Every year, the glorious Westminster Dog show is viewed on televisions across the country and every year thousands of die-hard dog lovers tune in, participate, volunteer or watch at home and giggle, like me. I’m not laughing because I think it’s dull or unimportant. I’m laughing mainly because of the strange haircuts, the odd physical examinations by the judges and the remembrance of the amazing film that parodies the Westminster Dog Show, Best in Show.
Read Also: “7 Fun Facts About The Westminster Dog Show“
After over 15 years of watching this amazing dog-spectacle with my family and friends, I’ve always wondered how it all began. The history of the Westminster Dog Show is as hilarious and fanciful as the dogs that compete in it. Here’s a short history lesson on the Westminster Dog Show:
In the year 1880, during the booming growth of New York City, a group of sportsmen who frequented the Westminster hotel bar, decided to start a dog show.
“These gentlemen used to meet in the bar to drink and lie about their shooting accomplishments. Eventually, they formed a club and bought a training area and kennel. They kept their dogs there and hired a trainer.
They couldn’t agree on the name for their new club but finally, someone suggested that they name it after their favorite bar. The idea was unanimously selected, we imagine, with the hoisting of a dozen drinking arms.”
– Maxwell Riddle, from a newspaper story quoted in “The Dog Show, 125 Years of Westminster” by William Stifel.
The main purpose of the dog show was to increase the interest in dogs and improve breed standards. After quickly realizing a dog show would be a success in New York City, the American Kennel Club put on their first ever dog show. It was called the “First Annual Bench Show of Dogs.” Luckily that title never stuck.
The show was held in 1877 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and believe it or not, 1,201 dog owners entered into the competition. The show was such a success it was extended to a 4-day show instead of the original 3-day show.
The Westminster Dog Show has not only had great success, several high-status dogs have come through their doors.
According to the Westminster Kennel Club, “there were two Staghounds listed as being from the late General George Custer’s pack, and two Deerhounds that had been bred by the Queen of England. In 1889, the Czar of Russia is listed as the breeder of a Siberian Wolfhound entered, and the following year, one of the entries is a Russian wolfhound whose listed owner was the Emperor of Germany. Philanthropist J. P. Morgan made the first of his many appearances at Westminster with his Collies in 1893. Famous American journalist Nelly Bly entered her Maltese at Westminster in 1894, some four years after she made a record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes, racing the record of Phineas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.”
It’s a high-status competition, only equipped for the elite dog and dog owner—clearly.
After hundreds of years of success and friendly (sometimes not so friendly) competition, the Westminster Dog Show is the 2nd oldest, continuous sporting event in America. The Kentucky Derby is the first but only by 1 year.
It has been through power outages, snowstorms, great depressions and even world wars. You can say it’s been around the block.
So the next time you turn on the Westminster Dog Show, don’t forget to share the story of how it all began with a couple of drunk men in a bar called Westminster.