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A Versatile National:

The German Shepherd National Specialty

By Jess Pearson

Photos by Jess Pearson

The German Shepherd dog has long been one of the most versatile breeds. It is no surprise that the German Shepherd Dog Club of America’s National Specialty is one of the longer nationals featuring events such as herding, tracking, agility, obedience, nose work, conformation, and so much more.

Just a few months ago, Purina Farms cancelled all shows for the year, and the GSDCA was faced with the tough decision due to Covid: cancel the 2020 event or find a new location. In record timing, the committee came back to exhibitors with a new venue: the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois.

But how does anyone have a National in a state where all breed shows were forced to cancel just two months prior? With AKC guidelines as well as local and state health guidelines in place, the club was determined to make this event possible.

Agility was limited to no more than 50 people in the facility at one time and remained closed to the public. With the help of the Agility Gate app, exhibitors knew when their turn to run their dogs was approaching. Check in and scratches were made through the app as well as run order. Separate entrances and exits for both the ring and the building ensured for social distancing. Masks were worn at all times, inside and outside of the building, including exhibitors running dogs.

The club knew times were tough but ensured the comradery was one that could not be beat. The show chairs held a daily “masquerade” competition for best mask, with winners being Halloween theme related, Glow in the dark, and even German Shepherd masks. They did what they could to have fun, in light of the ongoing pandemic.

The club left no table unturned as they provided local listings of restaurants near the venue, in addition to arranging hotels for guests and campground spaces for exhibitors.

In discussing with the GSDCA, entries were down slightly in conformation, but agility, rally, and obedience were about the same as prior years, higher than most nationals that were held during the pandemic. One area that was concerningly low was the Junior Showmanship entries which were down significantly.

Conformation was held outdoors under an open air pavilion, with health and safety in mind during the event. Some traditions remained in place amongst several changes: the placing of the sod in the ring. No doubt, exhibitors were in for an exciting National week.

The confirmation ring was spacious, with reserved seating to ensure proper social distancing. The spacious show ring had a separate entrance and exit. Rings were large to allow handlers opportunities to social distance. Masks were worn by all.

Sprinter vans and box trucks lined hotel parking lots while motor homes and trailers assembled at the show grounds. Everyone was ready for the start of competition.

No matter what the venue, exhibitors from every event united and celebrated not only being able to host a National, but in celebrating the breed they all loved, the most versatile breed: the German Shepherd.