So how do these judges determine which dog is best? It's a contest of "conformation." For every breed, there is a description of what the perfect dog would look like. Height, weight, coat color, eye color, movement, temperament — everything down to a dog's ear shape is scrutinized for how closely it comes to that ideal dog.
Just like in gymnastics, the judges' views of perfection are widely accepted as subjective. This is especially true because there is no panel of judges. For each round, only one arbiter decides the top ranking.
"You try to make a decision rooted in experience and knowledge," "Best in Show" judge Richard Meen told the New York Times. "I trust the energy that comes through me while I'm looking at the dog. In those eyes, I'm looking at the history of that breed through the ages. That's what judges should be doing, looking into the ancient past — the dog's function, its country."
This is why pure-bred dogs can be so expensive. If they have the right-shaped feet, those feet can be bred with another dog who has the perfect color of eyes. With a litter of a few puppies, the breeders will be likely to get at least one who has ideal feet and ideal eyes. It's the kind of genetic-manipulation scary science-fiction movies warn will happen to humans. But humans have been carefully breeding their canine friends long before there were televised dog shows. The Westminster Kennel Club was founded in 1877, meaning dog-judging is older than the sport of basketball, the invention of cars and the creation of the light bulb.
In that time, the dog show has grown immensely. The first featured 35 breeds and a Miscellaneous Class, which included Nellie, the dog with only two legs. Now, there are 199 breeds and varieties eligible for Westminster, including seven breeds introduced this year. They are the bergamasco, berger picard, boerboel, cirneco dell'etna, lagotto Romagnolo, miniature American shepherd and Spanish water dog.
They all have four legs. And fantastic fur. You might have no desire to watch dogs trot around in a circle, but the behind-the-scenes photos of dogs preparing for the spotlight never disappoint:
The 140th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will air 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday on CNBC and 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday on USA.