Next to the Kentucky Derby, the Westminster Dog show is the oldest, continuous sporting event held in the United States. This year marks the 133rd time dogs have competed against one another in what is called the "Super Bowl of dog shows."
The show has its origins in a bar located in The Westminster Hotel, a hotel that once existed in New York City. The original members were sportsmen who owned gun dogs. They wanted to promote pointer and setter breeds, and they established the Westminster Kennel Club, named for the hotel, to do just that.
The logo chosen by the founders is that of Sensation, a pointer belonging to one of the members and a dog of reputed uncanny ability. Witnessing the popularity of shows in Great Britain and Philadelphia, they decided to start a show in New York. In 1877, the club held its first dog show, called the "First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs."
Held in Gilmore's Gardens on Madison Avenue, the show was originally a four-day event that featured 1,201 dogs. In 1880, the show was held in Madison Square Garden. The following two years it was held at the American Institute Fair Building, but in 1883 it returned to the Garden, where it has been held ever since.
"Best in show" wasn't chosen until 1907, when a smooth fox terrier named Warren Remedy took the title. The dog went on to take "Best in Show" the following two years, making him the only three-time "Best in Show" winner in Westminster history. Since then, six dogs have won two "Best in Show" titles: three wire fox terriers, one cocker spaniel, one English springer spaniel and one Doberman pinscher.
The club has refined its rules over the years, responding both to increasing popularity and judging controversies. For instance, until the 1920s two judges picked the "Best in Show" winner. But one year the decision was deadlocked – one judge wanted a bull terrier to win, the other was adamant that a Pekingese deserved the ultimate title.
After some minutes of fruitless arguing, the referee made the final decision – the bull terrier. Eventually, the club decided that only one judge should pick "Best in Show." Incidentally, terriers have had remarkable success in the show – a terrier has won the top prize 42 times.
In 1992, the show was limited to dogs that earned their champion of title record from the American Kennel Club, the nation's foremost dog registry. Today, more than 2,500 dogs, representing 170 breeds, compete in the show.