Flynn the bichon frisé was crowned Best in Show at the 142nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night. The champion, a jovial 5-year-old, cut a striking, cloudlike figure in the ring: His powder-puff fur was painstakingly coifed, and he trotted jauntily across the floor with a step that looked almost lighter than air.
“It feels a little unreal,” Bill McFadden, his handler, said. “I came in expecting nothing and just hoping for a good performance and I think I got it.”
McFadden, who has been showing the breed at the Westminster Dog Show since 1991, said he believed this would be Flynn’s final year at the competition. He turns 6 in March.
“I’d have to ask the owners, but I’m pretty sure I can drop the mic and say he’s retired,” McFadden told Fox Sports.
Seven finalists had a shot at greatness this year. Aside from Flynn, Lucy the regal borzoi, a silly pug named Biggie and Slick the joyful Border collie won their groups on Monday night (hound, toy, nonsporting and herding). Ty the giant schnauzer, a winsome Sussex spaniel named Bean and Winston the impossibly cute Norfolk terrier advanced on Tuesday in the sporting, working and terrier groups.
The winner was selected by Betty-Anne Stenmark of Woodside, Calif. Stenmark, a veteran judge, has bred Saint Bernards, Salukis and Dandie Dinmont terriers.
The field is set.
We have our top seven. Winston, a Norfolk terrier, won the terrier group on Tuesday to round out the finalists for Best in Show.
Members of the terrier group have won Best in Show more than members of any other group — a whopping 45 times.
“Winston had an idea of what he was going to do and we just followed it,” said his handler, Ernesto Lara.
Next up: Best in Show.
One of the finalists uses ‘fairy frost.’ It’s for drool.
Flynn, a 5-year-old bichon frisé handled by Bill McFadden, will be representing the nonsporting group in tonight’s big event, the result of years of training and hard work — and more than a little preshow grooming.
“You bathe him and dry him and then trim him, then retrim him at the show, then trim him again when he wins,” said Taffe McFadden, Bill’s wife, as her husband carefully combed and clipped the pooch backstage before the show. “And then you just keep trimming him.”
The routine also involved shampoo, conditioner and lots of hair spray.
“You use a little bit of everything,” she said. “It’s a beauty show.”
“It’s stuff that dries the drool on their face,” said Taffe McFadden, pausing to brush some on Flynn’s snout (and then brush some off her husband’s blazer). “It’s like cornstarch.”
Nearby, a toy poodle named Cami was coifed with painstaking precision by a canine hairdresser, one of several assistants who swarmed her as she perched on a pillow.
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Where the dogs go, when nature calls.
O.K., let’s get real for a second: You’re a dog waiting for your big moment in the ring. Maybe you’ve had a lot to drink today. And you’re in the concrete bowels of Madison Square Garden, far from a yard or dog park.
What to do? The Westminster Kennel Club has an answer. And it involves a lot of wood chips.
“There are little areas with shavings like for horses,” said Kari Smith, who breeds and shows Icelandic sheepdogs. “Think of a giant hamster cage.”
Several bathroom areas are backstage at Madison Square Garden and were also available at Piers 92 and 94, where other dog show events took place over the weekend. Several of the hotels housing the competitors also have set aside areas.
“All the hotels that are affiliated with the event have specific floors or balconies that they’ve set up for exercising dogs so they’ve made it quite convenient,” said Phil Booth, who was handling May, a champion Dalmatian.
Getting the dog to go can be easier said than done, though, especially with all the commotion backstage.
Not only are the pups being primped and groomed for their events, the area is often thronged with spectators who want to catch a glimpse of the contestants.
“I’m waiting on this crowd to thin out because I know she needs to go potty,” Connie Chambers said, referring to her bulldog Pearl. “I wouldn’t even attempt to walk through there.”
In one of the designed bathroom areas, Katniss, a German wirehaired pointer, was having some trouble concentrating on the task at hand on Tuesday. She twirled in circles as visitor after visitor came over to say hello.
“There’s so much distraction and so much going on, it’s really difficult,” said Anita Tate, her handler. “But they still have to go just like we do, so you have to find a way.”
The top dog moves ahead.
We are one step closer to Best in Show. Ty, a giant schnauzer, won the working group on Tuesday. He is the No. 1 ranked dog in the show, according to the kennel club.
When his win was announced, Ty leapt into the arms of his handler, Katie Bernardin. The two were nearly the same height.
“He knew it was important but he always tries hard,” Bernardin told Fox Sports.
Is it nature or nurture that makes a champion?
The dogs at Westminster are the very model of well-bred canine sophistication. But is being a champion all in the genetics, or can a winner be taught?
When it comes to show dogs, nurture may trump nature. Phil Booth, who has handled dogs for almost 30 years and was showing May, a Dalmatian, on Monday, said it was all about “patience — like children.”
“Dalmatians have a little bit less attention span than some breeds,” he said, playfully rubbing May’s head. “She’s very independent. She’s very social media-oriented. She tweets a lot.”
Connie Chambers, who was at Madison Square Garden on Monday with her champion bulldog Pearl, said breeding does count for something.
She knows a thing or two about raising champions: She owns Pearl’s father, the No. 1 bulldog stud in the country, who has sired 60 champion bulldogs in his eight years. She said when it comes to raising a champion, there is a certain je ne sais quoi.
“You just figure it out,” she said. “That’s what you do.”
This Bean’s a ham, and a winner.
We have a fifth contender for Best in Show. Bean, a chocolate-colored Sussex spaniel, won the sporting group to kick off the final night of Westminster. He also won the crowd over, drawing a round of “awws” and applause, when he begged for a treat during the competition.
This win means “everything,” said Per Ingar Rismyhr, Bean’s handler.
A big dog takes a little break.
For this Welsh terrier, it’s more like Game of Bones.
The No. 7 ranked dog competing tonight is Khaleesi, the Welsh terrier whose registered name is Ch. Shaireab’s Bayleigh Daenerys Stormborn. In other words, her handler, Luiz Abreu, is a big fan of “Game of Thrones.”
So why do show dogs have names almost as long as those of House Targaryen?
Their registered American Kennel Club names generally begin with the breeder’s kennel and maybe a blending of the sire’s and dam’s names. Litters frequently are given names with a theme. Spoiler alert: Khaleesi’s terrier brother is named Jon Snow.
Unlike “Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name … Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons,” names registered with the kennel club have a character limit of 50 letters. According to its guidelines, no inflammatory language or obscene words can be used.
In Khaleesi’s case, the name fits. Her favorite toy is a dragon, of course, and the terrier in her makes quick work of the squeaker. “She kills them all,” Abreu said.
Throngs of adoring fans, snapping pics and mussing coats.
Backstage on Tuesday evening, throngs of dog lovers crowded around the canine contestants before the first event began, snapping pictures and sometimes petting the champion pups.
Some dogs, tails wagging and tongues lolling, reveled in the attention, but many rested in their crates before the big show.
Many dogs — perhaps inured to the life of a traveling competitor — seemed unfazed by the adoring crowds. Others seemed less than pleased with all the commotion.
They eat well, of course, but it’s not all filet mignon.
Like any collection of the best and brightest, the dog show has attracted some divas.
It’s a common image of behind-the-scenes life at a dog show, immortalized by the Christopher Guest comedy “Best in Show,” which depicts dog owners feeding their Shih Tzus fresh salmon and kidneys.
But contrary to popular belief, many of the pooches are just normal dogs. Right down to their diet.
“He gets two cups of dry dog food a day,” said Kari Smith, who breeds Icelandic sheepdogs and handled Vinny, the 4-year-old breed champ, in the ring on Monday night. “It’s pretty much normal. He gets that and he gets exercise. He’s a normal dog.”
Connie Chambers, a breeder of bulldogs who was waiting backstage on Monday with her dog, Pearl, agreed.
She said Pearl’s diet was “grain free.”
“She eats salmon-based kibble,” Chambers said. “My bulldogs tend to like the fish better than they do the beef or anything like that. She’s kind of a pig.”
One of the rarest dogs has extra toes.
Of the many dogs that did not win the nonsporting group, one from a rare breed stood out. Before she competed on Monday night, Eva, one of about 2,000 Norwegian lundehund in the world, was backstage happily letting passers-by scratch her head.
The breed is so rare because the disease canine distemper devastated its region of the world in the mid-1900s; by 1963, there were only six known Norwegian lundehund left, Peter Rousseau said. His wife, Tracy, handles Eva.
There are only about 150 to 200 in the United States today.
What makes Eva special among the rare breed? She has a “very beautiful, feminine face,” Peter Rousseau said.
Out in the ring on Monday, she couldn’t resist stopping to scratch her ear.
No, that’s not a mop.
Preshow grooming for Rummy, a puli, began days ago in a tub in the laundry room of Barbara Pessina’s Putnam Valley, N.Y., home, Kelly Whiteside reported. She separated his cords from his skin for about an hour. Then, after a shampoo and several rinses (another hour), a good mop-wringing twist of the cords and enough towels to outfit a carwash, Rummy was ready for his long nap under the dryer.
A puli, a dog bred for sheep herding, has a coat that grows into tight cords that hang like fringe on a throw pillow. Preparing for the Westminster Dog Show can be a 12-hour process that includes eight to 10 hours under a dryer.
“He could care less,” Pessina said about the drying process. “He just goes to sleep.”
Though puliks — yes, that’s the plural form — are still considered a rare breed, they do trend on social media, and not just because Mark Zuckerberg owns a puli named Beast.
Here’s what the judges are looking for.
Alert, curious and interested? That bodes well if you’re a French bulldog based on what the judges want to see. You should also be an active, intelligent, muscular pup of heavy bone with a smooth coat.
Each competitor is judged in comparison to its breed’s standard, a written description by the breed’s parent club of the ideal specimen of that breed. Above is just a portion of the Frenchie’s standard. Judges pick their winners based on how close the dog comes to fitting this ideal.
But it is not exactly objective. Different judges may have different interpretations of the standard, and may have particular points that they feel are more important than others.
Is the dog having a good day? That is another crucial factor. Like most performers or athletes, some pups may perform or “show” better on some days than others.
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Knowing the lingo makes watching more fun.
Here are some of the top terms you’ll hear from the announcers:
There’s the breed, and then there are the varieties within it.
The breed is the manifestation of a dog’s unique traits and characteristics — like appearance, movement and temperament — that define it and separate it from other dogs.
The varieties are the divisions of a breed based on coat, color or size. Poodles, for example, come in three sizes (standard, miniature, toy), and collies can have a rough or smooth coat.
When a pooch strikes a pose, or is posed by its handler in its natural stance, that is its stack.
And a dog’s gait is the action and quality of its movement. A sound and balanced gait usually indicates proper conformation, or the shape and structure of a dog’s body parts from the ground up.
With every show dog comes an attentive entourage, which may include a breeder, the person who owned the mother when she was bred to produce this dog, and an owner-handler, who handles a dog that he or she also owns. A breeder-owner-handler does it all. A professional handlerhandles a dog for a fee.
And finally, those who wield all the power: the judges. A judge is someone licensed by the American Kennel Club to judge dogs. A breeder-judge is licensed by the club to judge dogs of their breed. And an all-rounder is licensed to judge every breed.
What’s with the name? It began at a long-gone bar.
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, billed as the World’s Greatest Dog Show, has cultivated a strong following since its inception in 1877 in New York, but the origins of its name are not widely known, Claudio Cabrera reported.
According to historical accounts, an “organization of gentlemen” who had an affinity for dogs struggled to agree on a name for their new club. They settled on the name of the hotel that housed their favorite bar: the Westminster Hotel near Union Square, which has now been gone for more than a century.
“The idea was unanimously selected, we imagine, with the hoisting of a dozen drinking arms,” William F. Stifel wrote in his book “The Dog Show, 125 Years of Westminster.”
At its inception, the show had over 1,200 dogs entered. Last year, the show had close to 3,000 dogs from all 50 states entered in the competition.
‘Fame’ is fleeting, and agile as well.
Best in Show is still ahead, but Fame, a Border collie, has already been crowned a champion. Fame was named the winner of the Masters Agility Championship on Sunday. She beat 329 other dogs for the title, the kennel club said.
In the agility competition, dogs and their handlers demonstrate concentration, athleticism, training and teamwork as they race through an obstacle course that involves a seesaw, jumps and an A-frame, something akin to a doggy high wire.
Fame shot through the obstacle course over the weekend like a furry, tongue-wagging bullet.
“I never keep up with her, I just let her go and try to tell her where to go and stay out of her way,” her handler, Jessica Ajoux, told Fox Sports after the event. “Famous has one speed, and that’s about it.”
On Monday night, Fame was brought into the ring at Madison Square Garden and clearly wanted to show her stuff again, leaping and barking the whole way out.
Patty Hearst is ringside, and on the small screen.
Patricia Hearst Shaw has picked up another prize at Westminster, an award of merit for a French bulldog she co-owns called Tuggy.
Her Frenchies have done well here in the past and often have been “in the ribbons,” as dog fanciers like to say.
Hearst Shaw sat ringside for the breed judging, a day after CNN debuted the start of “The Radical Story of Patty Hearst,” its documentary series on the famed heiress.
All breeds feed into seven groups.
Each of the thousands of dogs competing in this year’s show has been assigned to a group based on its breed: sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, nonsporting and herding.
These groups shape much of the competition: a dog first competes against other dogs of the same breed, then against other dogs in the same group. The best dogs in each group then go head-to-head in a seven-way contest for Best in Show.
What group a dog ends up in has a lot to do with the history of its breed.
Breeds that were developed to help hunters are classified as sporting dogs. They might point out game, like a Pointer, or retrieve game that has been shot, like a Labrador retriever. They tend to be energetic but even-keeled.
Hounds are breeds that do the hunting themselves, either killing game, like an Irish wolfhound, or tracking it by sight or by scent, like a bloodhound. These dogs were originally part of the sporting group but became their own group in 1930.
Working dogs were bred to, well, work. They act as guard dogs, like a Doberman pinscher or a Rottweiler, and serve as police, military or service dogs, like a Saint Bernard.
The herding group was broken off from the working dog group in 1983. They were developed to assist ranchers and farmers by acting as shepherds for their livestock. German shepherds and collies fall into this group.
Terriers are small, agile dogs that were bred to hunt animals that burrow underground, like weasels. The word “terrier” comes from the Latin word “terra,” or ground. The wire fox terrier and the Scottish terrier are members of this group.
Toy dogs are familiar to apartment dwellers. They were bred to serve as companions to humans and tend to be small and spirited. Dogs in this group include the Pomeranian and the toy poodle.
Nonsporting dogs are the wide range of breeds that do not fit into the other six groups. Some of the most well-known breeds fall into this group, like the Dalmatian, the poodle, the Boston terrier and the French bulldog.
Around 600 of them are staying across from Madison Square Garden at the Hotel Pennsylvania.
Owners requested red carpets, opera music, acupuncturists, psychics and comfort food — “six McDonald’s cheeseburgers, hold the onions” — for their pooches.
“We have it down to a science,” the canine concierge, Jerry Grymek, said of the hotel, which has been hosting Westminster competitors since the 1990s. “People have rituals to make their dogs feel comfortable.”