The 144th annual canine competition will take place from Feb. 8 – 11 in New York City, as over 2,600 dogs from 49 states and 19 countries, representing 204 breeds, battle for the top spot in the Hound, Toy, Sporting, Non-sporting, Herding, Working and Terrier divisions, WKC Dog Show national spokesperson and FOX Sports analyst Gail Miller Bisher told Fox News.
Ahead of the event, Miller Bisher discussed the history of America’s longest continuously-held dog show, the misconceptions about the competition, and just what the judges are looking for in determining this year’s “Best in Show” champ.
FOX NEWS: What can fans expect from the Dog Show this year?
GAIL MILLER BISHER: We have a new breed in the ring, as the Azawakh joins the Hound group. It will be the Azawakh’s first time showing at Westminster, as the breed is new to the American Kennel Club (AKC.) Six dogs are entered, and one will win best of breed, then continue on to that advanced competition on the green carpet at Madison Square Garden for the first time ever. It’s exciting for the Azawakh!
FOX: How many dogs are competing this year?
GMB: There are over 2,600 in the Dog Show from 49 states and 19 countries. All must be American champions in order to show. Our largest entry in terms of states is from California – there are well over 200 entries, coming all the way across the country to Manhattan, to compete.
FOX: What is something people may not know about the competition?
GMB: There was a third day added this year, with prejudging on Sunday for the first time at Pier 94. It’s a good thing because families can come on the weekend and see all the dogs.
[In addition to the signature WKC Dog Show events on Monday and Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, the organization’s Masters Agility Championship will be held on Saturday and the Masters Obedience Championship will be held on Sunday.]
Many people also don’t know that we’re a benched dog show. Since the first show was held in 1877, it’s aimed to be a public education event. Say, if you love beagles, the public is welcome to go and meet the breeders, owners and handlers, to really learn more about the dog. Probably as soon as they’re done competing, people are welcome to go visit the dog, touch them, ask questions and talk to the dog’s team about the breed, maybe if they’re looking to see if that dog would work with their lifestyle. People think that because they’re show dogs, they can’t approach them!
We have CEO’s, teachers, postal workers and many more – so many different people involved in the dog breeding, owning and handling world.
FOX: What is a common misconception about how the dogs are judged?
GMB: One thing that we always try to explain is that there’s a written standard, per breed, as the dog’s form follows their original function. These are purpose-bred dogs, many bred to work in some capacity originally. Things like their shape, coat texture and temperaments are based on that original purpose, and explains all the elements of their ideal.
Our judges learn, study and judge for many, many years – it’s very experienced dog show judges coming to Westminster. Say if you had two very different dogs like German Shepherds vs. Corgis, you’re going to be judging whether it’s closer to that ideal German Shepheard or Corgi. It’s much more detailed than people think. It’s not a beauty contest at all! There’s history involved, there’s science involved – there is a lot more to it.
FOX: People often forget that these aren’t just show dogs, these are people’s pets.
GMB: Oftentimes, people in this sport are two or three generations deep. I’m second generation, my parents did breeding, showing, judging – often times it’s a family affair, because these dogs live in your house. It’s part of your life, part of the family! If you’re used to that and you love the dogs, it’s a lifestyle, almost.
When I first had my daughter, my dogs were always right there, and I think that’s telling of the sport in general. People love it, love trying to preserve the breeds and its special features, to make sure the next generation is healthy and sound, continues and doesn’t fade away.
FOX: What are you most looking forward to this year?
GMB: We try to make the show better every year. With the Azawakh joining, the breeders who put so much into going through the AKC process [of accreditation] can finally enjoy the moment. The best thing [for competitors] is being able to talk and explain things – at its core, that’s what a dog show really is.
It’s an evaluation of breeding stock – what the dogs should be used for, and how they can best produce the next generation. At the core of it, it’s all about the love of dogs. People are coming cross-country, from Canada, investing time, money and energy into this, they’ve been dedicated. This is one of the largest celebrations of dogs you will find.
Watch the 144th WKC Dog show on the WKC website, WKC app and Fox Sports app from Feb. 8 – 11. Select group competitions, followed by the Best in Show competition, will be held on Tuesday night from 7:30 pm to 11:00 pm EST and streamed live on FS1.