Four dogs advance to Westminster’s best in show

·National Correspondent

NEW YORK—Hundreds of dogs competed, but just four made the cut on day one of the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Monday.

An American foxhound, an affenpinscher, a bichon frise and an old English sheepdog all won their respective dog groups on day one at Westminster, a show that is considered the Super Bowl of the dog world. The four will face the winners of the sporting, working and terrier groups in Tuesday’s best-in-show finals.

Jewel, a stoic American foxhound from Baltimore, won the hound group just a year after she made her Westminster debut. While Jewel won her breed at 2012’s show, her owner, Lisa Miller, said she wasn't ready when she competed last year.

“She had a year to learn how to be a really good show dog,” Miller said, as Jewel sniffed at a mob of reporters surrounding the championship podium. “She had confidence last year, but she was a little more confident this year and had more style… She strutted in here, like, ‘Look at me!’”

Banana Joe, an affenpinscher that looked like a tiny black storm cloud with lips, bested crowd favorites like the Pekingese to win Westminster’s toy group. As he stutted up to the podium to pose for photos, he was surrounded by his owners and a large entourage, including a groomer who cried as he combed out the tiny dog’s fluff of fur for his championship photo.

Ernesto Lara, his handler, explained Westminster would be Banana Joe’s last show. After Tuesday night’s show, he will retire. “This is his swan song,” Lara said, his voice thick with emotion. He clutched the tiny dog in a tight embrace.

“He is surrounded by love,” Lara added. “He has just wonderful charisma. I’ve been lucky to have him in my life.”

A fluffy bichon frise named Honor captured the non-sporting dog category. He was accompanied to the podium by his handler, Lisa Bettis, who laughed when she was asked to talk about the dog, who looked like a cotton ball with eyes.

“He likes to steal my strawberry milk,” said Bettis, who wore a tiny gold necklace featuring tiny Bichons Frises. “He just dunks his whole face in the glass.”

Swagger, a shaggy old English sheepdog, won Westminster’s herding dog category—a surprise win that stunned many of the dog fanciers in the crowd. While virtually every other dog in the category entered the race as a certified champion in their breed, Swagger was competing in just his fourth show and had no previous titles.

Perched on the podium, dozens of photographers chirped and barked and kissed trying to get Swagger’s attention toward their cameras. His handler, Colton Johnson, pointed out that the dog’s official show name is actually “Picture Perfect.”

“He is just the best,” Johnson said, beaming.

Competition resumes Tuesday morning with judging in breeds including Irish terriers, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pinschers. On Tuesday night, the dogs will return to Madison Square Garden for the finals and best-in-show.

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