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This Is AKC Now

Updated: Feb 7, 2019

2018 AKC Nationals shows a new AKC and its people are as wonderful as their dogs.

Though the American Kennel Club (AKC) was founded in 1884 and has presented dog shows since anyone alive can remember, the AKC National Championship started in 2001 and the new “Millenia” saw a new AKC. Evolution of the AKC Sports and “All Breed” programs to include a much more diverse and inclusive membership has paid dividends and was clear at the 2018 event in Orlando, Florida.

Fans, owners, handlers and press from around the world come to this near week long “Dog Show” and witness over 191 recognized breeds and countless “mixed breeds” competing in simultaneous national events in one venue. Though the sense of competition is exciting, it is the coming together in a single massive social event to celebrate our dogs that makes the AKC National’s a very special experience.

The AKC National Championships includes over a dozen separate events occurring across most of the forty-seven-acre Orlando Convention Center. A midway called “Meet the Breeds” crosses through the show with themed booths representing the various breeds with the booths occupants dressed in colorful and imaginative garb from Kilts to Berets to represent the origins of each breed.

Vendors fill the remaining open space with goods and services to attend to all your pups needs and professional photographer companies stake out each event with on-sight preview and ordering of the pictures their teams provide almost immediately.

It is a noisy event as you walk through the massive convention center. Old friends raising their voices to be heard over the crowd, dogs barking and frequent cheers from crowds at the multitude competition are heard throughout. The nationals provide an opportunity to see what is best in many ways for the sporting and competition dog. This is the only all-breed qualifier show in the USA for entry into the world’s largest Dog Show, Great Britain’s Crufts Dog Show.


Conformation is the iconic competition of traditional dog shows and represents the most glamorous competition of these events. The aim of the judge in each category is to identify the dog that best conforms to established AKC “ideals” for the breed. However, it may surprise many that the competitors are as varied as the breeds they show. As at the West Volusia Cluster 2018, we met grandmothers to teens, from business owners to store clerks who love to show their dogs, and many compete in other sports too. In Conformation the dogs are often handled by their owners and still some today have separate handlers to bring them through the ring.

The categories separate the recognized breeds into groups and has evolved over the years since the AKC’s beginning in 1884 to include Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, Herding, and miscellaneous classes all competing for the top title as “Best in Show”.

This year it was a Whippet named Pinnacle Tennessee Whiskey , or better known to his friends as just Whiskey who received top honors after being the first Whippet to ever win the title.

The real entry level for those interested in showing their own pure-bred pup is often the local club for that breed, or just by attending events and talking to other owners' ring side. The list of all the winners is available on the AKC Website.

Local Clubs, the glue that binds the AKC.

The real force for such a large organization is the local clubs. Usually breed specific, the clubs take on everything from training and social events, to hosting national events. One of the most active we have met in Florida are the Mid-Florida Golden Retriever Club we first met at the All-Breed Agility Trials they hosted at the Grand Oaks Resort.

With eleven of their own members participating in this event, club member Andy Hall surprised us with explaining the club had already started preparation to host the 2020 at the new World Equestrian Center - Ocala. Andy also told us of their “Puppy Referral” program, where the club screens potential kennels for standards to help those looking to purchase a Golden Retriever pup and their Facebook group to help newcomers with questions they may have.

It is these local clubs that offer training, guidance and take on the responsibilities for the larger state and national events and "clusters" as seen at both the Treasure Coast Kennel Club's Pirate Cluster and West Volusia Kennel Club in 2018.


Over 1 million entries to the AKC’s Agility Program each year. Dogs race against a clock as they navigate an obstacle course with strong concentration and speed. - AKC

If Conformation is the main course of the National Dog Show, then Agility is the dessert. A field of over 700 dogs comes down to a showdown between the top 58. Invitations are earned through various qualifiers in the year as we saw at the All-Breed Trials. There are three classes of Standard, Jumpers with Weaves and a Hybrid class. Specifics of each are available on the AKC Agility web page.

Go for It!

AKC agility requires training and communication between handler and dog. Though the handler can walk each course before the start of each round, the dog does not see it till the clock starts. So, you must move quick and be clear in directing the dog across the obstacles. For many this is a matter of refining your skill, but what if you have to drive a segue at the same time?

We met Debra Nezgoga and her husband Joe at the Agility Invitational. She was hard to miss running the course with her Irish Water Spaniel “Squeeze” in a Mohawk decorated helmet on a segue.

Debra and Joe are from Boynton Beach, FL. And she has competed in AKC Agility for almost 30 years.


However, six years ago her mobility was becoming ever more difficult and doctors discovered her leg had “fused” and due to the fragile nature of the bone, a prosthetic was not an option. Debra would not be kept out of the arena she loves and began to train with “Squeeze” and a Segue six years ago. She told us, the first five “where a heck of a time”.

While driving, she cannot use her hands as most would normally, so Squeeze and Debra have their own language now for communicating through each course.

When asked what she might say to anyone with a disability who wants to try agility?

Debra Nezgoga "Have a Life!"
Debra Nezgoga "Have a Life!"
"If you find something you love and cannot do it any longer. If you don’t go for it you have no life. I have a life right now it’s, not perfect but I can do what I love to do” and it keeps me busy, and keeps me from growing too old” - Debra Nezgoga

Good advice for most anything really.

AKC Juniors divisions

The kids are alright... Children and teenagers are the future of the sport of dogs and responsible dog ownership. The more they learn, the more they will grow in dog sports and as a person. The values, attitudes, and responsibility learned while competing as Juniors serve children throughout their entire lives. – AKC”

The Self Starter

Juniors division. These young handlers are usually the children of parents involved in canine sports of some kind, but not Allison.

Allison Coolidge is from Stewart, FL and currently in 11th grade but age 9 she had her first dog “Darma” a mixed Lhasa Apso and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

She wanted to do more than walk her dog and go to the park and says she doesn’t even remember what sparked her interest in Agility, but something did.

Allison started researching and applying all she learned to training “Darma” and today is competing at the AKC National Agility Invitational and won a Masters earlier in 2018 at the Treasure Coast Cluster. How did she do it?

Allison Coolidge "Just Do it!"
“Just talk to people, get online and talk to people there, and just do it” – Allison Coolidge

Her parents couldn’t be prouder of their girl and she hopes to go into dog training after finishing her education.


The sport you don’t have to run in. “Think of an AKC Rally® event as any team sport: You and your dog navigate a course, side-by-side, as you steer him through a course of 10-20 different signs. Each of these signs provides instructions regarding the next skill that is to be performed. The dog and handler move continuously throughout the course with the dog under control at the handler’s left side. There is a clear sense of teamwork between the dog and handler both during and between the numbered signs. – AKC”

This newer evolution called Rally started in 2005. Rally has opened the dog competition options for so many new dogs and their owners. Rally can be an excellent entry to canine competition or for those with mobility disability, or simply do not want to run!

North America Diving Dogs (NADD)

Where’s the party!?

One competition that truly had the festive feel to it and the most mixed-breeds in attendance.

The North America Diving Dogs (NADD) competition centered around two huge mobile dock pools and was by far the most boisterous of this year's events with their largest number of contestants ever bustled in the area but was still good humored and excited as the dock dogs. Teams from around N. America accepted the invites for their achievements at 2018 events.

Whose is dock diving? Anyone and Everyone

Chayna Martel only started this year with her pup" lucky and already qualified for their first invitational. Tammy Montgomery was here competing with five of her eight Labradors and Florida's most record-breaking dock dog "Grudge" with his owner Michele King.

“Love the sport, love the people Love the dogs, and it’s just great” - Lisa Sun

The registration was a flurry of activity, and we were fortunate enough to catch up with the NADD National Operations Manager, Steve Mize. As in all our encounters with the dock diving community, Steve was both humble, but passionate for the sport and describes himself as “first and foremost a competitor who loves the sport of diving dogs”

The Brian Woodrow from Toledo, OH brought there title winning Dachshund "Woody"

“The joy this little guy gives everybody, bundle of joy” - Brian Woodrow and Woody

The AKC and NADD partner through the AKC’s title recognition program and with over eleven thousand dogs registered in the USA, NADD is the worlds largest Dock Diving organization.

NADD continues to grow and hope to have a dock near you, if not already. No dock nearby? Contact local training group and express your interest and have them contact NADD to get details on how to become a sanctioned facility. There will be a full “Closer Sniff” of NADD later this year on


The core requirement

“Developed in the 1930s, Obedience is one of the AKC’s oldest sporting events.” - AKC When asked about starting in any sport, one consistent requirement is basic obedience.

That basic training can evolve a long way and those who want to take it to the top of the ladder come to the AKC Obedience Classic. AKC Obedience trials provides competitions for Novice, Open, Utility classes. The dogs have already achieved qualifying in events in local clubs across the USA.

The dogs perform a series of games to show the communication of the team and test their attention to detail in executing commands from stay to a hurdle jump and recall.

This year 56 breeds competed including 4 mixed-breed.

Meet the Breeds

The grand “Midway” of the AKC National Championship

Saturday and Sunday the previously vacant center of the Orlando Convention Center suddenly became the most crowded as the "Meet the Breeds" booths opened up. The large "midway" of multiple rows showcase the many "recognized" breeds of the American Kennel Club today.

The booths are occupied by dogs of that breed and staffed by people are knowledgeable , passionate about the specific breed and often in costume. The Meet the Breeds area has become more than a showcase these days and even has its own contests for best displays.

This Is AKC

This year’s AKC National Championship was presented by Royal Canine. It simply would not be possible to put on such an ambitious show without the money to do so and Royal Canine stepped up again to support this year’s show. Obviously, such sponsors realize the value and associated name recognition to sponsor such events, but Royal Canine deserves credit for their involvement to see this year’s event be successful.

Additional recognized sports ranged from Scent Work and Tracking, and to the “Recognition Titles” with partnered organizations including North American Diving Dogs.

This years event also included exhibitions of Scent Work and special Demonstration performances set to storytelling. The AKC is more and more focused on being a newer and friendlier AKC with many activities aimed on newcomers and families.

ACE Awards

"Copper" 2018 Uniformed Service K-9
"Copper" 2018 Uniformed Service K-9

Each year the AKC ACE Awards special recognition to several Bad Azz Dogz who have made exemplary contribution to the humans they care take in critical roles. the 18th annual awards went to: Service: "Sampson" Therapy: "Kol" Search and Rescue: "Inspector Gadget" Exemplary Companion Dog: "Teddy" Uniformed Service K-9: "Copper"

It's more than a dog show

"Live every day like a dog with him” Dawn Peffer and Levon

So many stories and why they come, but the last interview we did on the last night struck to the special relationship between a Bad Azz Dog and their Bi-Ped.

Dawn Peffer & Levon living every day.

Dawn Peffer and Levon. Living in the moment.
Dawn Peffer and Levon. Living in the moment.

As we prepared to head out from this year's AKC National's, we spotted Dawn and Levon who was keeping a good grip on his favorite new toy Micky Mouse from nearby Disneyland. It was our last interview of 2018 and possibly the most moving, but reminds us that the bond between a dog and humans is a very special one.

Dawn has had Doberman Pincer's and competed obedience for many years. She enjoys the bond it builds between you and your dog. Three years ago, she brought home "Levon" as a puppy and began training, but this time it was going to be a very different and special journey for Dawn and now three-year-old Levon.

At two years old diagnosed with a very rare cancer Sep last year and wasn’t expected the live through Christmas last year. He did

This year had more significance than ever before in her decades of training and competing with her dogs. She gripped Levon close as she explained how very special this year’s invitational was and what the experience was like this time.

"It was very special to receive the invitation and come with him is sort of an amazing thing, it really is. We went out in that Obedience ring and just did it! Ya’ know? For him to be here, it’s just special “Live every day like a dog with him” - Dawn Peffer

Also Represented in 2018...

Barn Hunt Association

The "Gateway" sport

A special treat came along the Meet the Breeds area as we met Robin Nutall who is the founder and sole employee of the Barn hunt Association (BHA). Easily the most exploding membership sport we have witnessed. Robin started BHA after competing with her "min pin" over a decade ago and wanting to do more to show what the breed was born to do... hunt rats! In only a few years since starting in 2013, the BHA has spread across N. America and Canada and even arrived in Norway. Robin describes it as a "Gateway Sport". I great entry sport to lead to involvement in others and she is committed to seeing it grow, but also remain welcoming to all interested. This is a mixed breed sport with no requirements for pedigree.


What about those poor rats?

Lorri Griffon's pup "Flea" is the top Barn Hunter in his breed and she runs the G2 Barn Hunt in Morriston, FL that offers both classes and trials for Barn Hunt. However, she was a skeptical starter in the sport. Lorri has pet rats and a lifelong love for them. It was her concern for the creatures used for Barn Hunt that drew her in after seeing the careful treatment and care for the animals used in the sport.

Look for a “Closer Sniff” feature on BHA later this year on


A sport of commitment

The AKC officially offers two programs currently the Herding Test and Herding Trial. Herding Test is offered in a non-competitive pass/fail format as an Instinct Test, Herding Test and Pre-Trial test. Herding Trials are competitive, and dogs are scored on their herding abilities according to test level, course type and livestock type.

As we headed down the “Meet the Breeds” area, we spotted a familiar Cattle Dog and sitting nearby a familiar face.

Debra Mintzer

Deb Mintzer was raised around stock cattle, rodeos and calf roping. Cattle Dogs were a constant presence and after moving to Florida, getting married and finding herself managing a 1280 acre ranch she started training her own to help with the work.

She described her own dogs were "pretty dogs", purebred AKC dogs. She wanted to learn more about the herding trade and show even "pretty dogs can do this"

If you spend much time in the herding communities of Florida, you will know Deb's name pretty soon. From hosting to mentoring, her influence on the states herding community staying vibrant is widely known.

Herding breeds can do many sports and never see a cow, a sheep, a duck because they never are not going to lay on the couch in their old age going ‘If only I could of herded in my younger years” - Deb Mintzer

We spoke at length with Deb' and will have more on the Florida Herding community in future articles but were recently at a large Herding Trials at Black Prong, where many of the state’s top teams competed in a three-day trial. More than one where trained by Deb Mintzer.

Look for a “Closer Sniff” feature on Florida Herding later this year on

Wrapping Up

We travel Florida every week to visit events from local fundraisers and adoptions to competition and performance events, and from small to large. So, it was fitting that our last event of 2018 be the largest.

As the introduction stated, this years AKC National Championship exhibited so many positive reflections of today's AKC, but most importantly it presented the very best in the people who make up the dog owning community.

It is important to throw away clichés or preconceived ideas of the Dog Show today. It is not an easy thing to change your image, but the AKCs commitment to that end is very sincere. It is fair to say that there are pockets of resistance to this ‘new AKC” but the most steps to be more inclusive of all dogs and people start with you and your Bad Azz Dogz.

It truly was a memorable four days we spent their and so many amazing dogs and people. As more people take on the responsibility of owning a dog, we hope you take a moment to see everything you can do with today’s American Kennel Club.

See what you Missed or Re-live the Event

Our Photo-Feature and see for yourself what you may have missed or relive the moments from the 2018 AKC National Championship Thursday to Sunday 13th to 16th 2018 in Orlando, FL.

[Day One - Thu] [Day Two - Fri] [Day Three - Sat] [Day Four -Sun]



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