The stunning purebred dogs seen annually in the ring at Westminster are not competing against each other; and it's not so much an invitation that brings them to compete in the biggest dog event of the year. The show dogs at Westminster have earned the opportunity to represent their breed.
The Whole Point
The whole point of showing dogs and bringing them to compete with each other is to find the dogs with the characteristics of the breed they represent. The American Kennel Club develops a "breed standard" for each breed. This standard lists all the requirements a dog must have to be a member of a certain breed. This is what makes a purebred dog a purebred. Though there may be variations in colors, size and temperaments among a specific breed, there are many more shared traits, such as coat texture, anatomy, heritage and the original purpose for which they were bred. The contest is to determine which dogs are the best representations of the breed so they can mate with other winning dogs and, ostensibly, produce litters of perfect specimens of the breed.
A Few Examples
Ask any person who shows dogs why they do it and you're bound to get the same answer: love of the breed and a sincere desire always to be improving the breed. If someone purchases a Labrador retriever, for example, from a pet store that sells dogs from puppy mills, the chance that dog will ever be able to compete in even a local dog show, let alone a regional or Westminster, is practically zero. However, if that same person purchased a well-bred Labrador puppy whose parents had been show dogs and, while they may not be winners, will at least have earned points towards a championship, he could show his Labrador at a dog show and possibly win. Since the whole point of dog shows is to showcase breeding stock, only intact (non-sterilized animals) may compete. Otherwise, what would be the point?
Shows are held all over the United States throughout the year to determine which dogs will win and move one step closer to that championship. Dogs first compete with members of their own breed. The Best of Breed winner then competes in their respective AKC groups. They are the toy, sporting, non-sporting, herding, working, terrier and hound groups. The dogs that come closest to the breed profile, as outlined by the parent club's standard, win the best of their group. The dogs are not competing against each other, they are competing against the standard. The judges are not determining which dog looks better than any other dog in the ring, it's which dog conforms best to the breed standard, which is why they are called conformation shows. Once the best of each group is selected, those dogs are brought to the next level, Best in Show. Invitations guaranteeing a spot in the Westminster show are given to the top five dogs ranked nationwide according to the number of dogs they have defeated by winning throughout the year at regional dog shows, and also to Best of Breed winners at AKC National Breed Specialty Shows.
Once a dog has successfully won enough shows that he has risen to the top, he may be invited to compete in the Westminster Dog Show. Only 3200 dogs are allowed to come to Westminster, so competition is very keen. The top five champions of each breed are invited to attend, but there also are non-invited categories of dogs who, while not invited, are welcomed to compete. These are dogs who may have competed in qualifying shows and earned points toward their championship but were not among the top five in their breed.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.