Which Breeds Win the Most?

Fox Terriers and Poodles have been among the top Best in Show-winning breeds for decades.

By Bo Bengtson | Posted: September 18, 2014 11 a.m. PST

Nornay Saddler
Fox Terriers (both Smooth and Wire) have been among the top-winning breeds since Best in Show was first awarded. Pictured is the famous Smooth Fox Terrier Ch. Nornay Saddler after his BIS at Morris & Essex in 1941.

Did you know that of the 187 breeds or varieties that competed for Group and Best in Show honors at AKC shows last year, more than 40 didn’t win a single all-breed BIS? Almost as many again took just one or two such wins, while the top three breeds took home at least 20 percent of the wins. And, amazingly, just three top dogs between them won nearly 250 all-breed Best in Shows last year.

Perhaps one ought not to place too much importance on the Best in Show award. Most serious dog people agree that when push comes to shove, it’s an exercise in futility to compare dogs of totally different breeds, especially today when we have many BIS judges who are not regularly approved for more than a couple of the breeds that compete in the BIS lineups they preside over. (Yes, it’s true: AKC allows judges who are approved for just one of the seven AKC Groups to apply for approval to judge all-breed BIS. Very few of the judges who determine the winners at AKC all-breed shows are, in fact, really all-breed judges. It certainly casts a different light on the recent suggestion that you should be allowed to judge a Group without being approved for all the breeds in that Group. But I digress...)

Regardless of how seriously you look at it, it’s an interesting exercise to study which breeds win the most. It’s not totally unimportant either, as it raises the question of whether some breeds are inherently so much better than others that they deserve to win so much more. Or is it a question of judges who are influenced by colleagues they perceive as especially authoritative, or by the dogs’ previous record, or simply by splashy advertising? All of this is of course strictly against AKC policy, but it’s human nature and impossible to disregard. To even things out, there are also judges who are either completely uninterested in what others think or couldn’t care less about a dog’s current ranking, and even a few who seem to make a point of being contradictory. That’s human nature as well, I guess.

For many years I have saved records of Best in Show winners at AKC shows. It builds up: There are about 1,500 AKC all-breed shows per year, so I have records of about 20,000 all-breed Best in Show awards since 2002. (Actually, I have a lot of older records as well, but they are not complete.) One day I will try to put all this together to find out which breeds have dominated the top awards over specific periods. Success in all-breed competition seems to go in cycles: Sometimes it appears a breed can’t do anything wrong in the Best in Show finales, while just a few years later the same breed isn’t able to win anything at all.

For now, however, let’s focus primarily on the past year. (The current one isn’t much more than half over as this is being written, so we’ll have to wait a few months to summarize the results.) The four breeds that won by far the most during 2013 were Wire Fox Terriers and Portuguese Water Dogs with 96 BIS each, Poodles with 79 wins and Miniature Pinschers with 64.


115 Fox Terrier Bests!

Fox Terriers, in fact, won a total of 115 BIS, but Wires and Smooths are recognized as independent breeds now, not varieties of the same breed, so the records have to be separated. Smooths won "only” 19 BIS against the Wires’ 96, but a very large majority of the latter (85) came through a single bitch, GCh. Afterall Painting The Sky, who was No. 1 all breeds last year. The No. 2 dog was a Portuguese Water Dog, GCh. Claircreek Impression De Matisse, who was responsible for an amazing 94 wins, all except two of his breed’s 96 BIS. The Miniature Pinscher GCh. Marlex Classic Red Glare won 63 of her breed’s 65 BIS. In other words, the three top dogs between them won almost 250 BIS, or one sixth of the total!

By the way, with such high numbers and so many shows, it’s easy to miss a win. I am using what’s been published in Dogs in Review’s monthly Show Scene feature. These records are taken directly from AKC’s records, so I believe they are complete.

Poodles are a different story than the other top breeds in the sense that the wins were spread out not only among several different individuals but also over three different varieties. Toy Poodles won a good number of BIS (17), Miniatures just a handful (6), while Standards took home the most wins, 56 in all — and these were won by at least four or five different individuals.

It’s worth noting that Fox Terriers and Poodles have been among the top Best in Show-winning breeds for decades: the former since the inception of Best in Show competition, the latter at least since the 1940s and ‘50s. The Portuguese Water Dog, however, hit the big time in the US only in this century.

Other breeds that took at least 15 BIS wins last year, either because they produced a successful and heavily campaigned winner or because there were several dogs in that breed that did well, include the German Wirehaired Pointer, Golden Retriever, English Springer Spaniel and Irish Water Spaniel in the Sporting Group. The leading Hound breeds based on number of BIS wins were the American Foxhound, Afghan Hounds (almost like the old days!), Salukis, Bloodhounds, Otterhounds and Harriers. The Working breeds combined won more all-breed Best in Shows than those in any other Group, not only thanks to the aforementioned Portuguese Water Dog, but also due to such established BIS breeds as Great Danes, Boxers, Dobermans, Giant Schnauzers and Siberian Huskies. Terriers, in addition to the Wire and Smooth Fox Terriers already mentioned, were most commonly represented on the BIS podium by a Russell Terrier, a Miniature Schnauzer or a Welsh Terrier — although, frankly, the Fox Terrier dominance left little for the other breeds in this Group. The leading Toy breed was easily the Miniature Pinscher, largely due to the dominance of Red Glare. Beyond this and the already mentioned Toy Poodles, the only Toy breeds that scored substantially were Pugs and Pekingese. Standard Poodles, not unexpectedly, dominated the Non-Sporting Group to such a degree that few other breeds had the opportunity to score more than occasional wins. The Bichon Frisé was the only real exception. In the Herding Group there was a greater variety of
winners, with the Old English Sheepdog, German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, Cardigan Welsh Corgi (for once, more so than Pembrokes!) and Shetland Sheepdog all scoring well.


Most Popular — and Least Successful

So what about the opposite end of the spectrum? What breeds did not do so well in all-breed competition? The obvious primary candidate, once again, is the Labrador Retriever: Not a single Lab won Best in Show at an AKC all-breed show in 2013, as far as I can find. Why is that? Are the Lab breeders doing such a terrible job that the Group and Best in Show judges won’t look at the BOB winners when they compete with other breeds? Are the best Labradors just not shown in all-breed competition? Or are the breed specialists promoting a type that’s simply not palatable for all-rounder judges? (Sort of like German Shepherds in the old, pre-‘Manhattan’ days...) Whatever the reason, it’s a peculiar fact that the most popular breed of all is also among the least successful when it comes to competition with other breeds.

Not that the Labrador is alone in being overlooked. A surprisingly large number of breeds didn’t win a single Best in Show last year, and even more had just one or two all-breed wins. Here’s a list of some well-established breeds that I could not find a single BIS win for at any 2013 AKC all-breed show. If I missed any, please let me know: I have checked and double-checked, but with nearly 1,500 shows to research, I could have missed one. The fact that there were no Bests for many of the rare breeds is perhaps not so surprising, but why no wins for the Bernese Mountain Dog or Great Pyrenees? Not a single BIS for a Bedlington, Cairn, Irish, Sealyham or West Highland White Terrier? No Best in Show Chihuahua, either Long Coat or Smooth Coat? And, stretching the net a little wider, just a single Vizsla BIS! Just one win for Greyhounds, one for Irish Wolfhounds and one for Scottish Deerhounds. And what about Dachshunds? One Wire and two Longhaired BIS wins, and not a single one for Smooths. That’s positively Labradorian...

Seriously, this is something that needs to be discussed. Perhaps now is not the time to point out that our Best in Show judges in many cases simply don’t have sufficient knowledge of all the different breeds to make an informed, independent decision. Perhaps we should simply accept that Best in Show competition is a fun and not terribly serious tweak to the end of a show?

But if that is true, why are we all so eager to win Best in Show? Or, to use a phrase that’s appropriate in more than one sense: Is the tail wagging the dog?


From the September 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.


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Give us your opinion Give us your opinion on Which Breeds Win the Most?

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Jackie   Springfield, Massachusetts

1/31/2015 10:01:37 AM

Labs won't win until this current trend of showing overweight dogs that couldn't work in the field if their life depended on it.

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Iva   Stow, Massachusetts

9/30/2014 8:44:55 AM

The breeds with "flash" and lots of showmanship, with a talented handler win the most in all competitions. Then there is the advertising push to think about. This is all understandable and makes sense if you think about it. It is, after all, a "DOG SHOW". Really, it is more of a contest than a show. If dogs were only being "shown", it would level the playing field. But someone has to win. I do see changes coming to the dog show world. Judges are being bashed as "nothing but a bunch of crooks" or "only putting up their cronies, prohandlers" and "it is impossible for a little guy to win in the groups". I see judges bending over backwards to really look at the quality of all the dogs before them. There is always going to be the old guard who refuses to think that the dog show world has changed. Those are the ones who haven't been to a dog show in 20 years!

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