Silky Afghan hounds, poodles with sculpted coats, German wirehaired pointers: The Westminster Kennel Club features 2,500 manicured, pampered canines with flawless bloodlines. All vie for prime pup status. But outside the ring, many of these top show dogs aren’t just for show.
Each year, the Westminster Kennel Club holds the nation’s premier canine contest. The event is two days of walking, trotting, and sitting on command. Judges evaluate each dog on its breed’s best features such as movement, body structure, and temperament (nature and behavior).
For hundreds of years, people bred dogs for specific functions. Amazingly, many of the traits given by a Creator-God to various dog breeds continue—even if the animals no longer perform their traditional tasks.
Westminster spokeswoman Gail Miller Bisher says many of the more than 200 breeds at Westminster “are purpose-bred dogs that still maintain those instincts.” Because of this, some dog are animal actors, bomb sniffers, search-and-rescue K9s, and more beyond the show ring.
Ghost is a Norwegian buhund. He won his breed at the 2018 National Dog Show. Besides competing at Westminster, Ghost makes weekly hospital rounds as a therapy dog. He also listens to schoolkids learning to read.
Lacey, a Labrador retriever, participated in a Westminster agility contest. Lacey puts in 50-hour weeks comforting patients at her owner’s psychiatry practice in California.
Steve, a German pointer, showed at Westminster last year. But Steve wears other hats—or collars rather. “He can transition from being a pretty show dog to . . . service dog stuff,” says his owner, retired Air Force master sergeant Shenandoah Ellis-Ulmer. Steve helps her deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD). He stands on her feet when he senses she’s anxious.
Doberman pinscher Tabitha was initially a show dog too. Now she’s a bomb-sniffing K9. She checks for explosives at major events and on private planes. Smelling danger requires a great nose—and poise around commotion and strangers. For that, “the show ring definitely helps,” says Morgan Dalis of Maximum K9 Detection, the company that deploys Tabitha.
Of course, many working dogs don’t have a fancy pedigree. Shelter dogs, mangy mutts, and dogs without papers can also participate in service, research (see “A Nose for Fruit”), and other jobs—even if they’ll never win a beauty pageant.
Patricia Faye Adcox is owner and co-breeder of Ghost. She owns other dogs too and insists, “They’re not just show dogs.” She says Ghost has been known to climb right up onto a bed to comfort a patient. “At least my guys, they aren’t pampered pooches.”