The Pups Are Prepped, Bring On The Westminster Ribbons

It's that time of year when dogs put on their best smiles for the judges at the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin speaks with David Frei, the official commentator at the show. Frie has been the official announcer for more than 20 years and certainly knows his boxers from his bulldogs. The 137th annual dog show starts on Monday, Feb. 11 at Madison Square Garden.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The show will go on tomorrow for the canine competitors gathered in the heart of Manhattan. It's the 137th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. It's happening despite a massive blizzard that's blanketed parts of the Northeast. For more, we turn to someone who definitely know his boxers from his bulldogs. David Frei has been the official commentator of the show for more than 20 years. David, thanks so much for joining us.

DAVID FREI: Of course. Always happy to be on.

MARTIN: So, how many dogs will be on parade this year?

FREI: This year, we have our largest entry in 15 years, 2,721 dogs.

MARTIN: Wow. And I understand there are two new breeds this year. Can you tell us about them?

FREI: Two new breeds: the Treeing Walker Coonhound in the hound group. Big, athletic, wonderful dog, looks kind of like a giant beagle.

MARTIN: OK.

FREI: The other new breed, the Russell terrier, is a breed that everybody...

MARTIN: Sure.

FREI: ...knows. sure, whether you're watching Frazier or you've seen them on the street or seen them involved in fox hunting, that is now involved with dog shows for the first time in its life.

MARTIN: How could that be? How have they not been a part of this before?

FREI: Well, it's up to the American Kennel Club. So, they have to have a certain number of them in this country. They have to have a certain geographic distribution - they can't all live in my apartment in Manhattan - and that the dogs are reproducing true. And when all those things are finally demonstrated, then the AKC will recognize them and that makes them eligible for our show.

MARTIN: OK. So, you said that there are more than 2,700 dogs entered into the competition this year. I'm someone who watches casually when it's on the television. But I'd never understood what really are the criteria for an amazing first-rate best in show dog. Each breed is so different.

FREI: Well, remember, first, they're judged at three different levels. They're judged at the breed level, where they're competing against other dogs of the same breed; what they were bred to do, this is how they should be built and what they should look like. So now they advance into the group level, and if you're a dachshund, you're going to be competing in the hound group against the borzoi or the Irish Wolfshound, which are all completely different dogs from you. So, you can only compare the dog to the perfect dog of its breed and see which one is a better specimen. And then same things happen now. You move into best in show, you win the group, you're one of seven dogs in for best in show. And in the end, it's the dog; it's got charisma, it's got personality, pizzazz - whatever you want to call it - when the judge is looking at them.

MARTIN: And I know you probably are a dog lover and you can appreciate things about all breeds, but, David, who do you go home to at night?

FREI: I go home to my Brittany Grace and to my Cavalier Angel. And those are my best in show dogs. And, you know, the real best in show dog is the one that's sitting at home with you anyway. Doesn't matter what we do at Westminster.

MARTIN: That's David Frei, the official commentator of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which begins tomorrow in New York. David, thanks so much for talking with us.

FREI: Of course, Rachel. It's nice to be on with you and we'll look forward to talking to you again soon.

MARTIN: Have fun at the show.

FREI: Thank you. I always do.

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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