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Woof Wednesday: Putting On the Dog at Dog Shows

Yorkie in papers

Yorkshire Terrier backstage at Westminster.

Last week, I’m sure a number of readers watched the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on television. I’ve attended this event several times–I shot most of the pictures in today’s blog at Westminster–and it’s even more exciting and impressive in person.

In an email communication that mentioned the show, though, one passionate pet advocate expressed the hope that folks NOT watch the show. A finger was pointed at shows for promoting the sale of pets for profit, labeling the practice to be cruelty to animals that created the need for rescue organizations and shelters to deal with the cast offs.

White poodle in show wraps

This Standard Poodle is not yet ready for his close-up! Again, taken in the benching area at Westminster.

Wow. I have to applaud the passion, and I actually agree with some of the comments. I also would like to see an end to the need for rescue and shelters, but I don’t believe banning dog shows (or cat shows) would stop indiscriminate breeding. Just take a look in the paper at the “free puppies” section—those are not dog show animals being bred for profit. Punishing the folks who research pedigrees, perform expensive genetic and other health tests before doggy match-making, fund ultrasounds, support research to improve health of all dogs (or cats) doesn’t account for numbers found in rescue, foster and shelter organizations. I know many breeders who include in their contract that should your circumstances change THEY will take back the dog or cat.


Notice the saw dust on the floor--the BEST pictures (without people traffic) can be taken at the Westminster doggy potty spot.

The only folks who actually make money breeding dogs and cats would never get one of their dogs into Westminster or a comparable show. If you heard my colleague David Frei comment during the broadcast, you learned that a majority of the exhibitors at these high-venue events are ALSO into rescue work, support shelters, do therapy dog work, visit prisons, are hunting dogs or SAR emergency teams, and help fund health studies that benefit all dogs and cats including shelter animals.


Corded coats as on this Komondor served to protect the dogs as herders, but critics suggest the emphasis on appearance may not be good for the dogs.

What’s the deal with showing dogs, anyway? The earliest record of a dog show dates to June 1859 in England and featured hunting dogs, while today the show world has expanded to include a much greater variety of breeds, types, and fun canine sports.

Conformation dog shows are the beauty contest of the dog world, like the Westminster show. But conformation goes beyond simple looks. Show judges must know what constitutes the breed “ideal” and measure each competing canine against that mind’s eye image to select the winner that comes closest. Besides looks, the dog’s health, ability to move, and even personality must be up to snuff.

Golden 1

Appearance doesn't have to be extreme--there can be "hidden" issues as in this gorgeous Golden Retriever, a breed known to have a very high incidence of cancer.

Interestingly, after the 2012 Westminster winning Pekingese Malachy was crowned, quite a bit of outcry resulted not only from folks like rescue and shelter organizations, but also from those in the “show” world. You see, dog shows have a public relations problem—as evidenced by the comments that prompted this column. The breeding of some dogs to extravagant extremes that meets a “show” standard but may impact the health and well- being of the dog has been in question for years, from veterinarians and forward-thinking dog lovers. While the Peke breed was developed to be a lap dog/pet in ancient China, and the winner certainly fit today’s standard, the little guy epitomized all the complaints about purebred dog breeding favoring form over function. The coat alone would be crippling and lethal in a Texas summer!

Thank you to everyone who does their part for companion pets everywhere. It shouldn’t be an “us against them” mentality. I just wish that all the “good guys” from every arena—show, shelter, rescue, feral TNR, foster and more—worked together for the mutual benefit and against the common enemy—abuse, neglect, and more.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

About amyshojai

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant (dogs/cats), award winning author of 30+ pet care titles and thrillers, and spokesperson to the pet industry.

15 responses »

  1. Well said, Amy. I get a bit disturbed by the “us against them” mentality also. Like you, I don’t believe it’s the breeders who show up at Westminster and other dog shows that are breeding the majority of the puppies that end up in shelters and rescues. Let’s point that finger where it belongs…at the puppy mills and the pet stores that support them. And at the public who not only buys those puppies but looks at pets as disposable commodities.

    I do think a great deal of controversy surrounding this year’s Westminster show centered around the Westminster Kennel Club decision to drop Pedigree as a sponsor. And I agree that some breeds are being bred to their detriment. The Peke is only one example of that.

    • Thanks Lorie. Yes, lots of ill feelings re: the Pedigree sponsorship and very bad timing on their part. Purina is a great supporter of dog shows and perhaps a better partner but–gee, PR 101 says you don’t stir up bad mojo before a major event!

      And yes, the Peke is an obvious example and there are others. But also there are breeds where certain health issues have been identified and virtually eliminated because of meticulous breeders. Shades of gray…(or merle? *s*)

  2. Shades of merle! That’s funny.

    I’m not into the whole dog show scene, so I didn’t know all of this was going on behind the scenes, but I have to say – anytime there is an ‘us vs them’ attitude, there are no winners.

    Having said that, I do like to watch the Westminister show to see all the crazy dog breeds I’ve never heard of. Like that moppy kind of dog – they crack me up.

    Thanks for the info, Amy. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

    • Oh Tameri, you would not believe all that goes on “behind the scenes” LOL! If you ever get the chance to see the movie BEST IN SHOW, watch–it’s laugh out loud funny, pokes fun at dog shows and…it’s true. Well, maybe not the two left feet but the rest is so on the money it’s scary.

  3. Joy Held's Writer Wellness Blog

    I always wondered where the doggies did the “business” in NYC at Westminster.

    • Hi Joy, it’s a roped off area in the benching section with sawdust. *s* Some of those pictures were taken right outside the potty area, because there’s a blank wall (for less background clutter) and the dogs taking a break aren’t as inclined to be in a rush to a ring.

  4. You’ve pretty much already said anything I would have said here, so if you will forgive my totally unrelated happy moment: we had a win this week for Ohio dogs!

    Wondering what’s up with the police dog bit but I ASSUME it’s a caveat noting dogs that are doing those things in defense of the officer in the line of duty, since no police K-9 program I know of would let in an unstable dog. They’d never make it past training.

    But hooray for pit bulls not being legally seen as monsters! I know there will still be bias from individuals and towns, but it’s a step in the right direction.

    • Hi Karyl, Yes, I saw that notice about the change to the Ohio definition of “vicious dog” and that they’d removed the Pit Bull breed. YAY! Finally some sense! And yes, regarding the police dog issue–those dogs are trained to bite/attack on command so with such a broad definition of “vicious” they had to make that change.

      With the current definition of my Magical-Dog bit a thief breaking into my house, he’d be “defined” by the Ohio law as vicious even though he’d be protecting his/my property. That’s a problem with broad-based black-and-white laws but thank goodness Columbus has at least given the nod to the fact it’s not a breed-specific thing but a behavior issue (dog & human).

      • Yeah I have to admit I find that a bit odd, that if the dog is protecting your home it still counts as “vicious”… we have castle doctrine in Ohio. If someone breaks in I can use lethal force. Why can’t my dog? Not that most dogs are trained to kill, mostly just hold, but still… I can shoot the intruder but my dog can’t bite him? Seems silly.

  5. Best in Show is one of my favorite movies. I think it’s wrong to condemn those who show at Dog/Cat shows. I’ve met a lot of people at cat shows who are passionate about their animals, not people running breeding mills. I rarely tell anyone that I own some purebreds because of the backlash I’m likely to get for that, which is insane.

    • Hi Karen, thanks for the comment! Yes, I get some raised eyebrows, too, with Magic. Not so much with Seren since she’s just a Siamese “wannabe.” Dog and cat overpopulation is a complicated issue that can’t be solved (or blamed) on single situations or else it would have been solved long ago. The trend for “designer breeds” IMO has done more to impact the plight of dogs in rescues/shelters than purebred/pedigree shows.

  6. My sister-in-law breeds, raises and shows golden retrievers in Canada.

    Dogs are her passion. They currently have six golden retrievers in a private home in the city. But she takes them to the country and runs them every day. My mother used to say if she had to come back after death, she wanted to come back as one of my sister-in-law’s dogs.

    Years ago, my husband ran his Labradors in field trials, which measured their performance at following hand signals, obedience, marking and retrieving etc. as working hunting dogs. I had my complaints watching him train the dogs. But the working dogs are bred to hone their hunting skills, and not their looks. Although looks do enter the picture. Once he decided it was rather like the odds in a horse race, he ceased the expensive entry fees, and now simpoy enjoys our dogs that accompany him on the hunting fields.

    • Hi Marion, I love the Goldens and the Labs! The field trial dogs due to emphasis on performance even LOOK different than many of the conformation dogs, and it’s a joy to see a truly engaged hunting dog work his magic. I also have problems–great issues–with SOME of the training techniques employed by the hunting dog folks (E-stim collars are the subject for another blog 😦 ) but am pleased to say the training trend has turned to kinder, more effective means today.

      And I love your analogy about the odds in a horse race. The entry fees are expensive, the travel is expensive, “campaigning” a dog can be stressful and again, expensive. The dogs that make it to Westminster and other high-profile shows have been funded to the tune of thousands of dollars. It will be the economy that derails shows, not other issues . . .


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