At Westminster, A New Breed Of Competitor — Three Of Them, In Fact

Chinooks, podengo pequenos and rat terriers are the three new breeds headed to New York City to compete with some of the best canines in the country for "best in show" at this year's Westminster Kennel Club dog show in February. NPR's Melissa Block talks with Westminster Kennel Club's David Frei about these new furry competitors.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Three new dog breeds will be bounding or scurrying before the judges at the Westminster Dog Show next month. They are the Chinook, the rat terrier and the Portuguese podengo pequeno.

It'll be up to David Frei to describe these dogs to viewers. He is co-host of the telecast, and he's going to describe them for us now in a preview. David, welcome to the program.

DAVID FREI: Hi, Melissa. Thank you. Always nice to be on with you.

BLOCK: Well, great. Let's tart with the Chinook. It's a powerful-looking dog. I read it's the official state dog of New Hampshire. What else can you tell us about the Chinook?

FREI: Well, they were bred to be a sled dog and they were developed by a gentleman in New Hampshire, and that's what led to them being the state dog of New Hampshire. But, you know, pulling a sled in the snow, it kind of makes sense. I can see that picture for a dog in New Hampshire.

BLOCK: And they're in the working group, right?

FREI: They're a strong, powerful dog, which makes sense for them to be in that group.

BLOCK: OK. Well, let's move on to the second one. This is the rat terrier, and that name kind of gives it all away, doesn't it?

FREI: We call them the rat terrier not because of their appearance but because of their job. They're a ratter on the farm. They're a sturdy, athletic little dog, and they look great.

BLOCK: And what more can you tell us about what the rat terrier is like?

FREI: Well, it's a farm dog. It's a little taller in leg than some of the other terriers, and beautiful coat, looks great, alert, loves their family. But very typical terrier in that it's their world and we're just living it.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: All right. Well, the last one, the last new breed for Westminster this year - it's the smallest dog of the three we're talking about, but it has the longest name, the Portuguese podengo pequeno, not pequeno, pequeno, right?

FREI: The Portuguese Podengo Club of America has made it very clear to me that it is pequeno, not pequeno. So a lovely dog, a hunting hound from Portugal. They are the smallest of the three varieties of the podengos. There's also a medio and a grande, which is relating size. It's sort of like tall, grande and venti.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Just like Starbucks.

FREI: That's right. And fun little dog, great personality, and wonderful family dog.

BLOCK: But what has to happen for a breed to be accepted into Westminster for the first time?

FREI: First of all, they have to have a sufficient population of them to show that there's interest in this country, and that population has to have some geographic distribution. They can't all be living on a farm with somebody in Texas. And then the third thing is they need to have a parent club that's watching out for them, that's advocating for them. And then making sure that they're breeding true to type, that the stud register, if you will, is keeping track of the litters that are born, and making sure that the puppies that come out really do look like the puppies they're supposed to be.

BLOCK: Would there be any case of a breed introduced one year at Westminster winning best in show that same year?

FREI: Pretty unlikely. As a judge, you might not have the greatest confidence in your knowledge of a breed to understand every nuance and subtlety of that dog being a great specimen for its breed. The Bichon Frise, I think it was about a 20-year wait from the time that they were first eligible at Westminster until the time they won their first best in show. You know, you always have to remember that we're judging these dogs not only on how good a specimen they are of their breed, but how good they are in comparison to the other breeds amongst them as show dogs, as athletes, and being able to show us in the ring that they can do what they were bred to do.

BLOCK: David Frei, co-hosts the telecast for the Westminster Dog Show. It's coming up in just a few weeks. David, thanks so much.

FREI: Thank you. And we'll hope everybody gets to sit at home and root for your favorite.

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