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The One About Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

The 2000 comedy film Best in Show, directed by Christopher Guest (Dir: A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman, This Is Spinal Tap), takes place at the fictional "Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show.” The off-the-wall yet shockingly accurate parody characters and the dogs they love descending into the chaos of a nationally televised dog show results in tons of laughs, especially for those of us familiar with the reality of conformation shows. It’s one of my favorite movies, and we wouldn’t have this parody gold without what inspired it; the annually televised Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

During the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, dogs are required to be on display within their assigned locations (show benches) during the entire show except when shown in the ring, groomed for showtime, or taken outside to urinate or defecate. This type of presentation allows spectators and breeders alike to have an opportunity of seeing all the entered dogs. In unbenched shows, dogs are required to be present only at assigned ring times, which is the far more common practice between the two.

The first Westminster show took place on May 8, 1877, making it second only to the Kentucky Derby, in terms of continuously held sporting events in the United States. Both events were held despite the Great Depression, World Wars, and pandemics. The show originated as a show for gun dogs, primarily Setters and Pointers, initiated by a group of hunters who met regularly at the Westminster Hotel at Irving Place and Sixteenth Street in Manhattan. They decided to create a kennel club called the Westminster Kennel Club. The prizes for these first shows included such items as pearl-handled pistols, which were of use to the hunters who worked these dogs in the field. Held in Madison Square Garden the Westminster show drew over 1,200 dogs. It proved so popular that it took four days instead of the three days originally scheduled. The club donated proceeds from the fourth day to the ASPCA.

The Westminster Kennel Club predates the formation of the American Kennel Club by seven years and became the first club admitted to the AKC after AKC's founding in 1884. Breed parent clubs (e.g., the Collie Club of America) create the standards for judging their breeds, with the AKC administering the rules about shows and judging.

Dogs are judged by how closely they conform to a written description of the ideal specimen of that breed (the breed standard). While many breeds no longer need to perform their original jobs and are bred mostly for companionship, they are still judged on their innate ability and physical makeup to perform their original jobs. Standards also include items that seem somewhat arbitrary such as color, eye shape, tail carriage, and more.

Today, Westminster takes place over two days and nights (not including the ceremonies). During the day, the dogs compete against other dogs of the same breed at Piers 92 and 94. Each Best of Breed winner (BOB) advances to the Group level. There are seven groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding. Group competition occurs during the evenings. The seven Group winners advance to Best in Show, the final round of the show. The winning dog becomes "America's Dog" for the coming year. The reign begins with a media tour on the day following the show. Following the tour, the winner makes appearances on nearly all television network morning shows and visits the Observation Deck at the Empire State Building. The New York Stock Exchange also invites the winner and related handlers to ring the opening bell.

Westminster has held competitions in Junior Showmanship for handlers ages 9–18 since 1934. The eight finalists all receive scholarships for post-secondary schooling. The Club, through the Westminster Kennel Foundation also awards veterinary school scholarships for students from six schools yearly.

The 2023 edition moved to a May scheduling, and was relocated once more to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, with Arthur Ashe Stadium serving as the main venue. For the first time, a dock jumping competition was also added to the event.

Requirements for Entry

In 1884, the AKC began requiring that all dog participants be registered with the AKC and recognized for conformation show competition. In 2016, there are 199 breeds and varieties eligible for Westminster. Because of the show's popularity and prestige, starting in 1992 the AKC limited entries by requiring that dogs must have already earned their breed championship before appearing at Westminster. Later, the Westminster Kennel Club amended that rule; dogs only need one of the two required "major wins" towards their championship titles. However, they do not need to be finished champions to enter.

Since 2020, the requirement that a dog be a Champion was reinstated by the Westminster Kennel Club and the entry limit decreased to 2,500. The conformation show was also spread over three days instead of the traditional two days, due to the unavailability of one of the usual venues for the event.

The top five dogs in each breed (based on breed points earned in AKC conformation showing through October 31 of the preceding year), as well as the Best of Breed winner from each breed's national specialty show, receive printed invitations by mail and are eligible for early entry. After that entry deadline passes, other dogs with at least one "major win" may enter, up to a cut-off entry total of 2800 dogs.

There is no prohibition against a winner competing again in future Westminster shows. Seven dogs have won multiple Westminster championships: six dogs in consecutive years (including Warren Remedy, the only three-time champion of the event), and one dog in non-consecutive years. Since 1972, however, there have been no repeat winners.

When and How to Watch

As of the posting of this article, the nest Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is scheduled for Saturday May 11, 2024 - Tuesday May 14th, 2024. The 2024 Westminster Dog Show will be aired FOX, FS1 and FS2. You can also stream the entire event on and the FOX Sports App.


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