Siba the Standard Poodle Wins Westminster Dog Show

Siba, a black standard poodle with a meticulously groomed coat and a taste for chicken, won best in show at the 144th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night, defeating a final group of contenders that included a wildly popular golden retriever and two repeat best in show contestants.

Siba is the fifth standard poodle to win the show’s top prize and the first since 1991. The last poodle to take top honors was a miniature, Surrey Spice Girl, in 2002.

“She knows she’s special,” Siba’s handler, Chrystal Murray, had said when she advanced to best in show on Monday. The best in show judge, Robert H. Slay, tuning out the cheers of a crowd chanting the name of Daniel the golden retriever as he contemplated his decision, agreed.

Murray said she liked poodles because they do not shed and are thus hypoallergenic. And despite her prim and elegant appearance, Siba, she said, was just a family dog who “knows when to tone it down and sleep on the couch,” one who enjoys playing with Murray’s toddler son and tracking in mud from the fields near their Pennsylvania home.

Siba has only one regular requirement: she prefers chicken. On Monday, when Murray couldn’t find any before the judging in the nonsporting group, she turned to the closest available option: chicken sandwiches from a nearby McDonald’s. Siba gobbled them up, and then had the same meal for dinner on Tuesday.

The only thing fancy about her, it seems, is her haircut and her full name: GCHP CH Stone Run Afternoon Tea.

Daniel, a golden retriever, was the clear crowd favorite in the final judging. The champion representing one of the most popular breeds in America, Daniel was attempting to become the first golden to take the top prize in a competition that was first held a decade after the Civil War. A cheerful, flowing gem of a dog, he glided around the ring to the delight of a roaring crowd eager to see him make show history. But his breed’s wait, now 144 years and counting, will go on.

Two of the finalists, Bono the Havanese and Wilma the boxer, had won their groups to advance to best in show for the second year in a row. But both came up short again.

Vinny, the wire fox terrier, was hoping to deliver a second straight title — and a record 16th over all — for his breed. He may have been hurt by recent history: a wire fox terrier had won last year, drawing groans from a terrier-weary crowd.

Bourbon, a sleek whippet seeking his breed’s first title since 1964, won Monday’s runner-up prize, reserve best in show.

After winning the top prize, Siba and Murray posed in the middle of the arena for photos. As Murray answered questions, Siba reclined on the small raised platform in the middle, surrounded by her trophies and ribbons, as regal (and coiffed) as Cleopatra and completely unperturbed by the fuss around her. Photographers tried to get her to look at them by shouting her name, but it did not work. The champion was relaxing.

“She always knows when she’s won,” Murray said.

Whether he wins the silverware is up to the judge, Mr. Slay, but Daniel the golden retriever seems to have the people in his corner tonight.

The whippet and the Havanese are the only challengers in the popularity contest. But that, of course, means nothing in best in show.

Sean Ernst, a Times editor, writes from the office:

“Do the group winners from last night have the advantage going into best in show? Or do tonight’s group winners have the edge?” He call its “the classic rest-vs.-rust debate.”

Sarah?

Sarah: The answer is, Not really. It’s not like you need special stamina to compete in a dog show or anything. You’re not lifting, sprinting, throwing or skiing, for instance. You just have to show up with a certain amount of enthusiasm, eat your treats, look pretty, open your mouth when the judge wants to examine it, and then run a short distance until you get to rest again.

Andy: Still, the real champions want the leash around their neck at crunch time.

You know who does sound ready? The best in show judge, Robert H. Slay. He’s been sequestered, and has no idea who he will see on the floor in a few minutes. No worry for him, he says.

“I’ve been in this five decades, I’ve watched a lot of dogs,” he says in a North Carolina drawl. “I think I’m ready.”

He knows he’s not competing, right?

Hound: Bourbon, a whippet

Toy: Bono, a Havanese

Nonsporting: Siba, a standard poodle

Herding: Conrad, a Shetland sheepdog

Working group: Wilma, a boxer

Terrier: Vinny, a wire fox terrier

Sporting: Daniel, a golden retriever

Vinny, a wire fox terrier, wins the terrier group and there’s a bit of grumbling from the Garden crowd. (The same thing happened when a wire fox terrier won best in show last year.) As I noted earlier, that’s mostly terrier fatigue, but the miniature bull terrier and the skye terrier definitely had more fans here tonight.

Vinny will have a quick turnaround before best in show. Time for a quick drink and a comb but no snacks — “he’s had plenty of snacks tonight,” his handler deadpans — and then it’s right back to work.

The terrier group, the last of the seven groups, is on the floor now. There are 32 kinds of terriers, including three versions of bull terriers and two fox terriers.

Sarah: The arrival of the terriers might be a good place to mention that these dogs are being judged according to how well they conform to their own breed’s standards — not some outside system of beauty. So just because a dog might have a head that looks like a trowel, it doesn’t mean he’s ugly by dog-show standards.

Andy: My bigger issue is just how many terrier breeds they are. It’s no wonder they’ve won best in show more than any breed: they get a guaranteed slot every year.

It’s like cheering for Alabama in football.

Sarah: Or the sun to set.

Andy: See, this is what I mean: the smooth fox terrier and the wire fox terrier just feels like hairsplitting. Pun intended.

Sarah: The smooth one is a much better conversationalist.

Andy: What’s a good pickup line from a smooth terrier in a bar?

Sarah: “Would you like to feel my coat sometime?”

As promised, Sarah spills on the dog names she made up:

All the names were real, except the Axolotl, which is the name of an amphibious salamander; and the Pufi, the Platte der Otz, the Pom Pom d’Or, the Hund des baumes, and the Dogue de Cabernet, which I made up.

Her handler expresses supreme confidence that she can win the whole thing. She was among the smallest competitors in a group filled with enormous dogs but, like any good boxer, punched well above her weight.

Wilma, like Bono the Havanese, who qualified on Monday night, won her group for the second year in a row. Each knows there is still work to do.

It’s tough to overstate how big some of these dogs are: the Great Dane, the mastiffs, all of them.

Andy: It really makes you think: what’s it like to live for four days in a New York hotel room with a Newfoundland?

Sarah: What about that lady we met backstage who is here with her nine Frisbee-playing dogs, all sharing a single room? She told us she walks them three at a time.

Andy: Well, she did say she has 21 dogs, and that her husband has 16 beagles. So I’m guessing it’s not her first rodeo.

Sarah: The Dogue de Bourdeaux is a member of a subset of the working group: the drooling group. Have you noticed the way the Jumbotron zeroes in on the jowls of the super-drooly dogs in slow-mo, so you can see them undulating up and down with drool spooling out. It’s the Jowl-cam!

Andy: I have. I think they could just play that on a loop and the people in here would stay all night watching it.

Check back after the working group for answers.

This could also be known as the heavyweight division: Bernese mountain dogs, bullmastiffs, Newfoundlands and St. Bernards.

It’s hot under the lights on the Garden floor for these dogs, and several have taken their first opportunity to lie down. A few have been covered with cooling towels.

Sarah: I love the working group! It has great breeds like the Alaskan malamute, the great Dane, the delightfully-entitled Dogue de Bordeaux, and the Komondor, which is the one that looks like a giant ambulatory mop. At the end of the evening, the working group will present the results of their meeting and come up with a new plan for their organization, going forward.

Andy: I’m partial to these big guys, too. My family had a St. Bernard (Heidi) and a Bernese mountain dog (Gretel) when we were kids, and their limitless patience with kids who kept trying to ride them was, in hindsight, their greatest treasure.

Sarah: Boerboel: that is not a real dog. You do not want to run into that bullmastiff alone in a dark alley at night.

Andy: I think the bullmastiff could eat you in three bites. Maybe two if he missed lunch.

The crowd is going wild here. Beating the odds, and the history: the golden retriever has won best in the sporting group! It’s a Cinderella story!

“Holy crap!” her handler exclaims on live television.

Could this be the year a golden finally wins it all?

Sarah: The golden retriever, who answers to the name of Daniel, is now like the prom king of the dog show — beautiful AND popular.

Andy: It’s hard to overstate how shocking that was: the golden retriever, staple of so many American households, has never won Westminster.

Sarah: Here’s what happens next: we’ll see the dogs in the two remaining groups — the working group and the terrier group — choose their winners. And then the winner from each group will slug it out in the final round. So far, it will be the golden retriever vs. the Shetland sheepdog vs. the standard poodle vs. the Havanese vs. the whippet.

Andy: The problem now, I guess — and any golden owner will get this — is that they have to get a really excited golden retriever to relax for a couple hours now.

Sarah: Or the golden can just fetch his ball incessantly while using his tail to knock things off the grooming table.

Andy: Too bad he can’t go outside and dig a hole for a while. Or chew up a shoe.

Sarah: Goldens are not known for having every biscuit in the basket. But I shouldn’t talk. My dog, Hershey, loves his tennis ball more than perhaps anything else in the world. After playing for a bit, he gets thirsty and has a habit of dropping his ball in his (shallow) water bowl, and then looking at the ball with what appears to be total incomprehension until one of us goes and fishes it out.

The Irish water spaniel, looking a bit nervous, has been sent away by the judge!

Sarah: What just happened there? The spaniel seemed to lose his nerve and jump off the table.

Andy: It looks like he’s been excused by the judge, which is a very dog show way of saying he’s been kicked out without being judged.

Sarah: There’s a difference between being excused — essentially, released without charge — and disqualified. Dogs are disqualified when they do something very bad, such as bite the judge.

Andy: To be clear: that does not appear to be what happened. I checked with Westminster’s Lisa Peterson, who is a judge in her own right, and she explained: Apparently the spaniel refused to allow the judge to examine him. The judge gave the dog a quick chance to run around, but after conferring with an official, the dog was excused.

The handler seemed crushed, and got some comforting taps from the other handlers on her way out. But that’s like making it to the Super Bowl and then getting thrown out by the ref two minutes into the game.

New York City has been Dog City the last few days. More than 2,600 dogs have competed/are competing in the competition, representing 49 states — every state except North Dakota, where they apparently have more important things to worry about — and 19 countries other than the United States.

Sarah: Andy, who do you like in the Sporting Group?

Andy: I’m partial to the retrievers, but then I’m partial to perennial underdogs. Especially dog underdogs. But I’ll be honest: the clumber spaniel really looks kind of huggable.

Who do you like so far? The spaniel? The other spaniel? Or the other other spaniel?

Hold on … there’s trouble.

With 33 dogs in the sporting group, there’s quite a bit of down time for the handlers and their sometimes bored charges. The Brittany went first, but now has about a half hour to kill. The wirehaired Vizsla, on the other hand, will go last.

Sarah: I’m always surprised at how quiet (and lazy) some of the dogs seem. Several spaniels in this groups are currently lying in a sort of heap behind the signs announcing their names. One of them has a bib on, I assume so that his drool does not mar the appearance of his carefully-combed coat.

Andy: To be honest, Sarah, I’d be lying around too after four days of getting pawed by strangers in New York. Probably not on the floor of Madison Square Garden though.

Sarah: The Gordon setter’s name is Gavin, which strikes me as a lot to do to a dog.

Andy: Actually, Sarah, his name is GCHG CH Hollyhunt Not By Chance. Which is something like Grand Champion Champion and then the rest. I’d go by Gavin, too, given that sort of pretentious monogram.

We’re underway at the Garden with the request: “Can we have the sporting group on the floor!”

Andy: While some breeds seem a bit, well, precious, the sporting group feels like a bunch of Everymen and Everywomen to me every year. Agree?

Sarah: “Sporting” is a rough approximation of what these dogs do, Andy. According to Westminster, they are known “for their instincts in water and woods and are generally naturally active, alert and have stable temperaments.” I’m seeing a lot of enthusiasm out there, despite the lack of water, woods and, well, sports. We have some setters; we have some spaniels; there’s some retrievers; there’s a viszla.

Andy: At the moment I’m just happy the Gordon setter is playing Switzerland between the English setter and the Irish setter. In the age of Brexit, you can’t take chances.

Sarah: I heard those dogs arguing about the E.U. and the customs union just a few minutes ago.

Andy: Well, with 33 dogs in the sporting group we know one thing: It’s going to end up Leave 32, Remain 1.

Jan Hoffman of The Times peeked behind the curtain at the dog show and discovered a veritable medical army has sprung up to tend to the competitors’ needs: health and wellness specialists, canine acupuncturists, massage therapists and chiropractors and veterinarians.

“Westminster is famous as a gathering of spectacular dogs, with all the people and products attendant with canine beauty pageantry: sprays, mousses, gels, conditioners, curlers, straighteners, bows, hair implants (I’m looking at you, Standard Poodles!) and mascara (flutter those lashes much, Papillon?).

“But in the last few years, Westminster has added competitions in agility and obedience, events that bring in a very different crowd — jock dogs and their humans. (‘Vanish is not just some Barbie collie,’ Aaron Kirzner said of his border collie, which is both a breed and agility champion.)”

Read the rest of Jan’s piece here.

King, a wire fox terrier, won best in show honors in 2019, but not everyone was thrilled. “Boos and grumbles filled Madison Square Garden when the judge handed King the coveted pewter cup,” The New York Times wrote then. Part of that might have been terrier fatigue: Of the 112 best in show titles awarded at Westminster, 47 — more than 40 percent — have been won by the terrier group. Wire fox terriers have won 15 times, more any other breed.

There are show favorites and crowd favorites, and those are not always the same breeds. Golden retrievers and Labradors, for example, are two of the most popular dog breeds in the United States, and they are crowd favorites at the Garden year after year, but neither has ever won best in show at Westminster.

“If you had a popularity contest, we would win,” Christine Miele, the Eastern vice president of the Golden Retriever Club of America, told Liam Stack of The Times last year.

On Monday night, the loudest cheers were often reserved for the fluffiest, the hairiest and the cutest of the breed winners. But there were also cheering sections for some classic breeds, like the bulldog (which didn’t advance to best in show) and the standard poodle (which did).

One dog to watch on Tuesday night is Bono, the Havanese who won the toy group, and the closest thing the show has to a celebrity dog. Bono was a best in show finalist last year, and has returned to the final seven.

It’s not uncommon for a dog to make a repeat appearance in the final group; an excellent example of his breed, after all, doesn’t change much once he has matured.

A silky 3-year-old Havanese named after the U2 singer, Bono was the top-ranked show dog in the country last year but finished second to King, the wire fox terrier, at Westminster and to Thor, a bulldog, at the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving.

This time, his handler said Monday, he has come to win.

“He has something that makes people look at him,” the handler, Taffe McFadden, said after Bono advanced. “He just stares ’em down.”

Dog shows are basically elimination competitions. The best dogs from each breed first compete against one another to select one best in breed winner. Those best in breed winners advance to seven group competitions: hound, toy, sporting, nonsporting, herding, working and terrier.

The seven best in group winners advance to one final judging competition for best in show. Bono, the Havanese who won the toy group, and Siba, the standard poodle who captured the nonsporting group, advanced Monday, and were joined in the best in show ring by the hound winner Bourbon, who is trying to become the first whippet to win since 1964, and Conrad, the Shetland sheepdog who was bouncing-in-the-air excited after winning the herding group.

The sporting, working and terrier group winners will be chosen Tuesday night.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is the dog show circuit’s big night in New York, when the great and the good — and even a few celebrities — strut into Madison Square Garden in their finest furs, with their hair styled just so, all of them ready to see and be seen.

Humans will be there, too, of course.

But Tuesday night is all about the dogs. It’s when a field of more than 2,600 entries is trimmed to seven finalists, and then to just one, who is awarded an immense ribbon and a silver cup into which — depending on the breed — he may or may not fit.

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