When John O'Hurley says hello, it's hard not to immediately hear his richly deep tones in other contexts:
Chiding Elaine Benes (Julie Louis Dreyfuss) on TV's Seinfeld, for example. Or helping contestants search for the "number-one answer" on the classic game show Family Feud. Or gratefully accepting the judges' favorable reactions to his performance on Dancing with the Stars.
For the past 11 years, however, O'Hurley's distinctive baritone has accompanied the trotting terriers, primped poodles and leashed Labradors at the National Dog Show presented by Purina, a role he's looking forward to filling once again on November 16-17 at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center.
He got the gig as part of a programming experiment, he says, when NBC Sports President of Programming Jon Miller called him, looking to fill the dead TV spot between the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade and the beginning of wall-to-wall network football. "Miller had watched the mockumentary Best in Show and thought coverage of the National Dog Show would work," O'Hurley remembers. The former dead-zone time slot now boasts an average of 20 million dog-show viewers each year.
O'Hurley characterizes the National Dog Show as "...becoming a family tradition for people every year. It's something you can watch while you're cooking the turkey. And the sight of the dogs captures your eye if you're channel-hopping along. It's also one of those rare television shows that pleases many and offends few. There aren't too many television offerings with such a wide demographic. From ages 4 to 94, there's something there for everybody."
After a lifetime of dog fandom and plenty of exposure to breed experts, O'Hurley has evolved into much more than just a dog-show talking head. "Over the years, I've seen many of the breeds," he says. "And I'm getting a much better eye for what I like." Although he tries to remain impartial as the competition heats up, O'Hurley favors Irish Setters. "I don't think there's anything more dramatic than the coat of the Irish Setter, flowing in that very stately kind of gait."
The National Dog Show is an AKC confirmation event, meaning that the dogs are judged based on their adherence to established standards. It is also one of the few "benched" shows remaining in the country, meaning that the dogs and their owners are onsite throughout the entire weekend.
The dogs on display are one of the things that makes this event so appealing to O'Hurley: "This is one of the most enjoyable days of the year. I go and spend the day with 2,000 dogs representing more than 170 breeds, and I love walking up and down the aisles. It's a wonderfully interactive experience. It's just a great atmosphere. If you can imagine 2,000 dogs in one room and 15,000-20,000 people: Everybody's happy! Everybody's just up and perky, and the dogs are having a good time because they're around people."
O'Hurley owns two dogs: a Cavalier King Charles and a Havanese. They provide him with companionship and also a creative spark. O'Hurley has two books on the market: Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog to a Young Boy and It's Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump: And Other Life Lessons I Learned from Dogs. A third, The Perfect Dog, is on its way. It's a picture book for much younger audiences, but it, too, was inspired by a dog.
"It's a Dr. Seuss-style poem that I wrote," O'Hurley explains. As part of the television coverage, O'Hurley usually writes a dog-related reflection that is featured as a filmed segment. Last year, however, the deadline for his submission was approaching, and he hadn't written a thing.
Then his muse struck. "My six-year-old son was playing with his little stuffed animal, Puppy. He asked me if Puppy could be in the show this year. I said, ‘It's kind of my show, so why not?'"
So three nights prior to the show, O'Hurley wrote his little rhyme, answering the question: What is the perfect dog? The answer, it turns out is "...the one right next to you."
The National Dog Show is a two-day event that includes leaping, catching, spinning, flying and even diving dogs. It also features therapy dog teams, vendors, food and more dogs than you can shake a stick at.
If you go and find yourself dog-tired at the end of a long day, kennel up at one of the local accommodation providers listed here. They all feature comfy beds, delicious meals and free barking.