We were lucky enough to do an email interview with dog expert David Frei recently.
But in the world of dogs, he’s a legend – he’s a member of the Dog Writers Association of America Hall of Fame, author of two books (Angel on a Leash and Angel by My Side), an American Kennel Club-licensed judge of dog shows, and a leading proponent for therapy dogs.
He has also previously worked in public relations for the NFL’s Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers, in addition to stints as a sports writer and working for the Westminster Kennel Club.
He was gracious enough to do an email interview with us several weeks ago, explaining not only about his life, but also how the viewer can be more informed while watching the broadcast.
Dog O’Day: Have you always been a dog person, or was it one of those things that just gradually happens?
David Frei: We never really had a dog in the family as I was growing up. When I moved into my first house in college, my girlfriend said, “Let’s get a dog.” At her suggestion – I had no idea what it was – we got an Afghan Hound. Three weeks later, the girl left and the dog stayed, the best thing that could have happened to all three of us.
Dog O’Day: How did you get involved in the conformation world, and specifically in judging dog shows?
David Frei: Having an Afghan Hound led me to other people with Afghan Hounds, then eventually into the dog show world (leaving out a few things there, “Yada, yada” as Seinfeld‘s Elaine would say). I married into a highly competitive level, and eventually we bred and showed an Afghan Hound “Zoomie” (Ch. Stormhill’s Who’s Zoomin Who) that became the No. 1 Afghan Hound in the country and eventually retired as the top female in the dog show history of the breed. I started judging in there somewhere, I think that I have been licensed to judge for more than 25 years.
Dog O’Day: What is involved in the process of becoming a dog show judge?
David Frei: It’s kind of natural to move into judging your own breed because you are around them so much and get to know all the particulars. As you are showing them, you are exposed to other dogs of the same breed, and you can’t help but learn how to compare the dogs to one another. Then you start watching other breeds that appeal to you, and over the course of time you might add breeds periodically to your judging eligibility (if you pass all the AKC requirements).
Dog O’Day: How did you get involved when the National Dog Show was first started?
David Frei: I started doing the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from Madison Square Garden on television in 1990 on the USA Network. In 2002, NBC decided to stage the National Dog Show (through the Kennel Club of Philadelphia) on Thanksgiving Day and they asked me to do the commentary with John O’Hurley as my partner. Well, it worked (and I continued to do Westminster as well). John and I have now been together doing this show, counting this year, for 18 years. Mary Carillo joined the team shortly thereafter (and she had been my Westminster co-host for six years) and we have had a wonderful run, being seen by something like 25 million viewers each year, ten times the audience of any other dog show on TV.
USA was eventually bought by NBC and shortly after that Westminster’s contract with USA expired. Westminster decided to move to Fox Sports 1 and decided that they wanted me to come with them, but they did not want me doing both shows. By then, I had done the National Dog Show for 15 years and NBC wanted to keep me. I was put in the position of having to choose between the two. NBC stepped up and 2016 became my last year of doing Westminster (after 27 years). NBC has treated me well and we are doing great things with our show, in what is truly a celebration of the dogs in our lives.
Dog O’Day: What are John O’Hurley and Mary Carillo like to work with?
David Frei: They are great partners. They love the dogs and the dog show, and that is very evident. They are both very bright and very funny, the same people that you see on any of their great shows. In fact, sometimes we are sitting there and John will say something and I will think, “Hey, that wasn’t John, that was J. Peterman! Where are Jerry and Elaine?” And Mary — her enthusiasm, her brilliance, and her love of the dogs is everywhere for everyone to see. It is a wonderful experience, having them in my family.
Dog O’Day: What are some things casual viewers who don’t keep up with dog shows ought to be on the lookout for while watching the broadcast?
David Frei: I like to say, right from the very first broadcast I ever did back in 1990, that I want people to know that these are real dogs and we are real people in a great family sport. The dogs are just like your dogs at home – they sleep on our couches, they live in our kitchens, they steal food off the counters, they shed on our good clothes, and probably even drink out of a toilet once in a while. Just like your dog! We just “dress them up” and take them to dog shows on weekends.
Beyond that, know that these dogs are great specimens of their breeds, with the traits that they need to have to do the jobs that they were originally bred to do. But it goes beyond that. As a great dog show judge once said to me, “It’s a dog show, and ya gotta show!” That means that showmanship, personality, charisma and attitude all come into play to determine the final winner.
Dog O’Day: What are some resources you would recommend for a viewer who wants to learn more about conformation history?
David Frei; I have two books that are my Bibles: Best In Show by Bo Bengtson and The Dog Show by William F. Stifel.