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Westminster: The Dog Show That Rules Them All

 by danielle on 23 May 2014 |
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Westminster is one of the biggest and oldest dog shows in the world.

After the Kentucky Derby, which began in 1875, Westminster is the second-longest continuously running event in United States history. The first show took place on May 8, 1877 meaning Westminster pre-dates the invention of the light bulb, the car and the basketball. Since its opening over 300, 000 dogs have entered in the show.
 

Westminster was initially a show for gun dogs such as Setter and Pointer breeds. It was created by a group of hunters who were enthusiastic supporters of these breeds at the Westminster Hotel at Irving Place and Sixteenth Street in Manhattan.

Held at the Hippodrome, the very first show drew astonishing crowds. Over 1200 dogs were entered and the three days the show was originally scheduled to span was extended to four. All proceeds from the fourth day of the Westminster show were donated to the ASPCA to create a home for stray and disabled dogs. The prizes for first place winners included pearl handled pistols.

 

Entrants are judged on how closely they match the breed standards. This is the description in which the traits of the ideal specimen on the breed are laid out.

For the most part, breeds no longer complete the tasks they were originally designed to carry out, however these origins are integral to the standards. A dog must, in its physical make up and temperament, be able to complete the tasks traditionally assigned to them.

Other cosmetic characteristics, such as fur colour and tail carriage are also important.

 

Westminster’s popularity is still enormous. Now held in Madison Square Garden only 2500 dog entrants can be accepted due to space considerations. The entrant spaces fill immediately and tickets always sell out.

Due to top performers in the past missing out on a spot due to the furor for places, since 1992 the Westminster Kennel Club has allowed dogs determined from the previous year’s contestants as the top five of each breed to pre-enter to assure talented contenders have the chance to compete.

 

The show works like this: dogs first compete at breed level against others of their own kind. The first place winner of each breed group then goes on to compete in one of seven groups under which their breed may be categorized. These groups include Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding. The winner of each group then advances to the final competition for Best in Show.

The Best in Show winner becomes an instant celebrity. It begins its media tour the day after its win and makes appearances on television shows and at public events. It is a tradition for the dog to visit the New York Stock Exchange to ring the opening bell.

 

Interestingly, thirteen Wire Fox Terriers have taken the top dog prize in the show’s history, but both the Labrador or Golden Retriever, two of America’s favourite dog breeds, are yet to do so. A Smooth Fox Terrier called Ch. Warren Remedy is the only dog to have won Best in Show three times, and did so three years in a row (1907-1909).  

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