Dog show 101: What’s what at the Westminster Kennel Club

Thousands of dogs began competing for the best prize of the show at the famous Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Monday.

TARRYTOWN, NY (AP) — Thousands of dogs began competing Monday at the famous Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for the best prize in the show. To the casual observer, the annual show of disguised handlers leading well-behaved dogs through a ring might seem like a somewhat stilted walk in the park, but there’s more to choosing a champion than that. So here are a few facts about the show:


More than 3,000 dogs, as small as Chihuahuas and as massive as Mastiffs, signed up to compete to be the best on the show. The contestants represent 209 breeds and varieties (a variety is a subgroup of a breed; think Miniature Poodles vs. Standard Poodles).

Penny Allen and Bryson Allen each featured a Mudi, a Hungarian herding breed that made its debut this year. The duo from Hico, Texas is a mother and son, and he’s only 11 years old, but “when we get in the ring, we have to take the gloves off — let the best Mudi win,” said Penny Allen.

Another newly added race, the Russian Toy, competes on Tuesday. Regardless of this, about 350 dogs competed in agility and obedience.


First, dogs compete against others of their breed—sometimes dozens of others, sometimes many fewer. Buzz, the Norwegian Buhund, defeated just one opponent, his half-sister, to win her breed on Monday while 43 Rhodesian Ridgebacks battled it out a ring away.

Amie McLaughlin, Buzz’s breeder, owner and handler, of Kent, Washington, was a little saddened at not seeing more of the small, loving herdsmen she considers “the hidden gem of the canine world.” But Buzz won’t be resting on his laurels — “we have a lot of young talent,” she said.

The winner of each breed advances to a semi-final round where they are judged against others in their “group” – such as gundogs, herding dogs or terriers. In the final round, the group winners compete for the best show, which is awarded on Wednesday evening.


Judges have the job of determining which dog best meets the ideal or “standard” of its breed.

“They see an Afghan and a Beagle – they don’t say which is better. They say which one is closest to the written standard of its breed,” Westminster spokeswoman Gail Miller said so far. “It is which dog transmits the main characteristics of this breed.”

Derived from the breed’s original function, the standard can address everything from teeth to tail to temperament. For example, a hound developed for hunting rough terrain may need to have thick paw pads, or a herding dog may need to have proportions that allow for quick, tight turns.

For example, a borzoi’s handler must demonstrate that the dog “can move like it could catch a wolf,” said handler Ron Williams of Wantage, New Jersey. Someone showing a miniature pinscher wants to show the high stepping hackney gait that is a hallmark of the breed. A Saluki is examined for specific angles of its legs and feet, which underlie the running speed and athleticism of these lanky, elegant-looking desert hunters.

So elegant-looking that owner Jennifer Rimerman, who was in Westminster on Monday with her Saluki Haney, heard would-be owners gushed such words as “they would drape my furniture so nicely”.

Indeed they would, but Rimerman’s show dog can also snag a bird in the air.

“A Saluki’s form really has to follow its function, and its function wasn’t to look pretty on a couch,” said Rimerman of Cape May, New Jersey.


Westminster’s canine competitors are well trained to deal with handling in the ring. But the preparations can still take hours. Or longer.

Bergamasco Sheepdogs Coco and Sapphire were given a bath two days before their action in the ring on Monday – that’s because their thick, flocked coat takes about a day to dry. “It’s like a wet wool sweater that’s very thick,” explained breeder Yvonne Bunevich of Quaker Hill, Connecticut. “It’s not a wash-and-go dog.”


Yes. They can compete in agility and obedience, but only purebreds are eligible for Best in Show.

What about this focus on purebreds?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals regularly stage protests outside of the Westminster show to denounce what the animal rights group sees as an irresponsible purebred pageant. The Kennel Club says the show emphasizes the preservation of the wide range of dog breeds.


bragging rights and a trophy. There is no cash prize.


“Showing the dogs — letting people see a good dog,” says Vickie Venzen of Jarretsville, Maryland, who treated Coco Monday while daughter Tia Williams squirted Sapphire.

Many attendees also appreciate the sense of community that comes with spending weekend after weekend at shows together, sharing tips, cultivating space, and their love of dogs.

“They develop this relationship because we’re more like family,” said Robin Greenslade of Hudson, New Hampshire, Monday as she helped care for her miniature pinscher, Adele, and half a dozen other dogs under the care of handler Kim Calvacca To take care of.

“It’s really a lifestyle,” Greenslade said. “And it’s a labor of love.” Dog show 101: What’s what at the Westminster Kennel Club

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