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It’s All About The Show

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72 – May, 2015

By Penny Leigh

The day after the Michigan Winter Dog Classic, Dr. Alan Dorfman answered the phone and was greeted with, “Well hello PT Barnum!” “So what are you going to do next year for an encore?” the well-wisher shouted. Without pause, Dorfman replied, “Oh I plan to string a high wire over the group ring and hire some circus dogs to do a balancing act.” He was only half-way kidding. In his quest to offer a family-fun event, the Oakland Kennel Club show chairman has created a multi-ring canine extravaganza that rivals anything under the big top. The four-day Michigan Winter Dog classic, a joint effort of Oakland Kennel Club and Livonia Kennel Club, features a conformation dog show featuring top contenders from around the country, with a 4-6 month puppy competition and three days of health clinics. But there is much more. The mid-January cluster includes four days of Agility, Obedience and Rally and this year added four days of Barn Hunt trials and Dock Diving. Mix in AKC Canine Good Citizen testing and Weight Pull competition – and you have plenty to keep dog sports enthusiasts busy. Billed as the largest dog show in Michigan, the cluster started six years ago in the now 300,000-square foot Suburban Collection Showplace, complete with a dog-friendly hotel attached, in the Detroit suburb of Novi. “I have to believe that we could be one the largest shows in the country with multiple events under one roof at the same time. In 2009, we were an 1,100 entry dog show and have grown to this year where we had, over the four days, 7,580 entries,” Dorfman said. “And that is not counting 800 entered in Barn Hunt; not counting 500 from My Dog Can Do That!; not counting more than 200 jumps in dock diving.” Attracting exhibitors and keeping them happy are paramount, but Dorfman believes it is equally important to engage the public with the show. So far, his efforts to create a “family event” are working. This year, more than 30,000 people attended the show over the four days. With tickets selling at $10 each for adults, this results in added revenue for the clubs, but Dorfman says the real benefit goes far beyond the profits. “I used to be in horses, thoroughbreds, in Michigan and I saw the industry die because new blood was not coming in. I don’t want to see that happen to dog shows. When we sit down at meetings and discuss what to do, I say that we have to get the public involved and not just adults. You have to make sure they get their kids involved and get them to the show. If they start playing with dogs now and see that it is fun, then they will probably do it for the rest of their lives – that’s how you get new blood,” he says. So how do you inspire average pet owners not just to come to your show, but to get active with their dogs? The Oakland and Livonia clubs invite owners to bring their dogs to the show where they can get an introductory agility lesson at AKC’s My Dog Can Do That! AKC has brought the attraction to the Michigan Winter Dog Classic for the past three years and set a record this year with more than 500 owners taking their dogs through the “course.” Each family and their dog is introduced to beginning-level agility equipment by dog trainers from the AKC staff and Novi-area dog training schools. They receive a list of training schools and are encouraged to pursue classes for their dogs. They also get information on AKC programs and a discount offer to enroll their dog with AKC Canine Partners or AKC Purebred Alternative Listing. Tanya Nava, her husband and two daughters brought their German Shepherd Dog to the dog show and signed up to try My Dog Can Do That, even though they did not think Maya would do very well. “Maya has always been a little skittish so I thought she would never be able to do any of the obstacles.  With the trainer’s guidance and tips, she attempted ALL of the obstacles – even the long tunnel! I was amazed and Maya was so proud of herself,” Nava said. “I think agility training would be a good boost for her self-confidence and I am excited about enrolling her in some agility courses near our home.  I never would have considered it before attending this event.” AKC’s My Dog Can Do That! is not the only activity for the public’s dogs. The North America Diving Dogs (NADD) allowed the public to try the exciting sport of dock diving during open practice times and helped the newbies by cheering, throwing toys and giving advice. When they are finished with activities with their dog, the public is encouraged to walk around and take in the views. The demonstration ring features the police k-9 unit along with duck herding by Border Collies. Exhibitors bring out their dogs for the Meet the Breeds, where the public learns more about both popular and rare breeds. For children, there is face painting and special appearances by Snoopy, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and Blue’s Clues. Top it off with dozens of vendors and Rescue Row where rescue groups raise funds and tell the public about the dogs available for adoption. Dorfman is quick to tell you that organizing multiple activities in a great location is just part of the job. If people don’t know about it, they can’t attend. Promoting the event is vital – and Dorfman has become a master at publicizing the Michigan Winter Dog Classic. At a time when the Detroit Auto Show and winter weather are grabbing the city’s headlines, the Michigan Winter Dog Classic gets its share of the news on television, radio and print. The clubs have 10 electronic billboards erected around the city for two weeks prior to the show. This year’s campaign featured a smiling Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the slogan “Tail-Wagging Fun for the Whole Family.” Securing Fox 2 television station as a media sponsor resulted in more television exposure – both pre-coverage and live reports at the event. Dorfman also makes appearances on several other stations. “You have to have something newsworthy and that gets people’s attention. If they are in the kitchen in the morning, making coffee and listening to the TV in the other room, it has to be something to catch their interest,” he says. In addition to discussing the shows’ public-friendly events, the kennel clubs support projects that help their community. In 2014, the clubs purchased a service dog for a disabled 8-year-old girl. This year, they plan to use show revenue to help reunite servicemen with their military dogs. A public radio station devoted 15 minutes of air time to publicizing the show, and Dorfman enlisted one of their dog-loving anchors to announce the groups. “She has a great voice and does a great job,” he said. The clubs had posters made, in the same design as their billboards, and members deliver them to veterinary offices, grooming shops, pet supply stores, training schools and more. Another program combined promoting the event with Dorfman’s goal of involving young people. He visits high school journalism classes and the students interview him about the show as a class assignment. All promotions directed the public to a detailed website that includes ticket prices and how to pre-order tickets; directions to the site; schedules; and more. For contact information, Dorfman gives his personal cell phone number and answers every call. “I answered 738 calls in the three weeks before the show. I even get calls at 6 a.m. from people wanting to know what time the show starts and I am happy to tell them – I tell them I hope I see them at the show.” Regardless of how he is publicizing it, Dorfman always refers to the cluster as a “family event” and not a dog show in an effort to make the public feel welcome. “Whenever I speak with people and tell them that I show dogs, I get comments like ‘Oh you are one of those snooty people’ or ‘Oh you have to have purebreds and be entered to bring a dog to a show.’ When we started offering My Dog Can Do That three years ago, we decided to start calling this a family event and not a dog show. Granted, it is a sanctioned AKC dog show but we have also made it the first family event of the year in the metro-Detroit area,” he says. His quest to create a public-friendly event has not been without its battles. He has had to convince both clubs’ members to let unentered dogs attend the event and he still hears complaints from exhibitors. But Dorfman is undaunted in his mission to make AKC more accessible to everyone. And he does not mind taking risks. After retiring from his private medical practice, he went to work part-time as a paramedic for an inner-city hospital. Between that job, his role as a show chairman, and breeding and showing his line of Best in Show-winning Boxers with his wife, Joanna, he says “I am busier than when I had a private practice.” Dorfman works closely with Cluster Coordinator Don Leonard; Oakland Kennel Club President David Gibbons; Livonia Kennel Club Show Chair Lee Patten; and Livonia Kennel Club President Tamara Green, as well as both clubs’ members, with planning the Michigan Winter Classic, which is a year-long endeavor. Gibbons has been showing dogs for 37 years and owns the two largest grooming shops in the Ann Arbor area. “He is great with the public and is always out on the floor taking care of things,” Dorfman said. Leonard, an engineer, does the complicated floor plan for the annual event and acts as liaison between the two clubs. “I’ve been a member of Oakland for over 24 years, and my father before me. And my wife, Kelly, is a member of Livonia. It would be easy to do everything to benefit Oakland but you always have to remember your partner,” Leonard said. “We would never pull this off without members of both clubs working all six days to pull this off. I know I said six days and there are only four shows, but a lot of us are there two days before.” Before and during the event, you can find Dorfman zipping around the Collection Center in a golf cart. He seems to be everywhere: clapping for a dock diving participant, helping a family find the My Dog Can Do That ring, having his face painted, and chatting with judges at the group ring. “We have made it educational and fun for the family and as a result we have many new dog owners participating in events as well as conformation,” Dorfman said. “This year, I had a lady approach me and say, ‘Two years ago, I went through My Dog Can Do That with my mixed-breed dog. I stayed to watch the dog show and got interested. I went home and purchased a pure-bred dog and now she has eight points towards her championship.’”

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Posted by on May 12 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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