9 Things I Learned Behind-the-Scenes at Westminster

I was on the floor at the show, within petting distance of the pooches. And it almost blew my mind.

Carol Bryant  |  Feb 19th 2013


Pomp and circumstance mixed with green, purple, and gold. These are the elements I spent several days and nights with in New York City recently. Dog aficionados will recognize that I was at Madison Square Garden for the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

As a dog lover of the highest order, it has been with great joy that I’ve covered the crème de la crème of the dog-show world for the past three years. In doing so, I have worked my way down, so to speak. You see, when I first attended the WKC show, I started in the nosebleed seats, and over the years I got closer and closer to communications director David Frei. Not quite a stalker, but perhaps a bit more groupie, I moved down over the years and finally found myself in the media area.

This year, if I stuck my hand out far enough, I could have touched the dogs on each gorgeous pooch parade, making their way onto what is affectionately dubbed “the Garden Green” by WKC fans.

Here are nine of the coolest things I learned about the Westminster Kennel Club dog show from my behind-the-scenes seats:

1. It isn’t cool to clap for your favorite dog if you’re a member of the media

I am a “woot woot” kind of gal, and when I see a dog who licks his handler or who does funny things en route to his “show spot,” I giggle and snicker with glee. I have an above-average understanding of what the judges are looking for when they place their hands on the dog, but I giggled nonetheless at the spectacle of a dog being a dog.

2. My dog isn’t the only one who likes to bury his snout in my purse

Champion show dogs like to do this, too. While taking the shuttle from our Manhattan-based hotel over to the piers where the “benching” and daytime judging took place, I met Spot. How many dogs these days are named Spot?

Spot is a Lakeland Terrier who took best of breed as part of the Terrier group. Seated next to me on the shuttle, Spot found it amusing to bury his head in my purse and forage for treats. He found crumbs, and I found a friend.

3. David Frei is one of the nicest and most caring dog people ever

He takes the time to talk to everyone; he is very approachable, friendly, and warm; and he cares about dogs. David Frei is the communications director for the American Kennel Club, and for more than two decades, he’s been the voice of Westminster — the one you hear calling the play-by-play (or wag-by-wag) on television.

4. I am not the only one who uses a flat iron to gain control of a hairstyle

Yorkshire Terriers do it, too. While walking around the area where the dogs are primped and primed for the ring, I wandered into the Yorkie section. Amidst the spray bottles of water and oh-so-cute bows sat a few flat irons, which one particular Yorkie groomer was proud to show me in action.

5. Inside every Cocker Spaniel is a psychic

Hear me out! When I stumbled across the Purina Pro Plan booth in the vendor area, the maker of those “I Could Be Great” commercials shown during televised portions of the WKC dog show, the gal asked me, “Do you know what’s inside your dog?” Along with treats and a heart the size of a lion, there is something very special inside my Cocker Spaniel. According to the algorithm developed by Purina Pro Plan, inside my Cocker Spaniel is a psychic. I now have a T-shirt that says so.

6. Some breeders and handlers are really warm and approachable

Case in point: One handler with a Chihuahua who was taking a nap promptly brought him out for children to see. “Tell him to look at you,” the handler beckoned. “Go ahead — he will look!” And the bright-eyed, blonde child asked him to look at her, and the pint–sized pooch complied. She kissed him on the head, pat his tiny frame, and gave him a hug, which his handler said he loves. This Chihuahua who loves kids, interacts well, and sets the standard for the breed gave me the warm fuzzies.

7. If you move away from Bloodhound slobber, you are a chicken

One of the coolest things about taking in a show where the dogs are allowed to be touched and talked to is doing just that. When I stumbled upon a Bloodhound handler, I noticed a crowd form around us. “He loves people, does scent work, and is one of the dogs used extensively by police to locate missing people,” his owner said.

As the droopy-eyed handsome boy spied the crowd, a long string of drool hung from his jowls. The handler saw the crowd backing away and called us all a bunch of chickens. Have slobber, will blot.

8. Dog butts melt me, but some people are drawn to a cute muzzle

Me, I am drawn to the wiggle of a butt and the wag of a tail. There is something completely whimsical about a dog in motion as he or she trots away. From a media vantage point, this was a dream come true, as evidenced by this booty call of shots I got.

9. What you don’t see on camera is the interaction between handler and dog

As the dogs prepare to hit the Garden Green, the unintentional interaction is what makes me smile the most. A dog who does a play bow, spins when he should be sitting, or jumps when clearly not meant to elicits the biggest reaction from the crowd.

Dogs ruled Madison Square Garden for two nights, accompanied by pomp and circumstance. I’m glad I worked my way down to their level, in my career and in my life.

Did you watch the Westminster Kennel Club show? What was your favorite part? Let me know in the comments!

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