By Jennifer Peltz – The Associated Press
TARIETOWN, New York (AP) – Thousands of dogs began competing Monday for the award for best in show at the popular Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. To the casual viewer, the annual show of dapper handlers who lead polite dogs around the ring may seem like a somewhat adaptive walk in the park, but there’s more to choosing a champ. So here’s some inside info for viewing:
More than 3,000 dogs, such as Chihuahuas and as huge as Mastiffs, have signed up to compete for the best in the show. The runners represent 209 breeds and varieties (the cultivar is a subgroup of a breed; think game poodles versus standard poodles).
Penny Allen and Bryson Allen showed off a Modi, a breed of Hungarian Shepherd made its debut this year. Benny Allen said the Heiko, Texas, duo are mother and son, and they’re only 11, but “when we get into the ring, you take off the gloves — let the best Moody win.”
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Another newly added breed, the Russian Game, competes Tuesday. Separately, about 350 dogs competed in agility and obedience.
First, dogs bump into others of their own breed – sometimes dozens of others, sometimes much less. Buzz the Norwegian Buhund defeated only one opponent, his half-sister, to win their series on Monday while 43 Rhodesian ridgebacks faced off one episode away.
Buzz’s breeder, owner and manager, Amy McLaughlin of Kent, Washington, was a bit sad not to see more of the friendly little shepherds whom she considers “the hidden gem in the canine world.” But Buzz won’t be satisfied with his success — “We have a lot of newcomers,” she said.
The winner of each breed proceeds to a semi-final round, where they are judged against others in their ‘group’ – such as hounds, herding dogs or dogs. In the final round, the group winners compete for the Best in Show award, which will be awarded on Wednesday evening.
What are the judges looking for?
Judges are tasked with determining which dog best matches the ideal, or “standard” of its breed.
“You see an Afghan and a Beagle—they don’t say which is better. They say which one is very similar to the written standard for their breed,” Westminster spokesperson Jill Miller Beecher said.
The Standard is derived from the breed’s original function and can speak to everything from teeth to tail to temper. For example, a hound that was developed for hunting in rough terrain may be required to have thick paw pads, or a sheepdog has dimensions that allow for fast and tight turns.
So, a borzoi handler, for example, needs to show that a dog can “move around as well as hunt a wolf,” said handler Ron Williams of Wantage, New Jersey. Someone viewing a pinworm thumbnail would want to display the high-stepping hack gait that is the hallmark of the breed. The Greyhound will be checked for certain angles in its legs and feet that underlie the running speed and athletic performance of these slim and elegant looking desert hunters.
It looks so elegant that owner Jennifer Reerman, who was in Westminster on Monday with a Saluki Haney, heard would-be owners gushing in the likes of “They wore absolutely gorgeous furniture.”
In fact, they will, but Rimerman’s show dog can also disable a bird in the air.
“The shape of a behaviorist really needs to follow his job, and it wasn’t his job to look nice on the couch,” said Rimmerman, of Cape May, New Jersey.
What does it take to prepare?
Competitors of dogs in Westminster are well trained to handle the paddock. But getting ready still takes hours. or longer.
Bergamasco’s Coco and Sapphire bathed the sheep two days before their turn on Monday – because their thick, flowing coats take a day or so to dry. “It’s like a very thick, wet pullover,” explained nanny Yvonne Bonivic of Quaker Hill, Connecticut. “It’s not a dog that washes and goes.”
Are there any mixed dogs in Westminster?
yes. They can compete in agility and obedience, but only purebred breeds qualify for the best in the show.
How about this focus on the pure?
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals regularly organize protests outside a Westminster show to denounce what the animal rights group sees as an irresponsible pageant for purebred authenticity. The Kennel Club says the show highlights keeping a wide variety of dog breeds.
What gets the best in SHOW WINNER?
Bragging and cup. There is no cash prize.
“Show dogs—letting people see a good dog,” said Vicki Finzen of Garrettsville, Maryland, who treated Coco on Monday while her daughter Tia Williams was grooming Sapphire.
Many of the participants also appreciate the sense of community that comes with spending weekend after weekend at shows together, sharing tips, their personal grooming space and their love of dogs.
“You develop this relationship because we are like family,” Robin Greenslade of Hudson, New Hampshire, said Monday, as she helped take care of her Miniature Pinscher, Adele, and half a dozen other dogs under Kim Calvaca’s care.
“It’s really a lifestyle,” Greenslad said. “It’s a labor of love.”
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