Monday, February 10, 2014

Westminster 101: Your Guide to America's Dog Show

EverythingDogBlog #128: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about America’s Dog Show – Westminster
In Color and In Person!
The colors of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show are luscious grape-purple and sparkly gold on a backdrop of a rich green carpet. Westminster is a TV staple, a seemingly out-of-reach dog show where, yes! you can walk in off the street and, luck permitting, sit in a chair on the floor and theoretically even reach out and touch the competing dogs in the ring (a faux pas – but you CAN go ‘backstage’ and meet them with their owners’ permission – champions all!)
And did you know that the lights of the Empire State Building shine Westminster purple and gold during America’s Dog Show?
You’ve watched it on TV. This year is the year to attend in person. It’s nearby – in New York City, so you have no excuse! Here is all the information you need to have a grand time at America’s Dog Show! I take the train because Penn Station allows me to walk to the evening dog show at Madison Square Garden without even going outside!
Facts and Facts from Before
Last year, Banana Joe, an Affenpinscher (a rare breed represented by 7 entries this year) was declared America’s Dog, winning over 2500 dogs in two days in New York City and on TV. The excitement was electric. The 2500 dogs competed in 7 rings, 7 groups, breed by breed. Group Finals were held each evening with winners from the day shows, and the final final was composed of one representative of each of the seven groups of dogs (Toy, Terrier, Working, Sporting, Non-Sporting, Herding and Hound).
Dogs are judged, not against each other, but against the written standard for their breed.
Who: All the dogs entered are champions as of 31 October. The top five dogs of each breed receive an automatic ‘pre-invite invitation’ if their people choose to enter them. Other champions vie for the remaining of the approximately 2500 places by submitting an application during November and December of the previous year.
Highly populated (and popular) breed classes this year include 76 Labs, 58 Goldens, 44 Aussies (Australian Shepherds), 52 Frenchies (French Bulldogs), 46 Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and 39 Vizslas, just to mention a few. The entry fee for dogs is very affordable and no fee is required for this year’s 91 junior handlers to compete although they must accumulate a certain number of wins prior to the show and be under a certain age.
Most of the dogs are American but this year you will also see champions competing from 49 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Canada, Thailand, and 11 other countries.
What: The 138th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the second longest continuously held sporting event in this country, just one year behind the Kentucky Derby (since 1877 – before even I was born!). A two-day event in New York City that is televised every year.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City (Penn Plaza, 7th and 8th Avenues, 31st to 33rd Streets), across from the Hotel Pennsylvania. Day tickets at The Piers are less than $30 and evening tickets are $40 or $55. You may even see someone famous (Bill Cosby has attended in the past.) Some years the event sells out.
When: February 10 and 11, 2014 (always the week of Valentine’s Day), 8 am to 11 pm. Hounds, Toys, Non-Sporting and Herding dogs (and junior showmanship) will be shown Monday with their group finals Monday night at 8. There are 4 rings on the floor with dogs being shown simultaneously in each during the day.
Sporting, Working, and Terriers are shown Tuesday with their groups Tuesday night as well as the finals for Best in Show on Tuesday night beginning at 8, preceded by the Junior Handling Finals from the afternoon sessions.
Make a week of it! There are related events starting the previous Friday and dog shows the weekend before, a reception at the AKC (American Kennel Club) Office Sunday afternoon, awards banquets galore, seminars, and celebration breakfasts the day after, as well as champion tours of the morning TV shows. And this year – the first Westminster Agility competition was Saturday.
Watch live streaming video on the Westminster Kennel Club website (, on the Westminster App, and on social media.
Why: Why not? It’s close by and an event you will always remember. You’ve seen it on TV, now catch it in person.
How:  Take the train for a comfortable, elegant, quiet, unrushed, scenic ride into yesteryear and arrive relaxed. Come just for the day or the week. Call Amtrak at 1-800-AMTRAK or visit for rates and schedules. If your train stops at Penn Station (trains from the south), where Westminster is located, you don’t even have to venture outside!
Details: General admission tickets will cost less than 30$ for one day or at little as $40 for an evening session (see for much more information). And fortunately there is a huge TV-type screen that can be easily seen way up in the rafters during the evening shows. Since the event is sold out some years, you should plan ahead.
Breeds, Colors, Sizes, Varieties, . . . . 187 Breeds and Varieties in 2014
Some breeds have specialized classes for each variety. For example, black cocker spaniels are shown in a different class than parti-colored ones with a third cocker class, my favorite, being ASCOB (Any Solid Color Other than Black). On the other hand, black labs and yellow labs and chocolate labs all compete together.
So, a lab would compete against all colors of labs but a cocker competes only against cockers of the same color. Hmmmmm. . . . And I often wonder why our country’s favorite dog for years, the lab, has never won Best in Show. . . .
Westminster is one of the last benched dog shows in America. That means that dogs showing on Monday are required to be there all day, in the back, even when not competing. You can go ‘backstage’ and speak with the owners, breeders, and handlers, watch the dogs being groomed, and shop, shop, shop. However, it is very crowded and similar to the crowds during the holiday shopping season, winter coats and all.
Ah, shopping! Backstage at Westminster you can find leashes, books, jewelry, new gadgets galore. In the Hotel Pennsylvania and next door are even more vendors with canine first aid kits, T-shirts, artwork and demonstrations of Search and Rescue and agility. Plenty to do across the street! You can even mingle in the lobby as ‘dogs and their people’ check in Sunday afternoon at 3 and meet the hotel’s doggy concierge.
The required Westminster souvenir is the guidebook which you can’t do without (for only $20) but you can also pick up a poster, notecards, a print and DVD to watch over and over again. The catalog is $25 and allows you to keep score.
Word has it that the Best in Show (BIS) (the champion of champions) judge is selected a couple of years in advance and sworn to secrecy, his or her name revealed only six months before the show. During the preliminary two days of judging, this judge is sequestered backstage so when the finals begin, the BIS judge is as unbiased as possible. This year, that person is breeder-owner-handler, professional handler, judge, teacher and author Ms. Betty Regina Leininger of Frisco, Texas, who heads a roster of 43 other judges from 20 states and 2 foreign countries.
Uno, Best in Show, 2008
‘Sensation’ – A Sensation!
Sensation, a Pointer, is the mascot of the Westminster Dog Show and appeared on the cover of the show catalog from 1936 through 1979. From 1980-1982, a head study of Sensation was selected for the cover, but in 1983 a foil embossed version of the full body engraving appeared on the cover and has been there ever since.
Veterinary school scholarships are presented Tuesday night and other charities are supported by the Westminster Kennel Club, including the AKC Museum of the DogTake The Lead, theAnimal Medical Center of NYC, the ASPCAAngel On A Leash,Greyhound Friends, and Guide Dog Foundation For The Blind.
New Breeds
Three newly recognized dog breeds will be shown for the first time this year: read EverythingDogBlog about the breeds here.
There is only one Westminster! Be there in person this year!
(photos from Westminster Kennel Club)
(This article first appeared on on 10 February 2014.)

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