Dogs are great. Dog shows, however, are weird -- and none is weirder or grander or older than the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which airs on CNBC and USA over the next two nights. If you're new to dog shows, or have only ever been a casual observer of them, don't worry: I'm gonna walk you through this.
OVERVIEW: This year's event features over 2,700 competitors broken across 187 breeds (two of which -- the Russell terrier and treeing Walker coonhound -- are newly recognized by Westminster this year). Those breeds are categorized into seven groups: Hound, Toy, Sporting, Non-Sporting, Working, Herding, and Terrier. During the day, preliminary judging determines Best of Breed (BOB), each of which advances to the televised Group competition. On Tuesday night, the seven Group winners face off to determine Best in Show.
JUDGING: Judges pick winners based on the breed standard, a detailed set of observable qualities that comprise the ideal specimen for any particular breed. The closer a dog is to its breed standard, the likelier it is to end up in the winner's circle. This helps explain why a Pekingese won Best in Show in 2012 even though the Pekingese is a shitty boring useless breed -- that particular Pekingese was closer to the ideal Pekingese than the German shepherd was to the ideal German shepherd or the Doberman pinscher was to the ideal Doberman pinscher. Do not try to think about this too much. Just accept it and cheer for the dogs who look soft and friendly.
GROUPS: In an SB Nation exclusive, I will now share with you my ironclad, unassailable DOG GROUP POWER RANKINGS. Of course, the best dog is always a mutt that you have rescued from a local shelter, but since we're talking only about purebreds here, these are the dogs to cheer for.
1. Working group. Notable breeds: Rottweiler, Great Dane, Boxer, plus huskies, mastiffs, and mountain dogs. These are big-ass dogs bred for badass jobs: assisting fishermen, pulling sleds, hunting boar, defending homes, mauling intruders, etc. Despite their macho exterior, Working group breeds are some of the friendliest dogs in the Canis genus.
2. Hound group. Notable breeds: Basset Hound, Beagle, Dachshund, Scottish Deerhound. Hounds have always been hunting dogs, and while the best-known breeds in America are known for their baying, others -- such as the borzoi, saluki, and whippet -- use speed and stamina to chase down prey. Hounds have great personalities, but the baying can get old if you live next door to a beagle.
3. Herding group. Notable breeds: Bearded Collie, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Old English Sheepdog. Herding dogs are typically energetic and friendly, with soft coats that withstand the cooler environs that sheep inhabit. They're also OCD with the herding instincts; if they were humans, they'd be Type-A fitness enthusiasts who wake up at 5 a.m. and don't need caffeine who you nonetheless can't hate because they're so charming and good-looking.
4. Sporting group. Notable breeds: Golden Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Weimaraner, Irish Setter. Whereas hounds help hunters track and chase down prey, the sporting group provides "gun dogs" -- breeds that identify the precise location of the prey or retrieve it after it's been shot. People who smoke pipes and wear tweed jackets with elbow patches LOVE dogs from the sporting group. The Sporting group lands in the middle of the rankings because the universally lovable retrievers are balanced out by the mostly-dull spaniels.
5. Terrier group. Notable breeds: Welsh Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Airedale Terrier. With some notable exceptions in size, terriers tend to be short-legged, energetic, and fearless. Most were bred to hunt rats or similarly small mammals, and the "terrier" name comes from the French word for "getting an awesome FX show canceled" (citation needed). Terriers fall to fifth in the rankings because the group has produced 45 of the 105 Best in Show winners -- more than twice the next winningest group -- and I can't abide the judges' obvious terrier bias.
6. Non-Sporting group. Notable breeds: Bulldog, Shiba Inu, Dalmatian, Standard Poodle. The Non-Sporting group lands near the bottom of the rankings not necessarily because of the quality of the dogs -- French bulldogs are incredibly charming, and I had a Lhasa Apso growing up -- but because they have no unifying identity or history. These are just the random leftover dogs that don't fit anywhere else. I suppose you can find comedy in a bulldog squaring off next to hairless xoloitzcuintlis and prissy-ass miniature poodle, but it simply doesn't move my heart.
7. Toy group. Notable breeds: Chihuahua, Pekingese, Toy Poodle. Dogs should be larger than cats. Worthwhile only for "I Shih Tzu not" jokes.
Again, I remind you that these rankings are fixed and utterly impervious to criticism. If you disagree, it's probably because you own a stupid smelly Cocker Spaniel.
Photo courtesy PetsAdviser.com