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Turkey Day Goes to the Dogs
November 26, 2015  | By David Hinckley

Let’s make this simple. It’s time to join 25 million other Americans and add cute dogs to your Thanksgiving Day TV menu.
If you’ve somehow missed it over the past 13 years, The National Dog Show airs at noon ET Thursday on NBC, right after the Macy’s parade. It’s the perfect appetizer before our long national overdose of turkey and football.
“Really, who doesn’t like dogs?” asks David Frei, color commentator on the telecast that also features host John O’Hurley (right) and reporter Mary Carillo.
The action was filmed Nov. 14 and 15 at the annual Kennel Club of Philadelphia dog show, but the two-hour televised version comes off less as a competition than a showcase for the irresistibility of man’s best friend.
“We want viewers to see the dogs’ personalities,” says Frei. “Just because it’s a show dog doesn’t mean it isn’t a regular dog any more, or it sits at home on a satin pillow eating doggie bon-bons. They run around, they roll in the grass. They do everything your own dog does.”
Frei, who is also known as the color analyst on February’s Westminster Kennel Club show, has always said the secret weapon of televised dog shows is the relatability of the contestants.
“You watch a basketball game and you know you’ll never be able to drive on LeBron James,” he says. “But when you’re watching a dog show, you can turn to your dog sitting next to you on the couch and say, ‘You know, if we just cut out a couple of biscuits a day and took a few more walks, that could be you out there.’ “
Even if it’s not, Frei says the “Alma Mater Factor” still gets ‘em every time.  
“If you have a standard poodle,” he says, “you’re rooting for a standard poodle to win.” And if you don’t own a standard poodle, or any other dog, there are still potentially hundreds of reasons to watch.
“The American Kennel Club now recognizes 199 breeds,” says Frei. “I think we have 180 in this show. So it’s also a great chance to see dogs that aren’t as common.”
And that, he says, creates all manner of unique opportunities.
“You watch our show and you see a Wire-Haired Pointing Griffon,” he says. “Then maybe you’re at the dog park one day and you see a dog that looks familiar and you say, ‘Isn’t that a Wire-Haired Pointing Griffon?’ And the owner will say, ‘Hey, how did you know that?’ “
Viewers who are so inclined can even watch The National Dog Show as a competition, since it features many of the top show dogs in the country.
“The number-one dog so far this year is a German Shepherd,” notes Frei. “There’s also a Brittany Spaniel, a Skye Terrier and a Chihuahua that have done extremely well.
“But it’s very hard to predict which dog will win any given show, because so much depends on the judge. There isn’t a panel of four or five judges. There’s just one, and the dog has to connect with that judge on that day.”
Whatever the nuances of judging, The National Dog Show still offers a two-hour parade of dogs, classic family entertainment on a day when families get together and someone almost always turns a television set on.
And so it grows.  
“It’s been amazing,” says Frei. “When we started, I think we had 8-10 million viewers. Now it’s 20 to 25 million. People love that they can see the dogs, and that they can count on John and Mary every year.
“We just want everyone to wait until 2 o’clock to turn to football.”
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