Your guide to the 2024 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

A Chinese Crested dog runs during an agility competition at the 148th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on May 11, 2024 in New York City.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, now in its 148th year, is more than just a display of canine beauty—it's the pinnacle of U.S. canine competitions.

However, this year has been particularly challenging for the club due to the recent passing of the show chairperson and a judge's arrest on child abuse charges. 

Diving deeper into the nuances of this prestigious and historic event, here’s everything you need to know to become an insider at this year’s competition.

Who's competing?

This year's competition, which started with an agility contest at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, features over 2,500 dogs from 200 breeds and varieties. 

Participants include breeds ranging from popular French bulldogs to rare Norwegian Lundehunds and even the newly added Lancashire heeler. Notably, chihuahuas are the most represented breed this year.

Top contenders and who to watch 

This year's Westminster Dog Show features a strong lineup of contenders that are sure to draw attention. Returning to the competition are two of last year’s semifinalists: Trouble, an American Staffordshire Terrier, and Monty, a Giant Schnauzer who tops The Canine Chronicle magazine's national rankings.

The competition also welcomes other notable champions, including Comet, a Shih Tzu who clinched the title at the American Kennel Club National Championship in December, and Stache, a Sealyham Terrier who emerged victorious at the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving.

Adding to the excitement is Zaida, an Afghan Hound who recently triumphed at the World Dog Show in Croatia. They are joined by other top competitors like Mercedes, a German Shepherd, and Melody, an Otterhound, who have also enjoyed significant success in recent shows.

In addition to these purebred stars, Westminster's agility and obedience contests on Saturday showcased a diverse array of talents, including several accomplished mixed-breed dogs, highlighting the broad range of participants at this year's event.

How dogs qualify and compete at Westminster

To participate in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, dogs must first become champions by accumulating points through various qualifying events. The path to becoming a show dog begins early, with breeders selecting puppies suited for "conformation" competitions—contests that judge how well dogs meet their breed standards.

Owners might handle their dogs themselves or hire professional handlers who travel frequently to compete and strategize over winning against the competition. Promotion through canine publications is also a common tactic to gain visibility.

In the competition, dogs first compete against others of their breed. Winners of these initial rounds advance to compete in group semifinals. The top dog from each group moves on to the final round, vying for the prestigious Best in Show title.

Judges evaluate each contestant on adherence to breed standards, which may include specifics like body shape or movement. Veteran dog show commentator David Frei notes, "At Westminster, you're up against the best, and victory depends on peak performance on show day." This highlights that, despite rigorous standards, winning can often depend on a dog's performance on the specific day of the competition.

Prizes and recognition for winners at Westminster

Winners of the Westminster Dog Show earn considerable bragging rights and trophies, but no cash prizes. In the agility and obedience categories, winners have the opportunity to direct a $5,000 donation from Westminster to a chosen training club or the American Kennel Club Humane Fund.

Historically, Wire fox terriers have been highly successful, winning the top prize 15 times, most recently in 2019. Poodles, in various sizes, have also fared well with 10 victories. However, many popular breeds, including Labrador retrievers, have never won Best in Show. Notably, a Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen and a Bloodhound broke through with their first-ever Best in Show wins in recent years.

In the agility and obedience contests, which focus solely on purebreds, there's an additional award for the best mixed-breed dog, known affectionately as the "All-American dog." This special category highlights the diversity and skill of mixed-breed competitors in these events.

Controversy surrounding this year’s competition 

This year's Westminster Dog Show has faced controversy after Dr. Adam Stafford King, a scheduled judge, was arrested on charges related to child sexual abuse materials. 

His arrest led to the revocation of his judging privileges by the American Kennel Club and his removal from the event. This incident has spotlighted safety and accountability within the dog show community.

In response, the American Kennel Club has tightened safety protocols, requiring all involved—from handlers to judges—to complete mandatory abuse prevention training. 

Additionally, a new policy facilitates severing ties with individuals convicted of crimes or engaging in harmful conduct, reinforcing the club's commitment to a safe and inclusive environment.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.