Every year, thousands of dogs flock to Manhattan to partake in the annual Westminster Dog Show, a long-standing tradition hosted by the Westminster Kennel Club. Spread out over two days across two venues, the Westminster Dog Show is one of the largest and most well-known dog shows in the world. But how are dog shows judged? How do they prep for the show ring? And better yet, what does it take to be named Best in Show?
How Dog Shows Are Judged
The ultimate goal of conformation dog shows (aka breed shows) such as the Westminster is to improve breeding stock, so dogs are judged on how well they conform to their individual breed’s standards. For example, Pugs get judged very differently than German Shepherds because of their specific breed’s standards for form and function. Judges pay special attention to the dog’s appearance, movement and temperament as they relate to the dog’s respective breed and group.
The Westminster Dog Show features 202 breeds that fall into the Hound, toy, non-sporting, herding, sporting, working and Terrier groups. Because every breed has its own set of standards for the “ideal dog,” judges must become familiar with each breed’s specifications. Though each breed is very unique, many exhibitors start their dog show preparation routines in similar ways!
Show-Ready Dog Grooming Routine
Behind the Stage
While each breed has specific standards and permitted dog grooming cuts, starting with a thorough bath is step one to having a ring-ready dog. Some breeds require trimmed and clipped coats while others are well-manicured with only a flawless blow dry. Proper grooming is incredibly important because it showcases the dog’s build and breed conformation while also complementing his movement in front of the judge.
Nutrition from the Inside Out
Ensuring a show-ready pup doesn’t end with meticulous dog grooming; it also requires nutrition to work from the inside out for a glossy coat, proper tone and a healthy, strong build. Many dogs get supplements such as Cosequin to not only promote healthy skin and a shiny coat, but for increased joint support and ease of mobility to keep them moving and feeling their best.
Becoming Best in Show
With each round of competition, the judge starts out by looking at all of the dogs together before asking the exhibitors to display their dog’s movement in a lap around the ring in order to obtain a first impression. Then, the judge inspects each dog individually and assesses their body composition, build and movement before finally choosing winners.
Dogs start out competing across their breed in their respective age and sex categories. The two top dogs—one male and one female—from each age division then compete for the title Best of Breed. Each competing dog breed falls into one of seven kennel club groups. The Best of Breed dogs then get judged again across their group to narrow down all entrants into seven group winners who then compete for Best in Show.
From dog grooming to exhibition, the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual Westminster Dog Show brings together thousands of dogs across 202 breeds to represent their individual breed’s unique standards. Though competition is fierce, the top prize really is the passionate bond created between dogs and their handlers. Seen in the celebratory kisses and post-show snuggles, the event’s true defining characteristic is the investment of care that goes into looking after and showing off these top dogs as they all compete for the coveted James Mortimer Sterling Silver Trophy for Best in Show.
Originally from Chicago, Nicole joined the Chewy team as a marketing intern in January, 2017. Since then, Nicole has continued writing and photographing for Chewy as a Content Collaborator while completing her education at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. She is majoring in both marketing and corporate innovation, before returning to Chewy as a Marketing Analyst. In her free time, Nicole enjoys traveling, riding her horse or snuggling up with her Pug, @zoetheloaf, and Terrier, Cozmo.