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What Is the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show?

by Scott Kacsmar
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Westminster Dog Show

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is set to take place for the 148th time in the week of May 11-14, 2024. That makes it the 2nd-longest continuously held sporting event in the United States, trailing only the Kentucky Derby by 2 years.

First founded in 1877, it has been held every year since, overcoming a pair of World Wars, the Great Depression, COVID-19, and more common issues such as power outages, snowstorms, and a tugboat strike that nearly shut down the city. Since 1948, it has become the longest-running nationally televised live dog show.

Whether you are a dog lover, a fan of the 2000 film Best in Show, or a WWE fan who got used to Monday Night Raw being pre-empted by the USA Network once a year for coverage, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is part of American tradition.

We have prepared a guide for key details and facts about the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, in case you plan to place your bets on it.

The Origins of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

This has always been a New York-based show, originated by a group of hunters who regularly met for drinks at the popular Westminster Hotel at Irving Place and Sixteenth Street in Manhattan.

That was the location where these hunters would boast of their shooting accomplishments, and to squash any lies of their prowess on the hunting fields, they decided to form a kennel and club to show off their gun dogs, including Setters and Pointers. They hired a trainer to watch over the dogs, and wanted to have a show to see who really had the best dogs of the lot.

After finding it difficult to agree on a name for the club, they decided to use their favorite hotel, and that’s how the Westminster Kennel Club was formed. When it came to the early shows, prizes included pearl-handled pistols, a suitable prize for hunters.

The first ever show was held at Gilmore’s Garden, shortly before it was renamed Madison Square Garden, on May 8, 1877. It was called the First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs with ‘bench show’ the name for a dog show where dogs are largely fixed to a bench location where they are observed by judges.

With just over 1,200 dogs entered, it immediately became a popular event that took 4 days instead of the scheduled 3-day event. Eventually, the show was held over 2 nights before moving to a 3-day event in 2020.

In 2023, the show started being held at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

How Is the Show Judged and Who Is Eligible to Enter?

The American Kennel Club (AKC) is the governing body of this sport, and that was only founded in 1884, a whole 7 years after the initial Westminster show. But every dog must be registered with the AKC to be eligible for Westminster.

These dog shows are known as conformation shows, because the judges will evaluate the dogs for how well they conform to the ideal standards of their breed type. This can obviously be subjective with things like height, weight, eye color/shape, coat, color, and tail length. But each breed has certain characteristics that are considered the purest breed of that dog, and that’s how the dogs are judged against one another.

Just over 200 breeds and varieties of dog are eligible for Westminster. To cut down on how many dogs enter the competition, there have been rule changes associated with the dog having already earned a breed championship before Westminster. This rule was reinstated in 2020 with the entry limit decreasing to 2,500 dogs.

Early entry is available to the top 5 dogs in each breed based on their points earned in other AKC conformation shows in the previous year. Best of Breed winners from each breed’s national specialty show can also enter early.

The breeds are divided into 7 groups at Westminster:

  • Sporting
  • Hound
  • Working
  • Terrier
  • Toy
  • Non-Sporting
  • Herding

The best dogs are selected for Best in Breed (or Best in Variety), then they move to Best in Group before advancing to the finals where the ultimate prize of Best in Show is awarded to that top dog of the year.

There is also an agility competition open to all dogs.

Best in Show

The Best in Show has gone to the top dog since it was introduced in 1907. Here is the breakdown of how many times it has been won by each breed with the Terrier dominating with 47 wins:

  • Terrier group: 47 wins
  • Sporting group: 18 wins
  • Working group: 13 wins
  • Toy group: 12 wins
  • Non-Sporting group: 11 wins
  • Hound group: 7 wins
  • Herding group: 5 wins

Here are some other facts and nuggets about Best in Show winners:

  • The specific breed to win Best in Show the most is the Wire Fox Terrier with 15 wins.
  • The Scottish Terrier is 2nd with 8 wins.
  • A Smooth Fox Terrier named Ch. Warren Remedy was the inaugural winner, and she remains the only 3-time winner, winning in 1907-09.
  • Repeat winners are allowed as 6 other dogs have won twice, but it has not happened since 1972.
  • Males have accounted for 68 of the first 103 wins in Best in Show with 35 going to females.
  • The oldest dog to ever win Best in Show was 10 years old when a Sussex Spaniel named Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee (AKA Stump) won in 2009.
  • The youngest dog to ever win Best in Show was 9 months old in 1929 when a Rough Collie named Laund Loyalty of Bellhaven won.

Surprisingly, the Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever have never won Best in Show despite being 2 of the most popular dog breeds in the United States.

What Is the Broadcasting History of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show?

CBS Sports was the network that covered Westminster from the 1960s through the early 1980s as part of its CBS Sports Spectacular anthology series.

The USA Network took over the rights to air Westminster coverage in 1984, which became an annual event for the network through 2003 when it was acquired by General Electric. This led to it becoming a presentation of NBC Sports, but it still aired on USA through 2016 with Monday’s coverage switching over to sister network CNBC to no longer interfere with USA’s WWE Raw broadcast.

In 2015, Fox Sports bought the rights to Westminster for the next 10 years, starting with a broadcast in 2017. This coverage was initially shared between FS1 and Nat Geo Wild, but then the National Geographic channels were sold to Disney. That led to FS2 taking over coverage.

In 2021, the agility competition and final round was aired on Fox for the 1st time. Coverage of the 2024 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will also air on the Fox family of networks.

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Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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