I had the opportunity to attend the Westminster Kennel Club dog show as a member of the press last year and I’m gearing up to attend again next week. I, honestly, don’t fully know what I expected leading up to the event, but what I can say is that it was far different from what I had anticipated. Recognizing the discrepancy between what I expected and what I experienced, I thought you’d like to get the behind the scenes scoop on what to plan for should you attend some or all of the programming in the future. Here are the top three things you should know for planning a trip to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
What to Bring
First, have a fully-charged phone. You’re going to want to take a ton of photos. As a spectator, you can walk where dogs are being prepared for the show ring (providing you don’t interfere with people’s ability to tend to their dogs). I’m sure you’ll want to take photos of dogs when they’re being shown, too. There aren’t a ton of available outlets at the Piers, where preliminary shows occur and the agility portion is taking place, so having a backup charger is probably wise.
Dress in layers. There are a LOT of people. I think that was the one thing I didn’t fully understand until I got there. It was packed at the piers and behind the scenes at Madison Square Garden. I wound up getting really hot and not having an opportunity to take off layers, which made me uncomfortable.
Snacks! There aren’t a ton of restaurants near the piers where you can pop out for a quick bite to eat. The location does have food, but the options are limited and prices can be high. Bringing some granola bars or other snacks is really helpful.
Don’t forget your hand sanitizer. Yes, there are bathrooms but lines can be long. I can’t emphasize enough the volume of people that will be in the same space at the same time. Being able to keep your hands clean during cold and flu season is huge!
How you Should Behave
We all love dogs. That’s why going to an event like Westminster can be thrilling. The incredible animals are being shown in ways that illustrates the traits of each breed. It’s only natural to want to be an active participant, but I’d like to remind you of some important points.
Dogs are being worked on in advance of being shown. This includes extensive time spent on grooming and preparing. It’s an art form, to be sure and it’s amazing to watch. To see a dog transform can be mesmerizing. Depending on timing, some folks who are working on their dogs are still able and willing to chat with guests to explain what they’re doing and sometimes show certain aspects of grooming. For example, when I saw a white chalk-like substance being used on Beagle legs, the handler explained that it helps to whiten their white parts in a way that’s quick and safe.
While it’s tempting to interact with the dogs or ask a lot of questions, please be respectful of the grooming process and the time limitations each person may have. Unless you have explicit permission from the person with the dog, do not touch it. If you ask a question and the person doesn’t answer, please don’t force them to stop what they’re doing to attend to you. They’re busy.
Some dogs will be in crates. They may be stressed in advance of an event, or tired from travel. Do not put your hands in crates. This is a safety issue and a dog could react for a variety of reasons.
If you are bringing a child with you, please keep it in your line of sight at all times. Last year, I saw an adorable toddler wander from its adult. I made its way to a crate holding a border collie, and promptly stuck its ENTIRE ARM in the crate. Thankfully, all the toddler got were some licks, but the result could have been different. These dogs are well behaved, for sure, but they are still dogs and there are circumstances beyond their control that could lead to them being stressed or tired.
What Will you See
Well, besides the obvious, which would be dogs and people, here’s the rundown.
In advance of the show you might have seen on television that is filmed at Madison Square Garden, which is the final round of the breeds in each category (herding, non-sporting, hound, etc.) that culminates in the crowning of the Best in Show on the final night at Madison Square Garden, each of those breeds needs to be shown to determine their respective “Best Of.”
These breed specific rounds of the competition take place at “the Piers,” which are cavernous spaces that are transformed into multiple show rings along with spots where dogs are getting prepared in advance of their round. Timing is specific, and the space is large. Sometimes two breeds you really love are being shown at the same time in different spots, so it may be difficult to see them all. There are spots for folks to sit as spectators in bleacher type seats. You can also walk up and down the aisles where dogs are being groomed.
If you’re like me, in addition to loving the chance to learn more about specific breeds, you might like to watch dogs in agility competitions. There’s spunk, and high energy, and sometimes a lot of humor. I always love seeing dogs zip along at the speed of light, up and over and through. But, gosh, I also love it when dogs give zero poops, and slowly saunter around the ring. Speaking of poop, I have seen a dog take a poo on the floor of the agility ring, but that was a one shot deal.
There will also be vendors at the event on the Piers, so if you’ve been searching for jewelry with a specific breed’s profile, you may be in luck. I didn’t buy anything last year, and there was some regret for not getting something sparkly that also had a Boston Terrier represented in some way.
I hope you have a chance to attend at some point in the future. Tickets do sell out, so if you'd like to join in on the fun, plan on purchasing tickets well in advance of the event. I can't wait to share photos from next week. Be on the lookout for posts on our Facebook page.