The best dog in the country is an 11-pound, four-year-old Pekingese named Malachy, who won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club’s dog show Tuesday night. First, let’s take a minute to say: Aaawwww.
But in the Miss America pageant of the canine world, how does a stumpy-legged, slow-moving dog like Malachy become Best in Show, especially when he’s up against svelte beauties like the Dalmatian, the Kerry blue terrier and a German shepherd named Captain Crunch?
Malachy isn’t judged part-for-part against the Dalmatian, dachshund and Doberman that were among his competition. In dog shows, breeds are judged against the breed standard, a written description of the ideal dogs of that breed, written by the breed’s national club. The winner is the dog that best fits the mold that its own breed has set.
The Pekingese Club of America, established in 1909, offers up a long description of what makes an ideal Pekingese, a breed that dates to ancient China. “The Pekingese is a well-balanced, compact dog of Chinese origin with a heavy front and lighter hindquarters. Its temperament is one of directness, independence and individuality. Its image is lionlike, implying courage, dignity, boldness and self-esteem rather than daintiness or delicacy,” says the club.
Malachy would have received high marks for his wide skull, heart-shaped ears that lie flat against his head, wide nostrils, “moderately bowed” forelegs, coarse coat, and “unhurried, dignified, free and strong” gait. Pekingese breeds can be docked points for obvious styling of the dog’s coat and can be disqualified if they weigh more than 14 pounds.
Dogs who win best in breed go on to best in group, a classification of dogs according to their function (herding dogs, sporting dogs and the toy group, consisting of teeny-tiny lapdogs like Malachy, to name a few), and are again judged against their breed standard, but in competition with other breeds. The best of the groups move on to best in show. So, in naming Malachy as the winner, judges weren’t saying that his breed is better than the other finalists — more precisely, it means he was the most perfectly standardized specimen of all of the perfectly standardized dogs in the running.
Malachy has earned 115 Best in Show titles leading up to his Westminster win. What will he do after his great victory? Other than take plenty of naps, “He’ll probably chase squirrels and he’ll be pampered,” said handler David Fitzpatrick.