TARRYTOWN, NY (AP) — Thousands of dogs began competing Monday for the best show prize at the illustrious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. To the casual viewer, the annual show of dressed trainers leading well-behaved dogs around a ring may seem like a somewhat stilted walk in the park, but there’s more to picking a champion than that. Here is some information about the show:
HOW MANY DOGS COMPETE?
Over 3,000 dogs, as small as Chihuahuas and as massive as Mastiffs, entered to compete for the best of the show. Competitors represent 209 breeds and varieties (a variety is a subset of a breed; think Toy Poodle vs. Standard Poodle).
Penny Allen and Bryson Allen each showed off a mudi, a breed of Hungarian shepherd appearing for the first time this year. The Hico, Texas duo are mother and son, and they’re just 11, but “when we get in the ring, it’s gloveless – let the best mudi win,” Penny Allen said.
Another newly added breed, the Russian Toy, competes on Tuesday. Separately, about 350 dogs competed in agility and obedience.
HOW IT WORKS?
First, dogs compete against other dogs of their breed – sometimes dozens more, sometimes far fewer. Buzz the Norwegian buhund beat just one opponent, his half-sister, to win their breed on Monday while 43 Rhodesian ridgebacks battled it out to within a ring.
Buzz’s breeder, owner and handler, Amie McLaughlin of Kent, Washington, was a little sad not to see more of the affectionate little shepherds who she considers “the hidden gem of the canine world.” But Buzz won’t rest on her laurels: “We have a lot of newcomers,” she said.
The winner of each breed advances to a semi-final, where they are judged against other members of their “group”, such as gun dogs, sheep dogs or terriers. In the final round, the group winners compete for best of the show, which will be awarded on Wednesday night.
WHAT ARE JUDGES LOOKING FOR?
Judges are responsible for determining which dog best meets the ideal, or “standard,” for its breed.
“You see an Afghan and a beagle – they don’t say which is better. They say which one most closely resembles the written standard for their breed,” Westminster spokeswoman Gail Miller Bisher said. “That’s what the dog will pass on of the key characteristics of this breed.”
The standard is derived from the original breed feature and can talk about everything from teeth to tail to temperament. For example, a dog that was bred to hunt in rough terrain may be required to have thick paw pads, or a sheepdog to have proportions that allow for quick, tight turns.
So the handler of a borzoi, for example, must show that the dog can “move as if it could catch a wolf,” said handler Ron Williams of Wantage, New Jersey. Someone showing a miniature pinscher wants to showcase the high-stepped hackney gait that is a hallmark of the breed. A saluki will be examined for certain angles in its legs and feet that underlie the running speed and athleticism of these lanky, sleek desert hunters.
So stylish that owner Jennifer Rimerman, who was in Westminster on Monday with her saluki Haney, heard potential owners gush as “they would drape my furniture so beautiful”.
Indeed they would, but Rimerman’s show dog can also catch a bird in midair.
“A saluki’s form should really follow its function, and its function wasn’t to look pretty on a couch,” said Rimerman, of Cape May, New Jersey.
WHAT DOES IT NEED TO PREPARE?
Westminster canine competitors are well trained to handle handling in the ring. But getting ready can still take hours. Or longer.
Bergamo sheepdogs Coco and Sapphire had their baths two days before their turn in the ring on Monday – that’s because their dense, flocked coats take about a day to dry. “It’s like a wet woolen sweater that’s very thick,” explained breeder Yvonne Bunevich of Quaker Hill, Connecticut. “He’s not a wash-and-go dog.”
ARE THERE MIXED-BREED DOGS IN WESTMINSTER?
Yes. They can compete in agility and obedience, but only thoroughbreds are eligible for best in show.
WHAT ABOUT THE FOCUS ON RANKS?
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals regularly stage protests outside the Westminster Saloon to denounce what the animal rights group sees as irresponsible purebred competition. The Kennel Club says the show highlights the preservation of the wide range of dog breeds.
WHAT IS THE BEST EXHIBITION WINNER GOT?
Bragging rights and a trophy. There is no cash prize.
SO WHAT IS IT FOR?
“Showing the dogs – letting people see a good dog,” says Vickie Venzen of Jarretsville, Maryland, who cared for Coco on Monday while her daughter Tia Williams squired Sapphire.
Many attendees also enjoy the sense of community that comes with spending weekend after weekend at shows together, sharing tips, grooming space, and their love of dogs.
“You’re developing this rapport because we’re more like a family,” Robin Greenslade of Hudson, New Hampshire, said Monday as she helped care for her miniature pinscher, Adele, and half a dozen other children. other dogs in the care of Kim Calvacca.
“It really is a way of life,” Greenslade said. “And it’s a labor of love.”