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Judging The Westminster Dog Show: How They Choose A Champion

Counting down to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and wonder just how best in show is determined? Wonder no more!

Every year, the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is held in Madison Square Garden, New York City, showcasing the best dogs worldwide. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 145th event was moved to Lyndhurst, New Jersey, for one year before moving back to the iconic venue; unfortunately, the event moved once more and temporarily postponed in 2022 until health and safety concerns diminished for the competitors, owners, handlers, judges and spectators.

These purebred dogs are more than man's best friend — They are trained specifically to participate in show competitions and highlight their skills. While the Westminster Kennel Club predates the American Kennel Club, the show competition uses standards set by each breeds club and approved by the AKC. Group judging occurs, and eventually, the top dog is chosen in each category. But how exactly does judging the Westminster dog show work?

Judging The Westminster Dog Show

Judges stand with Westminster dog show contestant

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The 146th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is planned to be filled with Champions only, per the Westminster Kennel Club. This means that only dogs who have competed in prior AKC competitions will be allowed to compete and have won 15 points between the approved shows. Therefore, there are no first-time dog show attendees at this prestigious show. Additionally, all breed groups are entered into the Best of Breed competition.

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Breed judging is done by a panel of judges. However, Best of Breed is not the only award handed out. The judges also award the following distinctions:

  • Best of Variety or Breed: Judges determine the best dog in its breed group or variety
  • Best of Opposite Sex: Judges pick the best dog that is opposite to the Best of Breed winner
  • Select Dog and Select Bitch: Champion dog and Bitch are picked after BOB and BOS
  • Grand Championship Points: Points given by the breed judge that are applied to the AKC Grand Championship title
  • Awards of Merit: Given at the judge's discretion for attributes that do not fall into the other categories

The AKC recognizes 209 dog breeds, and the dogs are split into seven categories:

  • Hound group
  • Sporting group
  • Working group
  • Terrier group
  • Toy group
  • Non-sporting group
  • Herding group

The dogs are shown by their breeders, owners, or professional handlers in three different levels, the Master's Agility Championship, Junior Showmanship Preliminaries, and the group and breed judges. The group judge looks over all of the dogs in the category, ranging from one dog to over 50 dogs. Then, applying AKC standards, the judge picks the first through fourth place winners in each group competition, and the group winner goes on to the Best in Show. One of the seven is chosen as the best of the best. Second place is named the Reserve Best in Show and is announced before Best in Show.

Some of the past Best in Show winners have been Poodles, German Shepherds, Bichon Frise, Beagles, and Wire Fox Terriers. The 2021 Master Agility Championship winner was Verb the Border Collie.

Do you look forward to the Westminster Dog Show every year? Tell us on our Wide Open Pets Facebook page. 

READ MORE: A Beginner's Guide to Dog Agility Training