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Tails From The Ring: Behind The Scenes at The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show – Starting May 11th!

Get ready for an exciting week in the world of dogs – the 148th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show presented by Purina Pro Plan®, including the 11th Annual Masters Agility Championship and 9th Annual Masters Obedience Championship, will be held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Flushing, NY May 11th through 14th 2024. 

Westminster To Take Place in Flushing, NY

USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow Corona Park, Flushing NY.
Image credit lev radin via Shutterstock.

With so much to see and experience, it’s no wonder that this event has captured the hearts of dog enthusiasts for over a century. Let’s take a look at some fun and interesting facts about the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Come to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Flushing, NY to take in the show!

Westminster Kennel Club History

Westminster hotel. The show originated as a show for gun dogs, primarily Setters and Pointers, initiated by a group of hunters who met regularly at the Westminster Hotel at Irving Place and Sixteenth Street in Manhattan.
Photo credit: Public Domain.

In 1876, the members of the Westminster Club, then primarily a shooting organization, commissioned one of its early officials, George deForest Grant, to bring a Pointer from England, so that the members could use him for breeding purposes. The club members met regularly at the Westminster Hotel at Irving Place and Sixteenth Street in Manhattan.

Sensation, The Iconic Pointer

Sensation The Pointer.
Photo credit: WKC.

Grant was sent a photograph of a dog named Don, who had won his several championships in 1875 and 1876 in England. Impressed with the pictures of the dog as much as with his show record, the members arranged to import him under the name of “Sensation”.

Sensation is an icon, and part of the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC), shown above.

Westminster Is Older Than The Lightbulb!

Early automobile.
Image credit JackKPhoto via Shutterstock.

Westminster pre-dates the invention of the light bulb, the automobile (the Benz Patent-Motorwagen shown above), basketball, and the establishment of the World Series in baseball. 

The success of this event led to the First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs in 1877, which drew an impressive entry of 1,201 dogs and established the Westminster Kennel Club as a leading organization in the world of purebred dogs. 

It’s All About The Dogs!

Woman with pointer at WKC.
Image credit lev radin via Shutterstock.

Today, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show remains one of the most prestigious and beloved dog shows in the world, showcasing the best of the best in canine athleticism, beauty, and companionship.

America’s Second-Longest Continuously Held Sporting Event

Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby.
Image credit Thomas Kelley via Shutterstock.

Westminster, first held in 1877, is America’s second-longest continuously held sporting event, lagging only behind the Kentucky Derby. 

Thousands Compete

Nora WKC 2023.
Photo credit: Damon Herring.

This year, 2,500+ dogs from across the world compete in top performance activities and culminating in the coveted Best in Show title. My very own Nora, GCHS CH Old Forge Love & Light at Legacy CGC TKN ATT, will compete for best miniature bull terrier. Here we are above from 2023, where she was Best of Opposite Sex (kind of like 2nd place for her breed).

There Are 4 Types of Competition

Adam Bernardin at WKC.
Image credit Debby Wong via Shutterstock.

The 2024 Westminster week features thousands of top-ranked dogs in four different competitions.

Conformation

WKC conformation.
Photo credit Amy Johanson.

Conformation events are what many of you are used to seeing on TV, and what one typically thinks of when someone says, “dog show”. While it might look like it is just a beauty contest, conformation is actually a competition to assess breeding stock. The idea is that every breed has an AKC “standard”. This is the written description of the ideal specimen of a particular breed, and will include descriptions of the dog physically, as well as their disposition.

Purpose Bred

Australian shepherds.
Image credit Alexandra Morrison Photo via Shutterstock.

AKC breeds are what we call “purpose bred”. Every breed was developed for a purpose, from Australian shepherds who nip at the heels of cows to keep them in line, to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels who warm our laps and provide gentle, sweet companionship.

Dogs Have To Be Able To Do Their Jobs

Judging at WKC.
Image credit a katz via Shutterstock.

Judges will conduct something call “spanning” with certain terriers. It is a hands-on procedure done in order to assess the shape, size, and elasticity of the ribcage. It helps the judge assess whether the terrier is likely to be capable of “going to ground”. Is the ribcage flexible, and the ideal size and shape?

How Judging Works

Judging at WKC.
Image credit a katz via Shutterstock.

Every dog you see in the ring is being judged against its own standard, not against the other dogs in the ring. Fanciers, as breed lovers are called, are interested in creating the best example of their breed that they can, and shows like Westminster allow them to see the cream of the crop.

There Is A Lot Going On

Gabriel Rangel winning WKC.
Image credit Debby Wong via Shutterstock.

Many people will ask me, “oh so you’re one of those people who walks the dog around the ring”? There is so much more going on than that. You have to begin with a dog that is an exemplary specimen of the breed, and then you go through months – sometimes years – of physical and mental conditioning for both you and the dog. 

And then there is the fact that the dog has a mind of its own; you have to develop a communication style with that dog, which will vary for every dog that you handle. The goal is to bring out the best in that dog.

It is a remarkable experience to feel in sync with a dog in the conformation ring. You can feel when you are both “on”.

Agility

canine agility.
Photo credit WKC.

The agility competition is exciting to watch, from the tiniest dogs to the largest, flying over jumps and navigating obstacles in the fastest time possible without any faults. It is a feat of athleticism for both handler and dog.

Obedience

Canine obedience.
Photo credit WKC.

The obedience ring is where you can see remarkable connections between obedient dogs and their handlers, going through a series of requests that the dogs must execute perfectly.

Dock Diving

dock diving.
Photo credit WKC.

If you have seen videos or pictures of dogs flying through the air and landing in a pool, it was probably dock diving!  In dock diving, dogs compete at either distance or height jumping from a raised platform, usually known as a dock, into a pool of water. The sport first appeared in 1997 and it is now part of the WKC annual event.

There Are Also Awards for The Veterinarians Who Take Care of Our Dogs

veterinarian of the year.
Graphic: Dede Wilson.

The Veterinarian of the Year Award is a way to celebrate and recognize veterinarians in the dog community. We have selected the Four regional finalists have been chosen from more than 200submissions.

The panel of judges, Dr. Michelle Oakley, Yukon Vet, the 2023 winner Dr. Marty Greer, and the 2022 winner Dr. Joseph Rossi, interview the nominees to determine this year’s Veterinarian of the Year.

Along with winning this prestigious award, The Westminster Kennel Club will donate $10,000 in the name of the winning veterinarian to the non-profitNot One More Vet, which works to transform the status of mental health within the profession.

All Of NY Celebrates!

Empire state building.
Photo credit: Dédé Wilson.

Every year the Empire State Building celebrates the show by lighting up in the WKC’s signature colors of purple and gold, which are also the colors of winning ribbons.

Westminster Moved Outdoors

WKC Tarrytown NY.
Photo-Credit-J.-Grassa-for-WKC.

The dog show was moved away from Madison Square Garden, where it has been held for decades, to Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, NY in 2021 and 2022 in order to be outdoors due to the COVID pandemic. The evening Group and Best In Show judging took place in a large tent, shown above.

Last year (2023) it was held for the first time at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where it will be held again in 2024.

Pros vs. Amateurs

Handler and dog at WKC.
Photo credit: C_Frausini_for_WKC.

The handlers in the ring, running the dogs around the ring, are often professionals, but there are “Owner-Handlers” as well. Dog showing is the one sport where professionals and amateurs compete against one another. The one thing that all the handlers have in common is their love and connections with their dogs.

Kids Can Compete

Freeman Wilson.
Photo credit: Dédé Wilson.

Even youngsters compete against seasoned pros. This is 16-year-old Freeman Wilson handling Ch. Winsor’s Hope Springs Eternal ROM, known as Hope, in the Terrier Group competition. This was way back in 2006, when the show was at Madison Square Garden (full disclosure, this is my son).

Juniors

Juniors WKC.
Photo credit: WKC.

There is also a Juniors competition where kids aged 9 to 18 compete against others of the same age. It looks like a Conformation competition, but in Juniors, it is not the dogs being assessed – it is the Junior themselves. And these kids are very good handlers! Here are the 2023 Juniors.

The Country’s Favorite Breed

French bulldog.
Image credit lev radin via Shutterstock.

The most popular dog in the U.S. is the French Bulldog, also known as a Frenchie. They have never won Westminster, but “Winston”, a cream-colored French Bulldog, did win Reserve Best In Show in 2022. 

Which Breeds Have Never Won Westminster?

Corgi.
Image credit ANNA TITOVA via Shutterstock.

Also, on this list of never having won Best In Show at Westminster are Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Rottweiler, Dachshund, Pembroke Welsh Corgi (seen above) I come back I’m trying to get everything done and I’m no social life no no nothing else and I figure, Australian Shepherd, Cavalier King Charles, Great Dane, Miniature Schnauzer and Shih Tzu.

Oldest Winner

Sussex Spaniel.
Image credit Vera Reva via Shutterstock.

In 2009, Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee, a Sussex Spaniel, became the oldest dog to capture Best In Show at 10 years, 2 months and 9 days of age in 2009. An example of the breed is shown above.

Youngest Winner how did this all work before

rough-collie.
Photo credit: Getty Images Signature via Canva.

The youngest winner was the Rough Collie, Laund Loyalty of Bellhaven, who captured the award in 1929 at the age of exactly 9 months. An example of the breed is shown above.

Tallest Winner

scottish deerhound.
Photo credit: Getty Images via Canva.

The tallest breed to ever win Westminster is the Scottish Deerhound. GCh. Foxcliffe Hickory Wind, known as “Hickory,” won in 2011. They typically stand about 32-inches at the shoulder. An example of the breed is shown above.

Biggest Winner

Newfoundland.
Photo credit- Getty Images via Canva

Josh, a Newfoundland, who won in 2004, is probably the heaviest Best In Show winner. Males of the breed often weigh 150 pounds. An example of the breed is shown above.

Smallest Winner

Pekinese at WKC.
Image credit Debby Wong via Shutterstock.

Small breeds that have won Best in Show have included the Toy poodle, Pug, Affenpinscher, Pekingese (seen above), Pomeranian, and Papillon.

David Fitzpatrick (shown above), a skilled breeder, owner, and handler, made history in 2019 when his beloved Pekingese, Wasabi, became the first-ever Toy Dog to win the AKC National Championship. Fitzpatrick’s impressive record continued in 2021 when Wasabi also triumphed at the prestigious Westminster Dog Show. This isn’t the first time Fitzpatrick’s Pekingese have found success at Westminster; in 2012, his other Pekingese, Malachy, also won at the iconic event. In 2023, his dog Rummie won Reserved Best in Show.

Drama Outside Of The Show Ring

Protesters.
Photo credit: Getty Images via Canva.

In 2010, two PETA members stormed the stage during the finals with signs that read “Mutts Rule” and “Breeders Kill Shelter Dogs’ Chances”. In 2013, a Samoyed named Cruz died days after competing at the show; his owner claimed that he had been poisoned by extreme animal-rights activists who had tampered with his food or water. 

A necropsy was not performed, and the cause of death remains unclear. However, the veterinarian who treated Cruz noted that he had symptoms that closely resembled those of dogs who had ingested rodent poison. Despite this, the veterinarian felt that it was unlikely that Cruz had been deliberately poisoned.

Although intentional poisonings of show dogs are rare, such stories have circulated for decades within the competitive canine community. Even the prestigious Westminster Dog Show has a history of poisoning allegations, with incidents dating back to 1895 when eight dogs were poisoned the morning before the competition. The motive was believed to be jealousy, according to a front-page headline in The New York Times.

Trophies & Bragging Rights

2023 WKC winner Buddy Holly the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen.
Photo credit: WKC.

Each year, the Best In Show dog walks away with the Westminster Legend Trophy, a hand-engraved crystal bowl, but there is no cash prize. This is all about the love of the dogs and the sport. Above is CH. Soletrader Buddy Holly (known as Buddy Holly), the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen who won Best In Show in 2023.

Unusual Breeds

American Hairless dog.
Image credit SubertT via Shutterstock.

Over 200 different breeds compete at WKC, including some you may never have seen before, such as the Bergamasco, an Italian breed of sheepdog, and the American Hairless (shown above), which is a breed of companion dog that was developed from naturally hairless Rat Terriers. 

View The Schedule

Dog, handler and journalist at WKC.
Photo credit Amy Johanson.

Please see the official Viewing Schedule for full coverage details. And check out the judging program to learn which breeds are shown at which day and time.

Buy Tickets!

Handler and dog at WKC.
Image credit a katz via Shutterstock.

There is still time to buy tickets for the 2024 event. This year it will be held for the second time at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow Corona Park, Flushing NY. See you in May!

How Many Of These Foods Did You Know Could Kill Your Dog?

Dog with poisonous foods.
Image credit Monika Wisniewska via Shutterstock.

Our canine companions bring immense joy into our lives, and it’s our duty to ensure their well-being. However, certain everyday foods found in our homes can pose serious risks to their health. Here’s a look at foods that should never be fed to dogs or left within their reach.

To be prepared, have contact details of your local veterinarian, the nearest emergency clinic, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) at hand.

Read: How Many Of These Foods Did You Know Could Kill Your Dog?

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Author

  • Dede Wilson

    Dédé Wilson is a journalist with over 17 cookbooks to her name and is the co-founder and managing partner of the digital media partnership Shift Works Partners LLC, currently publishing through two online media brands, FODMAP Everyday® and The Queen Zone.

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