The Westminster Dog Show Is Where Rare Breeds Can Shine—or Even Win Best in Show
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When Josie the Norwegian elkhound entered the breed ring at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Monday afternoon, she didn't have much competition.
Er, make that any competition. She was the only dog in the ring. Her judging lasted less than 90 seconds, and she won Best of Breed for the elkhound. That made it no less sweeter for her owner, Andrew Vance of Columbus, Ohio.
"Westminster Kennel Club is the most important dog show in the country, bar none, and so to walk away with Best in Breed is always an honor," he tells Daily Paws.
That was the reality for several rare dog breeds at Westminster in 2023. Only one English foxhound entered the show. Only two boerboels competed, and none of the Finnish spitzes showed up. (The golden retriever ring, meanwhile, featured 37 entrants.)
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But while in small numbers, the rare breed enthusiasts still had the opportunity to promote their dogs, putting them on national television in the evenings. That's where the journey ended for most of them—except for the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen who won it all after being one of only three of his breed to compete.
"It's a small breed and we like it for that because they're not for everyone … We've [spent] a long time really getting this breed to be noticed and it's fantastic to put them on the map," said Janice Hayes, the owner and handler of Buddy Holly, the Best in Show-winning pup.
The PBGV is the 154th most popular dog in the United States. (The list, from the American Kennel Club, measures how many dogs from each breed are registered with the club.) But even further down the list is one of its related breeds, the Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen at No. 185 out of 199.
The top-ranked GBGV, Colt, was the only one of his breed to compete Monday at Westminster, which owner Laurie Green says is a pretty regular occurrence. The most she usually sees at all-breed shows is three or four.
"There's not just not a lot of people," she says.
Courtesy of Laurie Green Colt, at an earlier show
While winning Best in Breed was nice, the small contingent of Chinook owners would've liked to see a few more in the ring than just two. But that's hard to come by for the breed ranked No. 180. Heather Osborne, owner and handler of Best in Breed winner Ilamaaq, mentioned there are just over 800 Chinooks in the United States, and even fewer are show dogs with enough championship points to qualify for Westminster.
So it's even more important for one to get that 20 seconds of air time on TV in the group stage. Maybe someone was particularly taken with the Chinook, a breed native to New Hampshire that originated from a mastiff and Siberian husky breeds.
"This is why we do this," Osborne, who lives in Connecticut, says. "Because the Chinooks are a marvelous breed. They are a healthy, active, intelligent breed, and we'd love to have them get more exposure."
Sure enough, when Illamaaq entered the Working Group ring at Arthur Ashe Stadium, FOX Sports analyst Jason Hoke mentioned how it was a shame to not see too many Chinooks at dog shows.
"I'm so glad this breed is represented," he said. "It's really one of the hidden gems of the sport as well."
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The elkhound is No. 100 on the AKC's list, but Vance and his wife decided to bring Josie—who, competition or not, shows quite well—home in order to promote the breed. Older breeders were retiring, and they were worried the breed could fade away.
"We've done a lot of winning with her, but, ultimately, the important thing is that we introduce other people to this great breed," Vance says. "We want to try to preserve the Norwegian elkhound."
Plus, Josie's a great pet. She's active but will calm down when needed, and she even partners with Vance's daughter in junior showmanship events. That's the type of companion we're all looking for.