By now, anyone who follows dogs knows that the Scottish Deerhound won Best In Show at the Garden last night. And today Hickory and her handler will make the rounds -– the Today Show, Empire State Building and lunch at Sardi’s among the stops on the Westminster winner’s itinerary.
Westminster is one of a few times each year that a mass audience takes a peek into the often confusing sport of Conformation. And I suspect that many of the TV watching fans don’t realize how special Westminster is. Not only because it is the “Super Bowl” of dog shows -- an apt if somewhat simplistic comparison.
Westminster is different from the dog shows you might attend in your state on any given weekend in the year, all year long, in two important ways. First, it is open to champions only. To become a champion, a dog must meet specific AKC requirements in breed competition. It’s a points system based on the number of dogs defeated in competition. What’s important is that every dog shown at Westminster over the past two days has achieved this. Most have numerous breed, group and Best In Show wins, and an increasing number have achieved the new Grand Champion designation. Simply put, they have done A LOT of winning.
Because Westminster is for champions only, if you go to the Garden during the day to watch the breeds compete to advance into one of the 7 Groups (Working, Non-Sporting, Sporting, Hound, Herding, Toy and Terrier), you won’t see a part of dog show competition that you can see at your local shows -- the part where the dogs who are not yet champions compete for their championship points. Westminster just has the Best Of Breed, Group and Best In Show competitions. This part of the competition is actually much easier to understand. Judges pick the best of the breeds in individual breed competitions. These dogs advance to the group competition and the winners of the 7 groups compete for Best In Show. More about how that works in a minute.
The other difference between Westminster and most dog shows in the US is that Westminster is a benched show. This means that the dogs in competition on a given day must be on display all day for the public to see. At most shows, after a dog has competed, it is excused and can go home! Of course, if it has won the breed and will advance to the group competition, it has to stay, but it doesn’t have to be on display.What happens in the Breed competition?
The judge is comparing the dogs in the ring to the breed standard. The winner –- Best Of Breed –- is the dog that most closely matches the breed standard, on that day, in that ring. It is the best specimen of the breed in the current competition according to the judge’s interpretation of the standard. The same dog, on a different day, competing against different dogs, even with the same judge, might do very differently.
This is an important distinction and helps us understand the group and BIS competitions. The judges are not comparing the dogs to each other. They are comparing each dog to its own breed standard. The winners are the dogs that most closely match their standard.Why is the breed standard so important?
Dogs have jobs. Herding dogs herd. Hounds hunt. Working dogs work. Terriers go to ground after vermin. The standard describes the dog ideally suited to its job, and we judge according to their conformation to the standard to pick the best specimens of the breed. This in turn tells breeders which dogs are the best breeding stock for the continuation of the breed. It looks like a beauty contest, but it’s much more than that.My Westminster Experience
I’ve been showing and breeding Scottish Terriers since 1997, and was lucky enough to be the co-owner/co-breeder of the top Scottie in the country in 2004 and 2005, GCH Blueberry’s Attitude Dancing (Carly). Carly was a once in a lifetime dog, and she gave us a tremendous ride, winning numerous Bests and our national breed specialty twice. She’s now retired and living a life of ease with her handler in Southern California.
In 2005 Carly went to Westminster, and so did we.
It’s hard to describe the experience. It was weekend of whirlwind activity followed by monotonous stretches sitting with the dog while she was benched so little kids wouldn’t poke their fingers in her crate.
It was nail-biting in the breed competition until she won and advanced to the group.
We were lucky to have excellent seats the evening thanks to a member of my dog club, but it didn’t make it any less nerve-wracking. The group at Westminster is the best of the best, and Carly was competing against some of the top dogs in the country in the all-breed rankings, forget about in a single breed. We were so honored when she got a piece of the group –- Third. I can still remember coming out of the Garden on that cold rainy night calling friends and family on my cell phone to tell them.
There are other shows that are more important than Westminster for the standings in my breed, but there’s something truly special about these two nights in February where die-hard dog people and casual observers can get together, whether at the Garden or on the living room couch, and simply enjoy these outstanding specimens.
More coverage of Westminster:
- NY Times coverage: Best In Show and an article about rare breeds
- Wikipedia list of Westminster winners
- Boston Globe's Big Show Is a Real Doggy Treat
Do you watch the Westminster show?
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