Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Westminster dogs are ‘poetry in motion’: A Minnesotan judge’s reflections on the prestigious dog show

Westiminster dog show judge standing with obedience winner
Barbara Selton (left) judged the 2024 Westminster Masters Obedience competition. She crowned the winner Kim Berkley (right) and her border collie Zayne.
Courtesy Barbara Selton

Tuesday is the final day of the 148th Westminster Dog Show, where the top dogs from across the United States compete for the title of Best in Show.

This year, there’s a judge from Bloomington representing Minnesota dog lovers. Barbara Selton has been judging for 15 years, and on Saturday she was one of the judges for the Masters Obedience competition.

She joined Minnesota Now with her reflections on the show so far.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: This is Minnesota Now. I'm Cathy Wurzer. Today is the final day of the 148th Westminster Dog Show, where the top dogs of various breeds from across the country compete for the title of best in show. This year, there's a judge from Bloomington representing Minnesota dog lovers.

Barbara Selton has been judging for 15 years, and on Saturday, she was one of the judges for the masters obedience competition. Barbara is on the line. Thanks for joining us.

BARBARA SELTON: Thank you for having me. Very excited to be here.

CATHY WURZER: I heard this is your first time as a judge at Westminster. Congratulations. That's a big deal.

BARBARA SELTON: It is. It's the thrill of a lifetime. You get invited. It's not something that you solicit. And I was contacted last July by Paul Campanella, who's one of the directors of Westminster. And he called me up and asked me if I would do them the honor. And I said, absolutely.

CATHY WURZER: Tell me about the atmosphere at Westminster. What's it like?

BARBARA SELTON: Lots and lots of excitement. There are over 2,000 dogs here for the event. On Saturday, when I judged the master obedience championship, it was 25 dogs that were invited to come then. These are the best of the best in the United States. And we had dogs from multiple areas all over the United States that came to compete for this very, very prestigious event.

BARBARA SELTON: Obedience classes, I think, are fun to watch. Master obedience classes must be even better. The communication between dog and handler almost looks telepathic at times. What are you looking for as a judge?

BARBARA SELTON: As a judge, I'm looking for the handler and the dog to work as a team. There are multiple exercises that are done. The morning was called utility, where the dogs and handlers-- that's the highest level of training. The dogs and handlers must really be on their game in order to qualify.

To qualify, they have to have a score of at least 170 out of the possible 200 points available. Each of the different exercises have a point value to them, and the dog must respond. It's a hard atmosphere because there's a whole lot of other dogs around. We had agility going on right next door with just a black curtain in between us. So you had a lot of dogs barking and such not. But the dogs did phenomenally well.

CATHY WURZER: Any funny moments when perhaps a dog's attention was divided between handler and the outside stimulus?

[LAUGHING]

BARBARA SELTON: You had that quite a bit. Because the dogs are-- the dogs are in a very strange place that they've never been before. There's a lot of spectators around. There's a lot of commotion around.

What I did as a judge is, if there was a very loud noise or something that distracted the dog for a moment, I waited a couple of seconds. And the handlers also know to wait a couple seconds before they ask their dog to perform the particular exercise.

CATHY WURZER: I know you've got golden Retrievers. I know Goldens are quite good at obedience because they're pleasers Winners in obedience in previous years have been Retrievers. What did you think of the Border Collie who won this year?

BARBARA SELTON: Oh, Zayne is the Border Collie owned by Kim Berkley. Zayne is just a phenomenal working dog. He got 199 out of 200 in both of the classes. In utility in the morning, which is the highest level, and then open in the afternoon, which is the second highest level of training. So if you think about it, out of 400 points, he only lost two points.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. The Border Collie, Zayne, was just so much fun to watch. And I brought up obedience because it is fun to watch, as I say, that communication, that working relationship between dog and handler. For folks listening here, Barbara, what's the hardest command to teach a dog when it comes to obedience?

BARBARA SELTON: Probably the hardest one is at the utility level for what is called heeling, where the dog is moving at the side of the handler. They have to do everything without any verbal or hand commands. So just the movement of the handler without talking to the dog. They can't say heel or the dog's name. But then they leave the dog in a stand position and they walk to the other side of the ring, which is approximately 30 to 40 feet.

And then they do hand signals to down the dog, sit the dog, and for the dog to come. And that's difficult for of the dogs to be left by their handler and have their handler go that far away and respond just to hand signals.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. Yeah.

BARBARA SELTON: It's very exciting.

CATHY WURZER: Wow.

BARBARA SELTON: It's a hard exercise, but when it's done well, it's just poetry in motion.

CATHY WURZER: By the way, how did you start judging competitions?

BARBARA SELTON: I have been showing and competing in obedience for the last 44 years. I started with my first dog in 1980. And put the dog in the ring and took first place and got that blue ribbon. And I was hooked.

So judging was kind of one of those things that I thought, hmm, someday when I'm older and retired, that would be a really wonderful thing to do. But 15 years ago I thought, what am I waiting for? And so I started the process. And it's a grueling process to become fully approved by the American Kennel club, but well worth it.

And so I started judging. And I love it. You meet different people from all over the United States. I've had the honor of judging in Alaska eight times, Hawaii four times, and pretty much every state in the union. And you have that one common bond with every single person you meet. And that's the love of dogs.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, it sounds like fun. A lot of work. A lot of work, but it sounds like a lot of fun. That's for certain. Well, you get to have a front row seat here tonight to best in show. Just curious, who do you think is the best chance of winning?

[LAUGHING]

BARBARA SELTON: That's really a hard one to pick at this point. But there's a lot of gorgeous dogs. there are I think they said 2,500 dogs from all across the globe. The largest entries are Chihuahuas with 49 chihuahuas entering. Labradors, 48. Golden Retrievers, 47, which I'm excited to watch this afternoon at 1:00. But you never know. Because with conformation, it's all in the eye of the judge.

So once the other three groups are completed this evening, then it'll be seven dogs, one from each of the different groups. And out of those seven, the best in show judge, who has been sequestered this whole time so that she's not watching any of the judging, will make the final decision. So, of course I always would love to see a Golden Retriever win, but a Golden Retriever has never won in the 148 years of Westminster's.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, I didn't know that. See, as a judge, you know how folks, they cheer on their favorites as they come--

BARBARA SELTON: Yes.

CATHY WURZER: --as a judge come past, a particular dog, perhaps. Does that--

BARBARA SELTON: Absolutely.

CATHY WURZER: Do you hear that as a judge? Does it sway you at all?

BARBARA SELTON: It does not. Because you always have that. You have the people that are supporting somebody they know, or a particular breed that they like, or one that's the cutest, or the moves the best, or whatever. You have to kind of tune it all out and remember what you have been trained to do and do that. So it's-- it's fun.

CATHY WURZER: It sounds like you had a great, great, great time, Barbara. And how much fun to be there, especially on the last night of competition.

BARBARA SELTON: Absolutely. I'm excited. I have watched Westminster every single year that I can remember of my life. To actually physically be here in person and to be able to watch the groups, and really looking forward to watching best in show tonight and see who comes away with that coveted title of best in show.

CATHY WURZER: Enjoy it, Barbara. Soak it in. Thanks for talking to us.

BARBARA SELTON: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. That was Barbara Selton, a Minnesota based judge at the Westminster Dog Show this year. Best in show will be announced tonight, as you heard. 6:30 PM Central time, Fox sports. They'll have the junior showmanship finals, and then judging for sporting, working, and the terrier groups, and then best in show.

Of course, Barbara judged obedience, which as I mentioned, is fun to watch. But agility is even more entertaining. And it was great fun to watch a mixed breed pup, Nimble, who won the agility competition this year at Westminster. Nimble was a crowd favorite, leaping through hoops and racing through a tunnel, dodging poles, and clearing other hurdles in breakneck speed.

Nimble is a Border Collie Papillon mix. Yay for Nimble. I hope he got a lot of pets, belly rubs and treats for all of his hard work. It was fun to watch too.

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