What's it really like at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show?
Close to 3,000 dogs representing 202 breeds are expected to participate in the 141st Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Piers 92/94 in New York in February, culminating in the legendary “Best in Show” event at Madison Square Garden. The competition, which dates to 1877, is the premier event of the year for breeders, trainers and handlers. It’s even been called the Oscars of the canine world.
For those watching the show, it may appear these seemingly perfect pooches are simply the pick of the litter. But an impeccable pedigree doesn’t necessarily guarantee a prizewinner. “People don’t realize how much goes into training,” say Dottie Collier, a judge in the Working and Herding groups and serving at the show for the fourteenth time.
“Every breed has a standard of perfection,” she continues. “Judges study those fine points. You’re not judging one dog against the other. You’re judging a dog against the breed’s standard.” Judges don’t meet the dogs they’ll rate until the competition, so for the dog’s handlers, those few minutes in front of the judge are crucial.
Just like humans, though, dogs can have a bad day. Even a well trained dog might not perform well during the critical moment. There’s a lot of pressure because “a win at Westminster is very important” for a breeder, Collier says. “It’s the crème de la crème of dog shows.” For a judge, Collier says, “The amount of time you have in the ring is all you’ve got” to assess the dog, so being an expert on the breed standards is critical.
But for those lucky final-round handlers, all the effort that goes into preparing for the Westminster Dog Show is worth it. “There’s really nothing like walking out into the middle of Madison Square Garden,” Collier says. And that’s as true for the canines as it is for the judges.