A black Labrador retriever named Queijeiro El Moro was born in Mexico, trained in Indiana and shown in Frederick this week at the Labrador Retriever Club of The Potomac’s annual spring specialty show.
“It’s like the international super bowl of Labrador retrievers,” said David Heacock, the assistant chair of the show.
The show, known in Labrador retriever circles as “The Potomac,” has amassed a huge following in its 37-year history. What started as a one-day show in 1975 has evolved into a four-day international Labrador-centric affair.
“This is the largest collection of Labrador retrievers ever gathered in one place at one time,” said Buddy Voshell, the event’s chief steward.
This year, participants entered 1,025 dogs from all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, Argentina, Japan and Brazil.
“We have people from all over the world at this show and dogs from all over the world,” said Heacock. “This is where any breeder in the world thinks they will see the best representation of the breed.”
The Potomac is a regional dog show that operates under the National Labrador Retriever Club. Most breeds registered with the American Kennel Club have their own national and regional clubs that hold similar shows for their breed.
The Potomac is an independent specialty show, as opposed to an all-breed show, such as The Westminster Dog Show.
“If it weren’t for the dog shows, I wouldn’t have seen half the places I’ve been or know half the people I know,” said Laura Reich of Michigan, who has been attending The Potomac for 26 years.
Reich fell into the world of Labrador retrievers after showing horses got too expensive.
“I thought, ‘I’d like a Labrador, like Old Yeller,’ so I started out with a yellow and won a lot with her,” she said.
Labs come in three colors — yellow, black and chocolate — and some of the events break the dogs down by color. Other events break the dogs into groups by age, sex or how many times they have won before.
The Holiday Inn, which hosts the show each spring, displays a banner in the lobby proclaiming it Labrador week, and the city’s hotels fill up months in advance in anticipation of the show.
Participants stake their claim on hotel parking spots days before the event starts. An ideal space backs up to a grassy area where owners can set up an outdoor pen for their dogs to run around in.
People like Jessica Cameron, 17, travel with large numbers of dogs. Cameron came from Kingston, Ontario, in an RV with her parents and seven dogs.
“You just kind of get into a routine,” she said. “My dad’s been doing it for a long time, since the 70s.”
The Labrador retriever is the American Kennel Club’s most registered dog breed.
“The Labrador retriever has been the most popular breed primarily because of their gentle temperament and personality,” Heacock said.
Those unfamiliar with the lingo of dog shows might be shocked with some of the culture of showing canines. Female dogs are called bitches and they auction off the semen of old winners. Last year, the semen of Gordy, a male “stud” dog from Mt. Airy was auctioned off for $5,000.
“That’s way out of my price range,” Heacock said.