Westminster Dog Show: What is it? Rules, history, judging for the largest dog show in North America

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The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show returns to Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York on Saturday, as ribbons for best dog of the 209 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club will also be handed out over the next five days.

With over 3,500 dogs participating, judges make selections from each of the 209 “Best In Breed” winners. This boils down to the seven “Best In Group” selections: Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting, Herding, Sporting, Working, and Terrier. Finally, among the seven group winners, a “Best In Show” award is given to the dog that represents the best aspects of a breed.

A terrier has won the top prize 47 out of 112 times at Westminster, including 15 Wire Fox Terriers alone. 18 out of 112 winners were from the Sporting group, but last year “Wasabi”, a 3-year-old red Pekingese in a black mask, won the title. Wasabi was also the grandson of the 2012 winning dog. The Pekingese is part of the toy group.

What are judges looking for?

Each breed has a “standard”, which is a written description of the ideal specimen of that breed. So, for example, here is the standard for a German Shepherd, which is three pages. It’s a lot of language like this passage.

“He is well balanced, with harmonious development from the front and rear. The dog is longer than it is tall, deep-bodied, and features an outline of smooth curves rather than angles. He looks substantial and not spindly, giving the impression, both at rest and in motion, of muscular form and agility without any appearance of clumsiness or sluggishness.

These are characteristics that purebred dogs are bred for, and the judge is simply looking for the best encapsulation of that breed standard. Thus, physical traits (height and weight, coat color, shape, tail size, etc.) and temperament are both assessed.

And yes, this is all very subjective: it is a judge who applies his interpretation of the standard and his opinion on the best dog that day.

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