On February 10 and 11, the best show dogs in the world will descend upon historic Madison Square Garden for the 144th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. This renowned canine competition has been a New York City tradition since the 19th century, attracting more than 2,800 pups across 200 breeds every year. What makes this annual event the gold standard of dog shows? Let’s take a peek behind the curtain.
Posted by Scott Tunstall
A Dog Show is Born
In early 1877, a group of dedicated outdoorsmen gathered in a Manhattan bar to discuss a way to showcase their hunting dogs. As a result, the Westminster Kennel Club was formed for the sole purpose of holding a dog show. This inaugural event took place on May 8, 1877 at Gilmore’s Garden (later renamed Madison Square Garden) under the moniker “The First Annual New York Bench Show.”
More than 1,200 canines entered the four-day competition that consisted mainly of “gun dog” breeds such as Setters and Pointers. The Kennel Club even donated the proceeds from the fourth day to the ASPCA. In the ensuing years it would become the world’s preeminent dog show and ranks as America’s second-oldest continuous sporting event behind only the Kentucky Derby.
A Rare Breed
Not just any ordinary Fido is eligible to enter the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. A ticket to Westminster is punched by defeating rivals and claiming awards in other major contests. Breed standards are the key factors judges use to decide which canine is king or queen. Each breed has its own parent club that decides what characteristics make it unique, based largely on appearance, movement and temperament. Those fortunate enough to be declared the Best of Breed advance to the group competition in Madison Square Garden.
The Main Event
It takes a certain set of skills to go toe-to-toe with the cream of the canine crop. All of the Best of Breed winners are organized into seven groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding. Each individual dog is judged to determine which one is the absolute best of the best from their respective group. Only the purest of pups can stand out from the pack. The slightest flaw in the fur, stain of the teeth or blemish on the eye will be noticed. All group winners advance to the final round to compete for a chance to be named Best in Show.
Crowning a Winner
The seven group winners and their handlers take center stage in front of a raucous crowd to be judged one final time. Appearance, behavior and gait are the three main criteria used to crown a champion. All seven pups are given equal opportunity to display their demeanor and strut their stuff in hopes of representing their group and pedigree to the fullest. When all is said and done, only one pleasing pooch gets to take home the purple and gold ribbon, shiny silver hardware and most importantly, the coveted title of Best in Show.
See it in Person
Unfortunately, non-competing dogs aren’t permitted to attend the show. Your handsome Husky or lovely Labrador might distract the competitors and throw them off their games. Instead, Fido will have to watch at a nearby hotel or from the comfort of his plush doggy bed at home. Of course, you can still travel to New York City for the show with or without your pup. Tickets can be purchased for as low as $40 per adult for single-day passes and $75 per adult for two-day passes.
Hotels That Roll Out the Red Carpet for Fido
There are plenty of pet-friendly hotels in close proximity to Madison Square Garden that provide comfortable rooms and first-rate amenities should you decide to bring your four-legged pal along. The following properties are also popular places for competitors to stay during the show. If you’re lucky, you might spot a few furry athletes holding court for their fans in the lobby.
The New Yorker, A Wyndham Hotel - Housed in a 1920s era building and located two blocks from Madison Square Garden, the iconic The New Yorker welcomes two dogs up to 45 lbs for an additional fee of $50 per pet, per night. Rates start at $126 per night.
Moxy NYC Times Square - This stylish boutique hotel in the heart of Manhattan is only three blocks from Madison Square Garden. Two dogs with a combined weight up to 75 lbs are allowed for an additional fee of $150 per pet, per stay, and yummy treats will be waiting upon arrival. Rates start at $154 per night.
Stewart Hotel - Located directly across the street from Madison Square Garden, the Stewart blends modern aesthetics with Broadway elegance. Two pets of any size are permitted for an additional fee of $100 per stay. Rates start at $228 per night.
Holiday Inn Express New York City Chelsea - Affordable and cozy, the Holiday Inn Express New York City Chelsea offers top-notch amenities and is conveniently located two blocks from Madison Square Garden. Two pets of any size are accepted for an additional fee of $75 per stay. Rates start at $147 per night.
Hotel Pennsylvania - Bringing value and comfort in a classic New York City setting adjacent to Madison Square Garden, Hotel Pennsylvania makes the perfect home base to explore all the wonders the city has to offer. Two pets of any size are welcome for an additional fee of $75 per pet, per stay. Rates start at $93 per night.