PET TIPS: The wonderful world of Westminster

For most people, the second week of February means Valentine’s Day. But for dog-show folks, it’s all about Westminster.

This year, America’s oldest and most famous canine competition takes place on Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 11 and 12, when the 143rd annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show comes to New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

Westminster has now stretched into almost a full week of dog-related events, but the heart of it is still the two-day conformation show. “Conformation” means that each dog is judged according to how well his physical appearance conforms to the written standard for his breed. Some people refer to this type of show as a “beauty contest,” but it’s not as simple as choosing the prettiest dog. Rather, the judge tries to determine which dog best represents what his breed was designed for (within one of the seven breed groups – Sporting, Herding, Working, Hound, Toy, Terrier, and Non-sporting).

The winners of those seven groups will compete for Best in Show on Tuesday night, but it won’t be easy narrowing down the field of contestants.

More than 2,800 dogs, representing 203 breeds and varieties, are entered in the conformation show, and as usual, the pre-show festivities have included the introduction of “new” breeds that have never before appeared at Westminster.

Of course, it takes decades to develop a breed, so these new ones didn’t suddenly materialize. Typically, these are breeds that are well-established in their home countries but only recently have been imported to the United States and accepted into the American Kennel Club.

This year, there are two “newcomers”: the Nederlandse Kooikerhond (in the Sporting Group) and the Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen (Hound Group). You can see them, along with all the other breeds, during the group judging, which will air live Monday and Tuesday night on the Fox Sports One channel (the Best-in-Show judging will start around 10 p.m. Tuesday).

But there’s much more to Westminster now. Facing criticism for focusing only on purebreds, dog-show clubs are branching out with events that judge dogs on their skills rather than their appearance.

So, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10 on the Fox broadcast network, you can watch the finals of the 6th annual Masters Agility Championship at Westminster.

In addition, you can see coverage of the 4th annual Masters Obedience Championship at Westminster, which will air on Nat Geo WILD from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.

However, for some viewers (including me), there’s a problem with having all this coverage divided up between several different TV networks: Your television provider might not offer all of these channels in your viewing package.

But if you have high-speed Internet, there’s another option: live streaming of events. You can find more information about this and other dog-show topics at


Debbie Gilbert has been handling dogs for more than 50 years and won numerous AKC obedience competitions with her late Sheltie, Sunny. She lives with her current Sheltie, Daisy. E-mail your Pet Tips questions to

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