NEW YORK Wesley the Dandie Dinmont terrier could feel confident of at least one win at the Westminster Kennel Club, since he was the only contestant for best of his venerable breed.
But while Dandies have been part of Westminster since its 1877 beginning, they’ve never won best in show. Same for Labrador retrievers, the most prevalent purebred dogs in the United States.
While a German shorthaired pointer called CJ notched the third Westminster win for his breed Tuesday night, dozens of other breeds, common and rare, were still waiting to take the title at the nation’s pre-eminent dog show.
Some fanciers feel it’s an uphill battle.
“It’s very frustrating, because they’re worthy of it. There’s beautiful dogs,” longtime golden retriever breeder Michael Pickard said with a sigh before Tuesday’s final rounds. The nation’s third-most popular breed also has been shut out at Westminster so far.
But show organizers say anything can happen. After all, since a German shorthaired pointer last won in 2005, four bests in show have been firsts for their breeds: an affenpinscher, a Scottish deerhound, a Sussex spaniel and a colored bull terrier (its cousin the white bull terrier had won before).
“It just takes one exceptional dog,” Westminster President Sean McCarthy said.
Picking one exceptional dog from more than 2,700 hopefuls takes multiple rounds of assessment by different judges. They’re tasked with evaluating how well a dog meets its breed’s standards, not how popular it is (but tell that to the Madison Square Garden crowds who occasionally shout out breed names like rock fans asking for their favourite songs).
If judges ignore crowd favourites, they also often ignore other judges’ opinions. Upsets of highly titled dogs aren’t uncommon.
With all that said, some breeds have logged a lot more wins than others. Wire fox terriers hold the Westminster record with 14 bests in show; Scottish terriers have won eight times. Poodles have notched nine wins. English springer spaniels have logged six.
“They’re flashy” in the ring, said English springer spaniel breeder Clemencia Saavedra of Dover, Massachusetts, who handled her dog Isabella to a breed-level award Tuesday. The spaniels’ feathered coats and long strides help make an expression in the ring, though owners such as Saavedra also treasure the dogs’ kindly expression and amenable nature.
There are plenty of theories about why some breeds do well: Poodles have style, terriers have spunk and so on. Ditto for hypotheses about why some well-loved breeds haven’t broken through.
“We’re not frou-frou enough,” Lab handler Lisa Sobosz said, with a laugh.
“The reason (the Lab) is not going to win is because we’re No. 1” in popularity, said Lab breeder Sharlene Pitman of King George, Virginia. She feels judges may reason that Labs’ numbers and big gene pool make it easier to breed a good one, compared to rarer breeds.
But she takes it in stride: “Win or lose, we had a blast today,” Pitman said after showing her yellow Lab Prada.
As for Dandie Dinmonts, “there’s a lot of competition in terriers,” notes Wesley’s co-owner and handler, Amy Judge of Custer, Washington. But she sees value simply in showing the big-eyed, gutsy small dogs.
Named for a character in Sir Walter Scott’s 1815 novel “Guy Mannering,” Dandie Dinmonts are now so scarce that fanciers are concerned for the breed’s survival.
“It’s good that people see him” and perhaps take an interest, Judge said.
And never say never, notes dog handler Bill McFadden, who showed a Kerry blue terrier named Mick to the breed’s first and so far only win at Westminster in 2003.
“It’s good for a dog to come out of nowhere,” McFadden said, “and become the unsung hero.”