What are these? What are the differences between them? Why hold them in conjunction with an all-breed or group dog show? Read on for the answers to these questions.
Maryland Sporting Dog Association (MSDA) holds two of the largest AKC sporting dog group shows in the country, attracting hundreds of entries per day for a three-day weekend each spring that includes dog shows, obedience & rally trials, bird instinct clinics and other activities. At conformation events, i.e., dog shows, winners earn points toward championship titles. More points are awarded when more dogs are competing, so it’s desirable to attract as many competitors as possible. Increasing the number of entries often depends on the cooperation of many more dog clubs than just the sponsoring organization. In particular, there are individual breed clubs that will elect to hold a supported entry or a specialty associated with, or as a part of, an all-breed or group show such as MSDA’s. Sweepstakes are another popular means for expanding entries at an event (although these don’t award points).
Like all-breed or group shows, specialties are point shows, but they are limited to one breed. A specialty requires AKC approval and, unlike parent (national) breed clubs, regional clubs (e.g., the Potomac Irish Setter Club, or the Potomac Valley Golden Retriever Club) may be awarded only two specialties each year.
Specialties generally fall into one of three varieties: independent, concurrent, and designated.
Independent specialties are standalone events. They may be held as the only event that day/weekend at a location, or may be held on the same grounds but on a different day from other dog shows. MSDA’s “Spring Event” weekend has long included an independent specialty on Friday by the Potomac Valley Golden Retriever Club (PVGRC). That specialty show is only for Golden Retrievers and is independent of the MSDA sporting group shows that happen on Saturday and Sunday of the same weekend.
The Friday specialty shows at MSDA’s Spring Event are organized by the breed clubs, which are responsible for obtaining permission from the AKC, arranging for judges and trophies, publishing their own premium list and show catalog, and contracting with the show superintendent.
However, it benefits both the specialty club and MSDA to coordinate their efforts. In the case of Spring Event, MSDA contracts with the venue for the site rental and related parking and security services and then essentially subcontracts a portion of the site to the specialty club for the hours of their show. Also, the same superintendent is used for all events of the weekend, simplifying setup. Food services (for judges and volunteers) may be shared or subcontracted. The clubs also may coordinate on selection of judges so that a judge working at the specialty might also judge at MSDA’s group show, if they have additional breeds that can be assigned.
This coordination saves the specialty club time, effort and potentially expense. If a judge can be used for all three days of MSDA’s Spring Event, for example, both MSDA and the specialty club may share that judge’s travel expenses, somewhat reducing the burden on both clubs.
The major benefit to both the all-breed or group club and the specialty club is that entrants will find it more worthwhile to attend if they can enter, for example, three dog shows instead of just one or two on a given weekend. This will tend to increase entries for both clubs’ shows. More entries generally translate into more points for the winners as well as more revenues and potentially an improved reputation for the clubs.
Recognizing the benefits of attracting more dogs, the club hosting the all-breed or group show(s) may offer some incentives for specialty clubs to schedule their event. For MSDA’s Spring Event, the specialty club’s subcontracted price for the venue may be significantly less than what it would have to pay for an entirely standalone event. The specialty club’s entrants also are able to take part in ancillary activities such as MSDA’s bird instinct clinic or a barn hunt “try-it”, which might be more difficult to organize for events attracting a smaller number of dogs. MSDA benefits by having more dogs stay to enter its weekend shows, and also gains revenue from parking and other fees such as those charged for the bird instinct clinics.
The downside of coordination, of course, is that compromises are necessary. Neither club will have as much flexibility to do what they want, when and where they want as they would have had if they were putting on an event entirely on their own.
This is a separate specialty show held on the same grounds as a group or all-breed show on the same day. Like an independent specialty, the breed club must obtain permission from the AKC and make their own show-related arrangements. A concurrent specialty may offer great value to breeds who can do a second show on the same day since both club and exhibitor expense is spread over two events on a single day, while still providing an additional opportunity for earning points. The AKC limits concurrent specialties, and the breed judging at the host club’s event (e.g., to 100 entries per judge per ring for concurrent specialties at an all-breed show), and considerable coordination with (and permission from) the host club is required. Despite everyone’s best effort in scheduling, there is a possibility of running into a conflict with the judging at the host show on the same day. If this happens, an exhibitor who has paid to enter two events may have to decide, for example, if they prefer to stay in the breed competition of the concurrent specialty or compete in the group judging of the host show.
This type of specialty is the most tightly integrated with the host show and occurs when classes at an all-breed or group show are “designated” as a specialty. Since it occurs entirely within the framework of a bigger show, casual observers watching the judging may not even realize that they are seeing a breed specialty. Although the breed club must obtain AKC approval for the specialty and will provide trophies, judges are assigned by the host club and specialty information is included in the host club’s premium list and catalog.
In 2020 and 2022, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) held designated specialties as part of MSDA’s Saturday sporting group dog show.
The designation of supported entry means that a specialty breed club (say, Irish Water Spaniels) has decided to encourage their members to support an all-breed or group show by entering. This encouragement often takes the specific form of sponsored trophies and input on judge(s) who the breed club thinks will draw exhibitors.
There is no AKC requirement for paperwork to accomplish this and it generally results in shows gaining a 10%-20% increase in entries for the particular breed. Supporting entry clubs are recognized in the host club’s premium list and catalog. There are no limits to the number of supported entries per club per year. Eventually, if the supported entry gets large enough, supported entries may turn into specialties.
Sweepstakes are in the “fun” or “learning” event category, and may occur in specialties, and/or all-breed and group dog shows with or without supporting entries. They typically involve Puppies or Veterans, as well as other classes like Gun Dog, Field Retriever, etc.
Sweepstakes classes are judged using the same standard as a regular conformation class. However, the judge is not necessarily an approved AKC judge for that breed. In many cases they are long-time breeders or people who would like to become an approved judge for the breed. The prizes are typically a cash award based on a percentage of the entry fee. Many exhibitors use this as a starter for puppies and an additional class to acclimate youngsters to being in a show. Sweepstake classes are typically (but not always) run before regular classes.
Comparison of Benefits:
When putting on a conformation show the objective is to award championship points. A non-supported or non-specialty regular class at an all-breed or group show may have points, but a supported entry likely will have more entrants, and a specialty generally will have the greatest number of entries and, consequently have the greatest amount of points that can be earned by a dog. (However, there is no guarantee.)
As noted earlier, more entries also typically mean more direct (i.e., entry fee) and indirect (e.g., parking, other activities) revenue for the host club, so there is an economic incentive to increase entries. Specialties, supported entries and sweepstakes help to achieve this.
Holding specialties at the same location and general timeframe as a group or all-breed show can also benefit both the clubs and exhibitors by sharing or limiting expenses.
Running a dog show of any size is a complex undertaking. For example, dog show judges may be selected up to three years in advance, and typically a panel is well developed a year in advance. The key to any show is its judging panel. For example, using someone local who is frequently seen 3-4 times a year in a region is problematic as most people will have seen the judge, and if he or she didn’t like your exhibited dog in January they probably won’t like it in April or July. So, assembling a quality judging panel that will attract entries is generally important and, when dealing with specialties and supported entries, the judge selection is even more critical. Obtaining input for this and the myriad other decisions involved in organizing a dog show, and doing all this with the involvement of not just the host club, but perhaps multiple specialty and supporting entry clubs, and within a limited timeframe, is even more challenging.
Some host clubs now have what is called an Offer Sheet. These documents spell out timelines in addition to roles and responsibilities relating to specialties and supporting entries, with the goal of reducing ambiguity and aligning expectations. The Offer Sheet provides clarity and structure that generally results in a beneficial outcome for all involved, as long as the timelines are adhered to. An example of an Offer Sheet (not from MSDA) is available here as a PDF.
This article was prepared with the assistance of MSDA member William (Bill) Burland. Bill is both a breeder and a handler, and has served as Show Chair for the Kennel Club of Philadelphia (2004-2013) and the Bucks County Kennel Club (2015-2018). He currently is very active with the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA).