Interview: Actor John O’Hurley

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If you’re one of the 22 million people who welcome the winter holidays by tuning into NBC’s National Dog Show on Thanksgiving Day, you’re familiar with the smooth, booming voice of John O’Hurley. The actor—arguably best known for his portrayal of J. Peterman on Seinfeld—has been the face of the Dog Show since its debut in 2002, but his history as a dog lover goes back decades before he hosted the show.

“I’ve had dogs as long as I can remember,” he says. “All of our lives we had dogs—every breed imaginable. They’ve had a huge impact on my life.”

In fact, O’Hurley recalls his first loves as a child: a Dachshund named Taffy followed by a Springer Spaniel named Ding.

“She was dumb as a box of rocks, but I learned a great lesson from Ding. I was running cross county, and was the slowest on the team. One day I decided to run like my dog. The gun went off and for the first few laps I was in first place. Eventually, I got the wind kicked out of me, but I finished third or fourth. It was a great lesson that what you imagine is what you can do—if I can imagine something I can redefine who I am.”

Indeed, reinventing himself is something O’Hurley does well. In addition to his work on screen and stage, the actor is an accomplished musician (he recorded an album that debuted at No. 13 on the Billboard chart in 2005), and more recently, an author.

His books are inspired by—you guessed it—dogs.

“There are parts of each I love, he says.[It’s Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump] has a lot of inherent truths in it; I believe dogs can teach us everything we need to know in life.”

O’Hurley says The Perfect Dog, which he wrote as a poem to his son, Will, represents their strong bond. “It was my way of introducing him to reading and to dogs,” he says.

Will has been lucky enough to follow in his father’s footsteps of growing up alongside furry friends. His four-legged sisters, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Sadie and a Havanese called Lucy, are a cherished (and spoiled!) part of the O’Hurley family.

“Every day begins with a lovefest,” O’Hurley says. “Just five to 10 minutes of hugging and kissing. Then they beat a path for the kitchen because they know what’s coming next.”

After breakfast, the family enjoys walks with the dogs and games of fetch. Their active lifestyle helps keep the dogs healthy—but despite their fitness, you won’t see the O’Hurley girls in the Dog Show anytime soon.

“Sadie’s the prettiest Cavvie I’ve ever seen, but she’s not show material because of her underbite,” O’Hurley says. “We joke that we got her on sale.”

Lucy, whom O’Hurley calls their “runaway child,” lacks the self-control required to be Best in Show. “Lucy’s a slave to every scent she smells. If we left the door open she’d go all the way to Canada.”

Whether furry fugitives or show champions, O’Hurley believes that all dogs teach us extraordinary things—and that’s part of what makes hosting the National Dog Show so special.

“[The Show] underscores the overwhelming attraction of man to dog,” he says. “We wonder, how can anything be so committed and loving and get so little in return? It’s a great lesson for us all. We go to cocktail parties and look around the room—dogs don’t do that. There’s nothing but the present moment and you are the most important thing.”

— published in fetch! magazine, the “Winter Wonderland” issue