'America’s Dog Show' returns this coming weekend—after only a slight pandemic delay. Bring on the dogs!

By Austin Cannon
June 07, 2021
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It's not at the usual arena nor on the usual page of the calendar, but the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, one of the United States' oldest and grandest sporting events, is back! 

The U.S.'s second-oldest continuously running sporting event-behind only the Kentucky Derby-will grace our respective screens this weekend (June 12 and 13) as thousands of dogs compete for the title of Best in Show. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's Westminster Dog Show will be held outside at Lyndhurst Mansion and in late spring rather than winter. It's the first time the show has left the island of Manhattan. 

We spoke with Gail Miller Bisher, director of communications for the Westminster Kennel Club and Fox Sports' television analyst for the show, to tell us how to watch, how the show works, and why the 145th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show might actually be more normal for the dogs.

"For the dogs, I think it will be similar to a lot of other dog shows in that it's going to be smaller and quieter. When we're at the Garden, it's loud," she tells Daily Paws. "Most dog shows are not like that, and so it can be a different environment for some dogs who aren't used to it." 

Siba, the black standard poodle, 2020 Westminster Dog Show Winner, running with handler
Credit: Stephanie Keith / Getty

How to Watch the Westminster Dog Show 

You watch all the proceedings-which include agility, obedience, and junior competitions-on television and online through the Fox Sports collection of channels and at  Westminsterkennelclub.org.

"There's a little something for everybody," Bisher says. 

You can find the full guide, with streaming and television schedules here, but here are a couple time slots where you can really tune into the action:

  • June 12: Masters Agility Championship Finals (5-7 p.m. eastern on FOX) 
  • June 12: Group judging: hound, toy, non-Sporting, and herding (7:30-11 p.m. eastern on FS1)
  • June 13: Group judging: sporting, working, terrier, and Best in Show (7:30-11 p.m. eastern on FOX)

Outside at a mansion with no spectators is much different than the usual hustle and bustle of a packed Madison Square Garden. Case and point: Instead of a spot inside the World's Most Famous Arena, the handlers will groom their dogs at their cars in a field, Bisher says.  

However, the evening competitions will be held in an enclosed tent the Fox Sports crew has designed to look like a smaller version of the Garden. And you'll still be able to sense the same energy, even without the cheering fans.

"That'll be the same excitement. That'll be the same potential levels of anxiety or nervousness," Bisher says. "I think the handlers and the owners in the seats are all going to be excited and the dogs will feed off that energy."  

How Does the Westminster Dog Show Work?

Just like we said when it comes to the National Dog Show, this isn't a beauty contest, so the "cutest" dog might not win. It's a conformation show, meaning the dogs are judged based on how well they meet their individual breed's standards, the documented descriptions of the "ideal" dog of the particular breed. 

"It doesn't really matter if it's your favorite breed or not," Bisher says. "If it looks perfect, it's a perfect, beautiful specimen of that breed, and the owner and dog are in perfect sync together-because it is teamwork-then that's what gets people in the dog world excited, even if it isn't your breed."

Westminster will start with some 2,500 dogs from the 209 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. First, all dogs compete in the breed competition, where they're evaluated against the other dogs of their breed. So, for example, all the English bulldogs will compete against each other first.

The winners from each breed then move on to the group stage, where they'll compete against similar breeds. There are seven groups: hound, toy, non-sporting, herding, sporting, working, and terrier. Continuing with our example, the bulldog would compete in the non-sporting group.

One dog will win each group, so then those seven will compete for the big one: Best in Show. You can find the people judging your favorite breeds and groups here. This year, Patricia Craige Trotter, an 11-time winner of the hound group at Westminster, is charged with picking the Best in Show winner.  

Is There a Favorite to Win? 

Not really. You can look up rankings on the dogs considered the best show dogs this year, but that doesn't guarantee anything. As the old sports saying goes: That's why they play the game.

The judges judge the dogs on that particular day, so if dogs have an off day, they might not finish high up in the standings, Bisher says. The opposite might be true for a dog who brings the exact right temperament and energy to the ring. It could be a newcomer or a dog on the cusp of retirement.

"You never know exactly what's going to happen," Bisher says. 

Who Won Westminster Best in Show in 2020?

Early, pre-pandemic 2020 seems like it was a decade ago, but that's when they held the 2020 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The Best in Show title went to Siba the standard poodle, the fifth time a member of that breed took home top honors.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the only other breeds to take home more Best in Show hardware at Westminster are the English springer spaniel, the Scottish terrier, and the wire fox terrier, which has won 15 times. 

Are There Any New Breeds This Year? 

There are indeed; four to be exact. Each was recently recognized by the AKC, but that's about the only thing they have in common.

  • Barbet: This French water dog, pronounced bar-bey, might be new to us, but it's lived across the pond for years and years, Bisher says.
  • Biewer terrier: This is a small descendent of the Yorkshire terrier who might prefer the shorter puppy cut. "They're really trainable, and they're smart," Bisher says. 
  • Dogo Argentino: A "super athletic" breed that was bred to hunt dangerous game in Argentina has now entered the show ring.
  • Belgian Laekenois: One of four Belgian herding dogs (Malinois, sheepdog, and Tervuren), the Laekenois has a different fur texture and color than its Belgian brothers, Bisher says.