Notes from the Westminster Dog Show - Day 2

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
Updated: June 13, 2018
Published: February 20, 2012
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Valentine’s Day Wrap-Up, Day Two of Westminster 2012

It was the second day of the 136th annual Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) dog show and love was in the air as the pheromones flowed in Madison Square Garden.

Lustful attraction provided ample distraction for the male dogs in the benching area, as I witnessed an intact Gordon Setter determinedly sniffing in the direction of his intact female companion. C'est une vie de chien dans l'amour (that’s the life of a dog in love).

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Dogs sporting the latest in Valentine’s Day accessories lent further festivity to the excitement. Fashion fused with function in a festive ear cover used to protect a Curly Coated Retriever’s head and ears from errant water and saliva.

The lovably cheerful canine, Sweetbriar’s Ecco D’Oro — a wonderfully cuddly example of the Spinoni Italiani — was there to represent the Nawty Dog, Big Heart fund, which helps to fund care for pets in need. I commend Ecco for his philanthropic efforts and admirable performance in the show ring.

As Westminster is held during the wintry month of February in New York City, competing canines and their fans often face climate challenges in getting to the show. Therefore, WKC relies on Schmitty the Weather Dog to predict the environmental trends for the days ahead. Schmitty and her owner, weatherman Ron Trotta, gave a special Valentine’s Day report live from the WKC show ring, along with WKC director of communications and USA broadcast co-host, David Frei. Thanks to Schmitty’s predictions, I was well prepared for winter’s wrath.

At Westminster, the competition is fierce. Any means of getting a paw up on a fellow competitor is exploited, including the use of grooming practices that are not always commensurate with WKC policies. To catch the subjective eye of the judge, certain tricks of the trade are employed, including:

  • Brown shoe polish to enhance the chocolate colored spots on a Smooth Coated Collie
  • White powder liberally applied to the pearlescent coat of a West Highland White Terrier
  • Hairspray to strengthen a Schnauzer’s perfectly coiffed eyebrows

My primary concern here is for canine health. Any substance applied to a dog’s exterior can enter the eyes, mouth, or respiratory passages. Exposure to sprays and other aerosolized particles can lead to nasal and ocular inflammation, allowing infectious organisms to more easily take up residence in the inflamed tissues.

To get some perspective on this issue, I spoke with David Frei, who also serves as the public spokesperson for the Westminster Kennel Club. He asserted that judges must not be able to detect hairspray or other appearance altering substances on a competitor’s coat, and referred me to the American Kennel Club’s Rules Applied to Dog Shows, by which the WKC abides. The closest terminology I could discover pertained to coloring and cleaning substances, yet this rule likely applies to hair spray and other agents as well.

SECTION 8-C. (p. 49) No dog shall be eligible to compete at any show and no dog shall receive any award at any show in the event the natural color or shade of natural color or the natural markings of the dog have been altered or changed by the use of any substance whether such substance may have been used for cleaning purposes or for any other reason. Such cleaning substances are to be removed before the dog enters the ring.

Although the use of image enhancing products is technically against the rules, many groomers do so with seemingly no consequence. Fortunately, most groomers strive to prevent irritants from coming into contact with their dog’s orifices. Unfortunately, a hand covering the eyes or nose does not afford full protection against pastes, sprays and powders. Ultimately, a dog’s health may suffer as a result of the quest for perfection.

The second day of Westminster 2012 concluded with the Best in Group judging, during which I saw judges cover the eyes and muzzle of "long eared" breeds with the attached auricular appendage. Is this meant to aid in assessing the dog’s conformation by visually evaluating ear length as compared to muzzle width? Does it permit the judge to exude dominant effect to keep the dog still? According to pet expert and author Nikki Moustaki, this technique "allows the judge to best evaluate the length and musculature of neck, which is otherwise covered by the ear." Finally, something makes sense in this show! Thank you, Nikki.

The group competition concluded as follows:

Best in Group - Sporting Group

My favorite was the Spinoni Italiani, as mentioned above in Ecco’s tale. Unfortunately, the judges had other ideas, as Ecco’s group didn’t make the top four.

The Judges’ Choices

1. Irish Setter

2. German Wirehaired Pointer

3. Springer Spaniel

4. Irish Water Spaniel

Best in Group - Working Group

Large breeds dominate the working group, with most seemingly capable of filling a New York flat. My favorites were the Bernese Mountain Dog and the Rottweiler, as they are often my most cooperative patients.

The Judges’ Choices

1. Doberman Pinscher

2. Boxer

3. Alaskan Malamute

4. Standard Schnauzer

Best in Group - Terrier Group

Anyone familiar with the movie Best in Show knows the catchphrase, "Everyone loves a terrier.""In my eyes, the Welsh Terrier rules. My own pooch, Cardiff, cheered his cousins on to the top eight in the Terrier Group.

The Judges’ Choices

1. Kerry Blue Terrier

2. Smooth Fox

3. Skye Terrier

4. American Staffordshire Terrier

Best in Show

WKC 2012 came to a curious conclusion with the Pekingese taking Best in Show.

Malachy, a 4-year-old, intact male "Peke," previously led a highly decorated career, now culminating in his Westminster win, where he bested other "toys" and breeds from contending groups.

Do I agree with the Pekingese taking top prize? No, I do not. The decision seems like a disservice to the conformationally sound breeds against which the "Peke" competed.

For my clients and the general public, I make recommendations for canine companionship based on a calculation that establishes the breed (or mix of breeds) that is best suited for an individual owner's lifestyle. Factors include the owner’s plan for participating in physical activity with his or her dog, the number of household members actively involved in the care-taking process, the potential for illnesses requiring veterinary care, and the family’s financial ability to fund medically recommended diagnostics and treatment for their breed.

My concerns around the Pekingese primarily hinge on the public’s propensity to say, "That dog is so cute; I want one," after seeing the Peke’s flat face (brachycephalic, or "short head") and waddling trot (termed a "rolling gate" by Malachy’s hander, David Fitzpatrick).

Lurking beneath the cuddly exterior is a host of physical anomalies that will play into the eventual clinical signs of illness. Inefficient respiratory function (stenotic nares, collapsing trachea, etc.), periodontal disease, malformations of the spine (hemivertebra, intervertebral disc disease, etc.), ill-proportioned joints (hip dysplasia, patella luxation, etc.), and reproductive difficulties (dystocia requiring C-section, etc.) are just a few of the life altering problems affecting the Pekingese breed.

Impulse driven acquisition of any breed — the Pekingese in this — will fuel consumer demand and potentially bad placements or breeding practices. Families who are unable to adequately care for the breed will contribute to the ultimate demise of their own pet’s health. Reduced respiratory capacity leads to exercise intolerance, but a sedentary lifestyle paired with lack of caloric restriction will lead to weight gain and obesity. With the Pekingese’s already structurally compromised joints, the excess weight will accelerate the development of arthritis and degenerative joint disease (DJD), further stunting the Pekingese’s movement. I have witnessed this scenario innumerable times in my clinical practice — in the Pekingese and in structurally similar breeds.

I hope that Malachy’s win will promote the breed’s better health when his genes are propagated. The unfortunate likelihood is that families acquiring the breed won’t benefit from potential improvements to the gene pool.

As a veterinary health professional, I end this year’s Westminster competition feeling unsettled by the WKC’s choice for Best in Show. With luck, the fallout from this year’s winner will only minimally affect the health of future generations of Pekingese and the finances of their human families.

Headline image: White powder West Highland White Terrier being readied for show

All images by Dr. Patrick Mahaney