Westminster: Greatest Dog-Gone Show on Earth?

Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
February 6, 2004

View photo galleries of Westminster Dog Show breeds and past winners.

Westminster isn't your average dog show.

First held in 1877, the show predates the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, basketball, and the World Series.

Second only to the Kentucky Derby as the longest, continuously held U.S. sporting event, it's been held despite power outages, world wars, blizzards, and a national depression.

The contest was started by a group of hunters who regularly met in the bar of a Manhattan hotel to trade stories about their shooting accomplishments and the talents of their dogs. They formed a club—naming it after their favorite hotel: Westminster—and decided to hold a show to compare their dogs in a setting away from the hunting field.

"Right from the very beginning, the very first show we had was an unqualified success," said David Frei, director of communications for the Westminster Kennel Club in New York City.

More than 1,200 dogs entered the first show. Tens of thousands of spectators reportedly came to watch. Given the intense public interest, the three-day show was extended to four.

This year, an estimated 10 million people will tune-in to watch 2,500 purebred champions compete at Madison Square Garden in New York. United States cable channel USA Network will broadcast live coverage of the event February 9 and 10.

"These days, even more than ever before, we think of our dogs as members of the family," said Frei who also co-hosts USA Network's annual telecast. "We have this great spiritual and emotional connection to our dogs, and we want to bask in that by watching a show like this on television."

All 162 breeds and varieties recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) will be represented, with the golden retriever having the most entries for an individual breed. Other top entries include: dachshunds, Australian shepherds, pugs, rottweilers, and Labrador retrievers.

Three newly-recognized AKC breeds competing for the first time are the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, German pinscher, and toy fox terrier.

To compete in the show, dogs must be an AKC recognized breed and a champion—a title that can take anywhere from a few weekends to several years to achieve by attending shows and earning the required points.

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