It's Vegas or bust for some show dogs this weekend. That's a doggone shame for the Kern County Kennel Club's Back to Back All Breed Dog Shows, which take place this weekend at the fairgrounds.
"This year, we're a little down in entries," said Marjorie Blake, the local club's publicity chairwoman. "The Las Vegas shows (booked) after we got our dates with the American Kennel Club. They are competing the same weekend. A lot of our exhibitors are showing there."
But what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so on to Bakersfield, where 1,100 dogs will compete over two days in show, rally or obedience.
Although most competitors feature purebreds, mixed breeds are permitted in obedience trials, something that was not allowed by the AKC before 2010.
"With mixed breeds, it's only been the last two years. As each year goes by, it's becoming more popular and more recognized. It's growing, and I'm glad for it.
"It gives people who do not have a purebred to still show their dog exhibit skills. To say, 'Hey, look at my dog do its stuff.'"
That stuff includes displays of sit, stay, heel and stay down (for three- and five-minute stints).
The utility contest poses an athletic challenge -- jumping a hurdle -- as well as a sensory one -- scent discrimination.
"You put your scent on a dumbbell, then put it on the pile with other dumbbells and send your dog to retrieve your dumbbell."
Obedience is judged on a variety of levels.
"Different exercises for different levels of competing. And you see the most faithful exhibits of training. Trust between the dog and the owner."
On with the show
Although some spectators enjoy seeing dogs go through the paces, many attendees are drawn to the show.
"Show versus obedience -- we're two different breeds. When you're showing your dog in the confirmation ring, you're looking at No. 1 in the country."
Owners and professional handlers keep their eyes on the prize to rack up AKC points, depending on the number of competing canines in their breed.
With 180 breeds set to compete, there will be a selection of lesser-known breeds, along with beloved Irish setters, and golden and Labrador retrievers.
"It's growing every year," Blake said of the number of competing varieties. "Some of the miscellaneous breeds we've had in the past are now accepted by the American Kennel Club."
Among the newest are the Xoloitzcuintli, a working breed also known as a Mexican hairless dog; the Dogue De Bordeaux, a muscular working breed also called a French mastiff; Spinone Italiano, a wiry-coated sporting dog; and the redbone coonhound, the breed featured in the children's book "Where the Red Fern Grows."
Judged in eight groups -- herding, hounds, miscellaneous, nonsporting, sporting, terriers, toys and working -- winning show dogs will have a shot at best in show.
In addition to that prize, top awards will go to best in show bred by exhibitor and best puppy.
Fun for the family
Speaking of puppies (and who doesn't love a good pup talk?), there should be quite a display on Saturday.
Following the awarding of best in show, the Mojave Golden Retriever Club returns with its all breed fun match.
For the main event, puppies must be at least 6 months old to qualify, but the club's fun match allows slightly younger dogs.
"They do this annually. It's for registered purebreds. If you have a puppy that is 4 to 5 months old. It's a social thing to have fun with your dog. Although it's fun, you can't win any AKC points if you win."
With such youth on display, it's no surprise that the show is a draw for children and families.
"I encourage people to bring young children. It's a fun day out. There are lots of food concessions. Or you can take the children a little picnic, as there are places to eat."
Also sure to attract crowds are demonstrations by the Kern County Sheriff's Department and Bakersfield Police Department K9 units, and the Kern County Firefighters Search & Rescue.
"I think it gives the residents of our fair city and Kern County -- if they don't have the opportunity to see how these units work -- an opportunity to talk to them. They are there to help and inform."
Also helpful are breeders and exhibitors, who can offer advice to families looking for dogs. Of course, Blake, who exhibits golden and Labrador retrievers, has a suggestion.
"When I'm asked, and of course my opinion is biased, for one of the best family dogs, I don't think you can beat the Labrador retriever or the golden retriever."
For current dog owners, vendors are on hand to tempt with their wares.
"There is such a variety of things to buy. We're all suckers for a bargain or a thing we don't know much about. It is really rather a lot of fun."
Leashes (show and walking) and toys are well-represented, but there's much more, including photographers, sweatshirts with dogs, jewelry and "all manner of equipment," from pooper-scoopers to shampoos and conditioners.
It's not hard to go overboard with pet-related items, but that's the peril of being a devoted owner.
"People get soft and emotional about their pets, and I am one of them."