NEW YORK – Barks, blow dryers and black Russian terriers will abound at the 138th Westminster Kennel Club dog show, America's most prominent pooch pageant. Judging begins Monday morning and the winner will be picked Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. Things you'll see (and not see) this week:
TALE OF THE TAPE: 2,845 dogs are entered in 190 breeds and varieties, coming from all 50 states and from as far away as Australia, Japan and Brazil. There are Swedish vallhunds, Chinese shar-peis and spinoni Italiani. Do they understand different languages? Well, the handler of reigning champion Banana Joe the affenpinscher says he responds to German, Dutch, Spanish and English.
UNLUCKY DAWGS: In the park or backyard, Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers and Dalmatians and Dachshunds and Chihuahuas are pretty popular. But at Westminster, they're all in the doghouse. They've never won, not once. Why no love? Many of them are considered "honest dogs," meaning they don't rely on a fancy cut to impress. Rather, neatly trimmed terriers and preening poodles often take the top honor.
MOCKUMENTARY ... OR DOCUMENTARY? Cult classic "Best in Show" is often hailed as a perfect parody of big-time dog events. But if anyone who enjoyed Christopher Guest's film happened to wander into Westminster, they might think it's way more truth than fiction. Rich owners, mom-and-pop outfits and the backstage scramble are all part of the scene. So was Parker Posey last year — star of the 2000 movie with her "Busy Bee" toy, she came to the Garden to see the real thing.
CLASS FAVORITES: The best in show winner gets a silver bowl (small dogs are usually coaxed to jump right in) and a ribbon. There's no cash prize — owners often make a lot of money by breeding the champion. The prime contenders: Sky the wire fox terrier, Matisse the Portuguese water dog, Swagger the old English sheepdog, Riley the Irish water spaniel and the Fifinator, a Doberman who has her own Facebook page. Judge Betty Regina Leininger will pick her winner shortly before 11 p.m. EST on the USA Network — she's isolated from the whole show until walking into the best-of-seven final ring and pointing to America's new top dog.
OFF CAMERA: Every breed winner gets a close-up on the Westminster telecast while judges examine their teeth, coat, gait and most everything else. Dogs are checked for how close they come to matching the purebred standard. The real action often is before and after they've paraded on the green carpet. Handlers try every trick to keep them still — teasing with liver treats, playing with stuffed frog toys or combing their fur. Tucked inside in the distinctive gold-and-purple breed boxes on the floor are water spray bottles, ice packs and brushes. Then again, sometimes all the dogs need are each other for a rollicking romp and an entertaining sideshow.