As a lover of dogs and someone who has been covering the dog show at Westminster for many years, I think it's time I revealed a few secrets. Insider facts that the casual dog enthusiast might not know, but information that would make sense of all of that parading around a ring in sensible shoes.
The Westminster Kennel Club crowned a winner this week at the 139th WKC Dog Show in New York. It was the 15-inch beagle "Miss P.," a descendant of the 2008 Best In Show winner, Uno. That part you know; what you may not know is how a dog becomes the Best In Show (BIS) winner. Why is that beagle better than, let's say, another beagle or Swagger, the Old English sheepdog?
Just like a presidential campaign, it comes down to money. Owners of all the top dogs like Miss P., as well as owners of Matisse, the Portuguese Water Dog, or Rocket the Shi Tzu forked over lots of cash in several areas. In Rocket's case that was easier since Patty Hearst, who has massive amounts of money, was a co-owner. First they hire the best handlers, who begin a high-profile campaign with photo ops and full-page ads in all of the important dog trade publications. Then, like a presidential campaign, they hit the road and tour the country racking up points at as many shows as possible.
The way you get points has to do with how many dogs are entered. If there are 10 dogs, and you win, that's nine points; if you beat out 100 dogs, you'll get 99 points. Handlers will enter their potential BIS winner in several shows in one weekend. Some larger shows and some smaller, just to rack up those points… and that kind of work costs a bundle. Each time you win another local or national BIS, that information gets an ad or an article in a respected trade publication, so you begin to build your dog's "brand" and create some buzz. Think of it like Taylor Swift deciding that she is going to publicize the heck out of her latest album "1989." She shows up everywhere, pushing those album sales to number one week after week. The dog becomes the hit song where money can take it to number one each week with the right team behind it.
Every year there are new breeds added to the AKC roster, and they begin to compete at dog shows around the country. But they are not "new" by any stretch of the imagination. They almost always have been dog breeds that have been around for centuries. Purebred dogs whose parent clubs simply do not want to be a part of the American Kennel Club for fear their breed becomes too popular and ends up in puppy mills, or worse. It's not unlike joining a union where there is a clear division, even a rift in the club over the "legitimizing" of a breed by adding them to the AKC.
Case in point, the incredibly popular breed the Jack Russell Terrier is not recognized by the AKC. It was a battle in the '90s when The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA) said "no" to the AKC, while many of its members disagreed and fought that decision because they wanted to be legitimized. Fearing that the working ability would be bred out of the dog, the JRTCA stood their ground, but after legal battles and petitions some breeders were willing to rename the dog the "Parson's Terrier" in order to join the AKC.
This year the Coton de Tulear and the Wirehaired Vizsla were added. The Coton has been around since the late 16th century and is the official royal dog of Madagascar, while the Wirehaired Vizsla was developed in the 1930s. Breeders do not want to be part of the AKC because the popularity will dilute their breed. They don't want the dogs they have perfected and bred for centuries to end up like the Puggle or the Labradoodle. Which brings me to...
The truth is, unless you can breed one dog (bitch) with the same dog (sire) and predict the outcome, it isn't a breed. You can't breed a Puggle with a Puggle, for example, and get a litter of Puggles with a predictable health history. Breeding out hereditary weaknesses is everything for people who love and respect dogs.
That's important, because if you find that Puggles come with a rare disease, you can't breed that out of them. People who breed dogs have been true to a standard and lineage for centuries for a reason.They have worked hard to make sure theirs are the healthiest, most robust dogs. Therefore, for someone to take two different breeds and put them together and call it a breed goes against absolutely everything dog breeders stand for.
One AKC insider told me "just breed a Bulldog with a Shi Tzu and call it what it is."
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