What makes a perfect dog? How judges chose past Best in Shows

Ernesto Lara celebrates Banana Joe's best in show victory at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in 2013. This year's winner will be announced Tuesday.
(Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

NEW YORK -- Yes, we know your dog is perfect, and no, we don’t need you to show us another picture to prove it.

But there is your idea of perfection, and then there is the judges’ idea at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, where the lopsided ears, oversized paws and oddly twisted tail that make our pets so endearing can knock them from best in show competition.

Each breed -- there are about 190 at this year’s show -- is judged according to a unique set of standards that takes into account everything from snout size to muscular definition to temperament. This year’s best in show will be announced late Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

Here’s a look at recent winners, and why the judges considered them ideals of dog-dom:


2013: Judge Michael Dougherty bestowed the honor on a tiny black affenpinscher named Banana Joe, praising the dog’s “perfect” body and peppy demeanor -- a standard expected of the species. “He was presented in immaculate manner,” Dougherty said after making his choice. “He was ‘on’ the minute he walked in.... He’s in perfect condition -- perfect body.”

2012: Malachy, a 4-year-old Pekingese, was a crowd favorite as he waddled around the ring, his long hair brushing back and forth. The judge that year, Cindy Vogels, also picked him as her favorite, based partly on his muscular body, broad flat face and luxurious mane. “He conforms to the [breed’s] standard so magnificently,” Vogels said of Malachy, whose breed, according to the American Kennel Club, is expected to be “compact” -- no more than 14 pounds -- but never appearing “delicate or dainty.”

2011: A Scottish deerhound named Hickory came away the winner. If you’re not familiar with this breed, you’re not alone. According to the AKC list of the 177 most-popular dog breeds in the country, the tall, lanky Scottish deerhound ranks 165th. Judge Paolo Dondina called Hickory a “perfect example” of the large breed. “This animal is like in the heavens. It’s not of this world,” Dondina said of 5-year-old with dark, perky ears and an elegant tail.

2010: Sadie, a Scottish terrier, won -- the 8th time the breed has taken the competition. To judge Elliott Weiss, the choice was obvious. “A dog of this quality comes along once every 10 years,” Weiss said, singling out Sadie’s dark coat -- one of the most important elements for judging this breed -- for special praise. “Her coat is absolutely breathtaking,” he said.

2009: Stump, a Sussex spaniel, proved that in the dog world at least, age is not a factor when it comes to beauty. Stump was 10 years old and had been brought out of retirement just days earlier when he was crowned best in show. “He’s just everything that you’d want in the breed, and I couldn’t say no to him,” the judge that year, Sari Tietjen, said. The AKC says that among other things, an ideal Sussex spaniel is a “rich golden liver” color, with large, hazel eyes and “somewhat pendulous lips.”

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