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Florida Gulf Coast Clusters- the thrill of competition and beautiful dogs

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Dog shows offer fun for all ages. They combine amazing and beautiful dogs with the thrill of competition. I attended a day of Hernando’s American Kennel Club (AKC) Dog Show at the Florida Gulf Coast Clusters and got to see first hand the excitement it can bring. The two week long event is packed full of fun, memories, camping, competing, good people, and more. The Florida Gulf Coast Clusters Dog Show took place over the course of two weeks, January 14-18 and 20-24, 2021 at Florida Classic Park in Brooksville. There are a variety of events one can participate in, but every event doesn’t happen everyday. Examples of events include dog shows and tests of instinct, trainability, like obedience trials, tests for Canine Good Citizen, field trials, lure, coursing, hunting tests, herding trials, tracking tests, and coon-hound and earthdog events. 

The American Kennel Club has been around for quite some time. According to the AKC website, they were established in 1884 with the sole purpose of promoting the study, breeding, exhibiting, and advancement of purebred dogs. They are the largest non-profit purebred dog registry in the nation, every year approving and maintaining the official records of over 22,000 sanctioned and licensed events each year. There are 620 member clubs and over 5,000 affiliated clubs. 

The Hernando County Kennel Club is run by President Lisa Tremblay and Vice President Linda Buffa, as well as board members, committee chairs, etc. The clubs are about much more than just showcasing dogs; they are public service, educational organizations whose activities benefit the entire community. All ages can participate in AKC clubs, there are junior sections as well. Some examples of club activities are public education through presentations at schools, fairs, libraries, shelters, hospitals, rescue leagues, scouts and 4-H, training classes, health clinics, and more. 

    As far as registration for a dog, AKC requires the dog, its parents, and its ancestors to be purebred. There is nothing that indicates the health or quality of the dog. Dogs that are registered can have their offspring compete as well and their owners may use the AKC’s full line of education and information services. Spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete

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in conformation classes at a dog show, because the purpose of a dog show is to evaluate breeding stock. Owners will breed their dog to the breed standard and that is what the judges will score on. The owner that has the dog that is the closest to the breed standard, wins. 

The event of the day I attended was the conformation shows. There are three different types of conformation dog shows, the conformation of a dog refers to its overall structure and appearance. The first type is all-breed shows which offer competitions for over 175 breeds and varieties of dogs recognized by the AKC. Then there are Specialty shows that are restricted to dogs of a specific breed or to varieties of one breed. Group shows are limited to dogs belonging to one of the seven groups. The seven groups are: sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, non-sporting, and herding. 

The competitions and shows are divided by gender, female dogs don’t compete against male dogs. Then the dogs are also divided by class; puppy class, bred by class, bred and owner, and open class. Judges award points and then the winners of each class compete against each other, finally at the end the owner with the most points wins.  There are three awards given at the end; Best of Breed, Best of Winners, and Best of Opposite Sex. 

Last week the dogs participated in rally and obedience. Rally and obedience are essentially the same thing, the only difference is obedience is much stricter and harder. Rally is a precursor to obedience; rally is all about teamwork. Owner and dog complete a course together side-by-side, but at their own pace. The dogs are tested on commands such as sit, stay, down, etc. In rally, unlimited communication between owner and dog is encouraged and not penalized. There is no touching allowed, but you can use hand signals to encourage your dog. Scoring in rally is less rigorous than in other events such as obedience. The point of rally is to encourage owners to train their dogs to compete in obedience. Because obedience is so strict and hard, many owners are turned off from it. After completing rally, they are more inclined to move to obedience. Then they can compete in agility trials: where a handler directs their dogs through an obstacle course, in a race for both time and agility. Also, obedience trials: this showcases dogs that have been trained and conditioned to behave well at home, in public places, and in the presence of other dogs.

Each dog that receives an award is given a ribbon by the judge. The color of the ribbon indicates the type of award the dog has won. The ribbons; 

  • Blue is awarded for first place in any regular class
  • Red is awarded for second place in each class
  • Yellow is awarded for third place in each class
  • White is awarded for fourth place in each class
  • Purple is awarded to the winners of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch classes 
  • Purple and White is awarded to the Reserve Winners, that is, the runners-up to the winner of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch classes
  • Blue and White is awarded to the dog that wins Best of Winners; that is, the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch winners
  • Purple and Gold is awarded to the dog judged “Best of Breed” in each breed competition
  • Red and White is awarded to the Best of Opposite Sex
  • Light Blue and White, two of these awarded to the Select Dog and Select Bitch in the Best of Breed competition awarded points towards earning a Grand Championship Title
  • Red, White and Blue is awarded for Best in Show 


There is much more to the world of dog showing and competing. If you’re interested in joining the fun, the best place to start is by joining a local club, whether an all-breed kennel club or a breed specific specialty club. At these places you can also find information regarding training, classes, events, shows, etc. Dog showers that I spoke to say the entire experience is enjoyable from the grooming and training down to showing their dogs in the ring. 

Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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