The late 1870’s a group of affluent and sporting gentlemen meet regularly at the bar in a NYC Hotel to trade stories about their shooting accomplishments and the talents of their dogs. Eventually they decided to form a club and name it after their meeting place-The Westminster Hotel. Early on the club-officially named the Westminster Breeding Association- owned a kennel and raised Pointers for hunting and field trials…. this was the birth of the Westminster Dog Show! In 1876 this club holds a dog show in Philadelphia to help celebrate America’s Centennial. The show is a tremendous hit and the members decide to hold their own show to allow them to showcase their dogs in a semi-formal setting away from the fields. The members change the name of the club to the Westminster Kennel Club and incorporate in 1877 and in that year the first annual New York Bench Show of Dogs is held in the now Madison Square Garden with over 1000 dogs. Bench referring to sitting on a bench and mingling with other dogs and owners. This is a huge hit and extends to four days to accommodate public interest. Thru time and meetings with Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and the St. Louis
Kennel Clubs, a code of rules was set forth and followed. This manifested itself as a national governing body for dog registrations and dog shows- The American Kennel Club. Their annual dog show is the second longest running sporting event in this country and second only to the Kentucky Derby. Westminster has become the symbol of the purebred dog: the elegance, beauty and grace of these canine athletes combine with the excitement of the competition and in the canine world, the dog show’s version of the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl.
The point of show dogs is to bring them together to compete with each other to find the dogs with the most perfect characteristics of the breed they represent. The American Kennel Club has developed a breed standard for each breed and only non-sterilized animals can compete as they must be able to mate with other winners and create a perfect specimen of their specific breed. Shows are held all over the US to determine which dogs will win and move one step closer to the championship. Dogs first compete with members of their own breed and those winners then move on to compete in their respective AKC groups. The dogs are not competing against each other, but, rather against the standard-along the way-points are accumulated. Once the best of each group is selected, they are brought to the next level ‘Best in Show’ status leads to an invitation guaranteeing a spot in the Westminster Dog Show where competition is sharp.
Dogs are judged against their documented breed standards. Standards may include references relating form to function in the performance the dog was bred for and may include some arbitrary items such as eye color, eye shape, tail carriage and more. Judges also look for how the dog walks, the stance and the personality which reflects the breeds’ standards. While many breeds no longer need to perform their original jobs, they should still have the innate ability and physical make up to perform those jobs and that is what he judge looks for. Because of the show’s popularity and prestige, the AKC require that dogs must have already earned their breeds’ Championship before appearing at Westminster…bringing along with them a years of training, shows, costs and points.
A great show dog is either made or lost as a puppy and that depends on her socialization. A shy puppy will never perform well enough to win in the ring. Confidence and training in all arenas leads to a winning dog. Training takes in years of learning for master and dog, classes in walking, walking in certain show patterns, and training as a puppy and into adulthood for the individual dog and the companion dog, obedience trials for all-breeds as well as specialty trials. The importance of excellent grooming and cleanliness for the dog via the master cannot be stated strong enough. Multiple wins in competitions along the way and registration with the American Kennel Club (AKC), this and more, leads to the Westminster Show in NYC.
Rich in history with old world money, rich in tradition, the Westminster Kennel Club’s famous annual dog show is unique, prestigious and elegant for all involved, there are hundreds of dogs and owners- however-there is only one NYC/Westminster Show and only so many First Prize Westminster Ribbons for that outstanding canine/owner!