The Westminster Kennel Club Show, held annually in New York City, is America’s largest and most prestigious show.  On its very first day in 1877, 8,000 well-healed New Yorkers showed up to see more than 1200 dogs judged.

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Named After Gramercy Neighborhood Hotel

 

The Westminster Dog Show began as the First Annual NY Benchshow of Dogs.  The progenitors of the show, a group of avid sportsmen, hatched the idea at one of their favorite bars located in the now, long-gone Westminster Hotel that was originally located on the corner of Irving Place and 16th Street.  For those of you trying to get your bearings, Irving Place is the short avenue that runs north and south between 14th Street and Gramercy Park. It’s just 1 block east of Union Square Park and a block west of 3rd Avenue.

 

The Westminster Dog Show Has Been Through 4 Versions of Madison Square Park

 

The first show was held in 1877 at Gilmore’s Garden, a precursor of the original Madison Square Garden, now the place of Madison Square Park (bordered by 5th and Madison Avenues and 23rd and 26th streets).  Since then, Madison Square Garden has been moved and reconfigured 3 times!

 

The NY Dog Show Was A Hit From The Start

 

More than 8,000 New Yorkers showed up at the first day of the event followed by 10,000 on both the second and third days!  Turn out was so heavy that the show was extended to a fourth day. Admission fees for this fourth, add-on day were donated to another iconic NYC organization, the ASPCA (still in its infancy at the time), for the creation of a special home for stray dogs. Up until that point, the ASPCA was mostly focused on the abuse of horses.

 

World Leaders Show at Westminster

 

Represented in the first show were staghounds owned by George Custer, better known as General Custer of Custer’s Last Stand.  Both Custer and his wife were big dog lovers.  They owned as many as 80 at one point.  The Custers took the dogs wherever they went and there are many extant letters between Mr. and Mrs. Custer in which they discuss their dogs.

 

Queen Victoria entered her deerhounds into the show; the Czar of Russia, Alexander II showed his Siberian Wolfhounds; and the Emperor of Germany, William I showed his Russian Wolfhounds.  It is said that American plutocrat, JP Morgan, bought his first collie at the Westminster show in 1888 after seeing the breed.  Morgan went on to own as many as 100 collies, estimated to be worth $200,000 at the time. The dogs were of an award-winning pedigree, shown around the country, and lived in luxurious kennels with steam heating, electric lighting, and had porcelain baths.

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How Is The Best Of Show Dog Selected?

 

Though the Best In Show dog grabs all the headlines, the show itself isn’t designed to pick the best dog of the more than 3000 that enter.  It is designed to pick the dog that represents the best in its respective breed class.  The show uses the conformation guidelines as established by the AKC when evaluating the breeds that enter.  One dog, out of every breed in the show, wins Best in Breed, and then of this lot, a Best in Show is selected.  In 2020, the best is show was a Standard Poodle.

What Breed Most Often Wins Best In Show At Westminster?

 

Can you guess?  Since 1907, there have been 103 dogs that have won Best in Show.  Of the 103, Terriers have won the title 46 times!  Sporting dogs have won the title 18 times, followed by Working, Toy, and Non-Sporting Breed dogs (a mishmash of breeds including Chow Chows, Bulldogs, etc.)

 

When is the Westminster Show Held In New York City?

 

The show is held annually every February at Madison Square Garden, but the show is so big that the initial trials occur at the Piers on the Westside.

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