June 13, 2022

Dog Show Drama: Is There an Anti-Dachshund Conspiracy?

by Every Little Thing

Background show artwork for Every Little Thing

The Westminster Kennel Club dog show is approaching and we dug up one of our favorite episodes to celebrate. Terriers have won Best in Show at Westminster 48 times. Dachshunds? Never. Listener Yona wants to know why terriers triumph and dachshunds never get their due. Dog show judge Laurie Williams and dachshund-diehard Kim McCalmont take us behind the scenes of the dog show world.

Where to Listen


Answering Machine:You've reached the Every Little Thing helpline. Please leave your message after the tone.

Yona: Hi, I'm Yona. I'm just wondering why terriers always seem to win Westminster Dog Show when there are other perhaps more fantastic breeds like dachshund that never win. This is an emergency. Thanks. Bye.

[phone rings]

Yona: Hello?

Flora Lichtman: Hi, Yona!

Yona: Hey!

Flora: It's Flora from Every Little Thing, and also from your real life because we're friends and we know each other.

Yona: [laughs] It's good to talk to you.

Flora: So Westminster, this is the US's premier dog show. Are you a fan?

Yona: You know, probably six or seven years ago now, one of my best friends had a cousin whose dog was in Westminster. And we went, and it was like the most fun that I'd ever had. You know, there's just—there is nothing like seeing a really gorgeous dog.

Flora: What about dachshunds? What's your connection to dachshunds?

Yona: Well, dachshunds are great dogs. I have—I mean, so I have an almost 17-year-old dachshund.

Flora: 17!

Yona: 17. She is like a real old dame.

Flora: What's her name?

Yona: Sophie.

Flora: How's she doing?

Yona: You know, her life has gotten a little bit smaller as she's aged.

Flora: Welcome to the club.

Yona: Yeah, exactly. I've had her for a really long time. Sophie has been with me through my entire adulthood, so she's sort of—she's sort of like a second mother to me.

Flora: I think usually the owner is the mother typically in these ...

Yona: You would think that but, you know, Sophie, she really watched out for me.

Flora: Oh, that's sweet. Okay, so you have an affinity for dachshunds.

Yona: And dachshunds are—they are an interesting-looking dog breed, particularly a beautiful one. So yeah, I do ...

Flora: Did you say beautiful?

Yona: Yes! Dachshunds are particularly beautiful—particularly long-haired dachshunds.

Flora: Do you feel like you're in a majority with that opinion?

Yona: That dachshunds are beautiful?

Flora: Mm-hmm.

Yona: Well, dachshunds are a relatively popular dog breed, so I would say that I'm not in a minority. A long-haired dachshund, I just have a hard time imagining that there is someone who's like, "I'm not that interested."

Flora: Are you kidding? People shit on dachshunds all the time.

Yona: What are you—not a lot. No, people are—they're talking about, like, short-haired dachshunds, maybe. And—but like, a beautiful—you know, who are these people?

Flora: I mean, they're called wiener dogs. Do you think that's a term of endearment?

Yona: What is wrong with that? Yes it is! I mean, terriers don't even have a nickname. Nobody thinks about them.

Flora: What do you have against terriers?

Yona: I like terriers. I have nothing against terriers. You know, if you introduce me to your terrier, I would love to meet it. The reason why this question really—like, when I was like "This needs to be answered" is two years ago when a long-haired dachshund was one of the top seven dogs for best in show. And there was the end and, like, of course, it was the terrier. And they were like—they said, you know, at that point I think it was the wire fox terrier and they were like, "These dogs have won Westminster more than any other breed—14 times." And then they said that terriers generally had won something like a third of the Westminster competitions, some huge number of times.

Flora: Actually, I checked the facts on this.

Yona: Okay.

Flora: Terriers have won Westminster nearly half the time since Westminster began.

Yona: See? Are you starting to—are you starting to understand where I'm coming from? I was being generous when I remembered it as a third.

Flora: Of the 113 Best in Show competitions, terriers have taken the big purple ribbon 48 times. No other group has come close.

Yona: Yeah. Something is going on here. Like, there is no reason in my mind that I can think of that terriers should always win. Like, there's something weird happening.

Flora: Do you think that there's something nefarious going on?

Yona: Well, that's what I'm wondering, because that's the only thing I can think of.

Flora: Like unmarked bills in a kennel being dropped off in front of Westminster? Like, what are you imagining?

Yona: I mean, like, that sounds crazy hearing you say it, but I mean, are there terrier breeders who are paying somebody off? I don't—I mean, I can't think of anything more logical than that.

Flora: [laughs] Do you think there's an anti-dachshund conspiracy?

Yona: Well, I didn't, but now after talking to you, I'm starting to believe it. [laughs]

Flora: Okay, so what do you want to know?

Yona: I really want to know why terriers always win, or win so frequently.

Flora: Why are Westminster judges always barking up the terrier tree?

Yona: Yeah.

Flora: And why aren't wieners winners?

Yona: Yeah, well, that's true too. Dachshunds have never won. I don't know if I've said that, they've never won.

Flora: Okay, so we tossed your question to an expert.

Laurie Williams: Hi, Yona.

Flora: Laurie Williams is deep in the dog world.

Laurie Williams: I've done a lot with dogs.

Flora: She's groomed dogs, trained dogs and judged dog shows.

Laurie Williams: I've been doing this for about 35 years.

Flora: Laurie also shows her own dogs.

Laurie Williams: Right now the dogs that I primarily show are Dalmatians. My oldest, his name is William. And he's a liver Dalmatian, which is the brown and white dalmatian. He's also my heart dog. That term is usually used for dogs that are closest to your heart.

Yona: I really love that term!

Flora: Has Sophie wormed her way into your heart?

Yona: Sophie is definitely my heart dog. Our other dog is Astor and he's my husband's heart dog but not mine.

Flora: Does Astor know?

Yona: Astor definitely knows. [laughs]

Flora: So to answer your question, we need to get into how Westminster works, how the snausage is made. And the first thing you have to know is that in a competition like this ...

Laurie Williams: The dogs are not really competing against each other, which might sound weird, but they're really not. They're being judged and measured by their breed standard.

Flora: The breed standard is just a checklist of all the characteristics a dog of a particular breed should have.

Laurie Williams: Like how their teeth lay: overbite, underbite, scissors bite. The way the dog moves, its gait, what their top line is supposed to be, what their tail set is supposed to be.

Flora: Siberian huskies, for example, are expected to have a bushy tail that rests in a graceful sickle curve.

Yona: [laughs] I love that!

Flora: It gets very specific, like, even down to how sculpted a dog's glutes should be.

Yona: [laughs]

Laurie Williams: Especially the breeds that were bred to do strenuous physical work, you better be able to see the muscle tone, the angulation.

Flora: And it takes work to meet that exacting angulation standard.

Laurie Williams: Yeah, your dog's not gonna get that way by laying on the couch all day. So a lot of people do allow their dog to run on treadmills. If you go on Google, there's tons of companies that make treadmills just for dogs.

Yona: Well, that's why my dogs have no hope!

Flora: You don't have a dog treadmill at home?

Yona: We have neither human nor dog treadmills.

Flora: The breed standards aren't just fur-deep, they also specify the ideal doganality for the breed. Chihuahuas are supposed to have a quote, "saucy" expression.

Yona: [laughs] I think the dachshunds are supposed to be jaunty.

Flora: Dachshunds are supposed to be "Clever, lively and courageous to the point of rashness."

Yona: That's 100 percent a dachshund. Like, that's just how they are.

Flora: So the judges are looking at all these things during Westminster, and the dog who wins is the one who most closely resembles the breed standards.

Yona: Right. I guess it's like sort of being the platonic dog of your breed.

Flora: Yeah. So to win best in show at Westminster, a dog has to make it through three rounds of competition. In round one, dogs compete against their own breed. Winners move on to round two, where they compete against the best dogs in their group for a spot in the finals. And there are seven groups: herding, toy, working, non-sporting, sporting, hound and terrier. And this is one reason why terriers have an edge: because they're their own group, a terrier will always make it to the final round, whereas a dachshund, on the other paw, has to beat all 32 other hounds just to get there.

Yona: Well, that—that makes sense, but I still don't get why terriers are gonna beat all the other hounds.

Flora: You're right. Terriers still have won Best in Show more than twice as often as any other group.

Yona: Right.

Flora: So here is Laurie's theory about this—and I'm not totally sure you're gonna like it.

Yona: [laughs] Okay.

Flora: She says some breeds just have it.

Yona: What?

Flora: Some breeds are flashy and stand out in a lineup, and some breeds do not.

Yona: What?

Laurie Williams: I mean, I'm sorry it's that way. I feel bad. [laughs] I feel bad for the breeds that aren't really eye-catching, but some breeds are kind of like, you know, Humpty Dumpty Dump.

Flora: Such as?

Laurie Williams: I'll probably get some of the Clumber spaniel people mad at me. You know, there's some of the heavier-boned dogs that they're real heavy boned, they weren't bred to be fast. You know, those type of dogs. So and, like, yeah, a Clumber spaniel might come to mind. Oh, another breed are the Pekingese. I mean, people just go off about it. They're like, "What? It looks like a mop!" I mean, they're very fluffy, they look like they're laboring, going around the ring. They do!

Flora: Compare Laurie's language, the language you just heard: laboring around the ring, heavy-boned. Compare that with how she describes terriers.

Laurie Williams: Some of those terriers, they look like sculpted pieces of art. They do. They look like—some of them don't even look real. They look like they are a stuffed animal because they're so chiseled and sculpted. Their hair, it's ridiculous, really. The way their head is shaped, how those groomers get that. There's not a hair out of place. That's pretty impressive. You've gotta give it to them. Now you've gotta put that up against a dog that basically all they really needed was a bath. [laughs] I'm just saying!

Flora: Laurie says terriers also just, they act like winners.

Laurie Williams: Terrier's gonna be a dog that's in that ring going, "Look at me! Look at me!" With their chests puffed out. I am not kidding you. There are dogs that go in there and they present themselves like, "You can't tell me anything. I am the best in here. Look at me!" And when you see it, you know it.

Yona: It just—this to me seems like, you know, it's like a rigged competition.

Flora: God loves a terrier.

Yona: That's—that's what I'm hearing. If some dogs just have it, it sounds like there are some dogs that go into Westminster with a preconceived notion that they don't have it.

Flora: I mean, I think that's the subtext here. How are you gonna compare a sculpted piece of art to a squat, yapping frankfurter?

Yona: Then why try? Then, like, why have you got that frankfurter's hopes up?

Flora: How are you feeling?

Yona: I'm not satisfied. I'm feeling angry. Like, I'm feeling a little bit like my suspicions were confirmed.

Flora: Like, that there is some conspiracy. Like, there's basically an agreed-upon culture that elevates terriers.

Yona: Exactly.

Flora: And I guess the question is: can it change? Can that culture change? Can that standard of beauty change?

Yona: Well, can it?

Flora: Well, I think it takes leaders. You know, people who are thinking outside the crate, and willing to stand up on their hind legs for what they believe in. And we found someone who does not buy into this idea that terriers have a lock on dog shows. In fact, she is certain that dachshunds in particular have what it takes to go all the way.

Yona: Who is the person?

Flora: We're gonna meet her and her brown crown jewel after the break.


Flora: Are you ready to meet the dachshund's greatest hope?

Yona: I'm ready.

Flora: Okey doke.

[dogs barking]

Kim McCalmont: Oh, dear. [laughs]

Flora: I want to introduce you to Kim McCalmont.

Kim McCalmont: Hello!

Flora: Hi, Kim.

Kim McCalmont: I'm glad to hear that you're interested in dachshunds.

Flora: By day, Kim is a head teacher at a primary school in the UK, but every day at 3:00 pm, she oversees a dachshund empire.

Yona: [laughs]

Flora: She breeds dachshunds and shows them, and she has an insane number of them.

Kim McCalmont: Yeah, 20. Yeah.

Flora: 20!

Kim McCalmont: It doesn't feel like that. Once you've got past one or two, you know, that's—by the time you've got to five then you sort of don't notice it after a while.

Flora: Do they—do they spend time in the house? Like, where do you keep them?

Kim McCalmont: They spend quite a lot of time in the house. I've got a kitchen full at the moment, stretched out on raised beds. And I've got an elderly girl who is lying on her back with her legs in the air as I came through. [laughs]

Flora: What is it about them that you like?

Kim McCalmont: I suppose it's because they're naughty, really. That's probably about it. They're always up to something. They ruin the garden, the little rascals. They pull down all my roses and chew all the honeysuckle up. As soon as it starts to grow nicely, they grab up and grab it down—particularly at teatime. You know, they've got that doggedness. They don't give up. And then when they have been naughty, they always know they've been naughty and they give you that little look, and then you can't be cross with them for long.

Flora: I love that you love them despite all the mischief they make.

Kim McCalmont: Oh, yes, absolutely. Yeah. I wouldn't have 20 if I didn't. [laughs]

Flora: So you hear "doggedness," and isn't that—like, isn't that what a dog should be?

Yona: Dogged?

Flora: Literally, dogged? So I want to introduce you to one of Kim's pups in particular. She's a wirehaired dachshund.

Yona: Oh, wirehaired are incredible dachshunds. That would actually be my dream for my next dachshund. Sophie used to have a good friend who was a wirehaired: Frank.

Flora: So Kim says her wirehair has what it takes to win big. Her name is Maisie, and ever since she was a puppy, Maisie took to showing like a clean dog to mud puddles.

Kim McCalmont: She adores the shows. Any time we appear to be slightly dressed up in any way, she thinks it's a show. And she kept—you know, if a bag comes out, the show bag comes out, she just goes on and on and on, and bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark. Spin, spin, spin, spin, spin, bang on the door. Honestly!

Flora: Kim says even at her first show, she caught people's eyes.

Kim McCalmont: After we'd come out of the ring, there were a whole bevy of judges who came over to say, "Goodness, who is this bitch?"

Flora: You know, you're that bitch when you cause all this conversation.

Kim McCalmont: [laughs] And as far as she's concerned, going to a show is providing other people the opportunity to see her. And so when we go to a show, you know, she'll get on the table. She knows that there's a set routine. So she knows that she goes in the ring, which she loves, just the entrance. You know, "Me, me, me." And then she just walks into a stand and she just stands. Of course, she won't do it for nothing. You've gotta have a treat.

Flora: She's no dummy.

Kim McCalmont: Oh, no. She's not an idiot. But it's the movement. As soon as she moves, then you can see: she just glides. Her profile is lovely all the way along. She's not cut up. She's got an amazing rib cage on her, and her front? She's not overdone in front, but she has the lay back of shoulder and that length of upper arm that gives that beautiful dachshund stance.

Yona: Oh, wow. She sounds incredible. She sounds like a heart dog.

Flora: For sure. So last year, Kim said, "You know, what the hell. Let's see what Maisie can do. Let's try the biggest dog show in the UK—Crufts." Have you heard of Crufts?

Yona: No.

Flora: It's like the Westminster of England.

Kim McCalmont: Well, it is the show, isn't it? Everyone comes to Crufts—anyone who's anyone.

Flora: So Kim knew this was a long, low-to-the-ground shot.

Yona: [laughs]

Kim McCalmont: I knew that we were sort of up against some good dogs. And I knew that dachshunds don't really get looked at for best in show because they're so low to ground. I think a small dog is quite hard to judge.

Yona: I think that there is something to it. Dachshunds are easy to overlook. They're short!

Flora: Yeah, literal underdogs.

Yona: Yeah, they're low riders.

Flora: And Kim, who has a full time job that has nothing to do with dog showing, is kind of an underdog, too.

Kim McCalmont: I'm sort of aware that I got an awful lot of professional handlers who I'm up against. So they put the time in, and they have hordes of people who do this, that and the other for them.

Flora: Like, Kim is sculpting Maisie's glutes the old-fashioned way.

Kim McCalmont: We don't do the treadmill work. And, you know, we're out on the roads walking the dogs every day. So in a way, I didn't really expect to be looked at because, you know, Maisie's my baby who sleeps on the bed.

Yona: Huh. What happened?

Flora: So in March, 2020—right before lockdown—Kim took Maisie to Crufts, and Maisie did what Maisie does. She won her breed.

Yona: Uh-huh.

Flora: And then when they released the hounds, she won that group, too. And that put Maisie in the finals. We can actually watch this. It was televised. Do you have a computer in front of you?

Yona: I do, yeah.

Flora: Okay, let me send it your way.

Yona: Okay, here we go. Okay, I'm there. I'm pressing play.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: It has been a fabulous four days here at the World's Greatest Dog Show, where every dog has its day.]

Flora: Okay, so it's this giant arena, and Kim said that all the top dogs are waiting to be called on stage.

Kim McCalmont: You have to line up outside. They have like a little tent area, and you wait. And it's quite tense, and there's a lot of noise. And the owners are quite tense and they're fidgeting. And then you've got people coming in from the sidelines handing brushes, handing combs. And then you have this huge voice, and then it all goes dark and then they call you and they announce you as you go in.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: The winner of the utility group: the miniature poodle!]

Flora: Okay, so after the poodle comes out, there's the Bichon Frisé.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: The Bichon Frisé!]

Flora: The Irish setter, then the bullmastiff, the sheepdog, and then ...

Yona: [sighs]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: The winner of the terrier group: the Kerry Blue!]

Yona: There's the terrier. I mean, does that look to you so—I mean ...

[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: And to make the lineup complete, the winner of the hound group: the wirehaired dachshund!]

Yona: You almost already feel that she's favored.

Flora: I mean, she got a huge crowd reaction.

Kim McCalmont: Yeah, there was. She had quite a few supporters there, yeah. And it's a very big ring, and that was a funny thing that they said on the television commentary as we were going round.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: It's a very long way round.]

Kim McCalmont: We took longer to get round than anybody else. [laughs]

Flora: I heard that and I was like, "How dare they make a short-legged joke?"

Kim McCalmont: Yeah, but she didn't care. She just showed off. She was just going for it. And blow what anyone else says. She didn't give a monkey's. [laughs]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: Yes you can give them a round of applause. So here we are in the main arena for the finale of this wonderful ...]

Flora: Once the dogs were all lined up, the judge took her sweet time making a decision.

Flora: She kept walking back and forth.

Kim McCalmont: Oh, she's torturing us! [laughs]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: [laughs]]

Flora: She's just looking at them. She's actually standing in front of the old English sheepdog.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: Well, the tension's mounting.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, commentator: Who is Best in Show going to be?]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: ... of 2020 is ...]

Flora: There's Kim.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, announcer: The hound group!]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, commentator: It's the beautiful little wirehaired dachshund takes Best in Show at Crufts 2020. That's wonderful!]

Flora: That is a moment!

Kim McCalmont: All I heard was the big Tannoy, "It's the winner of the hound group!" And that's me!

[ARCHIVE CLIP, commentator: You couldn't hope for a more beautiful example of a sound, healthy, showdog. Gorgeous!]

Kim McCalmont: Then there's all these photographers and there's all these people. It's click, click, click, click, click. The cameras are click—and they all call her, "Maisie! Maisie, look this way! Look this way!" Yet she didn't—she didn't flinch. She gave them a cursory glance, but she's a cocky little madam, you know? What else can I say? [laughs]

Flora: It's nice to hear that she was able to maintain her dachshund-ness even in winning.

Yona: Yeah.

Flora: She may not have that—whatever it is that the terriers all have, but she won as herself.

Kim McCalmont: It was very special for us. It sort of made you have a little shiver, really. My husband sits and watches it on a regular basis. We have it all recorded, so when we're feeling a little bit—well in lockdown, things aren't quite so jolly here—to lift our spirits, we'll put Crufts on and just watch those moments, just those few moments when the winner of the hound group is and up goes Maisie. [laughs] But then, of course, you're representing all the other dachshunds and you're thinking, "Well, goodness, this is quite something."

Yona: So maybe the tides are turning.

Flora: Yeah, maybe so.

Yona: And it does make me really hopeful, you know what I'm seeing as the first comment on the video? Someone says, "So proud. I love wirehaired dachshunds. And since they never win at Westminster, it's nice to win."

Flora: By the way, Maisie pooped on the floor right after winning

Yona: [laughs] Which is very dachshund-like.

Flora: Courageous to the point of rashness.

Yona: [laughs]

Flora: If you have a question you can't get to the bottom of, call us: (833) RING-ELT.

Announcer: This episode was produced by Caitlin O'Keefe, Stephanie Werner, Phoebe Flanigan, Annette Heist and Flora Lichtman. With help from Jahi Whitehead, Hadley Robinson, Nicole Pasulka and Doug Barron. Our consulting editors are Caitlin Kenney and Jorge Just. Scored by Bobby Lord, Emma Munger, So Wiley, Billy Libby and Dara Hirsch. Mixed by Dara Hirsch. Every Little Thing is a Gimlet production and a Spotify original podcast. Call the ELT helpline with your question. (833) RING-ELT. (833) RING-ELT.

Announcer: Clear eyes, short legs, can't lose. Goodbye.