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What is the Westminster Dog Show?

The biggest dog show in North America returns starting today. Here’s what you’ll be watching.

Dogs participating in the 146th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show are shown during a press preview at the Hudson Yards on June 16, 2022 in New York City. The show will run from June 18th until June 22th at the Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, New York. There will be over 3,500 dogs with over 200 breeds competing in three different competitions. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show returns on Saturday to the Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York, as ribbons for the best dog in all 209 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club will be handed out over the next five days as well.

With over 3500 dogs participating, judges make selections in each of the 209 “Best In Breed” winners. That narrows to the seven “Best In Group” selections: Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting, Herding, Sporting, Working, and Terrier. Eventually of the seven group winners, a “Best In Show” award is given for the dog that represents the best aspects of a breed.

A terrier has won the top prize 47 out of 112 times at Westminster, including 15 Wire Fox Terriers alone. 18 winners of 112 have been from the Sporting Group, but last year “Wasabi,” a 3-year-old black-masked red male Pekingese, took home the title. Wasabi was the grandson of the 2012 winning dog as well. The Pekingese is part of the toy group.

What are the judges looking for?

Each breed has a “standard”, which is a written description of the ideal specimen of that breed. So for example here’s the standard for a German Shepherd, which is three pages long. It’s a lot of language such as this passage.

“It is well balanced, with harmonious development of the forequarter and hindquarter. The dog is longer than tall, deep-bodied, and presents an outline of smooth curves rather than angles. It looks substantial and not spindly, giving the impression, both at rest and in motion, of muscular fitness and nimbleness without any look of clumsiness or soft living.”

These are characteristics that the purebred dogs are bred to have, and the judge is just looking for the best encapsulation of that breed standard. So physical traits (height and weight, coat color, shape, size of tail, etc) and temperament are both being assessed.

And yes, this is all very subjective: It’s one judge, applying their interpretation of the standard, and their opinion of the best dog on that particular day.