Westminster Dog Show Crowns Labrador Retriever ‘Heart’ Its First-Ever Obedience Champion

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show kicked off on Monday Morning with its first ever Obedience Competition. First place went to a lively Labrador Retriever named Rhumbline’s Once In A Blue Moon. “Heart,” as she is called, is owned by Linda Brennan from Columbia, Warren County, New Jersey. First runner up was a Belgian Tervuren, Chiron Incyta More Smarts, owned by Julie Hill.

Despite obedience being a popular AKC activity since the mid-1930s, 2016 marks Westminster’s first venture into the sport. Obedience was added to its 140-year legacy of breed judging. This compliments its still-shiny new Agility competition, now into its third year and dominated by an Australian shepherd named Holster.

Westminster Dog Show’s panel was selective about its invitations. They were sent to the top 150 dogs based on Obedjence Trial Championship (OTCH) points earned between January 1, 2015 and October 31, 2015. Invitations were mailed in late November. The entry limit is 35 and entries were compiled on a first-received basis. 34 dogs showed up to compete.

Entries consisted of:

  • 13 Golden Retrievers
  • 4 Border Collies
  • 4 Labrador Retrievers
  • 2 German Shepherds
  • 2 Papillons
  • 2 Belgian Tervurens
  • 1 Rottweiler
  • 1 Doberman Pinscher
  • 1 Standard Schnauzer
  • 1 German Shorthaired Pointer
  • 1 Shetland Sheepdog
  • 1 Pomeranian
  • 1 Toy Poodle

The undisputed star of the Obedience ring is the Golden Retriever. Its calm, people-pleasing demeanor and excellent focus makes it a breed suitable for the work. But other breeds can excel as well. Border collies, although having the highest IQ in the dog world, tend to be more suited for a highly dynamic competition such as agility. It may surprise some to see two Papillons on the list of competitors, but they are descended from working spaniels and the highest-scoring toy breed in obedience. In fact, a female Papillon named “My Dolly Molly Two Spots” was one of the top contenders in today’s Westminster Obedience debut.

According to the AKC, the Labrador has been the most popular dog in America for 24 years running. There is a reason. They have a solid, friendly temperament, are intelligent and versatile. They can do everything from hunt ducks (which they were bred for) to therapy work. They are also a favorite as service dogs and guide dogs for the blind. And, as Heart has proven, they excel at obedience.

Brennan, who wore heart-themed attire to match her dog’s name, told nj.com that winning the competition right after Valentine’s Day made it, “the perfect day for the perfect name.

“I’m so proud of my dog, She’s just amazing. She loved the crowd, she loved the energy of it. I couldn’t be happier with her. She’s the dog of a lifetime.”

Her pride in Heart is justified. This is a formidable cast of competition all-stars. In order to appear in this ring, all have undergone years of rigorous training.

The OTCH is AKC’s highest obedience title that a dog can attain. It is considered a “PhD” for dogs.

Westminster’s obedience competition consists of AKC-approved Open and Utility Exercises. They include:

• Signal Exercise

• Drop on Recall (when the dog lies down on command while coming to handler)

• Directed Jumping

• Retrieve over High Jump

• Scent Discrimination (dog must search through a group of articles and select the one that has the handler’s scent)

• Group Sit Stay Exercise

Additional points were given for an enthusiastic performance, and creative ways to approach the exercise that were still within the AKC rules. Sharon Ann Redmer of Whitmore Lake, Michigan served as judge.

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Breed judging began this morning, to continue tomorrow, with an expected 3,000 dogs competing.

Anyone wondering about the prestige of Westminster should realize that it is the oldest American club dedicated to the sport of purebred dogs. It was established in 1877, predating even the American Kennel Club (which came along in 1884.) The Westminster Kennel Club was the first organization to join the American Kennel Club.

Westminster’s website lists a few facts and figures.

“Westminster pre-dates the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, basketball and the establishment of the World Series in baseball. It has survived power outages, snowstorms, a national depression, two World Wars, and a tugboat strike that threatened to shut down the city.”

Even the Empire State Building has acknowledged the home-based Madison Square Garden event, by lighting its tower in the Westminster colors of purple and gold. It shone these colors in 2004 and will do so again in 2016.

Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show airs Monday, February 16, on CNBC Live 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET and Tuesday, February 17, on USA Network Live 8-11 p.m. ET.

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[Image via Ysbrand Cosijn/Shutterstock]