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Malachy, a Pekingese, after winning Best in Show during the 136th Westminster Kennel Club Annual Dog Show held at Madison Square Garden February 14, 2012.
Malachy, a Pekingese, after winning Best in Show during the 136th Westminster Kennel Club Annual Dog Show held at Madison Square Garden February 14, 2012. / Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images

More than 2,700 dogs, representing 187 breeds and varieties, will compete at the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this week, televised live Monday night on CNBC and Tuesday night on USA Network.

“I believe people watch it imagining their own dog — hanging out on the sofa — is in the show ring at Madison Square Garden,” says David Frei, Westminster TV analyst for 24 years. “Of course, to be a show dog, that means a few less cookies and a few more baths.”

Each dog that has made it to Westminster is a Champion (a dog-show designation), which means much more than just having a bath. To have a top-notch show dog, Frei says, “start young, and encourage the dog to enjoy the experience. Dogs who don’t tolerate the travel of going to shows and don’t like being shown aren’t likely to make it to Westminster.”

In the end, seven finalists will compete for Best in Show. Frei says a single judge will look for:

Pretty picture. How attractive is the dog compared with the breed standard?

Engineering. All the technical stuff, the measurement of the tail, how long and high the dog is, etc.

Function. Can you imagine this dog doing the work for which the breed it represents was originally bred? For example, can you visualize this Labrador bounding into a swamp to retrieve a duck?

Personality. Some canines are big hams. Showmanship is not supposed to matter, but when all 15,000 fans at Westminster are screaming for one dog, how can a judge ignore it? “Some dogs,” Frei says, “really seem to want it.”

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Contributing editor Steve Dale is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant. He writes a twice-weekly syndicated newspaper column and is the host of two syndicated radio shows. Most recently he is the author of two e-books that answer common (and some not-so-common) pet-behavior problems, Good Dog! and Good Cat! (available wherever e-books are sold).