TV and film actor John O’Hurley found mainstream stardom in 1995 when he portrayed J. Peterman, a fictionalized version of clothing catalog entrepreneur John Peterman, on the hit sitcom “Seinfeld.” The role earned him a Screen Actor’s Guild Award.
Since 2002, the self-proclaimed dog lover has been seen on NBC by millions of homes every Thanksgiving Day, when he co-hosts The National Dog Show Presented by Purina. As luck would have it, O’Hurley got the role thanks to a cult comedy movie.
As O’Hurley tells it, Jon Miller, then-president of programming for NBC Sports, was enamored by the Christopher Guest dog show comedy “Best in Show,” and thought a real dog show to fill the gap between the parade and football would work.
Miller reached out to the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, secured Purina as a presenting sponsor, then went to his bosses at NBC. The network’s other Thanksgiving institution, the annual airing of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” had been struggling with poor ratings. Miller was given the green light initially only for that year.
“Miller called me and I was in L.A. I picked up the phone and I said, ‘Hello.’ And he said, ‘Woof. Woof.’ And that’s how it all started,” laughed O’Hurley.
The rebranded National Dog Show first aired in November 2002, with O’Hurley as co-host and David Frei, who is a licensed judge for the American Kennel Club, serving as the analyst. The veteran actor didn’t realize what he was in for, as he recalled co-hosting his first National Dog Show.
“I’m an actor, I’m not a dog show host,” he laughed. “But lo and behold, I’ve slipped my fingers through two of the best franchises [Dancing With the Stars and the National Dog Show] in history. I’m a lucky dog!”
O’Hurley had a lot of catching up to do in terms of dog show knowledge, which he picked up on the job. This resulted in a well-known joke that was created by an exchange between the novice O’Hurley and Frei, who O’Hurley admits he had never met before.
When O’Hurley saw the English sheep dog being brought to the judge, an elegantly gowned woman, he proclaimed, “you know what they say about the old English sheep dog, it’s actually 80 pounds of hair and two pounds of actual dog,” recalled O’Hurley, who then witnessed the judge walking to the back of the dog and picking through the hair on its hind region. “I said, ‘David, can you explain what she’s doing?’ and he said, ‘She’s putting her hands on the dog to make show the shoulders and the hips align with the specifications of what the perfect old English sheep dog should be because you can hide a really bad dog with a really good haircut,’ and I said, ‘You’re telling me. I went to junior prom.’”
As the scene continued to unfold, the announcers watched as the judge moved to the front of the dog.
“She starts picking through all of the hair on the dog’s head and I asked David, ‘What is she doing now?’ and he said, ‘She’s trying to find the eyes.’” O’Hurley continued. “I said, ‘If she picks through all that hair and finds only one eye, she’s got the wrong end of the dog!’”
More than 18 million people tuned in to watch that first year, making the National Dog Show one of NBC’s highest-rated events and an overnight success. It helped that O’Hurley and Frei had a natural camaraderie, and the bond between the two has only grown stronger over the years.
“On one hand, he’s one of my five best friends,” said O’Hurley. “We’re very close; life close. We talk a lot during the year. If there’s a reason or chance to get together, we do. It’s been a wonderful relationship that has evolved and developed over the years so we can be the best two people for that show.
“And we have Mary there,” he added, referring to sports commentator Mary Carillo. “She searches around backstage for stories – the new breeds, certain elements of personality – something that’s fun. It works very well, and Mary is so keen to it. She was the brilliant choice. She’s the third stooge of the Three Stooges. We have a lot of fun with ourselves. We don’t take our jobs too seriously.”
According to O’Hurley, 25 million viewers tuned in last year to witness Claire, a 4-year-old gray Scottish Deerhound, deliver a classic performance with effortless style and grace to win the 20th annual National Dog Show Presented by Purina.
Named for actor Catriona Balfe’s character, Claire Randall Fraser, on the TV series, “Outlander,” Claire is now a two-time National Dog Show Best in Show winner, having also won in 2020. Besides being the first two-time National Dog Show Best in Show winner, Claire is the winningest Scottish Deerhound in U.S. breed history.
O’Hurley sympathizes with dog lovers who have their favorites, noting that “when you have 2,000 dogs and they’ve all been champions of their breeds, it’s difficult to get to Best in Show.”
“I certainly side with the audience,” O’Hurley continued. “They watch the show and can’t help but predispose themselves to look for cuteness, and the Scottish Deerhound is not cute. But it underscores the fact that there’s a perfect specimen of every dog and [Claire] – its natural grace and bounce, and the way that it handles itself in the arena – there’s just no question and that dog is the absolute perfect example of what that breed should be, which is the essence of the National Dog Show.”
After the success of the National Dog Show, O’Hurley was selected to co-host the Beverly Hills Dog Show Presented by Purina, which premiered in 2017 and is hosted by the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills in the spring.
“The Philadelphia show, which is the national show, is the standard, elegant show,” he said of the comparisons between the two dog shows. “It has a long, right history. The Beverly Hills show is a bit more casual. It’s a dog show done differently. It’s more of a Hollywood celebrity event. We have a little more fun with it, as only Tinseltown could. For the Best in Show class, we’ve designed the arena to look like a Victoria’s Secret runway.”
Unfortunately, COVID has had a major impact the Beverly Hills Dog Show, with the pandemic forcing the cancellation of the 2021 and 2022 contests.
“I’m sad, but they were right on the cusp, and they had to make a decision,” explained O’Hurley. “They felt the powers that be in Los Angeles county would have shut them down or impeded the freedom of the event. They’ll be back. They’re planning to be back next year. Everything has been sewn up and I don’t think there will be a problem moving forward.”
Away from the televised competitions, O’Hurley doesn’t shy away from his own personal feelings about dogs.
“I’m a better person because of dogs,” he said. “I’ve had dogs ever since I was 4 years old. My first was a little brown dachshund named Taffy. She followed me down to the swamp every day.”
Dogs have also inspired O’Hurley to be a writer. He is an author of two New York Times Bestsellers, “It’s OK to Miss The Bed on Your First Jump, and Other Life Lessons I Learned From My Dogs” and its sequel, “Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It.”
“Every year, I write something for the dog show — sort of an Andy Rooney piece,” O’Hurley reminisced. “One year, I wrote an essay on life lessons I’ve learned from my dog. It was way too long and they couldn’t use it for the show, so it ended up on the scrap heap. On the flight back to Los Angeles, I thought it was an interesting idea. I fleshed it out and came up with 15 different things that I could honestly say are life lessons we could learn from our dogs. I thought, ‘That could be a good book,’ and I had never written a book. Whatever my imagination tells me to do, I do. I found a literary agent and, lo and behold, I had a publishing deal.”
The book covers feature O’Hurley with his own dogs, a Maltese named Scoshi (who was a birthday gift in the early-90s from his wife at the time) and Betty, a dachshund-black Lab mix that he found as a stray.
“Betty was a stray that I found lost in a field. I had her from the mid-90s to 2009. She looked like the perennial black Lab puppy. When she ran, she ran on three legs, but never on the same three legs. She instinctively picked one up. She was a doll. What a sweetheart of a dog.”
After the success of his first book, he decided to write a second one, but with a different background, one that was somewhat biographical.
“The premise of the second book was that my wife [Lisa] was giving birth to our child, Will,” he recalled. “Scoshi knew he was getting on in age, and he knew he wouldn’t live long enough to really be a companion to my son. Scoshi wrote his lessons of manhood as he understood it, on little scraps of paper that he would place under the big blue elephant that sat next to my son’s feeding chair. Each of these scraps of paper by the dog to my son were the chapters in the book on how to be a man.”
In 2013, O’Hurley published his third book, a children’s novel titled “The Perfect Dog.”
“Again, it was me trying to write something for the dog show,” O’Hurley explained. “I wanted to write something that was poignant. Right before the dog show, late one night, my son was sitting in my arms. He asked, ‘Dad, is the dog that is best in show, is that the perfect dog?’ I thought that’s an interesting question. That’s what I’m going to write about this year. I wrote a poem, ‘The Perfect Dog,’ to answer my son’s question.”
O’Hurley eventually recorded a video reciting the poem for the dog show. It received such a positive response from viewers who wanted a copy of the poem that O’Hurley decided to turn it into a children’s book, the premise of which is that the dog that is perfect is the one next to you.”
Two years later, the Amazon best-seller was turned into a children’s musical by Eric Idle of the famed British comedy group, “Monty Python.” “The Perfect Dog,” the children’s show, premiered during dog show week and has since expanded beyond dog show week to being performed all over the world.
Although Scoshi, Betty and Sadie have passed, O’Hurley currently has three dogs at home. Lucy the Havanese is the matriarch of O’Hurley’s canine companions.
Charlotte, a mixed breed pup, joined the family when O’Hurley traveled to Maryland Heights, Missouri, in April 2017 to help dedicate a new facility at the Humane Society of Missouri.
“I was helping the humane society open its $35 million state-of-the-art hospital and surgery center,” he recalled. “I was doing the keynote there, and I thought it would be appropriate if I was holding a dog. [The organizers] said, ‘Great idea!’ I went back into the shelter and, you know, dogs find you, you don’t find them. This little Toto-looking dog of many mixed breeds happened to catch my eye. It was this little rust-colored dog. I said, ‘You’re coming with me.’ I took her out, went to the podium, began my remarks and the dog started burrowing into my jacket. Every time I would say something more, the dog would burrow further into my jacket and the press would all go, ‘Aww.’
“This went on and on, so when I finally finished my remarks, all I had were two little legs and the back of a tail sticking out,” he laughed. “The rest of the dog had burrowed itself underneath my arm, and it was sleeping under there. I quietly opened the lapel of my jacket and said, ‘Does anyone want to come back to Beverly Hills?’ Sure enough, we had her on the flight that day, and the rest is history.”
The newest member of the family is Mia, a street dog that was rescued in Los Angeles before O’Hurley’s wife noticed the pup on an animal shelter website.
“Mia just drives us nuts,” he said. “She’s so funny. She’s the sweetest dog with so many hysterical attributes.”
O’Hurley admits that dogs have been a great inspiration for him. He often describes them as “angels” that teach us everything we need to know in life.
“Dogs teach us so many wonderful things,” he said. “A dog lives outside of time while we are burdened by time. They know now and they know never, and that’s it. As long as you’re with them, they’re in the now. They’re interested in whatever you’re doing. And when you leave, they think you’re never coming back.”
The lesson of living in the present moment, which he describes as “contemplation,” is one of three principles – along with Imagination and Appreciation – that O’Hurley shares in The Peterman Guide to the Extraordinary Life, a motivational presentation he has developed and tours with across the country.
“Living in the present moment is where you realize not to be burdened by the anxiety of the future or the shame of the past,” he noted. “Has it helped me? It’s the guiding principle of my life as an actor… It allows me to live on stage for two and a half hours.”
His personal experience with his own dogs is the primary reason O’Hurley has entered the pet care industry. He admits to being a fan of CBD for the last few years, and his aging Havanese has enabled him to notice CBD oil has on a dog’s well-being and quality of life. After two years of research, he’s partnered with Utah-based HempMeds to launch his own line of pet CBD products, aptly named O’Hurley’s Oil.
“I’ve been searching for the right CBD oil, and I’ve got a really good mix,” he explained. “I’ve had such success with Lucy, our little Havanese. She had so many issues. The CBD oil, for her, has been absolutely remarkable. After seeing what it’s done for her, I said I have to get something on the market.”
O’Hurley knows that pet CBD is a crowded market, but he’s confident that retailers and consumers will take interest in the product line, which includes full-spectrum CBD in the form of oil tinctures and balms. It’s also a product that he stands behind.
“The clarity of the CBD oil that you use makes all the difference in the way it will affect your pet,” he said. “If you go off the shelf and you don’t know what’s in it, they you literally don’t know what’s in it. You could have fecal matter in it; there is no FDA approval for pet CBD oil. Now, this is the market that I chose to go into, and I want people to know I put my name on this.
“This triple-clarified CBD oil is the only one on the market that goes three times on purification,” he concluded. “It’s called O’Hurley’s Oil. If it’s my name, I’m the one who’s responsible for it. I approved the blend. I did all of my research and, because of that, it’s like Newman’s Own. This is my blend with what I believe is the best CBD oil available on the market.”