The secrets behind the world's biggest dog show.
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is arguably the biggest event of the year for the canine show world, though for most of us it’s just a chance to watch our favorite breeds parade around on TV. But have you ever wondered about the Westminster dog show judging? What are those discerning judges really looking at? Let’s break down some dog show judging criteria so you have a better feel for just what it takes to win Best in Show.
Each breed of dog has what’s known as a ‘parent club,’ a national-level organization that provides education and resources on its chosen breed. These parent clubs create ‘standards’ detailing the ideal characteristics of the breed, from temperament to size to eye color. The judges at Westminster use these standards to evaluate the dogs entered in each breed, at the end issuing a ‘Best in Breed’ designation. The Best in Breed for each breed moves on to the Group judging.
According to the Westminster Kennel Club’s standards, each breed of dog belongs to one of seven groups. You’ll probably recognize some of the distinctions. They are: sporting, like pointers and retrievers; working, like boxers and huskies; herding, like collies; hounds; terriers; toys and non-sporting. Non-sporting consists of dogs that are not classified into any of the other six categories, like bichon frise and bulldogs.
At the Group level, the judges examine all of the dogs within each group and award 1st through 4th place. 1st place in each group advances to the final round—the Best in Show competition.
Judging at this round is very much subjective, based on the judge’s perception of the “ideal” characteristics for each group or breed. They take into consideration everything in the standards, like weight and height, and also examine minute features like the expression on the dog’s face and the feel of its muscles beneath its skin. Points are also awarded based on how the dog is behaving on show day—whether he seems alert and excited, or sluggish and sleepy.
Some dog show insiders say judges are even influenced by outside sources, like whether they’ve heard about the dog beforehand and whether it has any prior championships to its name. Taking all of these combined factors into consideration, the judges award the coveted distinction of Best in Show.