DC-area dog clubs offer shows, events and community 
to connect dogs and the people who love them

By Brenda Mantz

As anyone who’s ever spent time in a dog park knows, socializing with other dogs and dog owners can be a lot of fun. From sharing stories of your dog’s latest antics to learning training tips from a retired show handler, spending time with fellow dog owners offers the community that most of us crave (and our dogs usually relish). To take that feeling of community one step further, consider joining a local dog club. From clubs that promote specific breeds to those that focus on shows or activities, there’s a club for every dog owner looking to connect, compete or just have fun.

Any discussion of dog clubs must begin with the American Kennel Club (AKC),  a not-for-profit organization devoted to the advancement of purebred dogs. AKC is a “club of clubs,” comprised of over 500 member clubs and almost 5,000 affiliated clubs.
The AKC currently recognizes  seven groups of dogs that compete together in shows:
Sporting: Dogs used for upland game-bird hunting (e.g. Retrievers, Pointers, Setters, Spaniels).
Hound: Dogs who track by sight or scent.
Working: Guard, pulling and/or rescue dogs.
Terrier: Dogs who were bred to kill vermin.
Toy: Dogs who were bred strictly as small companions to people.
Non-Sporting: Dogs whose original job no longer exists, or who no longer are used for their original function.
Herding: Dogs bred to gather and move livestock (formerly part of the Working group).

Clubs for these groups and breeds host all-breed conformation shows, specialty shows, obedience-only shows, agility trials, herding tests and trials, lure coursing tests and trials, and go-to-ground events (mixed-breed clubs often do these events as well). Here’s an overview to help understand these terms:

Conformation in dogs refers solely to the externally visible details of a dog’s structure and appearance, as defined in detail by each dog breed’s written breed standard. A dog that conforms to most of the items of description in its individual breed standard is said to have good conformation. A conformation show, also referred to as a breed show, is a kind of dog show in which a judge familiar with a specific dog breed evaluates individual purebred dogs for how well the dogs conform to the established breed type for their breed, as described in a breed’s individual breed standard.

Lure Coursing is a sport for dogs that involves chasing a mechanically operated lure (which looks like a white kitchen-size garbage bag). Once limited to dogs of purebred, sighthound breeds, there is an AKC pass/fail trail for all breeds called the Coursing Ability Test. To pass, the dog must complete a 300-yard or 600-yard course (determined by breed) with enthusiasm. The course must have a minimum number of turns in order to simulate prey changing direction in a chase. The fields can be fenced or not. If dogs are lure focused, they will typically follow the lure from start to finish and not run off course.

Agility is an obstacle race for dogs. Dogs and handlers complete courses made up of jumps, A-frames, dog walks, weave poles, tunnels and other apparatus at a controlled pace. Speed and accuracy are important in developing the skills required for agility.

Obedience. Dogs and their handlers are put through a series of simple exercises such as walking on a lead through a crowd of strangers, sitting on command, standing for examination, and responding to being left alone for a moment. Successful participants are given a certificate of achievement known as the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) designation.

Herding. The purpose of the competitive herding trial program is to preserve and develop the herding skills inherent in the herding breeds and to demonstrate that they can perform the useful functions for which they were originally bred.

Breed and Specialty Clubs exist to “support the preservation and protection” of the club’s breed. There are 178 AKC-recognized breeds, and there are clubs for each breed. Each club defines for itself what exactly the club will do for the breed and hosts activities like conformation, agility, lure coursing and herding. Often Breed or Specialty Clubs will partner with All-Breed Clubs to bring these opportunities to their members. Several breed clubs may also combine to create one show consisting of several single-breed Specialty shows.
Potomac Valley Samoyed Club (PVSC) is an example of a Breed or Specialty Club. Founded primarily as a show club in 1966, the PVSC draws Samoyed owners from Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.  Many members have Samoyeds who are not “show dogs” and are simply beloved members of the family. Some of the most active members (including PVSC’s president) have adopted older “rescue” Samoyeds who were in need of a new home. There are PVSC members who focus on the breed’s athletic prowess and have experience in sledding, weight-pull, agility, herding, tracking, dog scootering and bikejoring (the latter two are mushing sports where harnessed dogs pull scooters or bicycles). PVSC Samoyeds have excelled as therapy dogs, bringing the radiant Samoyed smiles and loving personalities to area hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
In the DC Metro, our dogs are as diverse as our people—thus, there are a lot of breeds and clubs for purebred dog owners. Some Breed and Specialty clubs in the DC Metro include: the Potomac Valley Bernese Mountain Dog Club, Old Dominion Pug Club, Colonial Newfoundland Club, Metropolitan Washington Dachshund Club, and many, many more for just about every breed of dog.
Not into purebred dogs? Or want to let your terrier compete in herding events? The Mixed Breed Dog Clubs of America (MBDCA) is a national registry for mixed breeds, providing many of the same opportunities, including local events and trainings, that the American Kennel Club (AKC) offers for purebreds.

Because they welcome dogs from any AKC-recognized breeds, All-Breed Clubs usually have more members than specialty clubs and can offer a wide variety of activities. Each of these not-for-profit clubs works to promote breeds, ensure ethical breeding practices, and educate the public about responsible dog ownership, as well as host matches, shows and trials. Many also host Therapy Dog International and Canine Good Citizen tests. Clubs offer dog and human members the opportunity to learn, compete and socialize. There are several All-Breed Clubs in the 
DC Metro, including:
Mattaponi Kennel Club. Serves Prince William County and Northern Virginia, www. mattaponikennelclub.com.
Middleburg Kennel Club. Serves Loudoun County, Va., www.middleburgkc.com.
National Capital Kennel Club. www.nationalcapitalkennelclub.com.
The Old Dominion Kennel Club of Northern Virginia, Inc. Serves Northern Virginia, www.odkc.org.
Southern Maryland Kennel Club. www.smkc.org.
Find a complete list of local clubs in the Pet Lovers Companion, or online at www.petloverscompanion.com/list_cat/clubs-dog-general/.

Specialty and All-Breed Clubs devote their energy and resources to a variety of activities for their members. Many also combine with other clubs to host events. For example, PVSC has participated in lure coursing events sponsored by All Breed Clubs from New Jersey to Southern Virginia. In June of this year, the Blue Crab Cluster, held in Richmond, Va., included five days of shows with members from three area specialty clubs and two all-breed clubs.

The community of dog clubs is not limited only to meetings and events. A brief search online reveals a variety of groups, especially on Facebook, where fellow dog lovers or breed enthusiasts can interact. Some Facebook groups are affiliated with breed clubs or activities, while others are free-standing. Facebook groups like “Planet Samoyed” unite fans interested in promoting and improving the health and well-being of specific breeds. The groups “Canine Breeders” and  “Canine Fertility, Reproduction and Neonatal Issues” help breeders learn from each other. For those new to sports or shows, Facebook groups like “Lure Coursing for Non-Sighthounds (Sighthound Fakers)” and “Learning to Show Dogs” offer tips and guidance from experts. Most kennel clubs also offer Facebook pages for their members or those interested in the breeds.
Aside from the listed reasons for joining a dog club (learning, competing, educating), there are many other equally important reasons to belong to a club. Dog club members site countless instances of members dog sitting for one another or loaning each other gear from crates to leashes and whelping boxes. Even more significant, members share valuable information and experience that have saved dogs’ lives and helped many dogs have a better quality of life. The benefit of this collective experience and wisdom is tremendous for dog owners. As one loyal PVSC member stated, “Yes, PVSC is a social club for Samoyed fanciers and their Samoyeds. But once you join, you soon discover that there is a tribal bond among our Samoyeds. They love hanging out with one another, can spot a fellow Samoyed a mile away, and will gladly demonstrate their pulling prowess in their zeal to say hello.”  ND

Brenda Mantz serves on the board of Potomac Valley Samoyed Club. She shares her life with three dogs: Samoyeds Arlo and SaraBlue, and Dalmatian-mix Darcy, a rescue from the Lost Dog and Cat Foundation. These lucky dogs love to romp in their backyard in Falls Church, Va., and kayak on the Chesapeake Bay. Reach Brenda at brenda.mantz@gmail.com.