Jerry O’Connell on guest-hosting the 'Super Bowl of dog competitions'

Carly Milne
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment & Lifestyle
Jerry O’Connell is back as guest host of the AKC National Championship Dog Show Presented by Royal Canin on Jan. 1. (Photo: Jesus Aranguren for Michael Simon)

Ask Jerry O’Connell what turned him into a dog person, and he’ll tell you he owes the transformation to his wife, Rebecca Romijn.

“My wife, when I met her, had a couple of dogs. We’ve expanded that family into two more dogs, two cats, and two children, and I have to say, it makes for a really loving home,” O’Connell tells Yahoo Entertainment during an interview conducted at the couple’s L.A. home. “I don’t think our home would be complete if we didn’t have dogs here.” No offense to his cats, of course, but as O’Connell says, “I’ll talk about them when I’m a part of the AKC National Championship for cats.”

The national championship O’Connell is referring to is the AKC National Championship Dog Show Presented by Royal Canin, which airs on Animal Planet on New Year’s Day. O’Connell says the show is the “Super Bowl of dog competitions,” featuring 190 breeds and more prize money than any other competition, with $50,000 at stake for the Best in Show.

Jerry O’Connell has gone to the dogs — again. He’s hosting the AKC National Championship Dog Show Presented by Royal Canin on Jan. 1. (Photo: Jesus Aranguren for Michael Simon)

O’Connell is guest-hosting for the second year in a row, giving viewers an inside look at what it’s like to be backstage at the biggest dog show of the year, sharing all the work that goes into grooming and training these spectacular show dogs. He’s even picked up a few pointers to test out on his brood at home, which includes a Saint Bernard/Great Pyrenees mix named Phil, a Great Dane called Holiday, and two German shepherds, Pirate and Pip.

“I got a few lessons in how to show your dogs, which I attempted to do with my dogs, and it did not work out very well at all,” he says with a laugh. “We have one Great Dane that we adopted — that’s Holiday. And I thought, she’s kind of got it. She’s kind of elegant in her own right. But she just wouldn’t stand still. She was just out of her mind. My dogs are crazy. I love them — they’re my dogs. But they’re just nuts.”

He continued, “Whatever these dogs at the AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin are, my dogs are the complete opposite.”

As much as O’Connell says he doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting in his guest-host duties — “I don’t have to do a lot of homework on the breeds,” he says — he says he still comes away from the experience with a deeper appreciation and knowledge of the competing breeds, which is something he expects the audience will get from watching the show as well.

Jerry O’Connell at home with his dogs. (Photo: Jesus Aranguren for Michael Simon)

“The most educational part for me,” he says, “was learning about what each breed was originally bred for. I didn’t even know the Chesapeake Bay Retriever was a breed until I was a part of [this]. It was used in Chesapeake Bay in the winter to dive in the freezing cold bay, so its coat is thicker than a regular golden retriever or Labrador retriever. Each of these breeds has their own little story about what they did. It’s just really cute to learn the history of why you love your dog so much.”

As if that’s not enough to entice people to tune into the show, he adds, “It’s such a happy place because everyone is having so much fun around these animals. It’s impossible not to be in a good mood. And I think that also shows when it’s on Animal Planet on New Year’s Day. You can’t help but laugh and smile when you see 20 cocker spaniels all lined up and ready to go in the ring. It’s so hilarious. You just want to dive in the middle of them. When you see 20 Irish wolfhounds all sitting, being good boys and girls, you can’t help but laugh and take selfies with all of them.”

It makes sense, considering the rise in puppy therapy, where companies bring in dogs for employees to play with for the day to help with stress relief — which is something Romijn inadvertently did when she started bringing Phil, the family’s Saint Bernard/Great Pyrenees mix, to the set of her show, TNT’s The Librarians. O’Connell reports that not only did Phil go to set every day, but he became the show’s set mascot.

Jerry O’Connell and his wife, Rebecca Romijn, and their dog Phil (Photo: Instagram)

“Man, everyone fell in love with our dog Phil,” he says. But as much as Phil has become an industry favorite, he’s not convinced he could bring one of the family dogs to the set, as Romijn did. “I’m just not sure I could bring a dog to work — I’d have to get it past my boss.”

At this point, O’Connell has pretty much attained Hollywood elder statesman status, having been a part of showbiz since the mid-’80s. He’s worked with some of the industry’s heaviest hitters, but there’s one he still has on his wish list.

“It would be a dream to work for Shonda Rhimes,” he says, adding that he watches all of her shows and considers himself a huge fan. “Thursday nights are Shonda nights in our house. I think her shows are engaging, and positive, and dramatic. She really writes for actors.”

And despite the success of the iconic coming-of-age movie Stand by Me, when O’Connell looks back at his career, he’s surprised people are still talking about it with him 32 years later. “I’m so amazed,” he says. “It’s almost like summer camp for me — like a childhood memory.” He’s still close with co-star Corey Feldman. As Feldman has faced the challenge of revealing the names of those who abused and assaulted him early in his career, O’Connell has been there to offer support.

“I always reach out to him regularly,” O’Connell says. “I saw him recently. … I’m really proud of him. I’m always really proud of him. I’m proud of all of his endeavors. He’s really had to overcome a lot, and he’s doing a great job. I stay close with Corey, and I wish him well. I always reach out to him, and he reaches back.”

Jerry O’Connell with Corey Feldman at the 25th Anniversary interview with the director and cast of Stand by Me on March 16, 2011. (Photo: John M. Heller/Getty Images)

But O’Connell sees his family as his greatest accomplishment, saying how proud he is that he and Romijn have two daughters, twins Dolly and Charlie — and that they did OK on their multiplication test last week. “They were also in Peter Pan last week,” he adds. Any chance his kids will follow in their parents’ footsteps? Says O’Connell, “One of them likes it a lot more than the other, but I’m too lazy to drop them off at two separate places, so I make them both go to drama. But they have fun doing it, and we’ll see what they do.”

Jerry O’Connell with his daughters, Charlie and Dolly, and another one of their furry friends. (Photo: Instagram)

In the meantime, O’Connell is preparing for the premiere of his latest show — a comedy called Carter, from Sony. “It’s really funny,” he says. “It’s about an actor who was in a CSI-type crime show, who moves back to a small hometown and keeps bugging the police to help them solve crimes.” And despite the onslaught of new stories of sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry, O’Connell is optimistic.

“What’s happening in Hollywood is good not only for Hollywood, and not only for other industries, but for the world,” he says. “And I look forward to more changes like this not just in Hollywood, but in all spectrums of the professional and personal. I think it’s really positive what’s happening.”

Until Carter premieres in the spring, O’Connell plans to continue his quest to contain the delightfully unruly dogs that run his life — attempting to apply what he’s learned at the dog show.

As he puts it, “While my dogs are, I’d argue, more lovable than any other dogs in the world, they’re just not nearly as well-behaved as any of these finely tuned animals at the dog show — those dogs are just incredible. But if there was an event for taking up the most room on a bed or a couch, my dogs would be Best in Show.”

Jerry O’Connell hosts the AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin, premiering on Animal Planet on Monday, Jan. 1 at 7 p.m. ET.

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