The event has been held nearly every year since 1919, and it ranks among the top 10 most prestigious shows of its kind in the country, according to chairwoman Anita O’Berg.
The show is being held in conjunction with the fourth annual Breeder’s Showcase on Saturday — a chance for dog breeders to share their techniques with more than $15,000 in prize money at stake — and the Simi Valley Kennel Club show on Friday and Conejo Kennel Club show on Monday to round out the four-day dog lover’s extravaganza.
Along with the multiple competition areas, the showgrounds featured vendors offering a wide range of dog-related products. Some of the show’s proceeds will go toward arming canines with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and the Santa Barbara Police Department with new protective vests.
The competing canines are divided into seven groups — sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, nonsporting and herding — each based on the specific purpose for which the dog was originally bred. The divisions encompass a huge variety of dogs, from chihuahuas to Irish wolfhounds, which can reach heights of 7 feet standing on their hind legs.
Dogs in each group compete for the title Best in Breed, and the winners go on to compete for the coveted Best in Show standing.
Michele Billings, who judges the final round, is one of only about 15 judges in the country who is qualified to judge all breeds of dog, according to O’Berg.
Each dog is judged according to its performance and appearance measured against a specific set of standards laid out by the breed’s parent club, often bound in many years of tradition. O’Berg said despite the dogs’ meticulous grooming jobs and the hours of care owners put into their appearance, the dogs are athletes at heart, and if they cannot perform, they will not win.
“A top dog is going to be in rock-hard condition. You can have the most beautiful dog … but if it can’t perform well, it’s not going to get put up,” O’Berg said. “A lot of the people here pride themselves in keeping these dogs in amazing condition.”
O’Berg said shows are often unpredictable and that there is no telling who the winner is going to be at the start.
“You never know what’s going to happen at a dog show,” she said. “I’ve seen dogs get Best in Show one night and then not even get past the breed show the next day. Anything can happen.”
Dr. Anita Lopker, who came from Westport, Conn., to enter her Japanese chin dog Xena in the show, said each breed has a distinct personality that comes from years of breeding for a specific purpose. For example, Japanese chin dogs were originally bred to entertain in East Asian royal courts, and Lopker describes their personality as mischievous, reserved and incredibly intelligent.
San Diego resident Sharon Stevens, who is one of the top poodle breeders in the United States, said the sport has taken her to countries around the world, including Japan, Australia and Germany. Stevens, who also owns a pet sitting and dog grooming business, said showing dogs is an art form.
“I think it’s a very artistic expression, and to see something you’ve created out there being admired and given awards is very rewarding,” Stevens said. “It’s like being a painter or a chef — it’s my own creation.”
Although most of the people competing are from out of the area, O’Berg said the show also has a strong local component, and she is happy to see participants come back each year.
“We always meet people who have been coming here every single year, and we think it’s just wonderful to see people from the community out here,” she said. “It’s a very family-oriented atmosphere.”
The show will continue Sunday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and will be followed by the Conejo Kennel Club Show from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, also at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for kids and $20 per family.