Westminster Dog Show: Behind the scenes at the salon

February 19, 2014
bloodhound face

Yes, that’s a blow dryer.

The only thing I knew about dog shows before last week was the movie, Best in Show, so when our friends’ sweet and beautiful Grand Champion French Bulldog got into Westminster, the largest televised dog show in the world, and the oldest–138 years old!–I was dying to go. So we did.  We –and some 2,800 dogs– converged on New York City for a few days of shivering, showing and for some, stardom.

So, let’s get this out of the way first:  I’ve always been a rescue pet kind of girl and look with jaundiced eye on the over-breeding that has ruined the health and mobility of many “pure” breeds. But the fact is, I knew nothing about the purebred dog world or showing dogs–only what others have written. So this was a chance to learn a little more first-hand.

I had no idea what to expect, but I definitely wanted to see what happened “behind the scenes.” So we went off to the Piers for the first series of competitions.

The first thing that caught my eye was a handler working with a German shepherd before competing. Quite cool. I caught some of it on video:

Dogs everywhere–it was hard to know which to look at first.  But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s hard not to–this day was crammed full of interesting new things.

corgi water

The Queen’s not the only corgi lover; I’m also a fan.

So, here’s how it works:  Each breed–there were around 186 of them– has its own competition–and then the winners compete in groups (sporting, non-sporting, toy, etc.)  and those winners compete in the televised program for Best in Show.

Tickets to the breed competitions at Westminster (held in the hours preceding each televised “best of show” competition)  gave us access to not only the rings but “backstage”– and the ability watch as groomers and handlers prepped and primped their canine clients.  And as our little Frenchie pal rested up for his big appearance, we walked around, and we were mostly welcome to watch how these stars got ready for the ring.

pom fluff2Pomeranians are showstoppers, they really are. Tiny and cute, the strut their stuff like they were born to walk the runway. Their smiling faces make me smile, too. This Pom may be small, but it still takes a lot of work to look picture-perfect for the ring.  (Once in a while I can watch secretly as Riley is groomed and he is just as good as this dog was. But if I were grooming him, you can bet he’d be pitching a royal fit.)

pom fluffSnip. Brush. Comb. Powder. Fluff. Oh, that face!  Could you just die for it?  Kisses!

sheltie restsAs I always say in the salon, if nothing’s happening, you might as well relax. I usually have a magazine, but this dog didn’t bring one.

sheepdog peopleThe sheepdogs always drew a crowd and these groomers actually engaged the children and encouraged them to pet the dogs.

sheepdog moustYes, that’s why they drew a crowd: mustache grooming was–amusing. I wanted to twirl his tied-up ‘stache. He probably wanted to rip out the bands.

sheepdog groomIt took a village. No joke–there were crews of groomers and they were dead serious and focused on making their clients look fabulous.

sheepdogs2 primpLong-suffering. Looks like a really nice dog, though.

sheepdogLotta hair–and it required a lot of fluffing.  Now, I should remind you that fluffing means one thing in the porn world and something entirely different at a dog show. Just saying.  This dog was just beautiful, but to have a dog like that I’d need an in-house vacuum servant. (Note that I didn’t say I’d do it, myself. I’ve never used our new vacuum. I don’t even know where it is, much less how to turn it on.)

sheepdog peers overMade me nervous, but this dog was perfectly relaxed hanging over the edge of the table. (Do not tell me any stories about dogs falling off tables, etc because I over-empathize and it will flip me out. Seriously.)

sheepdog sleepsDon’t blame this dog a bit.  Note the chalk and powder.  I was wearing black and a few groomers were nice enough to caution me not to get the white stuff on my clothing.

Below? Let’s call him “Scruffy.”  Not his name, but he was irresistible.

small prepIt takes a lot to look scruffy and cute.

cute2 useJust ask this Brussels Griffon.

cute on tableI love this breed and this tough little dog. What a face! He looks like trouble, right?

longhair chi cutieI fell in love with this breed: the long-coated chihauhau.  What a sweet face!  They look even cuter in person. I’d love one… but they shed. This beauty was sweet and mellow, but some are very high-strung. Like the black and white one I met at the Santa Clara County dog show a few days later. But this little one? So precious. And calm.

shep fluffGorgeous. One of the most imposing breeds, ever. But I felt sad for their sloping hips and how overbred they looked. They exemplify my problem with show dogs and “pure-breds.”

dog waits table-useIsn’t s/he a beauty? She looks like she’s wearing wire-rims and ready to teach English literature.

bloodhound head onYes, even bloodhounds need a visit to the salon. Maybe to get their wrinkles shaken out.

bichon restsBeautiful bichon.  We saw so many lovely bichons; they really are striking, with those tiny button eyes peering out of a cloud of white.

We saw a lot of blow dryers and hair clips.  More than I have in my own bathroom!

dog hair clipsAnd so many dogs getting powdered and fluffed, like this one: (video)

liver dog prep2Adore. One of these flew back on the plane with us.  A (wink-wink) “service dog.”

And below, can you find the second dog?

black tanafghan groomSo regal. But also too thin. Just too thin.

beagle prepI heart this cutie. He wanted to come with me, and I don’t blame him. He’s a 13-inch beagle and I wanted him, too. What a darling dog!

cute 13 beaglecamera guyThe camera folks were always looking for something eye-catching. And they found it here:

poodleprimp3What could this be?  It was unidentifiable as any form of life.

poodleprimpI couldn’t find the face…..

poodleprimp useOoohhhh, there  it is!  These groomers have their work cut out for them–talk about a fancy cut.  My husband captions this “Why dogs bite.”

But it’s all worth it in the end, right?

poodle done2Final touches.

poodle doneAnd ready for the ring.  Poodles always look like stars.

poodle blackSome stiff competition, though.

So there you have it: a look behind the scenes at how dogs are prepared for their big moment at Westminster Dog Show.  More to come on the dogs and the show.


13 comments on “Westminster Dog Show: Behind the scenes at the salon
  1. This is absolutely fascinating! What a fun thing to do and photograph. I’m with you 100 percent on favoring rescue dogs over the pampered purebreds. But my oh my, what an experience. Thank you for sharing.

    (I must say, some of those pooches look not too thrilled about their lot in life. I think many would be far happier running around outdoors, getting burrs and wonderful wind in their hair.)

    • admin says:

      It was interesting that once in the ring they seemed to dig strutting their stuff. Many were being hugged and kissed and petted by their handlers–this was a big surprise to me. And my friend’s dog is the most sweet, loving French Bulldog you’d ever want to meet, so I got quality dog time on vacation, too. There are things I”m never going to like about this world, but it’s not the way I thought it was, and I was glad to have this up-close look. It really WAS fascinating!

  2. shirley says:

    When you purchase a pure bred dog you know what you are getting you know what breed it is how it will look as an adult how big it will be etc. IF you purchase your puppy from a well known REPUTABLE breeder you will not only get someone who cares where their puppies go and who will be there for you for the rest of the dogs life but you will get a puppy from well bred health tested parents and a health guarantee on the puppy you purchase. If you do not get this then the simple answer is don’t purchase the puppy.

    When you purchase a mutt or a cross bred dog you have no idea at all how big that dog will be how it will look as an adult and even worse what genetic defects that dog may be hiding and you have NO ONE to turn to if indeed you do have an issue – you have no guarantee health or otherwise. If you get a dog from a rescue situation you get all the above and there is always a reason the dog is in rescue – was it from a puppy mill, has it been abused, does it have extensive health issues or even temperament issues. Yes it is always the nice thing to do to rescue or worse buy from a pet store to take that cute puppy out of there.

    Reputable breeders love their dogs they care where they go and who gets them we do not breed unhealthy dogs if we did they would not stand up to the rigors of the show ring. A lot of the dogs you see in the show ring work in other fields as well a lot of the sporting dogs hunt and a lot of the toy and non sporting dogs visit the elderly and schools and help children learn to read they do not spend their lives shut up in crates and ignored – they are loved and cared for and yes THEY ARE WELL BRED. The video of the German Shepherd that you have on your blog when he stands naturally he does not slope that is how they are set up or posed in the ring don’t ask me why its not my breed I have Frenchies in fact Rocky goes back to some of my dogs.

    • admin says:

      Rocky is a fantastic dog, for sure. His temperament is superb–and I’ve had dogs on and off my whole life, usually mutts or rescues. Lots of them were nice, too, but Rocky has a special sweetness. It’s a plus that he’s such a star. I just love his affectionate nature.

      I saw Shepherds at the show that walked naturally sloped, not posed. I saw at least one walking a while not in the ring so it wasn’t practiced and it wasn’t the handler posing him. It was the way he was built. I didn’t watch the breed competition so I don’t know how he fared.

      I have another entire post coming on what I saw and how it impacted my point of view. I’m not going to pretend I understand all about the world of pure breeds, but I can say what I thought before I went and then what I think now based on my small acquaintance with show dogs. You’re absolutely right about working dogs, I talked to a few owners and handlers who mentioned that the dogs worked in the field, too, and a surprising number are therapy dogs. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. My point here is that I had a point of view going in but was open to learning. And learn I did. More on that soon. Thanks so much for stopping by to comment and add the view of pure bred breeder or owner. If your dogs are related to Rocky, they must be awfully sweet, too.

      I do have one question, though: Out of a litter of Frenchies, for example, how do you know that one is likely to be a star? Because not every littermate fares that well in the ring, right? How do you evaluate? In fact, I’ll email you offline on this. Thanks!

  3. Tammy says:

    Ugh! I am a dog lover from waaay back. I love all breeds. I’ve owned so many, I can’t count. Mostly, I’ve owned those that found their way to me. I’ve been blessed that way. Not sure who rescued who. Pure breeds were in the bunch. I look at these shows and feel terrible for what is surely a form of torture for many of these pups. I’m told they are used to it. Really? I know their owners love them. But for what reason? As a means to acquire a trophy? I wonder. I’d love to think that all these pups have wonderful laps to sit on, firesides to warm them, kids to play with and yards to roll around in. Somehow…I kind of doubt it. Great pics!!!! Love this sharing.

    • admin says:

      Well, as you’ll find out in a future post, I found that most, if not all, of these dogs are much loved by their owners and handlers. I saw more hugging and kissing of dogs by handlers than I imagined. Some dogs like their moment in the spotlight. These dogs are super well trained, super socialized, I heard NO excessive barking, so NO dog fights, did see dogs playing together in the ring while they waited their turn–which surprised me. The world is not as I , a long time humaniac, imagined.

  4. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Great photos and beautiful dogs! We’ve had collies and Shelties in my family that we loved dearly. We’ve had our mixed breed (a rescue) for 8 years. No idea of his heritage but he is far and away the sweetest, smartest and healthiest dog we’ve ever had. He is our blessing.

  5. Haralee says:

    What a treat! I love watching when you see a handler kiss a dog when it wins on the snout!
    We had for 16 years 1 full Old English and 1 mixed Old English. You are right about the vacuuming, the dust bunnies from them were the size of small children, bigger than bunnies! I had a hard time hiring cleaning people because of all their hair.

  6. Such adorable dogs, but I can’t help but think are they happy? Being pushed and prodded and traveling to a strange place with strange people? Just asking… I love all animals. I know I am a bleeding heart.

    The pics showed so many cute pups.

  7. Doreen McGettigan says:

    My brother-in-law had show dogs and I would swear they loved the spotlight. They were very much loved and well cared for. My kids loved going to the shows when they were young. I never saw any of the dogs abused in any way.
    The two dogs I have now are a designer breed (lacy haired terriers) but they were rescues.
    I’m looking forward to reading more…

  8. Roz Warren says:

    LOVED this post. Dropped everything and just grooved on the behind-the-scenes vibe and those wonderful photos. As far as I’m concerned, the internet is all about dog photos.

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