Everything You Need to Know about the Westminster Dog Show


What Is the Westminster Dog Show?

For those of you not deeply embedded in the world of competitive show dogs, the Westminster Dog Show is kind of like the Oscars, but for dogs. And if at the Oscars all the nominees had to get up and act out their starring roles live in front of thousands of screaming fans. To say it’s a big deal is an understatement. Running since 1877 the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (it’s full title) is the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the US–only the Kentucky Derby has stuck around longer. 

Fitting with that heritage, it’s now held at Madison Square Garden. The arena, which the rest of the time hosts the world’s biggest musical artists, packs out for these dogs. Attendees happily spend over $100 for the best tickets to the four day event.

As well as competing, the dogs are expected to be “on” the whole time. Between events they hang out in their assigned areas and meet their excited fans.

How Does It Work?

Competing in Westminster is a huge deal; around 3000 dogs usually enter. Of that massive number seven finalists are selected across the breed categories: hound, toy, sporting, non-sporting, herding, working, and terrier. Those seven then duke it out for the crown. Well, it’s not a crown, it’s a ribbon and a very nice silver cup. At the end of the multi-day event one dog is named Best In Show.

The Perks of Being a Westminster Show Dog

The competing dogs are looked after during the event. The army of vets on hand include radiologists and theriogenologists (who specialise in reproduction), working alongside a fleet of wellness experts. Acupuncturists, massage therapists, and chiropractors are all available to tend to any competitors feeling out of sorts.

Not surprisingly, appearance is a huge priority. To make sure the dogs are looking their best the backstage areas are kitted with enough beauty products to rival a Sephora store. Hair sprays, mousses, gels, conditioners, curlers, straighteners, bows, hair implants, and even mascara are all common sights. 

If the attention from the fans isn’t enough, during the week of the show the Empire State Building lights up in purple and yellow, their official colours, to celebrate the dogs.

It Sounds Posh, but the Westminster Dog Show is Becoming More Inclusive

Traditionally this is a sport for purebreds that gives mixed breeds little thought. But in recent years organisers have made efforts to broaden the scope of competitors a little. New events for agility and obedience are open to any kind of dog. While those competitions are separate from the seven main categories, and don’t level up to Best In Show, they’re still a chance to celebrate different kinds of animals. 

Who knows, maybe one day there will be a category for mutts and rescues…although we’re not holding our breath.

Last Year’s Drama

Like all high stakes events, there is tension when it comes to judging. Last year’s Best in Show–a fox terrier called King–attracted boos when he was crowned. The controversy was due to frustration over seeing another terrier take out the top spot. Over the history of Westminster, an astounding 40% of the titles have been claimed by terriers. With their mix of brains and personality, they make for tough competition.

Interestingly patterns in winners don’t reflect our general dog tastes. Super popular breeds like labs, German shepherds, golden retrievers, French bulldogs, and bulldogs have never won.

This Year’s Westminster Dog Show

Going into the 2020 contest, there were a few hot favourites. Particularly Bono the Havanese who was competing in the Toy category. Last year he finished second, and has since been ranked the number one dog in the US by Dog News Magazine.

He lived up to the hype, taking out the Toy category. The full list of finalists were: 

Toy: Bono the Havanese
Hound: Bourbon the whippet 
Non-Sporting: Siba the standard poodle 
Herding: Conrad the Shetland sheepdog 
Sporting: Daniel the golden retriever
Terrier: Vinny the wire fox terrier
Working: Wilima the boxer

Also we just need to take a moment to appreciate the fact that self aware dog lover Snoop Dogg casually helped out as an announcer. 

The Winner Is…

Siba the standard poodle! In something of an upset, Siba snatched it from Bono. Although, looking at her, you kind of get it. She is the picture of a prize-winning poodle.  Bourbon the Whippet was named Reserve Best in Show–which is pretty much second place.

Next to terriers, poodles are one of the most successful breeds. They’ve taken out Best in Show five times since 1991.

It was an especially happy announcement for Siba because she had already planned to retire after this event. Her owners said her next steps will be becoming a mum, so hopefully after going out on top she’ll get a bit of a rest. Speaking to TIME her handler Crystal Murray-Clas said she was ready for the change of pace, “She just likes being a house dog and hanging out with us, sleeping on the couch all day.” Poodles, they’re just like us.

What Does Siba Win?

One of the wild things about the Westminster dog show is that it’s all for the glory, there is no prize money. Although it’s tradition for the winner to be treated to a celebratory lunch at famed Broadway restaurant Sardi’s. The meal technically breaks New York City’s health codes, but the owners look the other way for one day only.

But the Internet’s Winner…

Siba might have taken the title, but Daniel the golden retriever has captured the internet’s heart. As mentioned, retrievers are underdogs in this competition, despite being one of the world’s most popular breeds. Going into things people were ready for them to have their moment, but Daniel kicked things up a notch with his charm. Like most golden retrievers he attracted a lot of love for his happy demeanor, fluffiness, joyful energy, and the adorable hug he gave his handler. His fans have been sharing their distress under the hashtag #DanielWasRobbed.

Missing the Action?

May we recommend Best in Show, the iconic mockumentary based on the competition? It’s one of our all time favourites.

While you’re in the mood, catch up with our breed profiles!

Written by on for Off The Leash

Article last updated on February 13, 2020

Wendy's never met a dog she didn't like. Although she has a special place in her heart for muts: three legs, one eye, missing fur, bit of a weird walk? The scruffier the better. Her favourite dog in the whole world though is her terrier-mix Stevie.
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