How does the Westminster Dog Show work? Explaining the rules, groups, judging for 2024 competition

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is returning for the 148th time in 2024, and puppy enthusiasts will be happy to tune into the New York event over the weekend.

Dogs from all around the world will look to take home the prestigious Best in Show title. Thousands of pooches will be in attendance and hundreds of breeds will compete to be named the best.

But how exactly do the judges determine which dog is the top of the pack? The process comes with some stringent rules, but it is ultimately open to the judges’ interpretation.

Here’s what you need to know about the rules of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, how it works and important details about group breakdowns and judging.

MORE: Watch the Westminster Dog Show live on Fubo (free trial)

What are the groups in the Westminster Dog Show?

There are seven different groups of dogs in the show. They are as follows:

  • Herding
  • Working
  • Hound
  • Terrier
  • Sporting
  • Non-sporting
  • Toy

These groups are meant to separate breeds into categories with similar characteristics.

For example, the herding category encompasses breeds that are developed specifically for herding and guarding livestock. Examples of these would be corgis, sheepdogs and border collies.

Working dogs are defined as a group of breeds that serve a purpose to protect or assist. This includes many larger dogs, including boxers, Great Danes and Rottweilers.

Hounds are characterized by their sharp scent-tracking ability and wide range of vision. They often serve as hunting dogs and pursue prey.

Terriers are a broad group that comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many are bred to dig and hunt vermin.

Sporting dogs are also hunting dogs, but they have the specific purpose of retrieving feathered game. Breeds like retrievers, setters, spaniels and pointers are included within this category.

On the other hand, non-sporting dogs are sought after as companions, with not much in common other than their rich histories and wet noses. This includes bulldogs and poodles.

Finally, the toy category is comprised of lap dogs, who were bred to provide their owners with affection. Chihuahuas, pugs and shih tzus are the most commonly known breeds in this category, though the 2021 Westminster Dog Show winner Wasabi is a Pekingese.

What are the rules of the Westminster Dog Show?

The Westminster Kennel Club has standards that each breed must meet during the judging process. The standards are written, maintained and owned by the specific “national breed club” for each breed and are subject to approval by the American Kennel Club.

What does this entail? Here’s what the Westminster Dog Show’s website says about the methodology of the judges.

Most standards describe the desired general appearance, movement, temperament, and specific physical traits such as height and weight, coat type, coat color, eye color, and shape, ear shape and placement, feet, tail, and more. Some standards can be very specific, some can be rather general and leave much room for individual interpretation by judges. This results in the sport’s subjective basis: one judge, applying their interpretation of the standard, and giving their opinion of the best dog on that particular day.

While the guidelines are stringent from breed to breed, there is a lot of areas open to interpretation for the judges. That’s why any dog from any of the seven categories is eligible to take home the Best in Show award.

What parts of a dog may be judged?

All parts of the dog man be judged, as the judges have the freedom to assess traits involving form and function.

Below is what the Westminster Kennel Club says can be included in the judgment:

  • The original function the dog was bred for
  • The dog’s desired general appearance, movement, and temperament
  • Specific physical characteristics, like height and weight, coat type and color, eye color and shape, ear shape and placement, feet, tail and more.

How does the judging at the Westminster Dog Show work?

Dogs first compete against their own breed at the Westminster Dog Show, and the winner of that category earns the Best in Breed designation. A singular judge officiates the entry of a breed, and the one in first place advances.

After that, the winners go on to compete within their group — the seven mentioned above. The group judge examines and selects the top four from that group with the first-place do advancing to the next round.

The final stage comes when the seven Best in Group winners compete for the overall Best in Show title.

The standards for judgment vary in specificity by breed. The judgment is subjective, so the judges have the ultimate discretion when applying their thoughts and opinions about the best dog in each group.

Westminster Dog Show schedule 2024

Below is the full schedule, watch options and air times for the 2024 Westminster Dog Show.

Saturday, May 11

Event Time (ET) Streaming
11th Annual Masters Agility Championship Preliminaries 8 a.m.-4 p.m. FOX Sports App
9th Annual Masters Obedience Championship 8 a.m.-4 p.m. FOX Sports App
An Exhibition of Dock Diving at Westminster 8 a.m.-4 p.m. FOX Sports App

Sunday, May 12

Event Time (ET) TV/Streaming
11th Annual Masters Agility Championship Finals 2 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Fox, Fubo, FOX Sports App, Westminster Kennel Club YouTube

Monday, May 13

Event Time (ET) TV/Streaming
Breed Judging (Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding Groups and Junior Showmanship Preliminaries 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. FOX Sports App
Select coverage of Breed Judging and Junior Showmanship Preliminaries 1 p.m.-4 p.m. FS2, Fubo, Fox Sports App
Pre-Show 7 p.m.-7:30 p.m. FS1, Fubo
Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding Group Judging 7:30 p.m.-11 p.m. FS1, Fubo, FOX Sports App

Tuesday, May 14

Event Time (ET) TV/Streaming
Breed Judging (Sporting, Working, Terrier Groups) and Junior Showmanship Preliminaries 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. FOX Sports App
Select coverage of Breed Judging and Junior Showmanship Preliminaries 1 p.m.-4 p.m. FS2, Fubo, FOX Sports App
Pre-Show 7 p.m.-7:30 p.m. FS1, Fubo
Junior Showmanship Finals 7 p.m.-7:30 p.m. FOX Sports App
Sporting, Working and Terrier Group Judging 7:30 p.m.-11 p.m. FS1, Fubo, FOX Sports App
Best in Show Following end of group judging FS1, Fubo, FOX Sports App

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