Thousands of dogs have descended upon New York City for what may be the most eventful week of their lives – or, at least, their humans’ lives.
The dogs, among the most beautiful and well-behaved in the country, have trained for this day for months or years. They’ve come to compete in the canine equivalent of the Olympics or the Oscars.
It’s the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Westminster is where the best of the best compete to earn their place in the annals of animal history. There are obedient border collies and peppy Chihuahuas, springy greyhounds and meticulously groomed Bichon Frisés. The human handlers are perhaps more nervous than their canine charges. Judges painstakingly examine each best-in-show hopeful from snout to tail. The pups, meanwhile, receive plenty of treats regardless of whether they come out on top.
Below, find a crash course on the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, including how you can watch the pups compete.
A brief history of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
Widely considered the most prestigious of all professional dog shows in the US, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show’s pedigree is proven: Since 1877, dogs of all stripes have vied for the title of best in show. It’s the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the country, after the Kentucky Derby, and it even predates the creation of the American Kennel Club, which wasn’t founded until 1884.
Thousands of canine contestants vie for best in show
More than 3,000 dogs from 210 breeds were expected in Queens, New York, this week to strut their stuff at Westminster.
The canine competitors are divided into groups: Toy (think puffy Pomeranians and bug-eyed pugs), sporting (golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers), hound (beagles and bassets), terrier (Scotties and miniature schnauzers), working (hulking huskies and massive mastiffs) and non-sporting (your French bulldogs and poodles, who are more suited for the couch than the hunt).
First, dogs must prove they’re the best of their breed: They’re evaluated against American Kennel Club standards for their breed, as they stand for inspection and trot before a sharply dressed judge. The finest representatives of each breed move onto the group judging round. They’ll compete against the other breeds in their group to move onto the final round, during which the final seven dogs representing the best of each group will compete for the top prize.
It’s difficult to pick out a frontrunner when so many of the breed winners haven’t been decided, but one competitor is entering with a sizable fanbase: Winston the French bulldog. The non-sporting sweetheart won the National Dog Show last year and best in show reserve (or runner-up) at Westminster in 2022. Winston returns to Westminster with high expectations and a low center of gravity.
This year will also see the debut of the Bracco Italiano, a droopy-faced sporting dog newly recognized by the American Kennel Club.
Past winners include champs of all shapes and sizes
Last year, Trumpet the bleary-eyed bloodhound ran away with best in show, the first bloodhound to earn the title. In 2021, a charmingly coiffed Pekingese named Wasabi won the title, the second Pekingese in a decade to come out on top at Westminster. The wire fox terrier has also won best in show twice in the last decade – King in 2019 and Sky in 2014 (the latter dog also won the National Dog Show in 2012 – this is a breed hungry for glory).
Winning pups have gone on to become therapy dogs, appear on Broadway and retire at the home of Martha Stewart.
How to watch the Westminster Dog Show
Breed judging is streaming live on the Westminster Kennel Club’s website Monday and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET. The channel FS2 will broadcast highlights from breed judging throughout the day, though group judging – and the coveted best-in-show crowning – can be seen only on FS1 from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday.