By Catherine Berry
This will be a first Westminster Show for both of them. Breed judging for them will take place at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 11. If Dante wins “Best of Breed,” he will then advance to Madison Square Garden that night to compete in the Herding Group. The competition at this level is especially tough because many of the breeds competing will have professional handlers, some of whom are well known in the dog show world. Hopp is not a professional handler, but rather an owner handler, so it’s more difficult to catch the interest of the judges.
“It’s always fun to win, but it’s an even greater achievement when we can win over professional handlers, which we’ve done in the past. We have to really be on our game at Westminster, though, since it is the biggest, most famous show in the country,” Hopp said.
Hopp and Dante have been training since he was a puppy, and they started competing in 2005. Since he started competing, Dante has won many breed competitions, a regional specialty and group placements. Additionally, he has Rally Novice and Canine Good Citizen titles. He is also a bronze level grand champion.
Last year, Dante competed in the AKC Eukanuba National Championship in Orlando, Fla., where he won a select, also known as an Award of Merit. Dante is currently ranked in the top 25 Belgian Sheepdogs in the country. He is 9 years old, a veteran, and this may be their only opportunity to go to Westminster.
If they don’t win in their Breed competition, Hopp says she would still be thrilled to win a select. “Award of merit from Westminster would still be pretty darn cool.”
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show airs with the group competition on two nights, Feb. 11 live on CNBC and Feb. 12 live on USA Network both from 8 to 11 p.m. The show culminates when all first place winners from each group advances to the final round of competition, “Best in Show.” Only one dog is chosen to win “Best of Show.” The winner will receive a giant ribbon, trophy and a cash prize. The winner also makes many TV appearances.
Hopp and Dante also have plans to compete later this year at the National Dog Show in Pennsylvania in November.