The top show for top dogs
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (WDS) was created where countless other great ideas are born—around a table at a bar. According to Westminster history, a group of guys (circa the 1870s), used to meet up at a hotel bar near New York’s Union Station and shoot the breeze about their shooting skills and brag about the abilities of their dogs in the field. On one of those nights, the group decided to put on a dog show and name their group after the hotel. Now in its 144th year, the WDS still upholds its original bylaws “to increase the interest in dogs, and thus improve the breeds, and to hold an Annual Dog Show in the city of New York.” Here are some more fun facts about the world’s most famous canine competition.
One of the oldest televised events
The WDS had already been around for more than 70 years when television sets started taking up real estate in living rooms in the late 1940s. Regularly scheduled television programs were scarce in those days, yet the WDS was one of the early broadcasts that ushered in the Golden Age of television. Its small-screen debut was in 1948—a few years before classics like I Love Lucy and The Lone Ranger. Since then, the WDS has aired on a few different networks, the latest being Fox Sports since 2017. Fox Sports was actually the first to televise live coverage of the daytime breed judging.
So. Many. Dogs.
If 205 breeds of dogs aren’t enough for you to swoon over, we’ve got some good news for you: Nine of those breeds are further divided into varieties based on size, color, and coat. For size, it’s the Beagle, Manchester Terrier, and Poodle. The Beagle and Manchester Terrier come in two sizes, and the Poodle comes in three. In the color variety, the Cocker Spaniel shows with three varieties of colors, while the Bull Terrier and English Toy Spaniel each have two colors they compete in. Finally, the Dachshund, Chihuahua, and Collie showcase a variety of coats within their breeds. The Dachshund comes in longhaired, smooth, and wirehaired. Chihuahuas flaunt a long or smooth coat, and the beautiful Collie, a rough or smooth coat.
Today’s dogs are prequalified
In 1892, Westminster raised the entry fee from $2 to $5, which still included attendants to feed and exercise the dogs, but inflation wasn’t the reason for the increase. According to Westminster’s Historical Highlights, “the New York Times reported that the fee rise was done to discourage the entry of other than first-rate dogs.” Today, the fee is $100 (and that doesn’t include attendants), and to compete, a dog must be an American Kennel Club Champion (AKC) of record, meaning the dog has acquired 15 points from other AKC dog shows.
Age is just a number
A look back at the Facts & Figures of Westminster proves that age doesn’t matter when it comes to wowing the judges. (That said, a dog has to be at least 6 months old to compete in AKC shows.) The youngest winner was a Rough Collie, Laund Loyalty of Bellhaven, who won the award in 1929 at the young age of exactly 9 months. On the flip side, a Sussex Spaniel named Stump (his registered name was Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee) became the oldest dog to capture Best in Show at 10 years, 2 months, and 9 days of age in 2009.
The 144th WDS will welcome 2,630 dogs from 49 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. The states with the most canines at WDS are California (238), New York (208), Pennsylvania (175), New Jersey (156), Florida (153), Texas (124), and Massachusetts (114). While most of the dogs call the United States home, 19 countries are represented in all. Three dogs will travel the farthest—two from Australia and one from Thailand.
This breed has won the most
Lively and spirited, terriers were bred to hunt and kill vermin. Today, they are hunting for something more prestigious: the coveted Best in Show trophy. Over the course of Westminster history, terriers have surpassed all other dog breeds to become the competition’s top dog—winning 47 of the coveted Best in Show honors. Bragging rights go specifically to the Wire Fox Terrier for fetching 15 Best in Show wins. The Scottish Terrier comes in second with eight wins. The other 12 terriers that make up the 47 are the Airedale, Sealyham, Smooth Fox, Lakeland, Norwich, West Highland White, Bedlington, Bull (colored and white), Kerry Blue, Skye, and Welsh.
The old bait-and-stack trick
When it’s judgment time in the ring, the handler will often “stack” the dog. Stack is defined by Westminster as “the pose itself by a dog or the posing of the dog by a handler in its natural stance.” At this time, the judge gives the dog a once-over. They’re actually getting a closer look and feel for the dog’s structure, including their muscles, bones, teeth, ears, and paws to evaluate against the breed’s specific standard. Meanwhile, the handler keeps the bait (a super tasty dog treat) in their own mouth so the dog will look at their face (or the judge’s face), creating the ultimate stack position for judging. In case you were wondering, handlers aren’t putting dry biscuits or raw meat into their mouths. The treats are usually what dogs crave most, like cut-up hot dogs or other cooked meats.
These dogs are ramped up!
If you’ve ever watched the WDS, you’ve probably noticed that some dogs get to trot up a little ramp to a table for judging and some are even lifted to the table. What’s up with that? “The purpose of these low-standing but heavy breeds being judged on a ramp is safety for the dog and handler, while also making it easy for the judge to do their examination,” says Gail Miller Bisher, Director of Communications for Westminster Kennel Club. The breeds that strut up the ramp with their own unique swagger are the Sussex Spaniel, Basset Hound, Bulldog, Chinese Shar-Pei, and Chow Chow. Doggone it! Of course, a dog doesn’t have to be purebred to be lovable and downright perfect.
The Best in Show finalists always include seven dogs, one from each of the recognized groups—sporting, hound, toy, terrier, herding, working, and non-working. However, at the 143rd WDS, only six groups vied for the Best in Show title. According to ABC News, a Schipperke named Colton from Howell, Michigan, was excused and ruled ineligible for Best in Show due to a conflict of interest earlier in the day. Apparently, Best in Show judge Peter Green co-owned dogs with one of Colton’s co-owners.