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What happens at the Westminster Kennel Club

TARRYTOWN, NY – Thousands of dogs began competing on Monday for the award for best show at the illustrious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. To the casual spectator, the annual display of disguised drivers carrying well-behaved dogs around a ring may seem like a somewhat tumultuous walk through the park, but there’s more to it than just picking a champion. So here are some details of the show:

HOW MANY DOGS COMPETE?

More than 3,000 canines, as small as chihuahuas and as massive as mastiffs, signed up to compete for the best show. Contestants represent 209 breeds and varieties (a variety is a subset of a breed; think toy poodle versus standard poodle).

Penny Allen and Bryson Allen each showed a mudi, a Hungarian breed that appears for the first time this year. The duo from Hico, Texas, are mother and son, and are only 11 years old, but “when we go up to the ring, they take off our gloves: let the best mudi win,” Penny Allen said.

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Another newly added breed, the Russian toy, competes on Tuesday. Separately, about 350 dogs competed in agility and obedience.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

First, dogs face others of their breed, sometimes dozens of others, sometimes far fewer. Norwegian buhund Buzz defeated only one opponent, his half-sister, to win his race on Monday, while 43 Rhodesian ridgebacks faced a ring away.

Buzz breeder, owner, and host Amie McLaughlin of Kent, Washington, was a little sad to no longer see the small, loving shepherds she considers “the hidden gem of the dog world.” But Buzz won’t rest on his laurels: “We have a lot of promise,” he said.

The winner of each breed goes on to a semi-final round, where they are judged against others in their “group”, such as hounds, grazing dogs or terriers. In the final round, the group’s winners compete for the best show, which will be delivered on Wednesday night.

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WHAT DO THE JUDGES LOOK FOR?

Judges have the task of determining which dog best suits the ideal, or “standard,” for their breed.

“You see an Afghan and a beagle; they’re not saying which is better. They’re saying which one looks more like the written standard of their breed,” Westminster spokeswoman Gail Miller Bisher said. “It is the dog that will transmit the key characteristics of that breed.”

The standard derives from the original function of the breed and can talk about everything from teeth to tail to temperament. For example, a dog that was developed for hunting in rough terrain may need to have thick-legged pads, or a grazing dog that has proportions that allow for quick, tight turns.

So the driver of a borzoi, for example, has to show that the dog can “move as if it could catch a wolf,” said manager Ron Williams of Wantage, New Jersey. Someone who shows a miniature pinscher wants to show the high step that is a hallmark of the breed. A saluki will be examined to detect certain angles in their legs and feet that underlie the running speed and athleticism of these elegant-looking lizard desert hunters.

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So elegant-looking that owner Jennifer Rimerman, who was in Westminster on Monday with her saluki Haney, heard potential owners say how “my furniture would look so beautiful.”

In fact, they would, but Rimerman’s show dog can also catch a bird in the air.

“The shape of a saluki really needs to follow its function, and its function wasn’t to look pretty on a couch,” said Rimerman, of Cape May, New Jersey.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO PREPARE?

Westminster canine competitors are well trained to handle being handled in the ring. But getting ready can still take hours. Or more time.

Bergamo shepherd dogs Coco and Sapphire bathed two days before their turn in the ring on Monday, as their thick, flocked coats take a day to dry. “It’s like a wet wool sweater that’s very thick,” said breeder Yvonne Bunevich of Quaker Hill, Connecticut. “It’s not a dog to wash and go.”

ARE THERE MIXED BREED DOGS IN WESTMINSTER?

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Yes. They can compete in agility and obedience, but only purebreds can compete for the best show.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THAT PURE BREED FOCUS?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals regularly organizes protests outside the Westminster show to denounce what the animal advocacy group considers an irresponsible purebred contest. The kennel club says the show highlights the preservation of the wide variety of dog breeds.

WHAT DO YOU GET THE BEST IN WINNING SHOW?

Boasting rights and a trophy. There is no cash prize.

SO WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE SEX?

“Show the dogs, let people see a good dog,” says Vickie Venzen of Jarretsville, Maryland, who took care of Coco on Monday while daughter Tia Williams scrutinized Sapphire.

Many attendees also appreciate the sense of community involved in spending weekend after weekend at concerts together, sharing tips, grooming spaces, and their love for dogs.

“You develop this relationship because we’re more like a family,” Robin Greenslade of Hudson, New Hampshire said Monday as he helped care for his miniature pinscher, Adele, and half a dozen more dogs under the care of manager Kim Calvacca.

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“It’s truly a lifestyle,” Greenslade said. “And it’s a love job.”

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What happens at the Westminster Kennel Club

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