Man and dog have long held a curious relationship with each other. At first, the dogs were helpers: help with finding and catching food, help with the work. At some point in history, one man said to the other man, “My dog’s better than your dog” and the other guy said, “Show me”. That day, the rudiments of the modern dog show were born.
There are dog shows in one park or another nearly every weekend. There are dog shows specifically held to show off a particular group of dogs’ prowess in, say, mushing. There are shows where only one particular breed is being judged.
There are also many, many dog shows held here or there nearly every day of the year at which American Kennel Club representatives do the judging. These shows are held for the serious dog showman who begins showing his dog as a six month old puppy. Show dogs, to continue up the ladder of prestige, must win in these shows. Earning blue ribbons as he progresses is essential. The more ribbons he wins the better since they are his only ticket to the Westminster Dog Show.
The Westminster is the World Series, the Nobel Prize in the show dog world. Over one hundred twenty years ago, the Westminster Kennel Club was initiated by a group of gentlemen who enjoyed sporting dogs, primarily Pointers and Setters. The group’s frequent meeting place was held at the Westminster Kennel Club. It was established with a two-fold purpose: to increase an interest in dogs, thus improve the breeds, and to hold an annual dog show.
In 1876, noting the success of dog shows held in England and one in Philadelphia, it was decided to hold a dog show in New York City. Choosing the name of the hotel in which they met as the name of the dog show, this group of sportsmen presented the “First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs”. Produced by the Westminster Kennel Club, the show was held in Gilmore’s Gardens, (the Hippodrome) at Madison Avenue and 8th Street, now the site of the New York Life Building which also contains the AKC headquarters. Gilmore’s Gardens at the time was an old railroad depot, which two years later became the first Madison Square Garden. The show was held from May 8th through the 10th, 1877. This first dog show was so successful with exhibitors and the public that it was extended to include another day, May 11th. With a few exceptions in the early years, the Westminster Dog Show continues to be held in Madison Square Garden. In 1888, the club moved its date from May to February where it remains to this day.
Since the first shows in 1877 through 1920, Westminster continued as a four day show. Then, in 1921 through 1940, the show was condensed to a three day show. Since then and to the present day, Westminster presents a two day show. Westminster is the oldest, continuous sporting event in America, with the exception of the Kentucky Derby, which is two years older. It has been held each year despite power shortages, storms, national depressions, and World Wars. In the beginning years, prize winners were presented with rewards such as pearl-handled revolvers to “aid the owner in the hunt”.
The first great Pointer that the club owned was named “Sensation”. He was said to have the best head of any Pointer in the world. Through the years, the club has preserved his memory by adopting his picture as the club logo. As of 1992, the show is limited to dogs that have earned their AKC champion of record title. Westminster has entries from every state in the United States and many from Canada and other countries as well. Approximately a quarter of a million dogs have been in competition in Westminster’s one hundred twenty-two shows.
The club’s first Best in Show award was made in 1907 to a Smooth Fox Terrier, Ch. Warren Remedy. She also won the top award in 1908 and 1909, making her the only dog to have won three Best in Shows at Westminster. To date, seven dog in all have taken more than on Best in Show, the latest being Dr. Milton E. Prickett’s English Springer Spaniel, Ch. Chinoe’s Adamant James in 1971 and 1972. A total of five owners have won Best in Show with different dogs. In the 130th Westminster Show (February 2006), Rufus, a Bull Terrier, was the first of its breed to win Best In Show. The winners by group since 1907 are:
Several days before the show, the benching is set up in the Garden rotunda area with signs to show where the various breed are located. Dogs coming from distant cities may arrive two or three days before the show opens and the facilities are made available for them. The night before the show begins, there is usually a hockey game in the main arena of the Garden. The instant the game ends and the ice melted, crews go to work setting up the show rings.
On Monday morning, the show opens for two days of continuous breed judging and Group judging in the evenings. By Tuesday evening, only seven dogs remain in the competition from the more than 2,500 dogs that open the two day show. Finally, one dog will stand alone in the center of the Madison Square Garden arena: Best in Show at Westminster.
Article by Patty Peepers