When the Westminster show takes over New York's Madison Square Garden February 15-16, 2010, it marks its 134rd consecutive year of operation, making it the second oldest continuously running sports event in the country. (For those keeping score at home, the Kentucky Derby is 20 months older.)
170 breeds and varieties will be judged in seven different groups.
It is an annual and inevitable occurrence that someone will refer to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show as "the Super Bowl of Dog Shows."
"And I see their point," says David Frei. "But from my perspective, and the perspective of many people in the dog show world, the more appropriate phrase would be that the Super Bowl is the Westminster of football games."
Frei speaks with some personal authority here, as a nationally recognized dog-show judge, former president of the American Afghan Hound Club and for the past decade the USA television network's expert analyst on its live telecast of Westminster.
The Group and Best In Show competition will be televised live on USA Network from 8-11 PM Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, February 9th the group competitions will include the breed groups of Hound, Terrier, Non-sporting and Herding dogs. Tuesday, February 10th it will cover the groups of Sporting, Working and Toy breeds.
Also, the competition in each breed and variety may be viewed in streaming video at the Westminster website. This video will be available within two hours of completion of the judging of that breed. (Please note: A high speed connection is necessary for viewing.) Go to: www.westminsterkennelclub.org.
Pinnacle of U.S. Dog Shows
Westminster represents the pinnacle of U.S. dog shows by any measure, starting with sheer numbers. Its 2,522 entrants have all attained the rank of champion, and it includes representatives of the American Kennel Club-recognized breeds.
In theory, the only two requirements to enter Westminster are AKC recognition and championship stature. In reality, registration is far more challenging than that. Because there are always thousands more qualified dogs than available spots, giving out those coveted spots is the equivalent of having 50 hungry dogs and only 10 bones.
Show Fills Up in an Hour
Shows fill up extremely quickly, often in just an hour. In the past, this has created one occasionally serious problem for Westminster. Sometimes the top dogs, which Westminster naturally wants to include, did not make the cut because their owners were crowded out of the registration process. So now the show pre-invites the top five dogs in each breed.
A less serious consequence is that the number of entries per breed can vary widely from year to year, depending on whose owners are most aggressive. But over the long term, the wider popularity of various breeds is reflected by Westminster entries.
Breeds Judged in Seven Groups
The 170 breeds are divided into seven groups: Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, Sporting, Hound and Herding. There is also a Miscellaneous category. New breeds are usually first placed in this category before being listed under a group. The only new breed for 2009 is the Dogue de Bordeaux that competes in the Working Group. There are also 122 entries in Junior Showmanship, where young handlers age 9-18 compete based only on their handling abilities.
Dogs in the first four groups are judged Monday and in the last three groups are judged Tuesday. The first round of judging is done by breed, from 8:30 a.m. until late afternoon, and then in the evening the winners of the breeds in each group compete for the Best in Group designation.
The finale of the show comes on Tuesday when the seven group winners compete for Best in Show. "Winning Westminster is the ultimate, of course," says David Frei. "But at the same time, anyone who watches the show at the Garden or on TV will see that this isn't some exotic world full of goofballs who dress up their dogs and to me, that's just as important a point to make – that we are normal people and these are normal dogs."
Future Westminster Dog Show dates:
Monday and Tuesday, February 15-16, 2010