The Westminster Kennel Club Show, held each year on the second Monday and Tuesday of February in New York City, is the Olympics of dog shows. Every exhibitor who shows a dog dreams of eventually leading that dog onto the famous green carpet of Westminster. Each year, that dream becomes reality for more than 2,500 dogs. But getting there isn't easy.
The Westminster Kennel Club show is the second-oldest sporting event in the United States, preceded only by the Kentucky Derby, which began two years before the Westminster Dog Show kicked off in 1877. Westminster has taken place every year since it started in New York City at Madison Square Garden. In 2013, the club moved the daytime breed judging to the Piers in New York City, with the Group judging remaining at Madison Square Garden in the evening. Westminster is one of the only "benched" shows remaining in the U.S., where the public can visit both dogs and breeders behind the scenes when they aren't in the show ring.
Judging the Standard
Westminster is a conformation show, where dogs are judged according to a "standard" written by members of each parent breed club. The standard defines the ideal structure, movement and temperament of each breed, along with details such as coat color, tail, ear and eye placement. The purpose of conformation dog shows is to judge breeding stock, so dogs entered in these shows must be intact -- not spayed or neutered. Before a dog enters Westminster, she will compete in many shows in various areas of the country.
Beginning the Journey
A dog's show career begins at a conformation show in classes open to puppies from 6 months of age and up. Classes are divided by male and female and, sometimes, by color. At the conclusion of roughly six classes for each sex, the winners of each class enter the ring again for the judge to choose the best female and male in each breed. These two dogs receive points for their wins based on how many other dogs from their breed were entered that day. If there are enough breed entries, the show is considered a "major." A dog becomes a champion after accumulating 15 points, with two wins from major shows.
The Road to Westminster
Until 2013, only dogs who had achieved their championship were eligible to enter the Westminster Dog Show. When the breed judging was moved from Madison Square Garden to the Piers, the requirements were changed, allowing dogs who had achieved one major win but had not finished their championship to enter Westminster. This change resulted in the largest entry -- more than 2,700 dogs -- since 1998.
Look for the Premium link at the Westminster Kennel Club's website for information on show fees and entry dates. These details usually appear around three months before the February show date.
Now There's Agility
In 2014, the Westminster Kennel Club added the Masters Agility Championship competition to the venue, held on the Saturday before conformation breed judging. The agility competition is open to mixed-breed dogs competing at the Masters or Excellent level of the sport, with a limit of 225 entries. Prospective entries must quality on two agility courses with jumps, tunnels, weave poles and more to compete on Saturday at the Piers.