Your Guide to the 2023 National Dog Show: What to Expect and How to Watch

"Best in Group" dogs wait backstage before competing for the "Best in Show" award that a Bulldog named "Thor" won at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center on November 16, 2019 in Oaks, Pennsylvania. Featuring over 2,000 dog entrants across 200 breeds, the National Dog Show, now it its 18th year, is televised on NBC directly after the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and has a viewership of 20 million.
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Like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and pumpkin pie, the National Dog Show is an American holiday tradition. As many as 2,000 of the top American Kennel Club sanctioned dogs competed this year in the most widely viewed dog show in the United States, which took place Nov. 18-19 at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks in Oaks, Pennsylvania. The show will also air on NBC and Peacock from 12-2 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving Day, when the winners will be announced.

Around 200 breeds and varieties took part. Each is categorized into one of seven groups, corresponding to what they were initially bred for: terrier, toy, working, sporting, hound, non-sporting, and herding. The pups vied for Best in Breed, First in Group, and the ultimate title: Best in Show.

“You’ve got the family gathered, and you’re going to have some people who want to watch football. You’ll have others who want to watch something else,” David Frei, who is returning to co-host this year’s event with John O’Hurley, told NBC Insider. “But the dog show works for everybody, whether it’s a 3-year-old or their great grandmother.” 

He added: “When a dog walks into the room, the energy changes. Even when they’re on screen in your living room as you’re waiting for the turkey, it makes people laugh and smile.”

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Judges evaluate each dog and award points depending on how well the animal conforms to the ideal standard for their breed, considering both appearance and performance. To earn Best in Show, a dog must first earn Best in Breed, which sometimes means outperforming 100 or more competitors. The best of each breed then compete against the others in their group to earn First in Group. 

Next, the seven top dogs go tail-to-tail to earn the coveted ribbon, prize money, and international acclaim as the winner of the National Dog Show Presented by Purina®. Last year, an adorable, 3-year-old French bulldog named Winston took the top spot, dethroning GCH Foxcliffe Claire Randall Fraser, aka Claire, a Scottish deerhound who made history in 2021 as the first dog to win Best in Show for two consecutive years.

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“He is a show dog with personality and beauty and a perfect fit for the breed,” Vicki Seiler-Cushman, the 2022 Best in Show judge, said of Winston in a statement. “He has a razzle dazzle that says, ‘I am here to win tonight.’”

Per the event’s website, the host, Kennel Club of Philadelphia, “brought its own tradition to the table with a history of dog shows dating back to 1879.” But it wasn’t until 2002 that The National Dog Show Presented by Purina was cemented as a holiday staple, when NBC first aired the rebranded show. 

“It is extraordinary how this TV special has become an annual television-watching tradition for American families,” O’Hurley said in a 2021 news release. “Dogs more than ever have become a part of people’s lives and the show reminds us of how great they are and how easy it is for them to make us smile.”

According to AARP, a network executive for NBC Sports reportedly thought of the idea after watching the mockumentary Best in Show, starring Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, which hilariously and affectionately portrays some of a major dog show’s most quintessential and eccentric characters. 

It’s one of three major dog-centered shows in the U.S., along with the Westminster Dog Show and AKC National Championship. Some National Dog Show champs go on to compete at Crufts, the world’s largest dog show, in the U.K.

The two-hour, family-friendly televised event airs immediately after the Macy’s Parade and draws around 20 million viewers each year.

“It’s a really amazing day, not only for the competition that’s going on in the ring, but for this wonderful sense of camaraderie in the dog show world,” O’Hurley told NBC Insider. “It’s quite a community.”