world’s largest dog breeds, but hey, you also get a gentle giant with a big heart.

National Dog showCourtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

Style evolution

In the early years, the dog handlers were more relaxed when it came to their fashion choices. After all, it’s not uncommon to see dog handlers wear more casual attire at shall we say, less prestigious dog shows, especially when they are outdoors. Once the NDS became a hit, Hurley observed a noticeable change to a “classier style” in the dog handler’s attire. “The handlers were all in Bermuda shorts the first year,” recalls Hurley. “They weren’t conscious of the fact that they were being shown from head to toe and a lot of time from the knees down [as the cameras focus on the dogs]. Today, we see people dressing up like they never did before—with 20 million people watching you want to look your best.” Learn the truth about these 50 secrets your dog won’t tell you.

National Dog showCourtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

Distracting handler fashion

What could possibly compete with a group of finely groomed and pampered dogs of distinction? Surely, not a dog show judge. Yet Hurley recalls a judge who “almost stopped the show with her outfit.” Hurley is referring to the judge of the toy group in 2018. According to the footage, she appears to be wearing a flowy red jumpsuit. One arm is sleeveless and sporting a henna tattoo or webbing that looks like reptile skin. “You couldn’t take your eyes off of it. It competed with the dogs,” Hurley recalls. Here’s why dogs tilt their heads, and no, it has nothing to do with questionable fashion choices.

National Dog showCourtesy Steven Donahue/See Spot Run Photography

The excitement of newly introduced breeds

As part of the commentary team for the NDS, Mary Carillo has spent the last nine years roaming the benching areas and talking to owners, handlers, and judges. One of the things Carillo finds most interesting is when new breeds are introduced. “A few years back, I met my first Nederlandse Kooikerhonje, a sweet and silky spaniel that cleverly lures ducks towards their masters,” Carillo says. This year, the Azawakh is the new pup in town. When it comes to pronouncing the breed names, Hurley jokes and says, “They take a can of Campbell alphabet soup and pull ten letters out in no particular order, and say, ‘let’s see how Hurley will try to pronounce that.'” By the way, Azawakh is pronounced Oz-a-wok.

Manny the Frenchie's Art of Happinessvia

When dogs have more followers than people

“I found out what an incredible social following so many of the dogs have on Instagram,” says Carillo. “A few years back, a non-entrant, Manny The Frenchie, caused a veritable stampede of otherwise pretty sane looking folks, begging for selfies! After that, I too now follow Manny and his brother Frank, along with close to a million other people!” Manny’s first book, Manny the Frenchie’s Art of Happiness was recently published. Read on to find out 30 fun facts you never knew about dogs.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and, among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.