By Kate Proctor
I don’t watch a lot of television. I realize that puts me at a disadvantage when trying to stay up to date with cultural, social, and language changes but it also frees up a lot of time. However, I was recently visiting where a television was on and I found myself completely mesmerized by the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
It is obviously a popular spectator sport. At 145 years running, it is second only to the Kentucky Derby for being the longest continuously held sporting event in the U.S. The Westminster Kennel Club was created specifically for the purpose of holding dog shows, giving owners a chance to make good on their boasts about having THE BEST dog. Picture a bunch of friends, sitting around drinking in a bar and bragging about their dogs. The Club is even named after the bar! The Westminster Kennel Club was formed seven years before the American Kennel Club was founded in 1884.
When I was younger I participated in different livestock shows, including cattle, pigs, and horses. I have seen lots of people get pretty worked up about livestock shows and all that goes along with that. This show seemed to take that to a whole new level – people clearly take it very seriously. I normally don’t go for all the pomp and pageantry of the show ring, but even I couldn’t help being impressed by the dogs, all of whom were deemed to conform most closely to the identified breed standard. I was relieved to read on the American Kennel Club website that “show dogs are still real dogs”, and when not competing, are able to lead normal, well-loved lives (https://www.akc. org/expert-advice/news/things-about-the-westminster-kennel-club-dog-show/).
There is something kind of fascinating about dogs. So much variation – there were seven different groups of dogs competing – Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-sporting, and Herding. There can also be quite a variation of breeds within each group. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes 197 breeds and four new breeds participated in this show for the first time. I find it amazing that they can whittle almost 200 breeds into seven categories!
Looking at these dogs, I couldn’t help but think of what they were specifically bred to do. They all have unique characteristics that help them succeed in these roles, even if now most dogs are kept mostly to keep us company, and increasingly, as members of our families. Dogs have been bred specifically to herd, hunt, retrieve, remove vermin, and do other specific jobs like guard, rescue, and guide. More recently, dogs are being trained to sniff out drugs, alert their companions of impending seizures, and even detect cancer and diabetes (https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/meet-americas-cancer-sniffing-canines/).
For the dogs competing - or probably more correctly, their owners - the big prize is winning “Best of Show”, and for the next year, the winner gets to carry the impressive title of “America’s Dog”. The owner of this year’s event’s winner, Wasabi, a Pekingese, was quoted as saying that the dog’s “charisma”, “movement”, and “showmanship” won the day.
The 2020 winner was a very exotic looking Standard Poodle, Siba, and the 2019 winner was King, a Wire Fox Terrier who looked like he could handily rid your place of vermin and do your taxes all on the same visit. The Westminster Dog Show tweeted that Scottish Terriers have the second most Best of Show wins of any breed. Who doesn’t love a cute little Scottie or Westie?
Not surprisingly, Labrador Retrievers have won the Westminster Masters Obedience Championship every year since the class was added in 2016. Of course, if I was judging, a Labrador Retriever would be the pick of the litter every year although, unbelievably to me, neither Labrador Retrievers nor Golden Retrievers have ever been named “America’s Dog”.
There are almost 3,000 dogs at the Westminster show who compete within their own group before moving up to the Best in Show level. These dogs were all very impressive looking to my untrained eye, and I can imagine it would be a challenge having this wide variety of dogs to judge, and determine which dog was the winner. Dogs of all breeds, including mutts, are allowed to compete in the agility class. The highest ranking crossbred dog here is named the “All American Dog”.
Interestingly, there are no cash prizes awarded to the winners of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, but trying to reproduce another winner is where the real prize money changes hands. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of cash involved with purchase, training, and fitting these dogs for the show. Since its inception, the Club has donated millions of dollars to rescue, health, and training organizations. I’m sure the original guys sitting around drinking and bragging about their dogs would be amazed at what their venture has become. ◊