Like millions of people throughout the country, you may have tuned in to this week’s 140th Westminster Kennel Club dog show, the Super Bowl of dog shows, as longtime announcer David Frei (who will be stepping down after this year) likes to call it.
The glittering spectacle has its roots in Gilded Age New York. It’s easy to imagine the friendly arguments over whose dog was best as robber barons gathered for cocktails in the bar of the Westminster Hotel after a good day’s hunting. From there, it was only a short step to forming a club and putting on a dog show in response to the claim “My dog is better than your dog.”
Here are nine tidbits you might not have known about Westminster and the dogs who make it worth watching.
▪ In 1877, members of what became known as the Westminster Kennel Club staged the First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs, held at Gilmore’s Garden (which became Madison Square Garden) in New York City.
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▪ The three-day show drew an entry of 1,201 dogs and garnered such great public interest that a fourth day was added. In a philanthropic bow to the nascent humane movement, the proceeds from the fourth day were donated to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to open a home for stray and disabled dogs.
▪ Only the top five dogs in each breed, plus all national specialty winners, get invitations to Westminster. It’s the luck of the draw for everyone else.
▪ The winningest dogs at Westminster are the terriers. They’ve taken the top spot 46 times.
▪ Smooth fox terrier Ch. Warren Remedy started the trend in 1907 – the first year the title Best in Show was awarded – and became the first and only dog to win Best in Show for three consecutive years. The most recent terrier to win was wire fox terrier GCH (Grand Champion) Afterall Painting The Sky in 2014.
▪ Other top-winning terriers include Lakeland terrier Ch. Stingray of Derryabah, the first dog to win Best in Show at Westminster (1968) after winning the same award at Crufts (Great Britain’s famous dog show), and Kerry blue terrier Ch. Torums Scarf Michael, who won Crufts in 2000 and Westminster in 2003.
▪ Boxer Ch. Bang Away of Sirrah Crest was the first dog from west of the Mississippi to win Best in Show at Westminster, in 1951.
▪ English springer spaniel Ch. Chinoe’s Adamant James won his second consecutive Best in Show at Westminster in 1972. No dog has done it since.
▪ Ch. Royal Tudor’s Wild as the Wind, a red Doberman pinscher, was the first Best in Show winner (1989) to also hold an obedience title (Companion Dog).
A project called Darwin’s Dogs is collecting anecdotal and genetic information from up to 5,000 dogs in the hope of learning more about genetic links to conditions such as cognitive dysfunction – similar to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in humans – and canine compulsive disorder, which causes dogs to lick, chew, spin, chase or perform other behaviors in an exaggerated manner. The dogs enrolled in the study – 3,000 so far – include purebreds and mixed breeds. Owners provide DNA samples and answer questions about their dogs’ behaviors, environment, physical traits and more. Researchers will begin analyzing DNA samples next month.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books.