For fifteen years, they have been the faces of dog shows. Well, the
non-furry faces, and sadly, arguably the ones that most people don’t go
“awwww” over. In a sea of adorable canine action, actor John O’Hurley
(Mr. Peterman from Seinfeld!) and long-time dog show host David
Frei have been bringing us The National Dog Show every
Thanksgiving for the last 15 years.
In a decade and a half, these dedicated and tireless cheerleaders for
man’s best friend have made the dog show an annual tradition for
starving family members, between the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and
football, families settle in the living room, smelling the Thanksgiving
feast cooking and watching some of the most adorable breeds in the world
strutting their stuff.
A couple of weeks before the latest National Dog Show, we were
able to take part in a conference call again with the guys, to discuss
how dogs, and the dog show, have changed their lives.
A few years ago, when I spoke with you we were discussing the old W.C.
Fields line that you should never work with children and animals because
they always steal the spotlight from you. So, have you guys had any
situations in the show recently where the spotlight was stolen?
Well, let’s see. We had my son on last year on the show. They mic’d him
up for a segment that we were doing on why we were thankful for dogs.
Well, he happened to have a little school friend accompanying him for
the day at the National Dog Show. So once he finished his little
piece about thanking dogs he as he’s taking the mic off he turns to his
friend and goes, “This is pretty much my life. This is pretty much my
life every day.” (They laugh.)
How about you David? Did you have any?
Well, we just did a press event today for the Kennel Club of
Philadelphia show which is the National Dog Show. We did it at the Pet
Plan Offices – Pet Plan Health Insurance offices. They brought in a
classroom of probably first graders and they were there with all the
dogs that we had – the new breed dogs and the therapy dogs that are part
of the National Dog Show ambassador therapy dog team. I was the emcee,
and I guarantee you there weren’t many pictures taken of me today. (O’Hurley
laughs) It was all the dogs and the kids, so it’s great fun. And, of
course, that’s what it’s all about is dogs and kids – so we have a great
It is. In fact, actually I would say that one of the on-camera pieces
that we did last year, David, you and I were upstaged by the bloodhound.
Yes, that’s true.
He was licking you all over the place during the spot, yes.
As Mary Carillo once said about the Olympics, “It’s the only sport that
she covers where the competitors lick her.”
As a native Philadelphian we’re very proud of the dog show. How involved
has the community been in the show? Also, do you guys get any time to
see any of our city while you’re here?
Well, yes, I have enjoyed all 15 years for the reason that we are there
are in Philadelphia. I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities. I
love the increased renovation that they’ve been undergoing there and
restoring a lot of the history of the community. Regarding the response
to the show, now that we have a permanent home out there in Oaks,
Pennsylvania, we have found that the audiences grow every year. We have
upwards of 30,000 people a day that come through there and it’s just so
wonderful. They’ve got the idea that a benched show like ours is a place
that children will have a full day of fun. That seems to be the way that
Hey, the other thing is too that this has become the month that has been
declared, “National Dog Show Month” in Philadelphia, so we know we’re
well received. Not just from the crowds that come to see us at the
show, but in terms of the community and media involvement and things.
People are excited to see us and excited to be a part of what we’re
How is the
Beverly Hills Dog Show going to be different from the National
Well, I will say straight out that David and I have had our hands on a
lot of the birth of the Beverly Hills Dog Show. We want it to
look different. Everybody wants it to look different. They want it to be
the promise of what Beverly Hills would bring to the dog show world.
There’s been a whole redesign of the staging that’s used. It will be – I
hate to use this word – but it’ll be much more Victoria’s Secret
runway. (Frei laughs.) It’ll have that feel to it. We’ll take
advantage of the surroundings in Beverly Hills. It’s going to have a
little bit of the flavor and the splash of what you’d hope an event in
Hollywood would be like.
Do you think it will be benched as well?
No, it is not a benched dog show. It’s California style. We’ll all come
and enjoy it. It’s at a fairgrounds location. The people of Beverly
Hills have been very embracing of what we’re doing there as well, so we
think it’ll be great fun for everybody. We hope that we can communicate
that on the telecast. One more thing about that too is the show is
telecast on USA Network in its original telecast and then is repeated a
week later on NBC.
I believe this is the 15th year anniversary of the National Dog Show. Am
I correct in saying so?
Yes, that’s correct.
It is, and I think that’s our crystal anniversary. I hope John’s picking
out some nice piece of crystal for me.
I would went down the list and I don’t know, my chronologically said, “Papier-mâché.”
What do you tribute the fascination of the public in watching man’s best
friend compete over and over again these shows? Why do you think we are
I’ll answer first, David. My perspective is as just a television viewer.
You have the remote in your hands. You’re not used to what dog shows
are. You just happen to be flipping through the channels. The moment
that it lands upon the National Dog Show and you see the close-up faces
of all of these dogs, the expressions and the fact that they are
beautiful representatives of their particular breed – you stop. You stop
and you watch. You get glued to it. You continue to watch it. You find
yourself an hour or two into it. It’s just very compelling television
from that. There’s something about the look of a dog’s face that I think
is just a very compelling thing. Now add to that that we have so many
loyal viewers because we have so many loyal dog owners that have the –
as David refers to it – “the alma mater factor” sitting there on the
couch next to them. Not only that, people that love certain breeds of
dogs. We have a wonderful built-in audience of dog lovers all across the
nation. Again, I think it’s compelling television that when you go
channel surfing, anytime you see the close-up of a dog you’re going to
David, what is your take on that? You’ve been doing this for a very long
time, now, as the host of Westminster Dog Show. What do you feel our
fascination is? There’s always a click to that.
Well, our dogs are now members of our family. We used to have dogs that
do work for us, whether it was herd our animals, or get the rats out of
our kitchen, or pull a cart, or something like that. Nowadays, they
don’t need to do that. We keep them because of those unique temperaments
and personalities that were developed because of the things that they
were bred to do. They become members of our family. It’s not just open
the door and let them out, it’s let’s go for a walk together. I think
when people are watching us on television they have that same feeling as
John talked about – the alma matter factor. I also think that just the
fact that our dogs that they see in the dog show do the same things at
home that your dog is doing at home. We want you to relate to that and
have this be a celebration of the dog in your life, whether they’re a
purebred dog, or a mixed breed dog, or a cat even – we let the cats in
there sometimes too. It’s great fun for us all in that respect. We’ll
sit there with our Brittany on the couch and say, “You know what? Grace,
we’re going to root for the Brittany today, because I know you and I
could be out there and we can be doing just as well if I gave you a bath
once a month, instead of once every six months, and maybe we both did a
little roadwork.” So it’s great fun in that respect. It’s easy to relate
I know you gentleman are quite involved in therapy dogs. Can you tell us
about their job and what it takes for them to become a therapy dog?
They’re not just beautiful specimens of their breed, but they give back
to children and adults.
Well, it’s a natural thing for dogs. They are spontaneous. They have
unconditional love. They’re universally accepting of everybody. When a
dog walks into the room, the energy changes. People smile, they talk,
they do things that get their mind off any problems they might have. We
can bring you a little bit of that. When you see the dog on TV, you
can’t help but smile and think about the great things that they do for
you every day. John has written books about this stuff now that he’s
learned all about them. He’s been a great advocate for therapy dogs.
He’s come to the Ronald McDonald house and performed, if you will, with
therapy dogs there with him as he reads his book about The Perfect
Dog to them.
What is that book?
Well, I have several that I’ve written. Three now. Two that are more
autobiographical that one is called, It’s Okay to Miss the Bed on the
First Jump and the Other Life Lessons I’ve Learned from my Dogs. The
follow-up book to that was, Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework,
First You Have to Do It. Then I wrote a children’s book that came
out. Kind of a Dr. Seuss style book that I wrote. It was a poem called
The Perfect Dog that ends with the line, “The dog that is perfect
is the one next to you.” Oddly enough that has now been become a musical
which is now being performed at the Children’s Theater there in
Philadelphia, the weekend before the National Dog Show so it’s
going to be wonderful. Yes it’s wonderful. They do it. It’s done all
over the world now. The musical has become quite popular, so it’s a lot
The Beverly Hills Dog Show is going to be exciting. How did this concept
transpire? Now is this also sponsored by Purina?
They are joining us as well, yes.
Wonderful. How did the show transpire? How did you gentlemen get
together and say, “This would be an awesome dog show to have?”
Well, I know there was a whole….
The dog shows...
I’m sorry Dave, you go ahead...
That’s all right. The basic background is that there were the three
major dog shows they were all east-coast based – the Westminster Kennel
Club, the National Dog Show in Philadelphia, and the AKC National
Championship in Orlando, Florida. It made sense to look to the west.
When the contract at the NBC and USA Network ended with Westminster they
said, “What are we going to do for this?” They chose Beverly Hills,
partly because it’s just down the street from where John lives and we
knew they could commit him right away. We thought it would be fun to be
there with the celebrities and having a nice, warm weather climate to do
a dog show in. John I know is very excited to have that be there in his
I truly am and only because when you say, The Beverly Hills Dog Show
you immediately smile. There’s an inherent expectation of it being
really interesting potential from the show and we certainly hope to
deliver on it. I also think what’s really magical about the show is that
if we found another time of the year – Easter Sunday – which is another
one of those family times of the year. There’s not a lot of sports to
conflict. There’s not a lot of other programming on. So it’s a wonderful
day of the year. Also, in many respects a family day, Easter Sunday, so
we have almost found a similar ground to what Thanksgiving is. It will
give us, hopefully, a great viewing audience – although, we’re going to
be in the evening.
When is the date? Easter Sunday of 2017?
Easter Sunday. April 16 [next] year. The show itself is shot in March in
California – on March 4. We’ll add to it and create a nice television
event for everybody.
Can you tell me what celebrities we can expect to see out there? Beverly
Hills is close to Hollywood. You’re going to have a lot of star power
Our best celebrity is involved in the show and that’s John, who’s become
a celebrity. Who’s more identified with dogs in this country than John
O’Hurley? We’re lucky to have him. We’ll hopefully bring along a few of
his friends as well.
Without revealing names, we will have a celebrity involvement. We hope
we’ll have many.
David, maybe you can tell me can you tell me about his new breed that’s
going to be here in Philadelphia – the one that looks like a little
The Pumi. The Pumi looks more like a koala bear than any other breed of
dog. It’s a little, curly black coated dog. It says in the standard it’s
supposed to have a whimsical look about it. It creates that with its
facial expression and its ears. John you’ve met the Pumi as well.
Oh, I did, yes. I have to tell you it became one of my favorite little
breeds. The texture of the coat of a Pumi is just extraordinary. It’s
just like a wonderful, little curled pile rug you just want to stroke.
It’s just an adorable dog. (To Dave) You’re right, the face is
just adorable. It’s a snuggler.
John, speaking of star power, here in Philadelphia at the gala the night
before are you doing another show for us?
I will be entertaining. I’ll be doing a piece of my one-man show that
I’ve been touring around the country and just finished here in New York
with on Broadway which is called, A Man with Standards. I’ll be
doing a segment of the show for that on Friday night for the charity
David, I know you do the things with therapy dogs for the Ronald
McDonald house and you had a big thing at Pet Plan Insurance today. Can
you give me a little bit background on that?
Well, we’ve been involved through with Steve Griffith leading the way.
We created a therapy dog ambassador program that goes along with the
Kennel Club of Philadelphia and the National Dog Show presented by
Purina. That has provided a lot of great experiences for people who
are in need of the things that therapy dog bring us. It’s also brought
some recognition to some wonderful people who are very involved with
their dogs, visiting at healthcare facilities all over the country,
especially here at the Ronald McDonald house in Philadelphia. [It] is
the very first of 300 and some worldwide Ronald McDonald houses to be
formed, so it’s great to have a partner like them in what we do, and to
recognize their great work as well as the great work of the therapy dogs
and the people that visit there.
That’s terrific. And I know you’re involved in therapy dogs all along...
My dogs do great things for people. I’m lucky enough to be the guy that
brings them. I’m the transportation and the treat carrier. They do the
work. I just try to stay out of their way when they’re dealing with
That’s terrific. I cannot wait for the show here in Philly.
You’re getting a bonus this year with John and his and his The
Perfect Dog at Center Theater in Norristown. He’s actually not in
it, but it’s his show and it’s a wonderful show. They put it on for us
at a fundraising gala here last year, and as John has told you, it’s in
a lot of places around the world. So it’s fun to have that. It’s part of
the National Dog Show in Philadelphia celebration – so it’s great
to have it here.
Do you have some special stories that stick in your mind from years past
about dogs that you’ve met or about things that have happened during the
David, I’ll let you go first. I know you have some.
Well, the great thing about the dog show is that you get to see dogs
being dogs. I’ve said for all the years that I’ve done the previous dog
shows on television, and for the National Dog Show, that I want people
to know that the dogs that they see on television are more than show
dogs. They are real dogs, shown by real people. These dogs do the same
things at home that your dog does at home. They steal food off the
counters. They shed on your black clothes and sleep on our couches.
Maybe even drink out of a toilet once in a while. But the main thing
about the dog show, coming in person and attending, is that you get to
see all these athletes – these canine athletes – up close and personal.
It’s the only sport that I know of where you can go backstage and hug
the competitors. I don’t think you can go back and hug Tom Brady just
anytime at all. (O’Hurley laughs.) It’s fun to be here and see
all these dogs that are the stars on television. You can come and hug
John and me too, we’re fine with that.
That’s the important part of the benched show, that David and I have to
remain there too, so we are just as huggable and just as approachable.
Did you ever wish an outcome would’ve been different? Putting your hat
on as a judge maybe?
Sure. It happens all the time. That’s the beauty of dog shows. You can
judge from outside the ring. People sitting at home can root for
whatever dog they want, for whatever reason they want. It did something
cute, or it’s like my dog at home, or it’s the same color, or I love
that hair, or it just did something cute with somebody outside the
stands. I’ll walk around at a dog show and watch them judging. There
will be times that a judge points to a certain dog to win and I’d say,
“Why didn’t they pick this other dog?” It all depends on that one
person. It’s not a vote or anything, so that’s fun. I can like whatever
dog I want for whatever reason I want to.
I will add in that David’s eye is very good. It’s a very trained eye. He
has taught me well. I have lived in his shadow now for 15 years.
However, I’m getting the point where I’m standing on my own right now.
I’m getting a much better eye. I have a wonderful database back in my
grey matter there of dogs I’ve seen of certain breeds that I know. I can
set the standard in my head and I can judge against them.
John, has come to have a very good eye. When we’re sitting there
watching and I say, “Who do your like?” he can often come up with the
right dog, or dogs that should be chosen from. I’m proud of being his
mentor in that respect.
It is nice to see that the way the show has grown is that I would say
all the dogs that you see have all been breed winners at one point – not
just that day, but are constant breed winners – so we’re getting the
best dogs in the country to come to the show.
There are so many adorable breeds in the show and you guys are obviously
both huge dog lovers. I was just wondering what breeds do you guys live
with as family?
Well, I have a Brittany and a Cavalier. I have a Brittany named Grace
who is a retired show champion, but also a certified registered therapy
dog and does lots of therapy work. My Cavalier Angel dabbled in the show
world but has made her impact as a therapy dog too. Before that I had
Afghan Hounds. Those are my three breeds on the record. But you know
what? I’m supposed to like them all and I do.
I have the cousin to David’s Cavalier. Her name is Sadie. Just about the
same age. She has a little bit of an overbite, so she is not show
material, but she doesn’t know that and we don’t tell her. I find that
it’s healthy if she has the healthier self-image. Then we also have a
breed called a Havanese, which is a wonderful breed. A little larger
than a Maltese would be. I have come to love that breed. If there is a
perfect breed for families that just want a good, family dog, that is
the one I would recommend. It’s such a nice, docile addition to the
family that will adopt to the energy of the family and very easy – much
more self-maintaining then most dogs are.
Terrific. And John I can’t talk to you without mentioning Mr. Peterman,
which is such a beloved character. What was it like to be part of such
an iconic series? And do you feel that J. Peterman helped to make all
the other things like the dog show or
The Fantastiks – which you’re going to be doing or Devious Maids
or Dancing With the Stars possible for you?
Yes, I think if I have to look back on the one brand – the “one belt
loop I was able to slip my finger through” – that was probably the one
that has carried me through my entire career. I’m eternally grateful for
being part of the rhumba line of people that have been able to make
their life and their livelihood off the series of Seinfeld. It
was like playing with the championship team in the championship season.
David has, obviously, been involved with dog shows for many years, but
how did you first get involved with the dog show world?
Well, this came out of the movie Best in Show. One of the heads
of NBC sports took home the tape of the show and watched it over the
weekend, comes back in Monday morning to NBC and says, “I know what
we’re going to do for that two-hour slot after the Macy’s Thanksgiving
Parade right before football.” He said we’re going to do a dog show.
They about laughed him out of the office. Sure enough, by the end of the
day he had gotten the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, he’d gotten Purina as
a sponsor. Tuesday morning he picked up the phone and called me in Los
Angeles. I answered the phone and he said, “Woof, woof.” That’s how it
Can you explain what happens behind the scenes and what the experience
is like during the competition?
Sure. It’s a benched dog show so we see the dog in the ring for two
minutes, but it’s taken awhile to get him to that point. For some
people, it’s a lifetime of involvement with particular breeds. There’s
conditioning, training, roadwork, grooming, bathing. Some of that stuff
goes on at the day of the show, just as touchup work to get dog ready
for the ring. Then they must compete at three different levels. It’s
like an advancing bracket in sports, where first they compete in the
breed level. If they win their breed – 202 breeds and varieties are
eligible – they advance in to their group. There are seven groups, if
they win the group they advance into the final seven, the lineup for
best in show. That’s the way the dog show goes during the day. The rest
of the time, when the dogs are not in the ring and they’re on the bench,
people can come up and talk to them and talk to the people.
What keeps you coming back after 15 years of hosting the show?
Well, it’s my favorite day of the year. It’s become our family day as
well. I always believe that dogs change the energy in a room, so if you
can imagine 2,000 dogs in an arena, everybody there has a smile on their
face. Nobody is unhappy. You don’t see dog fights. The energy is so
positive and enduring for the entire day that it’s just a joy to be
there. It’s just infectious. Everybody’s always smiling and having a
good time. The dogs are having a great time. They don’t care who wins,
but it’s a chance for them to run around the ring and get a few good
Can you tell us a little bit about the training that goes into showing a
dog and how much time is put into it each day or each week?
Well, it varies – it really varies. It depends on the dog. Not so much
just the breed, but the dog. Some dogs are natural showmen, if you will,
that are anxious to get out there and do something with the human that
they love. I think that makes it fun for them. It makes it a little
easier than if you must convince them that dog showing is fun and that
they want to be a part of it. Then it comes to grooming and
conditioning. Some dogs are almost self-conditioning in terms of
roadwork, running in the yard. Some dogs require a concentrated effort,
so you put the dog in top physical shape. Then of course, there is the
grooming. It’s going to be a lot different than the American Hairless
Terrier that we have today as one of us in breeds that we have in our
press event and our show.
You can leave the hairdryer home for that one.
That’s right. Versus an Afghan, or a Komondor, with its big mop coat,
but those are all things that people spend their time working on and
getting them ready for dog shows and just generally being a part of the
I know you just mentioned the Hairless Terrier and you mentioned the
Pumi and those are our new breeds for the show this year. Can you talk
just a little bit about them?
Sure. The American Hairless Terrier is that. It’s a terrier and it is
hairless. It’s down from the rat terrier, for people who are familiar
with some of the terrier breeds. It’s a small dog with a wedge-shape
head, pointed ears and no hair. They are born with a peach fuzz coat,
but that goes away at about four, five weeks and they are quite
hairless. They are a whole different feel, to put your hands on a dog
and the only come up with skin, instead of hair to put all over your own
coat. The Pumi, the second new breed, we talked about that a little bit.
It is a black, curly-coated, non-shedding dog with a great whimsical
expression. Ears that are kind of placed around the head. Has a great
look and a great attitude. It’s a herding dog, so it’s a very active
athletic dog. Not unlike the Puli. We’ve seen the Puli, the rastafarian
dog that John loves so much, but it’s kind of a cousin of that dog. It
looks like a koala bear almost. If a koala bear was a dog breed, it
would be a Pumi. Then there’s a third new breed. We don’t seem to be
able to find one anywhere in this country. There’s a couple of them
around that I know of, but they’re scattered and we don’t have an entry
of the Sloughi this year. It’s the third new breed. It looks sort of
like a greyhound. It’s a Northern African native, if you will, and looks
a lot like cross – mostly greyhound but a little bit of Sloughi maybe
you can see in it, but great athletic site hound.
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