The Westminster Kennel Club dog show — the dog show of all American dog shows — starts Monday. About 2,800 dogs from 190 breeds will be competing, and by late Tuesday night, a new pooch will be crowned “Best in Show.”
Every year, the show welcomes new breeds to the ring, and this time, three breeds will be first-timers at Westminster. One is the Pumi, the floofy pooch pictured above. It’s a Hungarian herding dog that’s related to the mop-like puli (one of which is said to be the big favorite for the top prize). At a news conference last week, the owner of the pictured Pumi told the Associated Press that Pumi parents are so used to hearing their dogs called “cute” that they’ve made an acronym out of C-U-T-E.
“We say they’re ‘curious,’ ‘unique,’ ‘tenacious’ and ‘energetic,'” Nancy Nelson said.
Another new entry will be the American hairless terrier, which, as its name implies, is not a furry sort — in fact, the dogs need sunscreen or a coat when they go outside, according to the American Kennel Club.
Rounding out the trio of newbies is the Sloughi, which is pronounced SLOO-ghee, which is also known as the Arabian greyhound. It was bred to hunt, and it likes to run.
So how did these three breeds make the cut for Westminster? The answer is pretty simple: They were the three breeds that were officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2016, and any AKC-recognized breed can compete at Westminster.
But getting that recognition isn’t so simple. It can take several years and requires lots of dogs, as well as a bunch of effort and organization on the part of the breed’s enthusiasts. In other words, the club doesn’t recruit dogs; dog people petition to join.
First, dog fanciers need to form a breed club. That club then approaches the AKC, which asks for a written breed history — it must be multiple generations deep — plus photos of dogs and a breed standard, which is a description of how an ideal dog looks and acts. Here’s one for the Working Kelpie, which isn’t yet AKC-recognized.
Next, if the AKC thinks everything looks good, the club typically lists the breed on the club’s Foundation Stock Service, or FSS. It’s a place to keep records of dogs’ owners and pedigrees and studbooks, the stuff of which fancy dog breeding is made. The FSS lists more than 60 breeds, including the Bolognese and the Karelian bear dog.
The next stage can be tough. Breed fanciers must show that the dogs live in more than 100 U.S. households; that there are at least 300 of the dogs with three generations of purebred ancestors; and that they live in at least 20 states. “They can’t all be in one city or state,” said Brandi Hunter, an AKC spokeswoman.
Doing all that can land a breed in the “miscellaneous class,” which gets them a ticket to some of the 22,000 AKC-sanctioned dog shows that take place each year. About a dozen dog breeds are now in that class, and to make the leap to full recognition, the club has to keep producing puppies, as well as hold shows and judges’ workshops and “breed seminars,” according to the AKC.
Then it’s up the AKC board, which can decide whether they think the breed is ready for full recognition. The AKC says that typically happens after one to three years in the miscellaneous class, but it can take longer.
The Dogo Argentino, for example, was first listed in the FSS in 1995, and it made it to the miscellaneous class in 2011. Amy Collins, the Ohio-based president of the Dogo Argentino Club of America, said the hardest part has been keeping household membership up. She said about 150 American households now have the dogs, which were bred in Argentina to be hunters of wild pigs and mountain lions.
“Hopefully by the midyear [of 2017], we’ll be fully recognized,” Collins said, who added that getting a Dogo Argentino to Westminster is a dream of hers. “It’s just prestigious to be a part of that whole AKC community. To me, it just says we stand apart, we’ve jumped all the hurdles to get there. I’ve been a part of the process from day one, and it’s personally something I want to see through.”
But not all breed enthusiasts want AKC recognition, because some fanciers think doing so encourages bad breeding and ends up watering down, or completely changing, the breed.
The community of border collie lovers, for example, has long been divided about AKC recognition. The herding dog was recognized in 1994, “angering those who depend on and value the traditional working dog,” according to the American Border Collie Association. The association encourages people to buy border collie puppies from breeders on “working registries” like its own, not clubs that participate in shows.
Collins said some Dogo Argentino fans over the years have disagreed with the quest for AKC recognition. But they’ve mostly “dropped off,” she said.