Rooting for the Frenchie, Lab, or golden to win Best in Show? You won't have history on your side.
golden retriever runs alongside handler at dog show
Credit: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show has so far been anything but a popularity contest. 

It's by design. A show dog who matches her standards and has a special X-factor should do well regardless of her breed. It's why a Scottish deerhound and an affenpinscher—two relatively little-known dogs—have won Best in Show at America's oldest dog show

But it's still curious that out of 115 Best in Show winners, none are members of the country's three most popular breeds: the French bulldog, Labrador retriever, and golden retriever. Some have gotten close over the last century and a half, but the dogs with the biggest fanbases still go home empty pawed. 

Why? Some think their popularity works against them or they're not flashy enough. Others say Labradors' strict set of standards makes it hard for them to progress. When asked why the popular breeds hadn't won, Desmond Murphy, a conformation show judge for 47 years, replied, "I really don't know."  

Perhaps the (albeit unsatisfactory) answer? It's simply hard to win Westminster.

Long Odds

It's not just the top three most popular breeds, which the American Kennel Club measures based on its registration numbers. Twelve of the 20 most popular dogs have never won Westminster.   

Some other popular breeds—standard poodles, bulldogs, and beagles—have taken home the trophy. Not that it's easy: Only 48 different breeds and varieties (out of 212) have won as we approach this year's 147th edition.     

To take home the trophy, dogs have to win three different competitions over two days: the breed, the group, and then Best in Show. With only one dog representing each breed at the group level, the vast majority—more than 90 percent—are done after showing once. 

Judges decide who moves on, and while Murphy doesn't think his colleagues exclude breeds based on popularity, everyone has their own preferences, unconscious or otherwise. On a purely numerical basis, chances are one of the other dozens of dogs in the group will fit her breed's standards better than the Frenchie, golden, or Lab. 

(Remember, dogs are measured against their breed's standard. It's not a beauty contest.)    

In broad terms, you have to have the right dog and the right judges on the right day.  

Look no further than Star the bulldog's journey at last year's AKC National Championship. In the Non-Sporting Group, she beat out Winston, the Frenchie who'd captured the National Dog Show title amid dozens of other Best in Shows. In the final ring, Murphy selected her over the reigning Westminster champion, Trumpet the bloodhound

That's quite the gauntlet, even for highly ranked dogs. 

Portrait of French Bulldog, Winston, the winner of the National Dog Show 2022
Credit: Steve Donahue / SeeSpotRun Photo / National Dog Show

Frenchie Momentum?

It's not only that America's most popular breeds haven't won Westminster. It's that they've mostly failed to get close. Until recently.

Goldens have only won the Sporting Group three times, most recently in 2020. That's puzzling to Murphy because he believes goldens actually are one of those "flashy" breeds, and he's seen them win plenty of all-breed shows. 

Labs, meanwhile, have never won the group. (In fact, retrievers of all kinds have only won the group four times.) This is less surprising to Murphy, who says "big-time" conformation Labs have been few and far between since the 1950s. Plus, he says many Labs will compete in specialty shows rather than all-breed competitions.

That said, guess which two breeds have the highest number of Westminster entrants: the goldens (51) and the Labs (43). 

Then we have the 38 Frenchies entered in this year's show. Their ascent in popularity has almost mirrored their recent Westminster success. The breed first won the Non-Sporting Group in 2010, and three years later it was No. 11 on the AKC's most popular breeds list.

Now the Frenchie is the most popular dog in America, and the breed has won the Non-Sporting Group at Westminster two years in a row. Last year's Non-Sporting winner, the aforementioned Winston, also took home Reserve Best in Show (second place). 

"This guy's gonna be tough to beat," FOX Sports commentator Chris Myers said as Winston took his final jog around the ring in 2022. 

At that point, Winston was the top-ranked dog in the country. He was invited back and enters this year's show ranked No. 2 across all breeds behind a Doberman pinscher named Wicked. 

So What About This Year? 

Man, I don't know! I've documented how bad I am at this. This could be the Frenchie's year, or we could see an unprecedented Labrador Best in Show. Or the wire fox terrier could win for a record 16th time.

It's unpredictable, so all I can provide are context and numbers, two things the internet famously loves: 

  • Wire fox terriers are the winningest breed at Westminster, taking home 15 Best in Shows. Other big winners include Scottish terriers (8 Best in Shows); English springer spaniels (6); standard poodles (5); and Pekingese (5). 
  • When it comes to the most wins by group, the Terrier Group has taken home 47 Best in Shows. The Herding Group has only won twice, both German shepherds
  • There hasn't been a repeat winner since springer spaniel Ch. Chinoe's Adamant James in 1971 and '72.
  • These are the highest-ranked dogs going into the show. It's no guarantee of Westminster success, but they've proved they can win this year. 

Looking for an underdog? Try the English foxhound. The breed is No. 199 (last) on the AKC's popularity list but No. 1 in our hearts.