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Behind the Scenes at Westminster: Dog Show Curiosities, Secrets, and (Sometimes Unusual) Grooming Habits

Behind the Scenes at Westminster: Dog Show Curiosities, Secrets, and (Sometimes Unusual) Grooming Habits

Backstage access at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show gives a uncommon alternative to study ideas and tips, spill little-known secrets and techniques, shatter some canine show myths, and quell some curiosities about the canine, the handlers, and their (typically unusual) grooming habits.

Flynn, a Bichon Frisé gained Greatest in Show at the 142nd Westminster Kennel Membership Dog Show in 2018. IMAGE: Westminster Kennel Club/Jack Grassa

The Westminster Kennel Club dog show, primarily the Tremendous Bowl of canine conformation exhibits in America, will quickly crown their 143rd Greatest in Show winner. However, before a wonderfully coifed canine is crowned, a LOT goes into prepping for the huge event.

The 143rd Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, being held on February 11 and 12, 2019, will showcase a total of two,800 canine amongst 203 breeds and varieties, together with two new-to-Westminster breeds, the Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen and the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje.

Now, in contrast to most dog exhibits, no backstage passes are required at Westminster, offering the public a rare opportunity to satisfy & mingle with the 203 totally different breeds displaying in the yr’s most essential event. In truth, not only are the basic ticket-buying public granted backstage entry, the canine and their groups of householders, handlers, and groomers are literally required to be current when the lots of of keen dog-lovers and spectators walk by means of the benching area on their option to their seats inside Madison Square Backyard – although it shortly turns into clear which groups (and canine) are having fun with the spotlight and which try to slink back and look invisible to the troves of individuals passing by way of.

Additionally in contrast to other dog exhibits, Westminster takes place in midtown-Manhattan, where grassy patches and potty spots are a uncommon sight. So, with tons of of canine needing a place to “go”, Madison Square Backyard set up special indoor potty areas for the canine. Like the canine model of a port-a-potty, these areas are principally chain-link kennels lined with plastic and a thick mattress of wood-shavings.

However, the backstage access at Madison Sq. Garden gives a uncommon glimpse into the dog present world and an awesome alternative to study ideas and tips, spill little-known secrets and techniques, shatter some dog show myths, and quell some curiosities about the canine, the handlers, and their (typically uncommon) grooming habits.

Why Dog Exhibits?

So what’s the massive draw? Why would somebody need to enter the dog show world with their canine? First and foremost, it’s a love of canine and, more accurately, the love of a selected breed. The parents at Westminster aren’t your run-of-the-mill interest breeders, they undoubtedly ARE NOT backyard breeders or pet mill operators. They’re individuals who have devoted their lives – and tons, and a lot of money – to their favorite breed.

A stroll by means of the benching area (or backstage) behind Westminster reveals a whole lot of householders, breeders, and lovers eager and prepared to share the rich history and particulars about the breeds they love a lot. And, it provides canine lovers a chance to satisfy and study some breeds they didn’t even know existed,

The Norwegian Lundehund, has a singular set of options not current in another breed. IMAGE: The Dogington Publish

Last yr, we met Eva, 2018’s Greatest in Breed, 2-year previous the Norwegian Lundehund. “Lundies” are fairly new to Westminster, having their debut in 2012. This unique breed was almost extinct when in 1963, only 6 Lundies existed in the world. At present, by means of purposeful breeding the little canine – originally bred to hunt Puffins, with some unimaginable physical options not present in other breeds, like a minimal of 6 toes on each foot, an ability to turn their head upward till it touches their backbone, and ears that may be “pinched” closed dealing with both forward or backward at will – quantity in the hundreds. Best of all, they make fabulous household pets that love to play and snuggle.

And Benji, the Greatest in Breed, 4-year previous Skye Terrier, who we discovered is shedless, odorless, danderless, hypoallergenic, and, along with being completely beautiful, is sort of the cuddler when he isn’t working.

So, there have to be an enormous payout for profitable Greatest in Show, right? Flawed. Except for some big ribbons, present luggage filled with loot, and tons of accolades, there isn’t any money prize for profitable at Westminster. But, any breeder will affirm that the offspring from champion canine can usher in huge bucks, notably contemplating many previous winners have been relations (sons, daughters, littermates) to prior winners.

Nonetheless, the canine getting into the ring at Westminster are well-loved, adored family pets. They sleep in mattress with their house owners, they share their houses with youngsters, they in all probability chewed up their people’ footwear once they have been pups. And, yes, their paws DO odor like corn chips, identical to your canine’s paws – we’ve checked.

They’re actual canine. Real canine that participate in a sport. And, like some other canine sport, it takes time, coaching, socialization and a pure disposition that makes them proper for the sport. Canine are well-socialized  from delivery and are launched to conformation exhibits very early on, typically as young as 6 to 8 months previous. Proper socialization is massively essential for show canine. A canine that perfectly conforms to his breed commonplace gained’t stand an opportunity if he’s skittish, fearful, or aggressive. And grooming. Oh, so much grooming.

Grooming for Recreation Day

In the similar method an NFL player trains for months and then gets equipped for recreation day, the canine displaying at Westminster start getting ready nicely prematurely of taking to the present ring.

Adrian, an Irish Setter retains his purple locks luxurious with the assist of Pantene shampoo and conditioner. IMAGE: The Dogington Publish.

A stroll by means of the present’s backstage benching space (the place all the canine and their teams are lined up in individual cubbies, getting primped and pampered before their turn in the ring) shows quite a lot of grooming products and tools extra spectacular than a whole aisle at your local drugstore.

You’ll see hairspray, volumizer, mousse, brushes, rollers, clips, combs, clippers, sponges, spray bottles, blow dryers, and (sure) flat irons, together with some uncommon accoutrements like corn starch and rubber gloves – all serving a selected function: to look as good as attainable for the decide. Even last yr’s Greatest in Show winner, Flynn, had his nostril dusted with a shimmery powder his handler referred to as “Fairy Frost” to dry the drool from that perfectly coifed, splendidly fluffy face.


2018 Greatest in Show winner Flynn, the Bichon, earlier than he was fluffed. IMAGE: The Dogington Submit

Monte Carlo, a 4-year previous Bedlington Terrier has certainly one of the most original grooms for the ring, together with his face, ears, and chest shaved to the skin, whereas the hair on his head is brushed and fluffed, giving him a hanging appearance when compared to other, more widespread haircuts. But, this unusual groom was originally created to serve a function!

Monte Carlo, the Greatest in Breed Bedlington Terrier gets a snuggle from his human earlier than prepping for the ring. IMAGE: The Dogington Publish

Initially utilized by miners in Bedlington, England, the Bedlington Terrier was bred to hunt badgers, rabbits, and rodents generally found hiding out in coal mines. The small, agile, and quick canine have been sent into mines to filter out any vermin so miners might safely enter. The follow of shaving the canine’ face, ears, and chest originally started for hygienic reasons – these have been the areas of the canine that the majority typically turned soiled and required critical cleaning after every hunt. And, since Bedlington Terriers served dual objective as bed-warmers in their house owners’ houses, with the ability to shortly wash them earlier than heading inside to snuggle up for the night time was important.

It’s commonplace to see a groomer spend upwards of twenty minutes perfecting a single ankle pouf on a Poodle, or getting just the good quantity of peak on an Previous English Sheepdog’s head by teasing, and brushing, and teasing, and brushing once more. Yes, that millimeter of peak or single misplaced hair might imply the difference between Greatest in Breed and runner-up when the competition is particularly robust.

Talking of the competitors – this is where many don’t understand what this present is absolutely about. Lots of people ask, “How could you compare a Rottweiler to a Chihuahua and pick the best one?” Nicely, you don’t. In conformation exhibits, the canine are judged solely towards their breed normal, not towards other canine. So, for instance, in the Golden retriever breed category – of which 57 canine entered this yr – the Greatest in Breed winner was the canine that the majority conformed (get it?) to their breed commonplace.

Breed judging takes place individually from Madison Sq. Garden where the Greatest in Group and Greatest in Show competitions are held, principally as a result of there are simply far too many canine, representing far too many breeds to pack all of them into the Backyard.

The American Kennel Club defines a breed commonplace as “a word or picture describing how the perfect dog of a breed should look, move, and behave.”

Following the individual breed competitions, the winners of every breed transfer on to the Greatest in Group competitors. There are 7 groups: Herding, Sporting, Non-Sporting, Working, Toy, Terrier, and Hound. Each Greatest in Breed dog from the Herding Group, for instance, goes earlier than a decide who determines which Herding Group dog greatest conformed to their breed commonplace – so whereas a Border Collie might enter the ring alongside a Corgi, they aren’t being judged towards each other, but towards their own breed commonplace.

After the 7 Greatest in Group winners are chosen, those canine will move on to compete for Greatest in Show – again, not towards one another, however towards their very own breed commonplace.

In case you missed the Greatest in Show competitors for 2018, here’s a replay:

You’ll be able to see in the video above, the Greatest in Show decide, Betty-Anne Stenmark, takes time to rigorously inspect every canine. Naturally, she’s admiring the magnificence of every canine, but she’s additionally on the lookout for very specific characteristics – skeletal structure, coat and pores and skin condition and texture, tooth, ear placement, the approach the canine holds their tail. And when the canine make their approach around the ring, she’s watching their posture, gait, power degree, and even character that shines by means of.

And, while the dog is, in fact, the most important focus, having the right handler can make or break their second in the judging ring.

Getting a Handle on Displaying Canine

Having the proper handler (that’s the person who walks the Greatest in Show-hopeful onto the ring and trots around the flooring as directed by the decide) can imply the difference between taking residence the massive ribbon or heading house early.

Apart from growing hooked up and well-bonded to the canine they work with, the handlers play an important position at the canine present.

A dog must be totally snug in the ring, assured, alert, and content and the right handler could make all the distinction. Whereas strolling the canine round the ring, the handler watches intently for gait, posture, and stance and instantly corrects the dog with very delicate, professional leash handling and tips like appropriately timed treats or finger snaps. Dog handling is an artwork and the handlers at Westminster are the greatest artists in the business.


Kai, 2018’s Greatest in Breed Spanish Water Dog, rests comfortably alongside his owner – who additionally happens to be his handler, a rare prevalence at Westminster. This was 3.5-year previous Kai’s first time at Westminster and an enormous success! And, when he’s not at conformation exhibits, this fun-loving pup competes in obedience and rally the place he’s earned a number of titles. IMAGE: The Dogington Publish

Talking of treats, most handlers maintain them in their mouths while on the present flooring. Watch a dog present intently and you’ll see the handler pulling treats from their mouth, providing a chew to the canine, and placing the the rest back in. Sure, it’s just a little odd, however there’s a purpose they do it – and, no, it’s not some delicate approach to show dominance as some have advised. Merely sufficient, a deal with in the hand, or in a pocket, is distracting to the dog. And, if a canine is on the lookout for a treat, he’ll look at his handler’s face, or the decide’s face – the good place to look when being judged.

Apart from being healthy, this trick can also be a part of the purpose why canine in the present ring are often rewarded with cooked hen, steak, cheese, or scorching canine as an alternative of normal canine treats or biscuits. Loads of canine handlers joke about mistakenly putting a dog treat or liver in their mouths by pressure of behavior in the ring.

Handlers additionally rigorously think about their outfits earlier than hitting the ring. The standard dress-code is “business attire” but, extra essential than just dressing appropriately for the occasion, handlers choose clothes that complement or enhance the canine’s look, without distracting from it. For example, a handler displaying a black canine would by no means put on a black go well with or gown as a result of the canine would disappear in entrance of it.

And, in fact, there’s follow – and plenty of it. Handlers don’t just present up on show day and hit the ring (actually) operating. They apply their velocity, leash dealing with, and operating alongside their dog to work out any potential kinks nicely forward of judging day. And, apparently, as a result of they apply so much operating counter-clockwise in the ring with the canine, handlers have an unusually high fee of injuries to the hips, knees, and ankles on the left aspect of their body.

As you’ll be able to see, a LOT goes into making it to the prime. But, with so much time, cash, and power put towards breeding and displaying the good canine, canine lovers can’t help but think about the tens of millions of pet-perfect canine in shelters and rescues across the country, canine that deserve the similar accolades, the similar loving devotion, as their perfectly-bred cousins.

Can Dog Exhibits & Dog Rescue Exist Harmoniously?

Since it was established in 1877, pre-dating the invention of the lightbulb and the vehicle, the Westminster Kennel Membership has promoted accountable pet possession by way of instructional packages and fostered group efforts by means of packages that give again.

At its first show in 1877, Westminster donated all the proceeds from a whole day to the ASPCA to determine a house for stray and disabled canine. That donation has continued for each of the 143-years since. Over the years, the organization has helped to boost tens of millions of dollars by way of numerous packages in help of homeless canine and shelters, whereas holding strongly to the perception that educating accountable dog ownership is paramount to solving our nation’s pet overpopulation drawback.

Might passion for animal rescue and accountable pet possession be misdirected as anger or resentment toward conformation exhibits like Westminster? Keep in mind, the canine collaborating in Westminster are usually not the product of pet mills but are bred by accountable breeders that love these animals. The puppies produced by champion present canine would never be found in a lonely cage at a pet retailer, sitting atop a wire crate lined in newspaper. They don’t find yourself in shelters or on the streets.

Some argue that conformation exhibits create an unhealthy picture or normal by which most canine can’t compete, that breeding for conformation has all but ruined a number of of the common breeds we all know and love, and that it helps inhumane procedures like cropping ears and docking tails. However, issues are changing.

For canine to compete at Westminster today, they should have a proven, strong, wholesome background, with out congenital, skeletal, or bred defects. And, though ear cropping and tail docking continues to be the norm, last yr we met Teresa LaBrie and Duesy, a stunningly good-looking Nice Dane entered together with his ears huge and naturally flopping as he pranced around the ring. Though Duesy didn’t win, it gave many people hope for a floppy-eared future at Westminster.

Conformation exhibits don’t seem to be going anyplace, anytime soon. So, it’ll be essential to discover a method – collectively – to improve the lives of canine. Keep in mind, as Roger Caras, a long-time announcer and nicknamed “the voice of Westminster” stated, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

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