Once a year, in February, champions from across the country and around the world gather in New York City for a unique event. Held annually since 1876, it is the second longest running sporting event in the United States. The Kentucky Derby is one year older.
For dogs and their fanciers, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is Kentucky Derby, World Series, Super Bowl and Academy Awards all rolled into one. Entry to the all-breed show is limited to dogs that are already AKC Champions. In addition, the five top-winning dogs from each of the 192 AKC recognized breeds and varieties receive invitations to enter. It truly is an exhibition of the best of the best.
Performance and Social Events
This year the 2nd Annual Masters Agility Championship at Westminster will be held the weekend before the iconic dog show. In the extremely popular agility competition as well as obedience, dogs of mixed or unknown ancestry are eligible to enter. In these classes, performance is what counts, and a “pound puppy” has as good a chance as a blue-blood to walk off with top honors.
Rounding out the long weekend of dog-related activities is AKC’s Meet the Breeds in the venue next door to the agility trials. Here visitors have an opportunity to schmooze with dogs of every shape and size and learn what makes each breed special from the owners themselves.
Monday and Tuesday is when the breed and group judging takes place. Each dog is measured against the ideal standard for that breed. The dog chosen to represent that breed among the members of its Group – other breeds that serve the same type of service or function – is again judged only against its own breed standard. The judge working in the group ring has to know the complete standard by heart of each breed she or he judges.
The level of canine perfection at the Westminster show is already so high that a judge has to look at the little things in a dog’s coat, color, movement, structure or temperament to see if it’s a tiny bit less perfect than another dog. This makes it a tough job for the judge chosen to pick Best in Show. It’s a tough job any judge would love to have.
Is Your Dog Show Quality?
If you have a purebred dog registered with the AKC, you may have wondered if he or she could ever win at a dog show or even at Westminster. Although breeders usually try to place their most promising puppies with owners who are interested in showing, sometimes a gem will slip through the cracks and go to a “pet” home where a member of the family later gets bitten by the dog show “bug.”
If this is you, call the breeder who sold you the puppy and talk about how to proceed. Look up the breed standard on the AKC website and see how well your dog measures up. There are also links to national breed club information and to the websites of those clubs. If you find a local specialty club for your breed, you have another source of information about showing your dog. The members are enthusiastic about their sport and welcoming of new interest.
A Little History of Westminster
Before the name Westminster was synonymous with the most prestigious dog show in this country, it was merely the name of a Manhattan hotel with a bar where a group of sportsmen met and traded stories of their (and their dogs) hunting prowess. They formed the Westminster Breeding Association in the mid to late 1870’s, complete with their own kennel for raising Pointers. In 1876, the group helped stage a dog show in Philadelphia to celebrate the U.S. Centennial.
The following year, incorporated as the Westminster Kennel Club they held the first dog show in New York. That was a “benched” show, where dogs are required to be at their assigned display areas for the duration of the show. The tradition of the benched show has always been a part of the Westminster show. Promoting the sport of purebred dogs is one of the goals of the show, and it would fail if the number of dogs in the vastness of Madison Square Garden dwindled to the few dozen waiting for Group judging. From the number of entries this year, that shouldn’t be a problem.