Tired: Gathering with friends and family to celebrate the pilgrims' colonization of land we now call the United States, over a deep-fried turkey, the making of which nearly caused your uncle to burn down the house.

Wired: Hunkering down in front of the TV with the National Dog Show, Thanksgiving's best and only pastime, and screaming encouraging words at the parading dogs as the poultry fire rages all around you.

Which would you choose? Well, "wired," obviously, a point on which I had assumed we were all clear. But after a brief and informal poll of my colleagues, it appears I may have put the cart before the horse-sized dog (the Great Dane, a real crowd-pleaser): Only one other person knew what I was talking about when asked about the National Dog Show, which either means that no one saw my Slack message or that this blog post is sorely overdue.

It probably bears noting, right up front, that some people have beef with pure breeding (understandable) and despise dog shows on those grounds. If you fall into that camp, you should probably turn back now. Invite me to your Thanksgiving table, and I am bringing the Dog Show as my potluck contribution. It's all I have, and all I know.

What is the National Dog Show?

Dogs, trotting around and around, winning praise and pets on national television. Do you need more than that?

Okay fine. On Game Day, i.e. Turkey Day, you the viewer will watch as the winningest breed representatives from each of the seven groups — terrier; toy; working (THE BEST GROUP, THIS IS NON-NEGOTIABLE); sporting; non-sporting; hound; herding — gets trotted out into a ring fully walled by stands of enthusiastic spectators. The spectators all clamor for the victor, which is every dog. Even so, each competitor must undergo inspection by a judge, who grades each member of each group on how closely their characteristics and attributes align with the standards: think teeth! whisker thickness! proportions! ear shape and position!

It is snooty as hell, and just as satisfying. I mean, what is more soothing than close crop after close crop on extremely beautiful dogs? (Nothing.)

Anyway, the judge chooses a winner from each round, who will go on to compete for The Big Prize, the trophy that designates them the Best Dog of All the Dogs (in this particular show; this is not a reflection on your pet's character).

The National Dog Show comes to you courtesy of the Philadelphia Kennel Club, with sponsorship from Purina and the American Kennel Club's approval. It's also a benched dog show, meaning that all its participants have to stick around for the full duration, and — most important, in my estimation — available for you to meet and greet. Imagine!

This is a photo of a Leonberger at the National Dog Show in Philadelphia.

Me while watching the Dog Show.

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Me while watching the Dog Show.
Steve Donahue

Why is the National Dog Show?

I don't understand the question, but I will respond to it. Picture yourself surrounded by extended family, whether that's yours or your partner's or your friend's, whatever. Maybe a certain contentious, nationally televised event has sparked some squabbling; maybe you are just bored, or feeling out of place; maybe you already dumped all your small talk grist into the mill. If only there were a something pretty much apolitical, totally straightforward, and — this is important — time-consuming to hold everyone's attention! What about, I don't know, maybe a bunch of especially handsome hounds? Opinions may differ as to which dog deserves the crown, but the premise of the show holds that each dog presented is a paragon of its breed. They're all very good, and even when the Bichon wins — a legitimate upset, we can all agree — you walk away having spent the past however many hours injecting dog footage straight into your eyeballs. The dog show is affable, agreeable, basically inoffensive (except, well, see above). The dog show is visual muzak, drowning out all the holiday annoyances and infighting, instead filling your brainspace with frisky borks. The dog show is the equivalent of sneaking a Xanax in your grandmother's bathroom, only much safer when consumed with alcohol.

Is it Best in Show?

The National Dog Show is not Best in Show, Christopher Guest's seminal 2000 mockumentary skewering dog show culture. But also, in many ways, it is Best in Show. Exhibit A, from last year's broadcast:

And then Exhibit B, from the film:

The similarities are truly uncanny — and absolutely not a coincidence. The National Dog Show's origin story basically boils down to * watches Best in Show once *: according to the Washington Post, the president for programming at NBC Sports, Jon Miller, saw Guest's comedy in 2002 and thought something like that could be just the thing for his channel, provided they could slot it in when the time was juuuuuuust right.

Like for example when the whole family has either been sedated by an immense turkeymeal, or is getting all sparky on hot wine while awaiting the feast? And they have nothing to do but kill time with a neutral, widely appealing television show, and their gravy-softened brains can't necessarily handle more than an extended pet montage?? BINGO.

Maybe that wasn't exactly Miller's thinking, but in any case, It's a Wonderful Life wasn't killing it in the post-Thanksgiving Parade slot (a depressing choice, it must be said), and figuring a dog show "[couldn't] do worse," Miller's bosses gave him the go-ahead. The first annual turkey day canine competition reportedly netted an incredible 18 million viewers, operating along the same lines as Best in Show: One host whose whole career has been dogs — David Frei, "an internationally recognized expert on purebred dogs and father of the therapy dog movement," per the Post — and another whose... hasn't been, but who likes dogs a lot – "[John] O’Hurley, best known for playing J. Peterman on Seinfeld" — narrate the pups' backstories as they trundle by. Nothing to see here, just dozens of very good dogs.

This is a photo of National Dog Show hosts John O'Hurley (left) and David Frei (right), with a Bernese Mountain Dog in between them.

John O'Hurley (left) and David Frei (right), with a beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog.

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John O'Hurley (left) and David Frei (right), with a beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog.
Simon Bruty

Hit me with a factoid

One absolutely bonkers idiosyncrasy of the dog competition world you will want to note: The names. The names are so insane, reading like a private riddle contrived by the breeder to punk the announcers obligated to rattle them off. Per Vox:

You won’t find any Fidos and Rovers on the show circuit; instead, you’ll hear names like CH Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot (a Scottish terrier who won that National Dog Show’s Best in Show title in 2009) or Raydachs Playing With Fire V Gleishorbach (a fittingly long name for a long-bodied dachshund). The dogs also have nicknames, or “call names,” which is how the incredible “Lafford Fly Me Too Farleysbane,” a Papillon, becomes the more prosaic “Dave.”

In actual fact, these gibberish monikers exist to mash disparate bits of relevant information into one handy-ish title. They might incorporate the name of the kennel of origin, some personal trivia about the breeder, and also signal the litter from which the dog sprung — these, too, will typically have a theme. Strung all together, these alleged "names" sound batshit, and also objectively hilarious — ultimately another reason why you should watch the Dog Show.

Okay, sold. When is it on?

Directly after the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is to say: 2 p.m. Eastern Time on NBC. The show actually took place last weekend, so what you'll be watching on the 28th will be a replay. If you already know who wins, please keep it to yourself.

Which dogs win?

Last year, a whippet named Whiskey won the National Dog Show, which I was... okay with. In 2017, it was a Brussels Griffon named Newton, a harder pill to swallow. In my opinion, the most vindicating Dog Show in recent memory came in 2014, when a bloodhound named Nathan — a wonderfully jowly boy; "a tremendous dog," to quote our fictional judge above — won Best in Show. But as a rule, terriers win dog shows. It's just what they do. God loves a terrier, as they say: