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Mon, Oct. 21

Blog: Who will be top dog at Westminster 2012?

Photos courtesy Westminster Kennel Club<br>Some of my favorite Best in Show winners from the past decade. Clockwise from top: Beagle, 2008; Papillon, 1999; Bichon Frise, 2001; and Sussex Spaniel, 2009.

Photos courtesy Westminster Kennel Club<br>Some of my favorite Best in Show winners from the past decade. Clockwise from top: Beagle, 2008; Papillon, 1999; Bichon Frise, 2001; and Sussex Spaniel, 2009.

Those who breed and show purebred dogs are passionate about their sport, and what better way to celebrate that passion than at the most historic, prestigious dog show in the country on Valentine's Day?

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which will take place this year on Feb. 13 and 14, has been the premier show for breeders, handlers and people who simply love canines, since 1877. It's the second longest continuously-held sporting event in the nation (the Kentucky Derby was first). People were parading their dogs around the ring at Westminster before light bulbs or the automobiles were invented!

Westminster follows the usual American Kennel Club rules for dog shows - it's an elimination contest in which each breed sends one winner to one of the seven group rings (Hound, Toy, Sporting, Non-Sporting, Herding, Working, and Terrier), where the competition is whittled down even further. At the end of the show, only seven dogs meet up in the winner-take-all Best in Show ring. Westminster has a couple of important differences, though.

The show is a "champions only" event, so each dog that is entered must have already completed the requirements for an AKC championship in its breed. This requires 15 points, earned by defeating a certain number of other dogs in sanctioned AKC shows. Two of those wins must be "majors" of three points or more, also determined by the number of dogs defeated.

Westminster is also the only remaining "benched" show in the U.S., meaning dogs must be on display in the public benching area throughout the show hours. This is pretty stressful on both dogs and handlers, because people are constantly coming through the see the dogs, the space is tight, and it's hard to get any rest under these circumstances.

Dogs aren't necessarily judged against each other at Westminster. Judges must know each breed's standard, and make their selections on how well the dogs meet that standard. However, each dog that makes it to Westminster - it's limited to 2,000 this year - has already been judged to meet its standard and gained its championship. So a judge can be confident by the time a dog defeats those of its own breed, and then wins over others in its group, and lands in the Best in Show ring, it's a good representative of its breed. This is where the fun begins, because judges in AKC generally have about two minutes to go over a dog and assess its overall quality during a class. To have a chance at the top prize, in those two minutes the handler and dog must flow perfectly together. The dog must be impeccably behaved, and training them to act like a robot won't work. You'll often hear judges say, after they have selected the Best in Show winner, that the dog "asked for the win."

This year, while watching the Best in Show competition, look for the dog that has that little extra sparkle. You'll know it when you see it!

The 2011 Best in Show winner was a Scottish Deerhound, Grand Champion Foxcliffe Hickory Wind, which was kind of fun because often the littler and more flashy dogs, such as terriers, grab the wins.

Some standouts for me in the past just over a decade have been the Papillon, Ch Loteki Supernatural Being, in 1999; Springer Spaniel Ch Salilyn 'N Erin's Shameless in 2000; the Bichon Frise Ch Special Times Just Right in 2001, 15-inch Beagle, Ch K-Run's Park Me In First; and the Sussex Spaniel, Ch Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee, in 2009.

Westminster Kennel Club does a great job of publicizing America's love affair with all things canine, both on its website and in its two-night television coverage of the event. It's great fun to watch the groups and try to outguess the judge.

Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding groups will take the stage on Monday, Feb. 13, 8-9 p.m. (ET) live on USA Network, and 9-11 p.m. (ET) live on CNBC

On Valentine's Day, the Sporting, Working and Terrier groups will be judged, and the night will culminate with the Best in Show judging from 8-11 p.m. (ET) live on USA Network.

If you can't catch the actual TV coverage, you can find the videos and a lot more online at www.westminsterkennelclub.org.

Put Westminster on your calendar this year, and see how your favorite breed of dog fares! You'll pick up a lot of tidbits on different breeds, and enjoy the myriad stories that come out of the event. It's one my spring picks!

If you know someone who is going to Westminster, you have a dog competing or have another connection to Westminster, email me and we'll let our Quad City Creatures readers know!

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