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We’re firmly in dog show season now, folks.

By Austin Cannon
December 10, 2020
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dog held next to award
Credit: American Kennel Club

What better way to get through the final days of this wretched year than by watching adorable, oh-so-talented dogs strut their stuff? Even if it's only through the TV screen, watching top notch dogs and their handlers as they compete for the title of Best in Show is some of the most fascinating entertainment a pet lover could ask for. The AKC National Championship dog show hits airwaves this month, with two ways for viewers to watch from home.

The AKC National Championship dog is considered North America’s largest dog event, and takes place a month after a gorgeous Scottish deerhound named Claire won Best in Show at the National Dog Show. The National Championship features hundreds of dogs who will compete in not only the conformation dog show—the “Best in Show” spectacle you see on TV—but also in agility, obedience, and speed competitions. 

How To Watch the National Championship Dog Show Online

You can watch the conformation show live this weekend (Dec. 12–13) online at akcchampionshiplive.com, but internet viewers will need to pay for access. It's not much—$3 for one day of action or $5 for both Saturday and Sunday—but the costs help the AKC cover the event, which is happening without any in-person ticketed fans this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Any money leftover will be donated to dog-related charities, the club says.

How To Watch the National Championship Dog Show for Free

Don’t want to pay? That’s fine. The AKC and ESPN joined forces to bring dog show fans events they can now watch from the comfort of the couch, including this year’s AKC National Championship. The only drawback? You'll have to wait to get your dog show fix, since the competition will be broadcast on Jan. 17 at 2 p.m. eastern on ABC.

So, to be clear: You can pay to watch the show online this weekend, or you can watch it on ABC in about a month. Or both!

However, there’s still plenty of competitions you can watch this weekend for free. Want to see dogs run really, really fast? Want to see them change directions quickly? How about masters of obedience? They have all that on AKC.tv, free of charge. Check out the schedule of events to see what parts of the competitions will be streamed online, and at what times. 

How Do Dog Shows Work?

For starters, the AKC National Championship is a big ‘un with a $50,000 grand prize. Because she took home the big ribbon at the National Dog Show, Claire the Scottish deerhound is one of the Best in Show favorites for this week's AKC National Championship, too. 

And remember: No matter how much we'd like it to be, dog shows are not “cutest dog” competitions where the dogs compete against each other. The dogs are measured by esteemed judges to see which one of them is the best example of their breed standard. 

It’s like a pyramid. First, all the dogs entered in the show are separated into the groups of each of their breeds. The breed winners then represent the breed in the group stage. There are seven groups—herding, hound, non-sporting, sporting, terrier, toy, and working dog breeds—and the winner of each group makes it to the Best in Show ring. 

There, a judge for the third time evaluates the dogs according to their breeds’ standards and decides which one is the best of the best. Last year, it was an extremely floofy Pekingese named Wasabi who took home the Best in Show title and grand prize money.