Will Weare pooch be named top dog?

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May 10—With his rugged good looks, muscular build and winning smile, it's no surprise that Mando is already a top dog. Now he's going to the biggest show of all.

"Baystar This is the Way at Knee High" — Mando to his friends — is a Lancashire heeler, a rare dog breed newly recognized by the American Kennel Club and making its first appearance at the 148th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

More than 2,500 top-ranked dogs are competing in the prestigious dog show this year, 31 of them from New Hampshire, including Mando.

Owners Michael Branley and Lindsay DeVito-Branley of Weare named their dog after the hero of the "Mandalorian" TV show. "We really like the show and thought the name suited him," said Branley, who is the town administrator in Swanzey.

Held again this year at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., on May 11-14, Westminster is the second-oldest sporting event in the country, behind the Kentucky Derby. The show draws huge crowds in person and even more spectators on prime-time TV, and now includes agility and obedience competitions.

Mando will have his moment in the national spotlight on Monday night, when he is expected to compete in the Herding group after breed judging earlier that day.

That's because he's the only Lancashire heeler in the show.

The breed only became eligible to compete on Jan. 1. Mando finished his championship earlier this year, and Branley said he and his wife decided to enter the lottery for Mando to get the chance to compete at Westminster. He received an invitation to do so.

"We think he's a great representative of the breed," Branley said. "The honor of forever being the first one ever to be there was something special."

Branley and his wife have had miniature American shepherds for years, but were looking for "something a little different," he said. They learned about the Lancashire heeler and started researching the breed. They were smitten.

They got Mando from a breeder in Massachusetts, and he immediately tried to boss around the larger dogs in the household, Branley said. "Even though they're only 12 pounds, they're just really tenacious," he said. "He definitely tries to manage everything."

The 2-year-old dog is very loyal and connected to his humans, Branley said. "He's always in tune with whatever my wife or I have going on," he said — sometimes adding his canine voice to a conversation between the humans.

According to the AKC breed standard, the Lancashire heeler is a "small, powerful, sturdily built, alert, energetic worker," with a temperament described as "courageous, happy (and) affectionate to owner."

The breed's history dates back to the 17th century, according to the AKC. Bred as a cattle herder and a ratter, these dogs now compete in conformation as well as obedience, agility, rally and herding events.

Mando has been training for dog sports — agility and Fast CAT, a 100-yard dash for canines. But it's in the show ring that his flashy little dog shines, Branley said.

"He loves it," he said with a laugh. "He has a strut about him. He's definitely a showman."

And look for the characteristic "heeler smile" in the ring Monday night. "They have kind of expressive lips," Branley said.

DeVito-Branley usually handles their show dogs, but she's unable to attend Westminster, so Mando will be shown by a professional handler, Jessica Plourde, in the big show. Branley invited his mother, Kiki Branley of Chester, to join him on the New York trip, a nice treat for Mother's Day.

His Westminster goal for their dog is simple: "To have fun, and show people how special he is."

Mando has already had a lot of success in the ring, recently placing second among owner-handled dogs in a big show. So, Branley said, "You never know. Obviously we think he's great, but there's a lot of good competition. The best dogs in the world are going to be there."

"This is the big time," he said. "So it's pretty exciting."

How to watch the Westminster Kennel Club dog show


Fox Sports 1 (FS1), Pre-show, 7-7:30 p.m., followed by Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding Group judging, 7:30-11 p.m.


FS1, Pre-show 7-7:30 p.m., followed by Sporting, Working and Terrier group judging, then Best in Show, 7:30-11 p.m.

For more: www.westminsterkennelclub.org