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Is the Westminster Dog Show Biased?

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Are judges in the world’s largest dog show biased?  The dog world is about to turn its eyes (and paws) to Madison Square Garden for the annual Westminster Kennel Club show.

And yet, the dog show has come under attack in the past for bias and favoritism.  The NY Times reported:

“money will quietly play a role in determining the winner, just as money quietly shaped the field of contenders — and just as money shapes almost every nook and cranny of the dog show business.”

The show is not about the best breed winning. It’s about the success of a campaign – similar to the movie studies promoting their films to win an Oscar – that revolves around money.

It’s not about a dog showing about and becoming “best in show”. It’s about a sophisticated campaign spending lots of money on ads in dog magazines promoting specific dogs.  If you don’t spend the money, you have almost no chance of becoming a contender.

“The cost of a campaign can add up fast. You need a professional handler and cash for plane tickets and road trips to roughly 150 dog shows a year. (Yes, about three shows a week.) And you need to spend as much as $100,000 annually on ads.

Altogether, a top-notch campaign can easily cost more than $300,000 a year, and because it takes time to build momentum and a reputation, a typical campaign lasts for two or three years. Kathy Kirk, who handled Rufus, a colored bull terrier who won best in show at Westminster in 2006, estimates that the dog’s three-year campaign cost about $700,000.”

Continue reading here. The dream of the dedicated hobbyist walking off with a top honor is as remote as one of the breeds singing the Star Spangled Banner.

Owners claim Westminster judges are biased in favor of particular handlers thinking, “If Joe is handling that dog, I should vote for it.”  The judges, of course, deny favoritism claiming to judge based on the strict standards set for each breed.

But the simple facts show that in recent history – not a single dog that was not backed by a marketing campaign has won big at Westminster.

So when you sit down and watch the competition this year on television you should understand you are watching the best dog money can buy.

Harlan Kilstein is the “Top Dog” and Publisher of the Dogington Post. He is currently being trained by his 7 month old Pomeranian, Kalba.

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  1. Avatar Of Kim



    My friends & i no longer watch the show as it’s become a canine popularity contest when you have judges who seem to have a favorite in mind before they choose bis! This should be an outright event without campaigns! There are so many outstanding breeds often overlooked because of a handler, judge’s personal favorites & money! Focus should be on educating the public of the variety of the breeds…not promoting snobs! An avid owner of an english sheepdog, a dachshund, 2 bull terriers & 4 jack Russell’s with more personality than all those snobs combined…i wouldnt trade any of my kiddies for their best! And i might add, save for the bull terriers, they were all adopted from shelters! The bull terriers were rejects from a breeder! Happy to say Westminster or akc had nothing to do with my decision on breed choice! And I’m also thrilled that none of the owners I know we’re influenced by Westminster or akc when they chose their children! 🙂

  2. Avatar Of Catherine Calder

    Catherine Calder


    Great article! Isn’t it typical that the “dark underbelly” of any large event usually reveals money is involved. A follow-up story would be to look at Best in Show judges and the dogs they owned while judging at the Westminster Dog Show. Case in point–2012 Best in Show judge currently owns TWO PEKINGESE!!!! And what breed won? Of course, a Pekingese.

    I am from Colorado and feel this judge made our state look like a cowpoke state: from her horrible outfit to her potentially biased decision.

    • Avatar Of Gene Larson

      Gene Larson


      As far as I’m concerned the Peke who won best in show was the bottom of the seven. The dalmatian was the clear winner in my eyes and I’m a Golden Retriever owner. I would have been satisfied if the German Shepherd, the Doberman, or the Irish Setter had won. When dogs like the Peke win, I have no way of knowing how good the dog is because of all the hair. All I can see is the face. The four dogs I’ve mentioned all were obviously very fit and well trained.

      • They shouldn’t allow a judge who owns dogs of that breed to judge in the group or bis ring! As I was watching they also said that the Herding group judge bred and raised GSDs for many many years… Then he picks the GSD. I didn’t think that was very fair either.

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