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A Breed Apart

November 26, 2008 By:
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A tale of two co-hosts: John O'Hurley (left) and David Frei unleash their critiques at "The National Dog Show." Photo by Ali Goldstein/NBC

Israeli dog as underdog?

Could be its birthright.

"I'd be surprised," says David Frei, "The National Dog Show" co-host/analyst for the past 49 years (that's seven in human years), about the Israeli breed to be shown in the best of shows of its kind airing Thanksgiving Day, noon to 2 p.m., on NBC.

The can-do Canaan ... can't? "Hard to say," says Frei. "You know, every day is a new day at dog shows. There are a group of very nice Canaan dogs out there."

When it comes to judge and jury of the best, Frei is a breed apart. Much acclaimed, the breeder/handler/author on whom canine acolytes make book, based on his expertise, knows competitions make for some interesting tales.

"Even though they're recognized, they're still a bit rare," says Frei, whose co-host of the show is jaunty John O'Hurley.

How best to recognize a Canaan? Here's a shot: Dr. Rudolphina Menzel, accorded the honor of being the first to describe the breed's specifics, noted, "The Canaan Dog is square, the loin region short, the forequarters highly erect, the hindquarters less angulated, the neck as noble as possible, the tail curled over the back when excited, the trot is short."

In short, a real beauty. But its history is a long one, dating to biblical times, albeit first sanctioned as a breed by the Israel Kennel Club only some 55 years ago, with a pause of 12 years before being introduced to American shores.

Vote of No-Confidence?

Surely, dogged persistence deserves some acknowledgement. "I think judges don't always have confidence in what they're seeing, because they haven't seen enough of them to form an opinion," says Frei.

"You're supposed to judge each breed against the written standard that describes the perfect specimen of the breed, the ideal specimen of the breed."

Life's a ... "If you haven't seen enough of them to apply what you read, then it's difficult for you to say this is the best dog in the group compared to the 20-some other breeds that are in there.

"And I think that makes it difficult for judges to step forward" -- heel, judges, heel! -- "even if a dog is the best Canaan they've ever seen."

No matter what, the show, presented by Purina, is blue-ribbon for NBC, fetching great ratings each year from its broadcast base in Philadelphia. And this year may present even-greater interest given that the top dog-to-be in the White House has expressed intent to buy a pooch for his pleading kids.

Choices for the prexy's pet project? Any particular hypoallergenic type he'd like to hype? "There is no totally hypoallergenic dog," says Frei. "There are some breeds that are a little less likely to cause challenges, like Poodles and Bichons. Or they're talking about a Golden Doodle -- these bad breeds come about because some person creates a marketing tool and thinks he can sell them a dog with a cute name that's going to be appealing."

Barkin' up the wrong genealogy tree? "They're still going to get a dog that's half-Poodle and half-Golden."

On the whole, how's this for a howler of an idea to get the new prexy a great First Puppy: Why not commit to a Canaan to get a leg up on critics?

What better way for Barack to broker his commitment to Israel. After all, better a (White) House-broken dog than a broken promise.

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