A Little History Lesson About The Westminster Dog Show

139th Annual Westminster Kennel Club & Dog ShowThe Westminster Kennel Club’s 139th Annual Dog Show will take place in February at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Almost everyone is familiar with its name. But how did this famous show get started?

Around the year 1876 a group of gentleman met in their favorite bar in New York City. They shared stories about hunting and shooting, certainly trying hard to out do one and other, I’m sure. But mostly their favorite topic was discussing the qualities and love of their various hunting dogs. It occurred to someone in this group that they should form a club to showcase their special dogs. They did, and they called it The Westminster Kennel Club, named after their favorite hotel in Manhattan.

This led to their first annual dog show held May 8, 1877. The Westminster Kennel Club show kicked off at Gilmore’s Garden (the predecessor to Madison Square Garden) in New York City.

It was an immediate success drawing a remarkable entry of 1,201 dogs. These were mostly hunting dogs especially pointers and setters.

The show was “benched” which meant the dogs stayed at the show all day so that the public could see them up close and talk to their owners.


Inside Madison Square Garden

The entry fee for each dog was 2.00. By the way, today the fee is 100.00!

The annual show continued to be very popular and in 1905 the record entry of 1,752 dogs made it the largest dog show in the world.

By 1909 many other breeds were added and the Terriers became the judges favorite. In fact a little Smooth Fox Terrier, named CH Warren Remedy won Best in Show three times, a record that still stands today.

The first Madison Square Garden opened in 1926 and the show moved to that location. It remained there until 1968 when the new Madison Square Garden opened. It has been held there every year in February ever since.

Junior handlers were added to the competition in 1934. Young people ages 9 to 17 could show their dogs. The children competed, showing off their handling skills, the dogs did not compete against each other.

The show was first televised in 1948 making it even more popular with the general public.

In 1992 the Westminster Dog Show became the first “champions only” show, held by the American Kennel Club. This made the show extremely prestigious. It truly highlighted the “Best of the Best” of purebred dogs.

In 1999, (the first show that I attended as a spectator,) a Papillion won Best in Show. CH Loteki Supernatural was the oldest dog, at age 8 to win the big ribbon. In 2009 “Stump” a Sussex Spaniel became the oldest dog to win at age 10.

The show became so popular that it sold out for the first time in 2005. It continues to sell out and nighttime ticket prices have skyrocketed.


Connie gets ready for the big event in 2014

Terriers continue to be the most popular winners, 45 have won Best in Show. The herding group has only one once. Toys have won 9 times. A Chihuahua has never won Best in Show at Westminster.

The popular movie “Best in Show” (2000) was based on the Westminster Dog Show. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me if the real dog show world is like the movie. My response is, yes, in many ways it is. The somewhat quirky people and their love, or should I say obsession with their dogs is how they are definitely similar. However the big difference is, at Westminster, only the top dogs win.

The top dogs are shown all over the country (and sometimes the world) by professional handlers. The small time dog owner is not going to win the big ribbon! The owners of the top dogs spend a fortune to “campaign” their beautiful dogs. Last week I was talking to a friend who told me they spent 20.000 dollars in 5 months on their show dog for handler fees and magazine ads. I kid you not! Big money means big winners!

Many changes have occurred at the show over the last two years. The biggest change is, that it is no longer a “champions only” show. Dogs with

with one major win can be entered, that is, 3 points with a major entry. It takes 15 points (with 2 majors) to become a champion. This takes the prestige away, I think. But that’s the way it is.


New York at night is stunning!

They have also added a Masters Agility Championship (held on Saturday Feb. 14th this year.) This event shows the amazing abilities of well-trained dogs, showing off their skills. This is open to all dogs, not just purebreds.

The other big change is, that the daytime breed completion is no longer at Madison Square Garden. It is now held at the Piers, (92 and 94) on 12th Ave. in NYC. I must say, I really miss competing at the garden, It’s just not the same. But it brings in more money for the AKC. (3000 dogs will compete this year.)

The nighttime shows, where the groups compete and Best in Show is still held at Madison Square Garden.

The 2nd Annual Masters Agility Championship At Westminster will be held February 14-15. The Westminster Kennel Club presents AKC Meet The Breeds is slated for February 14. And the big one – The Westminster Kennel Club 139th Annual All Breed Dog Show is on February 16th and 17th. Ticket info is available at http://www.westminsterkennelclub.org/2015/show/tickets.html.

Rocky and I will be there. See you at the show!


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