Next Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 10 and 11, is the 138th annual Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, arguably the most prestigious dog show in the United States. Add Saturday to this year's TV-viewing to see the Masters Agility Championship.
At last year's show, for the first time since 1991, Westminster was open to dogs that have not (yet) become champions of their breed. I competed in Westminster years ago with several of my Mastiffs, and the experience is unlike any other dog show. In fact, totally dating myself, I showed a dog at the centennial show 38 years ago. The competitors received a 100th anniversary medallion, which I still have, and my Mastiff won Best-of-Opposite-Sex-to-Best-of-Breed. Although that was a wonderful win, it didn't qualify her to compete in the Working Group.
Back then, dogs who had not yet achieved their championships were eligible to compete as long as they had at least one "major" win - a win against larger competition, earning at least three points toward their championships. Then in 1992, Westminster became the first "Champions only" dog show - open only to dogs that had finished their championships. Last year, Westminster returned to the previous format, accepting dogs who aren't champions.
The portion of the show that is televised Monday and Tuesday nights is group judging. During the day, the dogs are judged in their individual breed rings, and the winner of each breed competes in the group to which that breed belongs. Monday night the groups include hound, toy, non-sporting and herding. Tuesday night, the group judging includes sporting, working, and terrier. The winner of each group from Monday night will return on Tuesday night to join those group winners for the Best in Show judging.
Westminster is one of the few dog shows that is "benched." Dogs at a benched show stay in an exhibit area not surprisingly called the "benches." At unbenched shows, dogs arrive in time for their breed classes, and are free to leave after they're judged. The advantage to a benched show is that the public can see all the breeds that are entered and talk with the owners and breeders of every breed. For exhibitors, the benched show offers an opportunity to talk with, get to know and learn from fellow exhibitors.
I hope you'll see some dogs from New Hampshire at Westminster. You may have noticed last week's New Hampshire Sunday News had a front page, above the fold, picture and story about some of the dogs going to Westminster next week. The front page photo was Chinook, Birr (CH Lakeside Run's Little Bear), who happens to be Larry's dad (isn't he proud!). This is the first year that Chinooks will be competing at Westminster, and our fingers (and paws) are crossed for Birr and Kris Holleran, his owner-handler. Kris is a high school teacher by day, and assists in some of our manners classes at night. We hope to see them in prime time on Tuesday night, competing in the working group.
This year, for the first time, mixed-breed dogs will be competing along with the pure-bred dogs in the Westminster Dog Agility Competition, on Saturday, Feb. 8. Entries were selected by a random draw, and one of our agility Instructors, Lynn Thibodeau, and her four-year-old Shetland Sheepdog Kaleigh (officially PACH2 Sunaire Tri 'N Catch Me), were chosen to compete. They'll compete in two qualifying rounds during the day, and the dogs with the highest combined scores will compete in the Championship round, which will be televised Saturday night. We hope to see Lynn and Kaleigh!
There are lots of other New Hampshire dogs competing at Westminster, but even if none of them make it onto the televised portions, Westminster is a show to watch. That is, if you love seeing a variety of dogs in a spectacle that happens just once a year.
Set your DVRs on the Olympics, so you can watch Westminster live. The Masters Agility Championship will air Saturday, Feb. 8 on FOX Sports 1 from 7 to 9 p.m. The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will air Monday, Feb. 10 on CNBC from 8 to 11 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 11 on USA Network from 8 to 11 p.m.
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn® near Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. To suggest a topic for this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Rd., Manchester, NH 03103.